Raise a hand if you’ve ever held your breath for a minute. 

Now keep it raised if, during that minute, you lip synced an entire verse to a song while more than 30 feet underwater.

Enter Kevin Martin, a multi-platinum musician turned freediver out of necessity – though you would never know it with his warm demeanor and complete lack of the ego one would expect from a singer with his credentials. 

Martin is the frontman of the band Candlebox, a Seattle-based rock band whose chart-topping self-titled debut album has been certified 4x platinum by the RIAA. With singles like “Far Behind,” “You” and “Cover Me,” the album launched a 30-year career that has seen the band release seven studio albums, continuing with their 2021 record “Wolves.”

The band has unique ties to the Keys, as they filmed the music video for their single “Understanding” both above and below the waters of Marathon with legendary director Gus Van Sant in 1995. Next month, Martin will return to the Keys for the first time since the shoot as he performs an acoustic set at the Key West Theater on Tuesday, Feb. 22. 

Ahead of the show, Martin was kind enough to call in for an episode of the Florida Keys Weekly Podcast and reminisce about his time in Marathon, Candlebox’s beginnings, and his thoughts on the music industry today.

How does a Seattle band end up picking a tiny island in the Keys to film the music video for “Understanding?” We were on tour, and Gus approached us about doing the video because he felt connected to the song. He knew the story about how we were treated in Seattle, so he had a “fish out of water” sort of concept. He’s an incredibly talented director and lovely human being, and we just had an absolute blast. We had to take a scuba diving class since we would be more than 30 feet underwater. Gus actually wasn’t even there the first day of the shoot because he stepped on a spotted eagle ray, so he was off to the hospital.

What was it like to film an entire verse while holding your breath underwater? Oh man, they had these speakers underwater, and I was trying to lip sync it. I had no idea how long that verse was until I was at the end of it. It might not be my favorite video Candlebox has done looks-wise, but it was quite the experience.

You guys were in Seattle in the mid ’90s, surrounded by one of the biggest music movements in U.S. history, the Seattle grunge movement. How did Candlebox fit into all of that? Well, the sad thing is, we didn’t really fit in. And I was five years younger than a lot of the big names in Seattle, so there weren’t many 21-year-olds who were going to hang out with a 16-year-old kid. We formed Candlebox in 1991, so we came around on the tail end of things, and we don’t really sound like any of those bands. But the thing that collectively makes us sound like Seattle bands is our sincerity. I don’t think any of the bands that came out of Seattle really cared that they had rockstar careers. It was just, “we can’t do anything but make music. This is how we’re supposed to live our lives. And if the career comes with it, that’s great.”

Who still inspires you to this day? I don’t really listen to Pearl Jam or Alice in Chains or Soundgarden. I haven’t listened to Soundgarden mainly since Chris (Cornell)’s passing. I was just a huge fan, and he was a good friend. I was great friends with Layne (Staley) and when he passed, it was heartbreaking. I really am inspired by a lot of the new alternative kind of music that’s out. I think The War on Drugs is pushing the envelope musically, and I would compare them to what the Beatles were doing when they made “The White Album.” I also love Perfume Genius, Billie Eilish, and a band from Australia called Gang of Youths.

Do you listen to your own music? I rarely listen to Candlebox, certainly not to the first three albums because I’ve known them for 30 years. But there are a couple tracks I really love off of “Disappearing in Airports” that I’m just so proud of. And then some stuff off the last record “Wolves,” which I think is probably the best Candlebox record since the debut album.

A lot of the musicians from the Seattle scene are tragically no longer with us. How did you avoid following that same path? Do you just consider yourself lucky? Certainly your environment has a lot to do with the drugs that you’re taking or the alcohol you’re drinking. I moved to Seattle when I was 14. I came from San Antonio, Texas, skateboarding and living my life that way. So I didn’t really fall into the trap, because it wasn’t something that I was enticed by. I really preferred to be outdoors and doing things. 

Your first album went platinum four times, and at one point most people in the country knew the words to your song “Far Behind.” Is that ever strange to think about? I think for any musician, when you make your first album, it feels like it takes a lifetime. I’m very, very fond of the time I spent writing and recording those songs. It’s really more so about the accomplishment of making the album than about how much it sold. Is it a little mind bending? Yeah. The fact that “Far Behind” is the song that continues to allow me to tour and pays my rent now going on 30 years is incredible. It’s a gift horse that I would never look in the mouth.

Over the last 30 years, the country has seen a huge change in the music industry. When you guys first started, people were buying albums and listening to them all the way through. Now you’ve got more streaming and singles, and Best Buy doesn’t even sell CDs any more. What has it been like to be in a band putting out albums across that entire transition? The industry is screwed, frankly. It’s skewed. You can’t make money as a band any more unless you’re in the top 20. I have a lot of friends that are in young bands who’ve opened up for us that I respect, and I would hate to be in their shoes right now trying to sell an album or get any recognition for what they’re accomplishing. There’s so much competition, and it’s all geared to not let you succeed. I don’t know how anybody’s doing it right now, man.

OK, now for the fun ones. True or False: you still have at least one pair of Doc Martens that you owned in the ’90s. True, and I’m still wearing them.

Finish this sentence: the most underrated artist from the grunge movement was … Mary Lou Lord, or there’s a band called Bam Bam that I’m obsessed with.
Were you partial to Eddie Vedder or Kurt Cobain? Cobain, just because I grew up on punk rock.

Alex Rickert made the perfectly natural career progression from dolphin trainer to newspaper editor in 2021 after freelancing for Keys Weekly while working full time at Dolphin Research Center. A resident of Marathon since 2015, he fell in love with the Florida Keys community by helping multiple organizations and friends rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Irma. An avid runner, actor, and spearfisherman, he spends as much of his time outside of work on or under the sea having civil disagreements with sharks.