INTERVIEW: General Hospital, Guiding Light alum Stephen Martines chats his new country music career and daytime memories

Posted Wednesday, December 16, 2020 7:24:32 AM
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Daytime alum Stephen Martines opens up about his new song, "Chasing Summer," and shares really special memories from his time as General Hospital's Nikolas Cassadine and Guiding Light's Tony Santos.

The early 2000s were an exciting time for soap opera fans, because that's when they were introduced to hunky Missouri native Stephen Martines, who first took on the role of General Hospital bad boy Nikolas Cassadine in 2000 and later landed the role of Guiding Light mobster Tony Santos in 2004. But the 2020s could be equally exciting for fans of the actor, because he's been steadily working on his new career in country music and his latest single, "Chasing Summer," could be the song that takes him to the big time.

The catchy tune is set to be released on Thursday, December 17, and to celebrate the release of the single, Soap Central caught up with Martines to get the scoop on the inspiration behind the song, why the actor has decided to chase his country music dreams, and which memories from GH and GL he holds closest to his heart -- including the invaluable advice from soap legend Anthony Geary (ex-Luke Spencer) that he carries with him always.

Soap Central: You've had a long history with acting, so what made you decide to pursue country music? Was it part of your past or childhood?

Stephen Martines: I grew up with artists like Merle Haggard and Willie [Nelson], and the thing for me that I've always loved about country music is the truth in storytelling. I look at country music as being the classic old Hollywood. What Hollywood used to be -- and I use "used to be" quite loosely -- was about iconic storytelling and talent. It's a little bit different now, but that classic country music still remains the same, through the end of time. Music has always been a huge passion of mine, and I always wanted to pursue it, but it was never really the right time. But I had just finished filming a show, and it just happened to be that I was watching the CMA Awards back in 2009, and I just said, "To the hell with it." And I took off to Nashville. I got very lucky, but in truth, the real pursuit came when I had my little girl [six-year-old Presley]. I've realized that since the first time that I held her in my arms, that has always been that real inspiration for me, even long before she was an idea. I found that becoming a father made me want to find that vulnerability in storytelling and song writing, and I found country music, as it had always been a huge part of my life along with Sinatra and Elvis, was that outlet and avenue for me.

Soap Central: It was a bold move to just go out to Nashville! But kudos to you for chasing your dream, because there are many people who don't have the bravery to do that -- and then success never happens for them.

Martines: Yeah, it's funny you say that because I'm an avid believer in doing what you love. My father always told me, when he was alive, "I don't care if you want to be a garbageman. You do it because you love it. And I will always support you." And I raise my daughter with that same mindset; I want her to always reach for the stars, and if she can't reach the stars, she'll land on the moon. That has always been the foundation of any success that I've ever had. I'm a total dreamer, and I've always had passions and certain dreams that maybe the average person wouldn't, and I've just always felt the need to make the attempt, and if I fail, at least I can say I tried.

Soap Central: You must hear a lot of music demos, so what drew you to "Chasing Summer"?

Martines: This song was presented to me about three and a half years ago... and I knew it was something that I had to release at some point. But this was prior to country music being a singles game, it was more about doing EPs, so I was sort of gauging when it would be the right time. So, I put it on the backburner. But I also put it on the backburner because there was something for me in the bridge, something production wise, because it was a demo, that wasn't resonating with me. But I knew lyrically this song had something special to it, and I knew I needed to cut it. So, after I released, "Like Father, Like Son," that I wrote for my father, my latest release, I went back and started listening to older demos that we had in the pipeline, and I immediately called my producer and said, "This is the song that we need to do." It's extra special for me now because we built this song from the bottom up instead of just sticking to what the demo was. We completely built this song, and the whole bridge in the song is an idea that I had while we were in the studio. So, this song, to me, I don't want it to be about love and loss; I want it to be about the sweetest of nostalgia. Because memories that we all have are extremely powerful, both positive and negative, and we all experience them, and I feel like this song is absolutely meant to capture both the emotional and the physical. When people hear it, I want them to sort of maybe feel the sunshine on their skin and hold onto the fact that while seasons always change, summer will always come back around, that warmth will always come back around... that was what this song really meant to me in that moment, after going back and revisiting the demo. And I feel like we hit that.

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Soap Central: Now is the perfect time for a message like that, just considering the year we've all experienced.

