An interview with Christina Martin
I had the good fortune to speak with Christina Martin recently, on behalf of The Hippo Collective. Ms. Martin is a well-established and popular Canadian musician and songwriter. She just released her fifth studio album entitled ‘It’ll be Alright’ and is currently touring around North America and Europe. We had a chat about music videos, Austin TX and following a path with heart.
The Hippo Collective: Hello Christina! Thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today. I really appreciate it. To begin with, could you please tell me a bit about yourself and give me a brief outline of your career?
Christina Martin: Well, I grew up in the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and when I was 19, I travelled and lived in Austin, Texas and then Germany, which is when I began writing my own songs. I left University after my father passed away (he always wanted me to go to university), which I eventually did finish years later. I took some time to travel and discovered a love for writing and expressing myself through music and performing in my early 20’s.
It wasn’t until 2007 I really started learning the business side of things and gave up a steady pay multiple jobs to pursue music full-time. That was when I met my second husband and my producer/guitar player Dale Murray. He has produced all of my albums (except the first – Pretty Things 2002, produced by Darwin Smith in Austin TX) and we have been touring and making music together since 2007. We now live in rural Nova Scotia in an old Farm House on a dirt road, and we have a studio in our home. So when we are not on the road performing, we are at home dreaming up the next tour, or Dale is working on producing other artists while I catch up with things and try to write.
THC: I was reading about your past and you have stated that MTV had a strong influence on your musical upbringing and development. What songs or events were important?
Christina Martin: Eurythmics, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, music video performances on songs like Missionary Man and Angel, the artistic performances in the music videos were so dramatic! I loved the music and lyrics, but I also was drawn to the costumes and makeup. I also had my eye on whatever Michael Jackson, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Tina Turner were releasing. I grew up watching these artists’ music videos, and listening to their records. My father had a great record collection, and often he would play Roy Orbison, The Beatles, and Ike and Tina tunes at night. I listened to the radio too on my boom box (yes, I said boom box). I found that music videos really helped make a song ‘stick’ in your brain. Not only would you be humming along, but also you’d have the image of the musicians and sometimes the story from the music video constantly playing in your head. I’d tape (VHS) some of the videos and re-play them over and over again after school.
I thought Janet and Michael Jackson had some of the most bad-ass music videos. I loved the dancing and the costumes and makeup. Back then, I dreamed of being more of a dancing/singing performer. I danced, sang and played tambourine in a group in Austin TX called the Young Heart Attack in 2000 for a short time.
Now I don’t really watch music videos or TV, apart from movies on Netflix.
THC: So given your MuchMusic/VHS upbringing, you see music as more than simply writing and producing tracks?
Christina Martin: I do! Sometimes it’s as simple as just trying to write a good song. If the music or song sucks, you won’t get far.
However, the creative and business minded me (encouraged by my father) loves to think in terms of projects and albums and beyond the song. How are we going to create a piece and present it to people? I always have ideas for productions floating in my mind. However, I find myself limited by finances and perhaps myself when it comes to delivering certain dreams.
THC: Speaking of Austin and your travels in general, how have the places you have visited and lived in contributed to your music?
Christina Martin: Ah travels….
I was listening to techno and dance music before I moved to Austin, and I find myself now interested in having more of my songs remixed for clubs. Living in Austin I was introduced mainly to Americana music, and songwriting as a craft. I think the people I met and music I listened to then influenced my songwriting immensely, still today, as well as what was going on in my life at the time.
The more you live the more you love and loose. You accumulate stories and are inspired by things that happen to you, or things that are happening to other people that move you in some way. The energy from a place certainly affects my music, whether I’m travelling in Netherlands, spending a week in Paris, or touring Bavaria, or back home at my desk in rural Nova Scotia. Different people, cultures, the land, the food… all of these things influence my well-being and my work.
THC: You recently released ‘It’ll Be Alright’. I have listened all the way through a couple of times and already have a few favorite tracks. I find myself re-listening to ‘Take Me Back in a Dream’. You said that you find yourself limited when producing; did you have any constraints to overcome when creating this album? In addition, how did you reinterpret these themes in ‘It’ll Be Alright’?
