Canadian Singer-Songwriter Christina Martin began writing and recording her own music while slogging it out on the Austin, Texas bar scene in the early 2000’s, before returning home to Canada in 2003. Since 2008 she has been relentlessly recording and touring in Canada and overseas, building connections the old-fashioned way, at venues big and small, singing songs about loss and love, anxiety and perseverance. Along the way, she has earned multiple East Coast Music and Music Nova Scotia Awards. Her songs have been featured in films, on television, and she’s performed at music festivals around the world (Rolling Stone Weekender Festival, Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival, International Folk Alliance, Reeperbahn Festival, Canada Music Week).
Christina chats to us about making music, touring the UK and her latest single Lungs Are Burning.
PG: HI CHRISTINA, HOW ARE YOU ENJOYING PLAYING IN THE UK?
CM: Playing in the UK has been great. DRIVING in the UK is another story!
PG: IS THIS YOUR FIRST TIME HERE?
CM: I’ve been touring UK since 2014. We try to come at least once each year, which you have to do to keep building connections.
PG: AMERICANA IS HAVING A BIG IMPACT ON MUSIC IN THE UK, WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?
CM: I assume that media and the music industry dictate what is popular. I do know that there are some really amazing Americana websites, online and print magazines, and radio shows promoting artists like me. Americana-UK is dedicated to the genre and has been a big supporter for my music over the years. Maverick festival in Suffolk UK, as well as the magazine, are always promoting Americana music. I think the Internet, combined with great artists and music lovers have helped make Americana music more accessible. There is also a rise in Americana back in North America, and the Americana Music Festival in Nashville has certainly been a part of promoting and honouring musicians in this genre. I try not to think about ‘what’s hot’ and ‘what’s not’, because as soon as you turn your head things have changed, but I don’t think Americana is going too far.
PG: YOU'VE DONE A LOT OF DIFFERENT THINGS IN YOUR LIFE: YOU'VE BEEN A NANNY, ATHLETICS- HOW DID YOU COME TO MUSIC?
CM: Music was a part of my life since I was very young. My parents always encouraged us to take piano. But I was easily distracted and rebelled against the traditional way of learning theory and piano. I didn’t enjoy performing in front of people when I was a child, it terrified me. I do remember enjoying writing music, and separately writing stories and funny soap operas for my friends on the playground. I was not a natural musician, at least not from my perspective. I loved singing, but didn’t think I had a good voice until my friends told me while we were drinking. Over the years I moved to places like Austin TX and Germany, then back to Austin, and eventually back home to Eastern Canada. Throughout my journey I found opportunities to sing and play, be in bands, and I just started doing it all. When I was 21 I independently recorded my first record, and eventually learned the business of music and started touring and releasing my records independently. In a way I think I had to learn how to sing and play well enough to support my love of writing songs and being involved in projects.
PG: YOU'VE SAID THAT WHEN YOU WERE IN AUSTIN YOU MET A LOT OF ARTISTS AND LIKE MINDED PEOPLE. DID YOU FIND THAT MUSIC JUST BECAME A DOOR THAT KEPT OPENING FOR YOU, ONCE YOU KNOCKED?
CM: Yeah, I did find that there were opportunities to make music wherever I went. I think I wanted to be a writer more than a singer or entertainer for a very long time. There were other doors that kept opening as well, and I had to learn how to shut a lot of them. I believe when you commit yourself to being open to a particular path, the universe works to support you. That doesn’t mean it becomes easy, you have to work hard and wise up and learn how to say NO. But if you stay opened and listen to your guts, the opportunities will come.
PG: AUSTIN IS KNOWN FOR ITS LIVE MUSIC, WHAT'S THE BEST THING YOU LEARNT FROM YOUR TIME THERE?
CM: The best thing I learned in Austin was how to take care of children. It made me always think twice about my decisions, because I felt like I needed to be a role model. That doesn’t’ mean I always made the right choice, but when surrounded by distractions good and bad, knowing I would be hanging out with kids and taking care of them, this made me think about how I spent my time and what I did with my body and my overall health. I had to stay strong and healthy to do all the things I was doing back then, working 3-4 jobs, taking care of kids on the side, singing in the studio and doing my own shows. Keeping busy and having kids in my life helped keep me pretty clean.
PG: YOU WRITE DEEPLY PERSONAL SONGS, DO YOU FIND SONGWRITING CATHARTIC?
CM: Sure, it can be. It’s quite satisfying to complete a song and have a feeling like I’ve finally figured out what I want to say about something. Not every song is a cathartic exercise, nor do I often feel like ‘I’ve figured it all out’. Sometimes I have no idea what I’m writing about, it just feels alright so I do it, and it feels good to sing.
PG: YOUR VOCALS HAVE THE FEEL OF KATE BUSH AND STEVIE NICKS, WERE THEY INFLUENCES AT All?
I’ve never listened to Kate Bush, but Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks for sure. I’ve obsessed over Stevie’s delivery of Rhiannon, Landslide, and songs with Tom like Insider and Stop Dragging My Heart Around. I would say Annie Lennox, Tina Turner, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Shawn Colvin, Cheryl Crow,Tori Amos – these female artists were the most influential for me growing up.
PG: WHO ARE YOUR OTHER INFLUENCES?