Martines: When you first listen to the song, you hear a man meeting a girl on the beach, and it's this little fling, and then it's just gone, and there's this sort of longing and maybe chasing after something that you shouldn't have let go. And obviously that's the first take, but when you really go back and think about what happened this year, and everybody sort of being in this tunnel of darkness, you can really sit back and [interpret] the lyrics in your own passage, and you can look at it from that perspective. I felt that even though "Chasing Summer" was technically more of a summer song and a little bit more on the upbeat, poppy side, I felt like it was something that we need right now. It's obviously the polar opposite from what I previously released with my dad song, but I felt the timing was right.

Soap Central: It sounds like you're quite focused on your music career right now, but would you ever return to soaps if the opportunity came about?

Martines: I've been asked that question many, many times over the years, and I have always said that I am forever grateful to General Hospital, Guiding Light, ABC Daytime, and everybody who helped catapult the early years of my career. I walked away from the industry six years ago to raise my little girl -- nobody really knows why I left, but that is why I left. I do miss it daily. In fact, I joke with my daughter all the time. I say, "Daddy's gonna go back to TV." And she looks at me and she's like, "NO!" Because the last time that she saw me on TV was on The Vampire Diaries, and I was torturing Stefan [Paul Wesley], so that was like the first time she ever experienced me on TV! So, she looked at me, and she looked at the TV and looked back at me and started wailing and crying. It was pretty crazy. [Laughs] So, I joke with her now about returning to TV, and I think she's finally starting to comprehend and understand that this is what daddy likes to do, that daddy likes to pretend the way that she likes to pretend and play dress-up or do my hair. So, going back to your question, would I ever return to daytime specifically? If it made sense at the time, yes, I would. More so because I miss the craft, and I really, truly, genuinely miss not necessarily being on television because of being famous but for the daily creative therapy. I miss portraying a character like Nikolas or like Tony, who were so profound. If the chance was given, then yes, I would. My issue stems from I won't leave my little girl. Now that things have changed a little bit to where a lot of shows are shooting [outside of New York and Los Angeles], it's a little bit more doable. Daytime has not quite gotten there yet, but it would be something I would pursue if the opportunity arose.

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Soap Central: Both of your roles in daytime were in recast situations, with the previous portrayer -- Tyler Christopher for GH's Nikolas and Jordi Vilasuso for GL's Tony -- leaving not long before you came on. Was that nerve-racking for you? Daytime fans can be pretty tough on recasts in the beginning!

Martines: It's ironic because I became sort of that guy who was always known as the recast, right? But I think the coolest part about my time at General Hospital and also my time at Guiding Light was, at the time that I was recast, especially on General Hospital, I was so new and green to the acting world. It was my first big show, and my ego kicked in, and I thought that I was better than I really was. I buckled down after Anthony Geary [ex-Luke Spencer] gave me some very profound advice. I sort of woke up a little bit, and once I realized that the show and the fans were embracing me, and the writers were embracing me, and I was able to create my own version of Nikolas, it was very freeing. I felt that the Nikolas and Gia [Melissa Ramirez/Andrea C. Pearson] campaign was a phenomenal time for daytime, being that it was an interracial relationship, and I think our success on the show became so astronomically huge that both of us were just blown away. We didn't anticipate that, and I don't even think, to be quite honest with you, that General Hospital anticipated it to be what it was. And the same thing for Tony Santos. Being a recast is always difficult because you've got millions of people who are married to a certain version of the character, and you can't blame them -- that's their loyalty. And it's very difficult to come on and try to completely take that perception away and make people either love to hate you or love to fall in love with you. So, that became a challenge every day, and I think that's what made it more fun for me.

Soap Central: That's a good perspective, because you could view it from the place of being completely intimidated or in the way you did --

Martines: Oh, God, yeah! [Laughs] I was intimidated, as well. The first day I was on General Hospital, my first legitimate day, I was doing two shows, two make-out scenes with Mary Beth Evans [ex-Katherine Bell, GH; Kayla Brady, Days of our Lives], and I had like 100 pages of dialogue. I didn't know what to do with myself! So, it was a little overwhelming, for sure. It just comes with the territory.

Soap Central: You mentioned that General Hospital's Anthony Geary gave you some good advice. What did he tell you?