Christina Martin: Funny, the toughest challenges for me with this album came from dealing with individuals or tasks outside of the making of the music, relating to other aspects of ‘getting the album out’ to people. It’s a big job to take on managing yourself, because you are possible for seeing through every aspect of a production and album from making the music, to marketing and planning the tours. Producing the album, working on the music with the musicians and with Dale went well and I found it was the easiest and most enjoyable part. I had enough resources to hire the musicians I wanted to work with. I gave myself enough time and had enough money to do exactly what we set out to do musically. Money became a big struggle for me in trying to make the other plans and reach for something bigger when it came to the live touring.
I am very limited with money and time, so when people want to work with me and it doesn’t work out, it can really feel like a big set-back. The good news is if you are patient and persistent you do find people that you work well with. From the beginning, I was also trying to create a larger live production, and I struggled with finding the resources to achieve what I wanted. I became a stronger performer in the process. I think for the future I’m better prepared and can still strive to create larger productions if it makes sense.
How do I interpret the recurring themes in my writing? I guess you just find a new way to say something… sometimes you feel a bit differently or have a new perspective after years of thinking about something. For example, ‘You Don’t Have to Leave Tonight’ is about the time my father left us in the middle of the night. I was about 11. He just left under mysterious circumstances at the time and I still wonder what things would have been like had he just talked to someone about his struggles. I’ve written a few songs about that time when my father disappeared: ‘Stole Something’ and ‘You Come Home’. My relationship with my father and other members of my family is very complicated. I guess I still have time to explore that through music…
You can’t really sum up some people in just one song.
THC: Of course, I think that if artists were able to summarize people that are significant for one reason or another in one song we wouldn’t have such a wealth of music. Do you find that your music has a healing aspect to it? Does it allow you to connect with fans who have undergone or are undergoing similar events or experiences?
Christina Martin: I’m sure music has saved my life in more than one way. In order to sing and tour my body won’t let me take many risks; risks I took before I was on this path. I do find that people reach out regarding particular songs, and share a bit of their own stories. There’s a song on this new album called ‘Reaching Out’ and there seem to be a lot of people who have a similar feeling after losing someone they love and feeling like they could have done something to help while the person was still alive… missing signals… living with guilt and sadness…
THC: How does touring then affect your relationship with your fans? When people reach out to you via the internet, are you then able to connect with them ‘in real life’ while touring?
Christina Martin: Touring is the best way to directly connect with fans. It gives me a chance to let people know me a little bit more between songs, and I think people appreciate that. I’m starting to be able to connect more using social media, I’m always learning how to make that work a bit better, but touring is still the #1 way to get my music heard and build lasting relationships.
I do meet some fans first through social media, and then later at my shows… it’s pretty cool when that happens because it makes the time I spend on social media feel more meaningful. I thought it was a waste of my time, and didn’t really know if I was making a connection. Now I see that making connections online is an important part to building a fancies and getting the music heard by more people around the world.
In short, touring strengthens my relationship with my fans and is still essential to building a fan base.
Christina Martin: I don’t know if you ever really heal from some things but music gives us a place to feel and express ourselves. Meeting fans that express they have similar experiences does reinforce my desire to keep doing what I’m doing. There are times when I wonder if I should stop or do something else. There are times when I don’t know if what I’m doing has any impact on anything or anyone. However, it is the people that appreciate the music and the live performances that encourage me to keep going when I think I should stop. I write and sing to stay healthy, but when you put an album out or release a song, at that point it’s for other people, so it is a good feeling to find out that something you were a part of helped change the quality of someone’s day.
THC: I saw that you are very active on social media platforms such as Facebook. You said that your music provides a healing aspect. Does meeting fans enhance that aspect? Is it gratifying to learn that your music helps so many people?
Christina Martin: Social media was a tough thing at first. As a self-managed artist, I have so many things I need to do each day just to keep things rolling. At first I was annoyed that social media was another thing to add to my list. I have a private life and I need a lot of time alone to create. I felt social media was a bit of a threat to my creative live. Nevertheless, in time I learned how to work it into my schedule, and became more open to the idea. This wasn’t without the help and advice of other professionals, and through trial and error.
THC: I think it’s great that fans can reach out to their favorite musicians so easily. Social media seems to break down the wall that divided the two halves for such a long while and removes the image of the distant ‘star’. You use social media so well and with such proficiency to interact with your audience. Why do you think that so many public figures have a hard time achieving this goal?
