Back before grunge and rap rock washed over the world of rock music, altering it forever, there was an outpost – below a mainstream dominated by hair metal groups and boy bands – of late-’80s, early-’90s artists who performed well-crafted, unadorned melodic rock. This was the domain of acts like Michael Penn (see 1990’s “No Myth”) and Crowded House (1987’s “Something So Strong”) and it’s a well of inspiration that clearly informs the work of Carmel Valley singer/songwriter Martin Shears, who performs this Friday, Nov. 27, at Monterey’s East Village and Saturday, Nov. 28, at Carmel’s Bistro Beaujolais.
Before moving to Carmel Valley a year and a half ago, Shears was the primary force behind the long running Phoenix band The Scones, which lasted from 1995 to 2008. “The Scones were modern classic rock,” Shears says with a lingering trace of a British accent. “We took off from where bands like Crowded House and Squeeze left off.”
The quartet performed all over the Phoenix region, including shows opening for respected alt rock acts like Robyn Hitchcock and They Might Be Giants and a recurring slot at Tempe’s Fiesta Bowl Block Party, an annual New Year’s event that currently draws 100,000 people. The Scones also released a 1999 CD titled Do You Hear?, which featured songs broadcast on TV shows including NBC’s Ed and the WB Network’s Jack & Jill.
Even though The Scones toured Europe several times and the Phoenix New Times proclaimed that Shears “knows his way around a pop song,” the singer/songwriter is most proud of his former group’s resilience. “My favorite accomplishment is that we lasted for 15 years and made a living of it,” he says.
Following a July 2008 Scones farewell show within Phoenix’s Wrigley Mansion, Shears packed up and moved to Carmel Valley to open a recording studio called Brilliant Records. Since relocating to Monterey County, Shears has been busy with a multitude of music projects, including recording his solo debut and starting up the Martin Shears’ School of Rock at the Carmel Youth Center, where he is putting together middle school and high school-aged musicians in groups that perform covers from classic rock bands (the Beatles, Pink Floyd) alongside songs from more contemporary acts (Interpol, Red Hot Chili Peppers).
The projects have not kept Shears back from playing around his new hometown area. With Craig Bentley, Shears has formed Dos Baldies, an acoustic duo that does classic rock and ’80s songs at local bars. The singer/songwriter has also found a way for his solo shows to have a bit more kick by using a foot pedal to create bass lines while he sings and strums guitar. “It’s almost like being a one man band without drums,” he says.
At current solo outings, expect Shears to dig into songs by Peter Gabriel and Richard Thompson along with originals like “She,” an acoustic guitar track which finds his vocals soaring incredibly high on the chorus. Shears doesn’t seem to mind that his upcoming shows at East Village and Bistro Beaujolais will not draw the crowds that his former band did at its bigger Phoenix shows. “I really enjoy playing intimate venues,” he says, “where I can connect with people on a one-on-one basis.”