Martines: I'm 45 years old now, and looking back to my 24-year-old self, there's a lot that I could say! [Laughs] But Tony Geary gave me this advice one day, he came down to my dressing room, and I opened the door, and mind you, I had sort of grown up with Anthony; my mom was an avid fan of General Hospital and still doesn't miss an episode. So, Tony sort of knew that I was fragile-ish in my ego, if you will, because I was trying to pretend to know what I was doing and pretend that I was better than I really was, and I didn't want to face it, so Tony looked at me and said, "Play tennis. Acting is all about listening. Just play tennis. Hit the ball back and forth over the court." And I'm thinking, "Wow. It's interesting, because without listening, you're not going to be able to respond properly. And without listening, you're not going to be able to understand." So that was my biggest issue -- I wasn't listening and understanding what the other person that I was in a scene with was telling me; I was just reacting and responding based off of what my script said. So, I took that advice with me, and it has stuck with me every single day that I've been on a set since. It was such a minute piece of advice, right? It's just a small piece of advice. But it's also a piece of advice that is from somebody so iconic, and to me, it was a very profound moment. I use that word a lot, but it was, especially for a 24-year-old kid. So, that stuck with me.

Soap Central: Did you learn anything valuable from any other veterans in the soap opera business?

Martines: Yes, for sure. Genie Francis [Laura Webber] was always very supportive and was always giving pieces of advice much the same here and there. Stephen Nichols [ex-Stefan Cassadine, GH; Steve Johnson, DAYS] was a massive shoulder for me during my time at General Hospital, and I'm grateful for him. Going over to Guiding Light, the entire cast and production staff were very, very welcoming. I think that stemmed a lot from the success that I had had at General Hospital. But both Paul Anthony [Stewart, ex-Danny Santos] and Nancy St. Alban [ex-Michelle Bauer], they were gems to work with. I parted ways [with GL] in a place in my life where I felt it was just time. I was going through a lot of loss, and I was suffering from a great deal of depression, which is something that now, especially at my age, I can talk about a lot more openly. But I had to leave, and I had to try and pursue a different side of the industry at that time. So, there were some profound moments for me by some of the actors that I've worked with that I carry with me daily.

Soap Central: Have you kept in contact with anyone from the daytime community?

Martines: I did for quite some time. Billy Warlock [ex-A.J. Quartermaine, GH] and I, we were in touch for quite some time. Jacob Young [ex-Lucky Spencer, GH; ex-J.R. Chandler, All My Children; ex-Rick Forrester, The Bold and the Beautiful] and I still touch base periodically. Other than that, I've bumped into several people over the years. Ricky Paull [Goldin, ex-Gus Aitoro, GL; ex-Jake Martin, AMC] and I have touched base a couple of times over the years, Alicia Minshew [ex-Kendall Hart, AMC] and I have definitely kept in touch. Just a few here and there. Melissa Ramirez and I will say hi on occasion, as well.

Soap Central: Do you feel like the soap fans have followed you into your new avenues, and if so, what does that mean to you?

Martines: The soap fans are such avid fans, and that is one of the most remarkable things about my time spent in daytime. Back then, we didn't have social media... it was truly hands-on. We were doing things like Super Soap Weekend, where you'd go and visit 40,000 fans face-to-face. They would stand in a line for six hours just to get your autograph. For me, that was so remarkable. It was enthralling to be able to shake people's hands and look them in the eye and see how much they loved your character or your work. Ironically enough, most of them didn't even know my name; they would always call me Nikolas. [Laughs] I do believe a lot of the fans [followed me] over to The Vampire Diaries and especially with The Closer. But there were several moments where there was talk about me going back to daytime, and once I started saying that I would never go back, I think that was the moment I felt like, "Eh, maybe the soap fans gave up on me a little bit." But I've had a plethora of fans who have followed me over to the music side and also my primetime side, and I'm grateful. The thing that I love about fans -- and daytime fans in general -- is the loyalty. There is something to be said about people being so, for lack of a better word, attached to either you or your character or the work that you portray on TV... I've been a fan before and I feel like as a fan, maybe looking up to somebody can be life changing. But I have always been so adamant about putting fans first on any level, because without them, we wouldn't be doing what we do. I'm forever grateful for the support that I've always had.

"Chasing Summer" will be available on music services beginning Thursday, December 17. Some of Martines' previously releases include "Beach Ball," "Sounds Like Whiskey," "Shot Glasses & Bullet Holes," "Just Like a Kiss," and "Like Father, Like Son."

What do you think about our interview with Stephen Martines? Do you like his new song, "Chasing Summer"? What are your favorite memories from his time as GH's Nikolas and GL's Tony? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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