Heartland rock is nothing if not enduring. Whilst the rest of the world flits between trends and musical movements like a butterfly between blooms, the musical heavyweights of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Neil Young and their compatriots keep on storming. Perhaps it’s their influence, perhaps it’s that brand of honest, fist-pumping desperation that keeps folks listening. Some of those folk even pick up guitars, and add their voices to the rousing chorus. Christina Martin is one of those.
An acoustic-totting veteran with her own suitcase full of songs, powerhouse voice and that same Springsteenian all-or-nothing majesty. Starting out playing the whiskey-drenched stages of Austin in the early 2000s, she’s since found success in her native Canada and has been recording and touring relentlessly since. With four albums behind her and new single ‘Lungs Are Burning’ hot off the presses, she’s now in the UK doing a whistle-stop tour across the country.
GIGsoup’s Matt George Lovett caught up with her to discuss her UK tour, alongside the new single, the upcoming album, songwriting techniques and the personal nature of songwriting…
You have a very distinctive sound that runs through the core of your music that’s often compared to Springsteen, Neil Young and Tom Petty. Were these influences you grew up with, or was it a style you happened upon as you began songwriting?
I’ve been doing this a lot longer than it feels like. Over my lifetime I’ve had many influences, mostly between the ages of 10-30, that stuck with me. I think the Springsteen and Petty influences come up because I’ve cited them. You can hear it in 2015’s ‘It’ll Be Alright’. But there are other artists too. Like Annie Lennox, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Shawn Colvin, Neil Finn, Paul Westerberg, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, dance music…. and more… that have inspired me over the years. I would say Tom and Bruce were two major influences in terms of me wanting to be in a rock band, and wanting to be the kind of performer that had a strong presence on stage just singing and playing rhythm guitar. I never wanted to be a flashy artist, I just fell in love with great pop and rock songs. Artists like Tom and Bruce, and Annie Lennox or Madonna, strong people who have had incredible careers and their work stands the test of time.
You’ve also toyed around with other sounds, especially on 2015’s ‘It’ll Be Alright’. Was this a conscious effort to push the bracket of your writing, or were these simply the sounds to fit the lyrics you were coming up with?
I wrote the music and lyrics on my acoustic guitar. But we workshopped all the songs on ‘It’ll Be Alright’ for weeks before recording them. During one session for ‘Take Me Back in a Dream’ Dale wasn’t playing anything, so he plugged an omnichord into his guitar amp, and the beat he selected kicked off a new vibe that the band just flew with. It was a happy accident I suppose.
Your lyrics have a distinctive style too. Would you say that stems from your personal experiences, or are these the themes you find most captivating as a writer?
I write from personal experience quite a bit. I’m inspired by human experiences. That could be love, loss, overcoming adversity, anxiety, feeling like a victim or witnessing an injustice. I write about family, travelling.
New single ‘Lungs Are Burning’ dwells on the Fentanyl Drug Crisis. What was the motivation for dedicating a song to such a topic? Was it a form of musical catharsis, or is it a knowing attempt to raise the issue with listeners who might not otherwise be aware of it?
The song is not about the Fentanyl Drug Crisis as such, but it was a reaction to reading about the crisis. 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, it made my heart hurt thinking about the lack of resources we still struggle with around the world. 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.
The lyrics for ‘Lungs Are Burning’ also work as a broader musing on addiction and the emotional distress around it. Was this your intention – to keep the song open ended?
Music can be a place for people to examine their own feelings on a topic, and to begin a conversation about something difficult. That’s what I am hoping my music can do for others.
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Are the echoing, ragged guitars and sombre mood of ‘Lungs Are Burning’ an indication of the sound we can expect for the upcoming album?
Not necessarily. It’s interesting to hear what other people ‘hear’ in a song. We didn’t think the guitars were ‘ragged’ but it makes me chuckle! For all I know, I might release what I consider to be another retro-Pop/Rock album, and reviewers come back and label it ‘country music’. I’m just going to make the best record I can with Dale Murray, in our home studio in Nova Scotia, and hope that it’s well received. Then, I’ll likely move quickly onto touring and making the next album and just put my blinders on.
You’re currently touring in the UK. As an artist with an Americana-inspired sound, how do UK audiences compare to those in Canada or the US?
Haven’t been to the US in a while, Canadians are awesome, and so are the Brits! I wish it were easier to get to the bigger stages and festivals, but I think a lot of great musicians are striving for the same opportunities.
Do you think that the musical landscape has changed in the UK and Europe over the last decade? Artists such as yourself with Americana and alt-country stylings can find an audience here where perhaps none existed a decade ago?
I’m told by Dale Murray that in 2000 there was a real push for Americana and Alt-Country music in the UK. I’ve only been on the scene here since 2014, and it seems like there are many opportunities for the kind of music. I’m a bit unique in that I’m not strictly Americana. The longer I make music the more I delve into my Pop and Rock influences, but the storytelling is usually somewhere in there too. Delivering Pop/Rock songs with strong messages and stories, backed by a stellar Roots/Rock band, that’s what I’m interested in.
Christina Martin ‘Lungs Are Burning’ is out now.