“Joe West is my uncle—not by blood, but by marriage,” Benito M Martinez III, aka Benzo III, tells SFR. “When I was a kid and he was practicing out by the house, I’d go there every time; the first instrument I ever played was the toaster.”

The toaster is, of course, a far cry from the jazzy/funky hip-hop style Benzo III produces today.

A native Santa Fean, Martinez lived in Colorado, California and Las Vegas, New Mexico, before deciding his hometown was the place to be. "Santa Fe has become such a huge part of me, from the culture and the locals to the people who are excited to do music," he says. "I realized going through to different places that there's nowhere that holds tradition and culture like we do here."

As a teen, Martinez played in punk bands he describes as sounding like Green Day or Jimmy Eat World, but the easily-doable solo aspects of hip-hop production ultimately drew him away from punk rock. "I really liked creating digitally," he explains. "I didn't have access to all these different musicians; I had a few things like drums and a guitar, but it was easy to construct a template of what I wanted to do, and now I can pass it on to the guys and say, 'This is what I got.'"

The guys, as it were, are former members of local bands such as Scarlet Cortex guitarist Matt Ruder or Venus and the Lion's Daniel Mench-Thurlow (among others) on sax. And though the project focuses on supporting Martinez' vision, jamming and open collaboration have been the keys to the writing process. "It's pretty remarkable to hear what has come out and how they've stuck by my side," says Benzo. "The sound is really developmental, it's progressive, I still can't put my finger on it."

Of course, it wasn't an easy road. In 2008, Martinez' grandfather committed suicide. He turned to drugs and alcohol and held on tight to anger and frustration. But it also fueled his music, as did learning he had a daughter, now 6 years old, two years after she was born. These are events that would be challenging for the best of us, but Martinez takes them in stride and presents a positive front. "I asked myself, how do I want to come off to my community and the youth?" he says. In the time since his grandfather's death, he's become a language arts teacher and wrestling coach at Pecos Middle School, a career path that has provided perspective. Still, he says, "Some of the most dark and personal songs I've written are some of the best songs I've written."

Music as therapy is nothing new. But on Benzo III's newest offering, Head Trip, which releases this Friday at an event at Meow Wolf, he delves deep into the chaos of life and attempts to make sense of it all. It's a relatively clean representation of the genre and one made all the more impressive by a live backing band; this isn't about violence, money or misogyny; it's about Martinez' personal evolution, the letting go of excess emotional baggage and the pursuit of becoming a more complete person. And it's layered. Between jazzy guitars and funky bass lines, you'll find upbeat horn work, hip-hop beats and Martinez' sing-songy MC skills—it's not uncommon for him to bust into a melody, back into a sick flow and into some combination of the two.

In addition to Head Trip, Martinez says he'll also have his mixtapes and various live recordings available at the show, though none are for sale in the traditional sense. "You pay the cover and I'll be distributing the CDs throughout the night," he says. "By the end of the night, everyone will have a CD."

The show is another feather in the cap of a group of local musicians and artists known as the Outstanding Citizens Collective. Known for their live shows and prolific output, other members include SaggaLiffik, OG Willikers, Wonky and more. As for the Benzo III release show, other performers include locals like DJ Shatter, Doer and GOON as well as Albuquerque's Def-I and more. Should you want a pre-show taste, visit benzoiii.bandcamp.com.

In the meantime, one question remains: How does one play a toaster? "Upside down," Martinez explains, "and with wooden spoons."

Benzo III Album Release With SaggLiffik, dJ Shatter, Def-I
7 pm Friday July 28. $20.
Meow Wolf,
1352 Rufina Circle,
395-6369