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Joe Martone and the Nuclear Music Family


ILLU/PHOTOS BY KELLY GARRETT/ALEX DA SILVA Hear me out, I was born to write this. “This”, being an article about Joseph Anthony Martone or “Joe” as he’s called now — Los Angeles-based studio percussionist by trade but also a brother, friend, and new father (amateur pizza maker we’ll add as well). I’ll stay humble and include the members of his family as worthy claimants to this throne, but at present the crown stays hither. And that’s simply because Joe’s kept the same goals, the same dreams since high school (where we met), and has told me as such for 15 years. I’ll paraphrase but it tends to go something like this — “Live in LA, play for movies, have a kid, go to Italy.” — Joseph “Joe” Anthony Martone — simple guy.

To begin however, I’d like to give the legion of future journalists, who will eventually write their own stories about Joe, a few pointers on how to write a good “Joe article”. Next to that eventual shelf filled with Emmy and Grammy trophies, surely there will be an article or two that he will have enjoyed over the years. Thus, to the coming journalists out there take heart, this is your cheat sheet.

First — If you’ve written this far and have not mentioned Disney — start over.

Second — choose only a few of the oft-repeated “Joeisms” like “I’m an open book” or “….Right?”. It may be tempting to bookend a sentence here and there with a splashy “You’re telling me man!”, but resist the urge. And three — avoid the Italian-American allusions to pizza and pasta and big families; there’s more to Joe than that (though he does own a pizza oven, and is one of 4 kids).

And frankly, after almost a year and half of interviewing Joe from the fall of 2021 to the winter of this year, and in a time of upheaval for himself, his profession, and his priorities, it became exceedingly clear that this Joe, at 32, is just that — much, much more.

According to Merriam-Webster, Polish anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski was one of, if the not the first to coin the term “nuclear family”. The nuclear family is typically described as a two-parent household with children (sidebar — the importance of traditional conceptions of the “nuclear family” have frequently been debunked — see Christina Cross’ “Racial/Ethnic Differences in the Association Between Family Structure…”) whose functions serve more or less four pillars of human social capacity: reproductive, economic, sexual, and educational. Each tenet serves a different purpose towards the ultimate, overarching goal of general human prosperity. The idea is that the family provides these four tenets to each person which then allows them to prosper, and effectively do the same on their own (all very “1984” when read aloud). However, if we made a fifth tenet or pillar of the nuclear familial disposition, and chose music ability, I’m certain Mr. and Mrs. Martone (Joe’s parents) would be the ones depicted on Woods’ “American Gothic” (that’s the farmer with the pitchfork painting for you philistines).

That realization came to me when attempting to think about where Joe comes from and how that informs where Joe is now.

Now — on this classic, June afternoon in the San Fernando Valley. Martone heads down from his 2 story-walk up apartment in residential Woodland Hills as I wait painstakingly to escape the heat.

Joe and his 2 year-old daughter, Giada, live in a classic valley apartment complex . An off-white, expansive structure on a leafy two-lane road 5 minutes from the 101 freeway. “Perfect spot”, Joe says as he opens the gate and points to the large park down the street. His Maltese Poodle “Brando” (named after you know who) bumbles out warning me to keep my distance as I’m whisked upstairs. I subtly do that Californian thing where I realize my car is out of the shade, but promise myself “it’ll be fine”.

Like all apartment friend-viewings, nothing from the outside can tip you off to their interior decor. Let’s just say….Joe plays music. Immediately as you walk in you’ll notice three industrial-sized shelves to your right stacked with instruments to the ceiling. The apartment’s 12 - 15 foot high ceilings allow for such a jarring contraption, though simultaneously, Joe’s midcentury modern interior makes it all seem like a forgotten Mad Men episode.

Joe and G (Giada’s surprisingly tough nickname) look refreshed. My timing’s coincided with the tail-end of G’s nap, which like most parents is a time to generally relax, but not necessarily for Joe. “That’s when I can really record.” A refrain not necessarily out of the current context until I start noticing the objectively large instruments — there’s a full-sized marimba, skeleton drum set, xylophone, and full-sized marching bass drum in each respective room with recording capabilities. G’s enviable quality to sleep like a rock, the pandemic, and Martone’s burgeoning inventory of instruments has given him and L.A.-based musicians like him new avenues to do their job(s).

