A Conversation with Rebecca Martin (continued)
Puremusic: How are you doing this morning?
Rebecca Martin: I'm doing real good. I'm just sitting outside with my puppies.
PM: Oh, nice.
PM: You're upstate just a little ways from the city, right?
RM: I'm, well, about a hundred miles from New York. But you know the area, because you passed my exit. It was 19.
PM: Just drove through it, yeah.
RM: Well, that's my home.
PM: Oh, it's nice up there.
RM: Let me tell you, every day I'm so glad to be here. And prior to Kingston I was in Newburgh, which I really liked, too, but it's a very different feeling. Well, where I was at one point was real farm country, and it's since become more developed. There are a lot of big, big homes. So it's more of an isolated community where people don't seem to be too involved. There's not really a town center, not at the moment, anyway. But where I am now, this whole area, it's got a great vibe, there are lots and lots of artists, and lots of interest in the community and what's happening here. And I just really like that.
PM: Wow. Well, I hope we get friendly and I'll come to see you guys up in Kingston sometime. I want to take a look.
RM: You're welcome here any time. Come by and check it out and hang out. We love to have artists around. It's great.
PM: Okay. And as I'll get to in our interview, we have quite a few friends in common, so its natural.
PM: I only got your record yesterday at 4:00 p.m., so it's been my constant companion ever since. Many miles of walking, and a number of subway rides and platforms. But I've listened to it now many times. I think People Behave Like Ballads is a really glorious record.
RM: Oh, thank you, Frank. That means a lot to me. I so much want people to have it and enjoy it.
PM: It's really amazing. The title comes, I hear, from a book of poetry by another Maine artist. How did you come upon it?
RM: Well, my dad passed away in 2001. And it was probably a year ago last spring that I actually got to looking through his books. He was a doctor, but he was also an antique dealer, collector. He was a poet, and he was a painter--
RM: And I was cleaning out one of his old book cupboards, and I found the first edition, a signed copy of this book. And I saw the title, and I thought it was so perfect--I wish I could have come up with that myself, but it was the perfect title for this body of work that I planned on recording. And of course, I dove right into his poetry and really loved it. I love the Maine connection. And I just knew instantly that that was the title, it's as simple as that. And it'd never really occurred to me before to use a pre-existing title for anything. But it's a brilliant title. He's a wonderful poet. And so hopefully it'll have a double meaning for a lot of people.
PM: Yeah. And it's a brilliant title for this record, as you say.
RM: I think it is. It encapsulates everything that I feel. One of the feelings that I had about this record, and that I have about music in general, is that people putting an album together concentrate an awful lot on tempos and where songs should be. And a ballad is considered a slower piece--and in commercial music especially, you know how people tend to focus on up-tempo songs--
PM: But on the other hand, the ballad is one thing that never ever goes away.
RM: It doesn't, yeah. It's the best, for me. A ballad slows things down to a place where you can actually be affected. I think that was a big part of why I felt this title was perfect: this music is really personal, it's very intimate. But what I always try to do is to make it open so that it can be anybody's, and maybe they can have a moment to feel for themselves some of the emotion that I was having when I was writing. I think that comes from slowness for sure. And I like that space a lot. I love things to be slow, and I love that challenge of trying to listen more.
PM: A good ballad is like an intimate conversation, whereas a groove tune is frequently like so much small talk.
RM: It can be, there's no doubt, these days. That's exactly right.
PM: We predict that many of our readers will become big fans of yours, but for the benefit of those who are not yet acquainted with you, let's go back and get just a taste of your story, if we may. You grew up in Maine, as we touched upon.
PM: And your first pro music experience was with the then unknown Jesse Harris [Songwriter of the Year last year, based on multiple cuts on Norah Jones smash debut].
RM: Yeah. I came to New York--that's sort of a long crisscrossing story. But I finally came to New York. And I was, I think, 22. And I was working in some production--a friend of mine there had heard me sing. And at that time I was doing this weekly gig at a spaghetti restaurant down on the Lower East Side. And really looking for my music. Jesse came to a gig of mine, and instantly we were matched.
