In Bed With Rat Rios and Rob Martinez

A typical night for Sammy “Rat” Rios and Rob Martinez involves reading in bed, usually Stephen King.EXPAND
A typical night for Sammy “Rat” Rios and Rob Martinez involves reading in bed, usually Stephen King.
Kathy Tran
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"In Bed With" is a Dallas Observer series in which we delve into the homes and personal lives of Dallas music industry professionals. 

Sammy “Rat” Rios and Rob Martinez are two of Dallas’ most promising artists. Rios is a singer and stage actress, and Martinez is a videographer. They’re both multi-instrumentalists who play in each other’s solo projects, Rat Rios and Honor System.

The couple live together in an ivy-covered landmark building overlooking a slow street in Fair Park.

“I don’t know how many people have accidentally seen us naked while changing,” Rios says of the immense windows.

The light barges in forcefully through their loft, a mesmerizing display of enviable eccentricity, from the hollow television set from the 1950s and a set of vintage ET dolls to a collected ball of cat hair sitting on the coffee table.

Rios’ paintings liven up the bare brick walls, which hold a hanging stuffed blowfish Martinez gave Rios one Valentine’s Day. There’s a small are that serves as a music studio and rehearsal space, as well as endless videography equipment. The staircase also functions as bookshelves, with literature ranging from philosophy to books about animals. Rios has an immortal love of animals, and she joyfully spies on Martinez when he’s playing with their cats, Munch and Gidget.

This Christmas season, Rios had a significant role in Dallas Theater Center‘s outstanding production of A Christmas Carol. Now, she's working as sound designer and composer for a play involving clowns by Jeffrey Colangelo.

Martinez, the main filmographer for an advertising agency, often turns their living room into a studio. Artists such as Sarah Jaffe and the band Dark Rooms have commissioned his stunning, high-pigmented imagery. The couple collaborate frequently. In Rios' 2016 music video for “Contact,” she sang a stirring lullaby as Martinez's direction turned her face into a canvas of special effects.

In Bed With Rat Rios and Rob MartinezEXPAND
Kathy Tran

A makeshift bulletin board is set up outside their front door. Rios has an ad for her pet-sitting services and a poster for We’re Gonna Die, the play she’s set to star in later in the day at the AT&T Performing Arts Center. While the play had a few shows last year, this is its first fully produced run. Along with Martinez, the musical’s band includes Paul Grass from Midnight Opera and solo artist Jacob Metcalf. Rios’ acting is so believable in the show that it takes a skeptical double-look at the program to conclude that her monologue is not autobiographical.

Life is everywhere in the Rios-Martinez household, in the form of cats (both real and painted), an old ironing board full of plants or Rios’ mother and sister, who wait upstairs after flying in for her weekend performance. While all pieces fit naturally into their ecosystem, so does the partnership between Martinez and Rios. They met more than three years ago at a friend’s Halloween party, where the theatrical couple were oddly out of place. Rios came from a funeral and was dressed in black, and Martinez was repurposing a costume from a work party the day before, where he’d dressed as his boss.

“It was really only funny to me,” he says.

Rios was immediately drawn to his sense of humor. Martinez is ever the jokester, and she frequently interrupts to sort out his fantasy recollections for the sake of accuracy.

He jokes about their first encounter: “Sammy was very forward.” She half-heartedly protests, reminding him that their friend was present. “Yes, she was also very forward, and I felt uncomfortable,” he jokes.

“I do have a memory,” Martinez says, this time seriously. “I remember seeing her through the second-floor window, and I was like, ‘Who dat?’ and later I was like, ‘Oh, you’re the girl from the window,’ which sounds really creepy,” he recalls.

Theirs is a love story out of an indie romantic comedy. They started following each other on social media, getting coffee and going on memorable trips to Target.

“She drew me a shark,” Martinez remembers of their initial friendship. He says he first fell for Rios when she recognized a Miles Davis tune he was playing in the car.

“I loved him immediately,” Rios’ mom interjects from the second floor.

During a lunch date, Rios texted Martinez while he was sitting next to her, asking him to be her boyfriend.

“I said no,” he jokes.

“He said yes,” she clarifies.

The two are co-directing a short film inspired by one of Rios’ dreams. They’re also collaborating on an ’80s and early ’90s hip-hop and electro-inspired project called Juicebox, in which she will rap over his beats. Rios and Martinez moved into their new space in August after living for years in Deep Ellum. Until recently, they only had two plates and had a habit of eating while standing up. Then it occurred to them to move the bar stools to the the bar counter. Now they’re learning to cook together.

“We’re learning to groove,” Rios says of their kitchen choreography.

The couple also are learning to host. Their Christmas party was an unforgettable gathering in which they took turns giving dramatic readings of a children’s story and toasting the event by, well, handing out toast. They enlisted their favorite musicians, like Metcalf, harpist Jess Garland and singer Sudie, to serenade their close circle of artist friends with carols. Their Christmas tree is still up. But “at least it’s not lit,” as Rios says.

Rios spends most of her time chasing the answers to sudoku puzzles and searching estate sales for “old lady nightgowns.” She reads to Martinez at night, usually Stephen King, in their brass bed, which is next to a cat tree and across from a desk that holds a milk creamer with a nipple painted on it. Absent from the couple’s household is the habit of arguing. Rios finds it impossible to spat with Martinez’s easygoing nature.

“There’s something freaking angelic about his doe eyes,” she says.

Their only differences are aesthetic. He’s a minimalist, and she’s a collector. Likewise, while Martinez prefers streaming newer music, Rios has an exclusive loyalty to her iTunes library. The fact that Martinez is religious while Rios is not has never been a point of conflict. In fact, their biggest difference of opinion might come in the form of how best to place utensils in the dishwasher.

“She puts the forks in the dishwasher facing up,” he says.

“So they can get a better wash,” she counters.

“Have you ever gotten a fork up your nail?” Martinez asks. Rios accuses him of putting the knives facing up, but Martinez denies it.

In Bed With Rat Rios and Rob Martinez
Kathy Tran

The couple’s most memorable date took place one Valentine’s Day when Martinez turned his place into a candlelit restaurant and made gourmet grilled cheese with decorative figurines on top. They still haven’t decided their upcoming plans for Valentine’s Day, and think they might stay in and order pizza. But they have doting words for each other.

“I love Rob because he’s always himself no matter what,” Rios says, “and he’s a kind person.” Rios also admires his taste level and industrious work ethic.

He says, “Sammy inspired me to play music again.” Martinez played music through high school and then, as he says, “film took the focus over my life.”

“I thought if I found someone to spend my life with, I would be settling, but it’s not that at all,” Martinez says of Rios. ”She’s so much more than I even thought I wanted or thought existed.”

They plan to fill their household not with babies, but with refugees who need a temporary home. Human trafficking prevention and awareness is a cause they plan on fundraising for. They both say Rios is far more political.

“He doesn’t really worry about it, but I tell him to worry about it,” she says of Martinez’s disinterest in politics. “That’s OK,” she tells him, “as long as you vote for the people that I put on the list.”

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