Central to the new grungy Americana album by Mike Martin (seated) is the concept of exploring the origins of his style | Photo by Rūta Smith

Indiana native and hardcore troubadour Mike Martin has spent much of the last decade traveling in a van with his appropriately named band, The Beautiful Mess. 

But when he is not exploring America’s backroads and beer halls with his like-minded friends, Martin hangs his hat in Charleston.

A bona fide honky-tonk hero, there is scarcely a Lowcountry juke joint or music venue where Martin has not held court in recent years. 

Weaving country-rock infusions, Martin’s distinctive output embodies what Gram Parsons of The Byrds once described as “cosmic American music.”

Although he is known for a certain style now, Martin told the City Paper he experienced an internal evolution that unfolded as he transformed himself from a consumer into a creator. 

“For a while I was really into hip-hop and hard rock, like most kids from my generation,” Martin said. “I really only re-immersed myself in country music when I first picked up a guitar.” 

From the beginning, industry outsiders such as Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt and The Grateful Dead were among Martin’s major influences, teaching him lessons of what he did and did not want to become along the way. 

“Because of guys like that, who were making it by doing things their own way, I fully embraced not being pop,” Martin said. “Sensing that artistic integrity was the most important thing to me, I realized that I had to work on the craft of songwriting. I guess I figured that true success would only follow great songs in the end.”

As he was coming into his own as a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, he found himself more drawn to the eclectic musical landscape of the Holy City. 

“At a certain point, I was looking at setting up shop in either Nashville or Charleston. And Carolina country seemed more suited to my approach.” 

But while spending time with his family in the Midwest, he recently got the news his mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood, and with that revelation, the idea for his latest project was suddenly hatched.

“Being home at that moment with my mom, and being able to go to her weekly treatments with her was a huge blessing for us all. We’re a very tight-knit family, and our matriarch was for the first time needing the support and not being the endless supply of it,” Martin said. “We were faced with the reality that my mom is human,
not Superwoman.”

“Who am I and where did I and my parents come from? Why do I even sing country music? These were the questions that suddenly became important for me to answer.”

In an attempt to make sense of it all, The Beautiful Mess went to work on a new concept album simply dubbed Home

“I had been gone so long and had run so hard, pushing for the music, that home had become just a place I had been but was now in the rear view in a lot of ways,” he said.  

Yet Martin concluded during this particular musical exploration that his home had made him the man he is today.

There will be several shows to celebrate Home’s release, including the official party on Oct. 30 at Burns Alley. 

“We approach the live show like a jam band. It’s always going to be three or so hours of fun, from Hank to Hendrix and all points in between.”