PM: How exciting.
RM: Yeah, it was. It was a really great time. It's one of those things that has happened a couple of times in my life, when everything kind of comes together unknowingly. We met, and we got together. We became a romantic couple first. And it took about six months before we actually wrote together.
I remember the very first time, which was probably two months or so into our relationship, that we went to the Ludlow Street Cafe, and I heard him perform solo. When he started singing his songs--which I had no idea what they were going to be like at that point--I was sitting with my back towards him with a friend, we were talking before he got started. I whipped around so fast, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. And for me, it was--in hindsight, it was the music that I felt so much in myself but that I hadn't accessed. I think that's what I was resonating with.
But I was also really young. And at that age you're not always very grateful. You're not always totally aware, and you're moving forward and you're doing your thing. I don't I think realized how fortuitous it was to have met him at that time in my life. We just moved ahead with it.
Prior to that, I was being matched up with a lot of songwriters who are great, and who I'm friends with today, but it never accessed that place in me. And so I didn't even understand--I wasn't totally aware of it. I just wasn't aware of it. I had always been making music, so I was just making music. And I was having a great time in New York and trying to figure out where I was heading. And that was just a big, big life change, right then.
So even at that point, it took a few more months before we wrote together, and some other circumstances had occurred. And the first song we wrote was a song called "Family Tree," which is a beautiful song. And then we wrote the song called "I Haven't Been Me," which became our signature song, although it actually never really got heard by anyone outside of our fans. It was intended to go out, but we didn't get the chance because the label folded.
PM: But isn't that record being reissued?
RM: Yes. Actually, it was a reissued last fall--our first record came out on EMI Toshiba with pretty much the entire second record added to it. So it's the first and the second all on one disc, which is great.
PM: Oh, wow. That CD I don't have, but I've got to get that. And it has that signature song on there?
RM: Yes. I consider that our signature song. That was the second song we wrote, and I just knew right then and there, "This is the real thing."
And everything kind of came together. We had these incredible musicians around. We were in the jazz community, just because we loved it. And Jesse is a huge jazz fan, so I was immediately introduced to the New York City jazz scene. And we would go out and hear music all the time. It was a great time for me to do that. And though I had studied jazz in Maine, being in the city and in it, hearing the music live and getting to know these young people--and at the time it was, like, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ben Street, Kenny Wollesen, Jim Black. I mean--you know?
PM: A bunch of heavyweights, yeah.
RM: That's what I was surrounded by. And so on top of having these songs that Jesse and I were writing together that were right, we had this incredible tapestry of sound to surround the songs and make them into something really unique, or much more unique, I feel.
So we became Once Blue, Jesse and I. Very quickly we got signed. And very quickly we went from playing Sine Cafe every week to being on a tour bus and on the road for a good year. And we used to play at Sine with Jeff Buckley every week.
RM: I know. We were on the 8:00, he was on at 9:00, every Monday night at Sine.
PM: I recently heard a record that he cut at Sine that was unbelievable!
RM: Yeah, that's the EP. And that's the way we knew him. When Grace came out, I was flabbergasted by it. I didn't realize that he was such a rocker. I just saw him more as an interpreter. A lot of the songs that he was singing back then were covers. They were his arrangements of them, and how he did them they sounded like his, but I knew that they weren't. So when he came out with Grace, I was just really surprised, because the EP is what I knew Jeff as. But we were with him, we were playing before him every week. It was magical. Sine was really a great spot. I also feel very lucky to have come in at that time. There was amazing stuff going on right then and there.
PM: Yeah, it was a real vortex.
RM: It really was magic. And I think it's coming around again, in a way--at least with my generation of songwriters, because they've all hung in, and they're making amazing music. And they've done it on their own, and it's very unique. You see that energy in New York, too. Of course, there's maybe two generations now, of people coming in. But the songwriters I've come up with, it's so inspiring, their tenacity and what they've created by just performing often and just doing their thing. continue