Christina Martin: I think it’s hard to open up to strangers for many people and that’s still what it feels like sometimes with social media. You don’t really know or hang out with 98% of the people who are your fans online. If you can open up just a bit online, fans really appreciate that, and often times my fans share stories that interest me and affect my day. You don’t have to say or do anything you are not comfortable with. I wouldn’t blame an artist for not wanting to use social media. I do hope someday I can walk away from it because I crave more time to myself and I don’t like being at a desk or using computers or cell phones. I’m a bit old fashioned in that way. It does take time away from sharing with the people I’m closest to.
THC: I completely understand! From my perspective with the magazine, social media holds so much promise and if used efficiently can reach many more people. How do you handle the negative comments that people write you? How do you block them out?
Christina Martin: I don’t have a lot of negative comments… yet. I’ve been lucky. I think mega-stars have a lot more of that; perhaps I’m not popular enough.
When the negative comments start rolling in I’ll let you know how I deal with it…
THC: I wouldn’t say that! I would think it’s an advantage to not receive mean comments. I wanted to talk about some of the tracks off the new album, in particular ‘Take Me Back in a Dream’. I found this track particularly interesting simply because it sounds different, more pop like. The music video that accompanies the track accentuates this transition. It is darker and ethereal. Is this a direction that you would like to explore in the future?
Christina Martin: The song, as is the case with many of my songs, was written on acoustic guitar. I wanted to pull the songs farther away from an acoustic vibe, and create a bigger more traditional pop/rock-sounding album. So one of the guys in the room picked up an omnichord, and the band started working around a simple beat, pulling the song farther away from it’s originally acoustic-driven sound. Then Dale and I built on top of the tracks with vocal parts. It just became what it was and felt right, without much force, but more experimenting with different instruments and treatments. I was excited to find a place for the Hindu chant in this song, as we were finishing the vocals. The chant is special to me, and got me through some tough times when I was learning about meditation and on the road quite a bit.
The song is a reflection in part of my own ‘head talk’ and struggles over time, and the desire to keep reaching for growth in my own life. Sometimes I remember hurtful experiences, and they push me to follow a path with heart.
I would like to explore a lot of directions with music in the future, but nothing specific that I can think of now. It will depend on who is around, what I’m inspired by in the future, and whether I can make time to open myself to the exploration. Right now, I’m tortured with paperwork.
THC: I have seen several of your music videos. Could you please walk me through the various stages of production, starting with your creative process all the way to filming and performing in the video?
Christina Martin: The director is often the person I work with initially on developing a concept. With the case of my most popular videos, working with Jason Levangie, his vision and ideas really are at the helm. He works to write the script and develop the concept, and in many cases, he edits the video. I have some freedom when it comes to hair, wardrobe and makeup, but I work with him and his team to direct me.
Our most recent video for ‘Take Me Back in a Dream’, we worked with Cory Bowles on choreography, and the production team was responsible for pulling the details together. It’s fun to come prepared but leave yourself open on set.
I love making music videos when the team is professional and I’m doing something new, and having my band in the recent video was great fun. A well-produced music video really helps bring out the best in a song, which I think ‘Take Me Back in a Dream’ music video did. People didn’t really notice that track as much before the video came out. Making videos and producing live shows is an opportunity to try new things and express yourself not only through music.
THC: How fascinating! I saw that you will be touring in the UK. Is there a definite list of cities yet?
Christina Martin: We have about three weeks of tour dates and still working on more. We are announcing the tour in October. I think we have about 17 dates now in UK, as a duo with my guitar player.
THC: Lastly, I wanted to focus on any advice that you would provide to musicians or artists in general who are trying to establish themselves in the art world. What would you tell them?
Christina Martin: Sometimes people in this ‘business’ will say that you have to follow certain ‘RULES’ to ‘MAKE IT’. I say FUCK THAT, work hard and make your own path. It’s always great to learn about the music business and be informed, but you can certainly be proactive in determining your own career path. I would advise new artists, to try not to hurt people along the way, and stay true to yourself and your heart. There are no rules to making music or growing your business. Have fun with it, and be kind to yourself and others along the way.
Christina Martin: THANKS for this opportunity Giacomo. Wishing you all the best!
THC: Thank you very much for your time Christina and likewise. Have a great day!
On behalf of The Hippo Collective, I would like to thank Christina Martin for taking the time to chat with me. Please follow her on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In addition, you can buy her new album ‘It’ll be Alright’ on iTunes and all other major music commercial platforms. Thank you for reading!