East Coast singer/songwriter Christina Martin
– interview by Shawn Conner/photos by Ashley Tanasiychuk
We reached Christina Martin at the Howard Johnson “on top of the Biltmore Cabaret”, as she put it; the hotel chain might put it another way.
An East Coast singer/songwriter, Martin is now on her third album, I Can Too. Recorded with steel guitar player/fiancee Dale Murray of Cuff the Duke (with which she is currently on tour), it’s a rootsy, folk-based release with subtly powerful songs like the title track.
In town for a show with Cuff the Duke and Hot Panda at the Biltmore, Martin talked to us just before soundcheck about the new album, keeping up her Twitter account, and colouring books.
Shawn Conner: So what’s the Howard Johnson like?
Christina Martin: It’s great, there’s an ironing board, a window with a view, a TV and a nice bed, and my fiancee. What more could a girl ask for? And there is wireless Internet, which is great.
SC: Is it hard keeping up with your various cyber-pages while on tour?
CM: We kind of have it all synced up now. I hired some people to help me organize all of my social networks. It does take some thinking about but it’s not that hard to do on the road. I love doing it and I feel good doing it. It might take a couple of days to get my blogs updated.
SC: Do you read other musicians’ tour blogs for inspiration, or do you just do what you do?
CM: I just do what I do. I don’t really follow anybody else online. Every now and then I’ll check out a link on Facebook. I only use it for business purposes and keeping up with my fans.
SC: Do you think some of this stuff is a steep learning curve for musicians?
CM: It’s not too difficult. I try to keep things really simple. I don’t want my life to revolve around being online or being attached to my phone, I do that enough anyway. There are a few simple things you can learn, it might seem like a lot at first but it gets easier.
Keeping it simple is my motto. I just don’t want it to take over my life. I keep up with Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, Reverbnation, that’s about it. And my main website. I just think it’s important. There’s nothing like going on a website in the summer and seeing the only post up there is from Christmastime.
SC: The title track of the new record, is that a self-empowerment kind of a thing?
CM: Kind of. It’s one of the first things that comes to mind if someone tells me I can’t do something. You hear that in a lot of businesses but also the music industry. It was written out of being frustrated at hearing form other people that something couldn’t be done a certain way. It’s not meant to be like an angry or aggressive sort of song, it’s meant to be more optimistic, to use the negative things to do something more positive.
SC: Were you ever an aggressive punk rock chick?
CM: No, but I think with this album, you can hear maybe more aggression in some of the songs, the way the guitars and drums are used. It’s easy listening, but it’s not exactly listening to a soft-folk kind of record.
I think the first record was a little more where I wanted to go but I didn’t know how to express anything, and I left it up to people I was working with at the time. This has a little more guts to it, a little aggression to it. I had less fear in saying what I wanted to hear. I’ve never gone through a punk rock phase but there’s still time.
SC: And I was reading that you have a line of merchandise, and the profits go to the Canadian Mental Health Association?
CM: Yes, it’s called Pretty Things, named after my first album. It’s a fun little line, at the shows we have coloring books with all my song lyrics, feather jewelry and postcards.
I’m trying to encourage people to write letters again. My profits from the pretty things line are donated to the Canadian Mental Health Association in Halifax/ Dartmouth. It’s interesting, people are interested in hearing about the CMHA. After a show they’ll ask why the CMHA and I’ll tell them.* Sometimes people share their stories about themselves or their family and friends battles with mental health issues.
SC: I think more people are affected by it than we realize.
CM: Yes. It does effect more people than we think.
*In an email addendum to the interview, Martin writes that she has a brother with bipolar disorder, and that her late father, who passed away in 1999, is thought to have had a similar condition. Drug and alcohol abuse run in her family, and she has struggled with anxiety issues and addictive tendencies and believes that anyone can be affected by a mental health issue at any point in life. On the stigma behind mental health issues: “It’s something people didn’t want to talk about, and people still have a hard time admitting they are not well. But if you hurt your foot its okay to talk about it… so if you are not emotionally stable why is it so hard to talk about? I think it’s because people don’t know how to fix it or quite understand it. There is still a lot of mystery behind many mental health illnesses and people don’t always know what to say to make it better, and often there is nothing anyone else can say or do.”]