CM: Neil Finn, Jayhawks, Josh Rouse, Bruce Springsteen, female artists listed above, Paul Westerberg, Bryan Adams, Wilco.
PG: WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO WORK WITH?
CM: Jeff Lynne – for my lyrics and vocals and I’d like Jeff to work with Dale on guitars and production. Tom Petty and Mike Campbell
PG: YOUR HUSBAND IS ALSO IN YOUR BAND, HOW DO YOU APPROACH WORKING TOGETHER?
CM: It’s pretty simple, we talk about everything, we get to work, and when things get tense we back off and come back to work on something later. It’s not always easy, but we are committed, and we love each other, and we love our life, so we just make it work. I love working with Dale, I really admire him as a musician, and he’s my best friend. He knows what I like, and he’s usually up for exploring where I want to take a song. I feel like he helps bring out what I’m feeling with a track, and if I have no idea, he is usually full of great original ideas, or we figure it out together.
PG: YOUR LATEST SINGLE "LUNGS ARE BURNING" IS ANOTHER PERSONAL SONG FOR YOU, WHY WERE YOU INSPIRED TO WRITE IT?
CM: The song was a reaction to reading about the Fentanyl drug crisis back home in Canada killing many people. I lost my brother to an opioid overdose in 2013. He lived with mental illness and addiction, and although we talked about a lot of things, in his last relapse I was distant, and he was obviously not getting the support he needed to stay healthy. So when I read about the Fentanyl Drug Crisis before writing this song with Dale Murray, it made my heart hurt thinking about the lack of resources we still struggle with around the world, and in Canada, for people living with addiction and mental illness, for their families and loved ones as well. I wrote a song about longing, about reaching for something to cover up the pain, something I think even non-addicts and people who may not be experiencing a mental illness can relate to.
PG: YOUR BROTHER WAS ALMOST A MUSE FOR YOU, AND INFLUENTIAL IN YOUR EARLY WORK. GIVEN THE NATURE OF THE SONG AND SOME OF YOUR OTHER WORK LIKE YOUR SONG ‘REACHING OUT’ OUT, HOW IMPORTANT IS FAMILY TO YOU AND YOUR MUSIC?
CM: FAMILY is everything. That doesn’t mean that family is always ‘easy’, but in my own case, my family has made me who I am today, the relationships are always changing, usually growing and getting stronger over the years, and I’ve been connecting with extended family (siblings and nieces and nephews) thanks to my life as a touring musician. I’ve sorted out difficult topics and conversations in some of my songs, I’ve learned to see things from different perspectives, and above all I’m learning how to accept myself and others, and learning about unconditional love. Music is helping me stay connected, and it also helps me cope with difficult losses and things I may never have ‘closure’ with.
PG: MUCH OF YOUR MUSIC IS CINEMATIC, HOW DO YOU CREATE THAT FEEL- IS IT A CONSCIOUS STYLE OR SOMETHING THAT JUST HAPPENS DURING THE EVOLUTION OF THE SONG?
CM: I grew up loving music videos, and falling in love with songs in part because of the music videos, which could explain why I write with pictures rolling through my mind. It just feels like my natural process, the way I’ve always written, using my minds eye.
PG: WHAT'S YOUR FAVOURITE SONG?
CM: Oh my, you’ve stumped me. I’m fearful that if I tell you, and I end up going to HELL, that I will be forced to hear my ‘favourite song’ on repeat for eternity.
PG: YOU LIVE IN NOVA-SCOTIA, DO YOU FIND SOLITUDE INSPIRES YOU TO WRITE?
CM: Solitude doesn’t inspire me to write, but I prefer writing in solitude. The most important thing is making time with no mental or physical distractions, and then having pencil, paper and an instrument to write. I don’t really like having people around me when I write, but it isn’t the ‘solitude’ that’s inspiring; it’s life matters and being exposed to other forms of art and music that are inspiring.
PG: WHEN YOU WERE GROWING UP WHO DID YOU PLAY BEDROOM GUITAR AND SING HAIRBRUSH VOCAL TO?
CM: I wasn’t into playing air-guitar, but I loved dancing and singing alone in my bedroom to Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Tom Petty, and Bryan Adams.
PG: WHAT'S THE BEST AND WORST THING ABOUT BEING A MUSICIAN AND SONGWRITER?
CM: The best thing about being an INDEPENDENT musician AND songwriter is that I can essentially say, record, and release whatever I want. Whether people will listen is not really in my control, but I feel free to follow a path with heart.
The WORST thing about being a musician and songwriter, since I rely on it to make a living, is that it can really be hard on my nerves.
PG: WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU ARE NOT WRITING OR PERFORMING?
CM: I love to exercise, enjoy cooking for family and friends, and love time to read and work around the house!
PG: CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR NEW ALBUM?
CM: I thought it would be finished in June, but I was ill and lost my voice in the springtime, and all my energies were put towards healing for my Canadian and UK tour dates. But from what I can tell, each song will have it’s own energy and I’m exploring new ranges with my voice, but trying to keep the arrangements pretty simple.
PG: WHAT'S NEXT?
CM: I’m open to suggestions, but first I just want to finish a great record, and then I’ll hit the road again to promote it. I’m always trying to strengthen my team, I could use more help, but otherwise, just plowing forward with my team and Dale and keeping an eye out for fun opportunities.