Those avenues manifest physically when you take in the amount of equipment Joe has fit into this 2-bedroom. As on top of feeling as though you’re in some Arctic, Promothean bunker, salvaging 2 of every known instrument in case of human extinction, Joe has also somewhat built a recording studio to record all of those instruments. However, as he put the finishing touches on this music oasis in 2020, the universe had other ideas — “I put up the last, like, sound panel in the wall…and then the next day all the gigs got cancelled. Not even joking.” Joe mentions that they were, of course, taking home-recording gigs before, but as soon as lockdowns became apparent it suddenly became “all you could do.”

As a public sector employee the last few years, it always amazes me how independent business owners and contractors keep track of everything. At times I see their filled-to-the-brim, pull out desks of taxes and expenses and consider just running for Congress. My eyes glaze over. I imagine the GOP running on a platform of “government red-tape” largely meaning there’s polling indicating that we’re all tired of documents, and flotsam, and Shopify accounts.

Martone is no different. When I ask the inevitable “how’s it been” relating to him and the pandemic, even mid-conversation Joe’s got receipts. “Well let’s see,” he said and I hear this immediate rustling on the phone as if he’s reaching for his pocket. He pauses and says “1”, then he says “that was 2014”…I decided to get a drink.

As he’s recounting his recording gigs, an overall pattern of ascension emerges. That’s until he hits 2020, and “then…16”, Joe said. Expecting a natural pause in the conversation, I ready myself to jump in with a slick topic segue and some profound anecdote, but like a Roomba vacuum that just hit a wall he keeps going. To be fair, I anticipated that sudden drop in 2020, that wasn’t surprising. What was surprising were the next numbers, “…27, 28, 29 for 2021.” Owing to a host a reasons (not excluding our own insatiable appetites for streamable/watchable content) Joe’s gigs ticked up, and he’s already broken that number for this year.

Did he anticipate any of this? “No. You know what I thought to myself? Guitar Center is going to get a ton of business.”

When I asked the same question a year ago, this topic centered around the tensions between Los Angeles’ musician’s union and local musicians. At the time, he described what seemed like a scene out of Minority Report, where union representatives would hide in bushes aiming to catch musicians going to non-union gigs that they’ve entered through alleyways in the shadows so as to not gain any attention (all very “1984” again).

Additionally, not only did the pandemic almost literally start for him the day after he finished his studio, he became a new father in the summer of that year. What on Earth is going through his head? In his tastefully placed, darkly sarcastic humor (this is a Joeism, I am allowed one), he says, “…it was the perfect timing for it.” What? “It was. Listen, it was weird that everything was getting shut down, and I did have a bunch of gigs that got cancelled…but I was about to have a kid and I don’t have to go on paternity leave, because I’m already on it.” Again, owing to a host of reasons (not including 49 Republican Senators who voted against the COVID Stimulus Package for the newly unemployed), Martone was able to get by whilst getting to know his new daughter.

Paradoxically then, during Giada’s first year of life, amidst all of the crippling uncertainty, a comforting constant became their togetherness. It’s not hard to see as their rhythmic routines come into focus. A personal favorite of mine, is when Joe asks G what television content she wants to watch. Instead of pointing to the screen or trying to eke out a smorgasbord of words probably too complex for her at the moment, she’ll simply hum the music of the show (or act out a key scene). I wasn’t sure if this completely blinded me with happiness or terrified me as all of my gigs (music or otherwise) must surely be ending soon as a result. Throughout it all, and in a season of so much change, I found a Joe at peace. At peace despite a sense of perpetual uncertainty that these days tend to engender. With Joe, everything isn’t all rosy and there’s still much for him to navigate. Thankfully, Joe’s community isn’t like a nuclear family. It is not rigid and set in stone. It’s evolved and transformed throughout these seasons of change. His community of musicians, his family all came together to support one another.

Thus here we are, now, with Joseph Anthony Martone — Joe — father, studio percussionist, friend, in this place of peace. How does he take everything that has transpired the last few years? Much alike everything he’s done his entire adult life. One step at a time — live in LA, play for movies, have a kid…..”

Throughout it all, and in a season of so much change, I found a Joe at peace. At peace despite a sense of perpetual uncertainty that these days tend to engender. With Joe, everything isn’t all rosy and there’s still much for him to navigate. Thankfully, Joe’s community isn’t like a nuclear family. It is not rigid and set in stone. It’s evolved and transformed throughout these seasons of change. His community of musicians, his family all came together to support one another.


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