Rising out of the melted ice of Stereo Popsicle, a more pop-oriented predecessor that generated some major label interest about a decade ago, session guitarist Tomi Martin and vocalist Trina Meade decided to head in a louder, more politically and philosophically knotty direction when they formed this band, of which they are the only consistent members. Two albums and a few years of tours supporting the Indigo Girls, who have championed the twosome since they assisted on 1995’s Jesus Christ Superstar: A Resurrection project, have provided a boost for which most groups wait a lifetime.
With Meade’s husky, soul-drenched voice and Martin’s psychedelic, acerbic Hendrix-inspired guitar lines, they make a potent, plugged-in combination on their most recent disc, A Swig from the Acid Bottle. Like its poisonous title suggests, the album goes down strong with tracks such as “Corporate Killers” and the opening “Genocidal Youth” lashing out with all the subtlety of a professional wrestling match. Friends told Martin to “water down” what she does, which resulted in the complete opposite on what is the duo’s most passionate, angry and loud release.
But there’s another side to Three5Human. Those who may have caught some of their television appearances or an Eddie’s Attic gig experience a melodic, acoustic folk soul duo far removed from the plugged-in speaker and mind-blowing attack that appears on the disc. This stripped-down approach not only does the lyrically rich songs justice, it brings the music to an entirely different audience that might initially shy away from the Living Colour/King’s X aural assault close to Martin and Meade’s hearts.
From Pebbles to rock
It’s taken a long time to arrive here; Martin began his career in Louisville, Ky., before passing an audition for guitarist in Pebbles’ touring group and relocating to Georgia in the ’90s. He met Meade in an R&B group named Project 1990 but both decided to “do something a little closer to alternative and rock,” which turned out to be Social Insanity. That’s where they met the Indigo Girls, changed their name to Stereo Popsicle, participated in Jesus Christ Superstar and almost immediately started touring with them, nearly a decade ago.
Although they experienced a minor hit as Popsicle with the radio-friendly “Yesterday’s Girl,” it was time for something different. The tougher music they currently make came with yet another name change. “Stereo Popsicle was more organic and vibey feeling,” says Martin. “When we decided to do a harder sound, we changed the name, and the music on our second record, Fly Below the Radar, got heavier and more politically outspoken. By the time we got to the recent album, it had gotten really, really hard.”
If the riff-oriented blues assault of a tune like “Frontline” doesn’t strike you as a logical opening act for the Indigo Girls, well, Martin and Meade had their doubts as well. “That was a concern when we first went out. They were acoustic on that first tour and we were a full band. We weren’t even sure how that was going to mix.
“But they said it’s going to be fine and the world just needs to hear y’all. The audiences were initially apprehensive. They had never seen us and were standoffish at first. But about halfway through the show they were starting to dig it and by the end, they were totally there. We had to stand for an hour-and-a-half to sign CDs after the shows.” It didn’t hurt that Amy Ray and Emily Saliers sang on Three5Human’s set and Martin and Meade returned the favor on the Indigo Girls’ songs.
But for Three5Human—named after the infamous U.S. Constitution clause valuing slaves as only three-fifths of a human being—it’s the inherent racial constraints of black musicians playing hard rock that have proven more troublesome to surmount. Even with the barrier-breaking likes of Hendrix, Living Colour, 24-7 Spyz and locally, Mother’s Finest and Follow For Now easing the transition, it has been difficult for Three5Human to gain traction as black artists working in a traditionally white style of musically and lyrically insistent rock.
Performing acoustically has helped the couple attract different audiences that are then more accepting of the electric side of the group. Recent work with Dionne Farris and Doria Roberts has also drawn new eyes and the collaborations have worked well for both acts. To satisfy fans who want a souvenir of the unplugged shows, a new live set sold at those gigs, In a Dimly Lit Room, recorded at Eddie’s Attic, satiates audiences who might not be prepared for A Swig…’s more aggressive nature.
But in either arrangement, songs such as “Come Alive” with its “don’t sleep your only life away” call to arms are powerful statements meant to raise consciousness with powerhouse melodies and Meade’s devastating Tina Turner-styled vocals. “Don’t let your life pass by without living it,” says Meade. “Pay attention to what’s going on because what’s happening at this moment will affect generations after. The life that you lead right now, lead to the fullest.”
That’s Three5Human’s philosophy and it resonates in any genre.