Kent State student finds identity on heavy metal tour


Submitted photo.

Michael Crissman

After graduating from high school in 2008, Greg Martinis was delivering pizzas in his hometown of Highland Heights, Ohio, when he got a phone call that changed his life. Jake Scott, guitarist of local metal band Salt the Wound, asked Martinis if he wanted to fill in as singer for the group on a European tour that was a month away.

Unsure about his future and looking for adventure, Martinis, who had performed with other metal bands, accepted the offer. After convincing his parents, the introverted, self-described awkward 18-year-old traveled 3,738 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to perform in seven different countries with a band he hardly knew.

“I didn’t know any of their songs,” Martinis said. “I had never played with them. It was just crazy. It was really similar to how I would have had to deal with going to college my first semester, living with people I didn’t know … I had to spend every single moment with these people.”

Metal in his blood

The older members of Salt the Wound, who had been on numerous other tours, took Martinis under their wing and bonded with the young singer over their kindred love for music. Martinis’ metal appreciation began at 15 when he joined his first band. With practice, he quickly learned how to do the deep growl-like vocals common in the heavy-metal genre.

“It’s always been an outlet for me,” the soft-spoken Martinis said. “I’m a pretty relaxed, pretty chill person. I feel like if it wasn’t for metal I would be more on-edge.”

Listening to the singer rehearse songs with his current band, Skies of December, in preparation for an upcoming album release, you would never guess Martinis’ jovial, laid-back persona off stage. With a clenched fist holding a microphone to his mouth, neck muscles tensed and a slight grimace on his face, Martinis – skinny with glasses – screams out deep-pitched lyrics to accompany the metal band’s intricate guitar and drum playing.

“Greg’s definitely a good dude to have,” guitarist Tom Vath said of Martinis. “He’s real easygoing and never really complains. He understands how stuff works. He just knows how to be in a band.”

A defining experience

Martinis credits the European tour as the biggest influence on the person he is today. After flying to London in early September 2008, Salt the Wound spent the first week and a half in the United Kingdom and Scotland doing shows every night, promoting a recently released CD titled “Carnal Repercussions.”

Martinis remembers a fondness for Scotland and an aversion to England. Besides providing what the singer describes as “gloomy, miserable weather,” England was also the location of the band’s worst show during the trip, at a small club in Stoke-on-Trent, where only five people showed up.

“Oh, man, that was a bad show,” Martinis said. “Three of them sat down while we were playing and just yelled at us – just terribly mean.”

Although Salt the Wound was headlining its first European tour, the band did have plenty of gigs with good turnouts, like a metal festival in Belgium where the group played with other bands to a crowd of 400.

“There’s no feeling like that – hundreds of people all around you going nuts,” Martinis said. “You have a power at your fingertips to make the crowd feel what you’re feeling and have the energy you have. It’s amazing.”

The band also played in Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands. All six band members traveled to and from the 27 venues they played at in a cramped town-and-country van with all their luggage and gear. Martinis remembers the continent’s elaborate architecture as one of the highpoints of the trip.

“Every place we went to, every small town, just beautiful giant churches,” Martinis said. “We’d stop and see a castle and be like, ‘Oh my God.’ There’s a real old vibe over there.”

Salt the Wound was making just enough money during the month-long tour, through ticket and merchandise sales, to afford each member a $10 daily allowance for food. To save as much as possible, the band asked around at their shows for places to sleep overnight.

“People would love to have you at their homes,” Martinis said, recalling a degree of hospitality foreign to the U.S. “Sometimes they’d bring dinner to the venues.”

Some nights they slept comfortably, like the time they stayed with a friend of one of the band member’s parents, who turned out to be a high-class escort. Some nights weren’t as pleasant. After one concert in Belgium, a few locals invited the band to stay at their “party house.”

“We get there and it’s seriously this just dirty, beat-to-crap (abandoned) daycare,” Martinis said. “It was so bad. I slept on this couch that was covered in dust. There was a giant whole in the floor next to me and no ceiling on the roof. I could see straight outside.”

A seemingly miserable experience like that was just the sort of thing Martinis appreciated about his time in Europe.

Changed for the better

“It was the scariest, best time of my life,” Martinis said. “It was the perfect opportunity for me to get out of my shell a little bit. It matured me a ton to the point where I came back and I became a really good student.”

The once pessimistic teenager who wasn’t motivated about attending college suddenly possessed a newfound outlook on life. Martinis began taking classes at Lakeland Community College the following spring and is now a sophomore at Kent State, studying visual communication design.

“I just developed my life around being understanding of other people,” Martinis said. “Going over there, you had to learn how to talk to someone again, communicating with this other person that doesn’t speak your language. A lot of people spoke English, just not fluently. They could say some things, but most of the time it was really hard. Like trying to pick up girls: nope.”

Contact Michael Crissman at [email protected].