Charlotte Martin - Stromatamusic reviews and artist reflections
photo © Erin Russell 2006 | click on image to visit artist's website
interview and reviews © Musical Discoveries 2006 | last update: 01 October 2006
more Charlotte Martin:
Interview (On Your Shore) (Dec 2004) |
Interview (Darkest Hour) (July 2005)
The connective tissue framework of an organ, gland, or other structure, as distinguished from the tissues performing the special function of the organ or part is the online definition of the word stromata. While a dark theme reflecting the artist's thoughts and feelings during the two-year writing period connects the songs on Charlotte Martin's new CD of the same title, the material is equally a connection between the varous styles developed over her artistic career to date.
Enthusiasts who have gathered the three EPs in the rarities series released during Charlotte's spring 2006 tour and her early work will certainly hear the significant progression into and across Stromata. The Stromata album is available as a CD from all major retailers and online from popular outlets. The full selection of Stromata tracks can actually only be achieved by obtaining the CD and supplementing it with the online bonuses.
The article below contains the results of our fifth interview with Charlotte conducted in late July, but after our staff had a chance to listen to an advance of Stromata. Although Charlotte rarely talks with the press about the specific lyrical messages of her songs, she talked extensively and provided an unusual level of detail about the new songs during our interview. Learn more about Stromata in the interview and read our review of the album and various bonus tracks recently released below.
Musical Discoveries connected with Charlotte Martin to discuss the September 12, 2006 release of her new CD, Stromata on July 28. The album is being released under her own newly created independent label, Dinosaur Fight Records, which she co-owns with her husband, Ken Andrews. The new album captures a more electronic sound, mixed in with many different music genres. But, Charlotte's exquisite vocals and masterful keyboarding still abound.
Prior to the release of Stromata, Charlotte has released some EP's. There is one more EP planned for release on August 23, 2006 which will have the "Stromata" video and remix. Charlotte commented that she likes the 'B' sides of the EP's and that she likes to put out her favorites at the end. "They probably almost could have made Stromata but I didn't record them in time." Three of the four new tracks released were written in June. "Apology" was written a bit earlier.
The name stromata is unusual and we asked Charlotte how she chose the title. "I've been writing this record for a while. "Redeemed" was written a while back and obviously "Inch" I had written a while back and they never found homes on any of the new EP's. I've just been saving them." She wrote "Stromata" when she returned from the Darkest Hour Tour and has been writing previously since January to June. "I didn't know it was going to be called "Stromata." First it was going to be called "Keep Me In Your Pocket" for a while and then it was going to be called "Pills" and I couldn't find the center or the sound right away. And I wrote "Stromata" about the same time I wrote "Veins," "Four Walls," and "Under the Gravel Skies.""
She continued saying, "When I finished the actual song, I found the word stromata first of all. I'd been researching intelligent science, space and time travel, the eleven dimensions of God and all this crazy stuff. I'm a very spiritual person and upon my readings I came across the word stromata and I really loved what it represented and what it stood for. It means it's the framework of a cell. There's many definitions. Someone told me that it's a spiritual or religious term. I was looking at it as a scientific term but I used basically a metaphoric explanation as to why everything connects and disconnects and why basically in the last year my life has fallen apart and got put back together. And the words in the song seemed to encapsulate and sum up everything that I was feeling and what I thought was happening in the world. There were just more than terrible things happening that I don't understand. I don't understand how there could still be racism. I don't get it. I'm still researching. People are the whole point and I still don't understand why we're still in a day and age in the 21st century where we're killing other people. But, that's the way it is and I don't have all the answers, and I can't even come close to getting them. But, the record is alot about trying to find them I guess in my own little stories."
In listening to the songs on Stromata, there appears to be a connection and progression of the music starting with track one until the end. Charlotte confirmed the connection. "Every song is about some sort of failure and some sort of insecurity that personally has happened to me. I don't like to tell people exactly what the songs are about because I want them to be able to have their own relationship themselves and have their own meanings. The first twelve tracks are pretty sad songs. The whole thing that makes it okay is "Redeemed" at the end. Even "Pills" on the record is one of the darkest songs I think I've ever written. I don't know if every person will get that but that's one of the most depressing things I've ever written. It's about someone who's taken so many pills that they off themselves at the end of the song."
photo © Erin Russell 2006
When talking about "Pills," she sounded concerned when talking about a press person that didn't understand why there was a funny song on the album. Charlotte reiterated that the song was not funny and "just because you dress it up with a little orchestra and a little symphony and it's a little cheeky, does not make it a happy song." Her intent was to make the song "kind of insane." She explained that "within every song, except for a few tracks like "Haunted" and "Steel," there is some point of almost hope or some sort of out. I would be able to get really vulnerable and dark but if you didn't listen carefully you'd think the song is a pretty powerful song. Not on this record. All the songs are pretty dark and I saved the hope for "Redeemed" at the end. Nobody can be okay all the time and I think this record represented the times when I was not okay at all. And I had to find some peace at the end even though I hadn't figured out what the hell I'm searching for. I think I'm an analytical person and extremely insecure as a person but being able to express all this in music really saved my life."
Charlotte is extremely passionate about her feelings and has been examining her life through her music. The process of creating, writing and producing Stromata has been a growth process for her. "I'm in a different headspace now. I feel like I've been talking to a therapist or something for the last two years while writing these songs." She felt vulnerable when she left RCA, feeling unstable financially and musically. She also suffered the losses of a couple of friends. "I'm getting to the age where I just had a friend my age drop dead at thirty last week and nobody really knows why. I'm not really a negative person at all but I've really been hit with real life stuff that hit me the way Melissa did. But, it's been over and over and over and now that I'm on my own and married and a woman experiencing life, it's a completely different outlook from saying 'everything's okay, you know, I'm steel, but everything's okay and everything's a beautiful life' and it was important for me to make that record but now I'm comfortable with saying that everything is absolutely not okay, I'm really fucked up right now and I will work through it, even though I don't have it figured out, I will work through it. That's what this record was creatively and on a technical level too."
The production of the album was a unique experience as well. She did the record mostly on her own and emailed the tracks to her husband, Ken, who would add the production. "I stopped working in a room with people. It was extremely isolating which made it even a lot darker because I could really go there when I was doing tapes and really experiment with sounds and I was afraid of nothing. Even though content-wise and emotionally I was afraid of everything. When I would go into the studio or feel a song coming on, I was not afraid to write about what I was feeling. And I was not afraid to try and make it all better which was a hard thing to do as a person and in my own personal life and it affected my music. I think that was okay." In dealing with her depressed times, Charlotte said "Darkest Hour" was a really important song for her because she wanted to die when she wrote the song. "I was really depressed and it was another song that talked me out of it, and it was just getting up and going on. And "Veins" got a little deeper. "Veins" tackled a few more things. And now "Stromata" is basically the full blown war with myself. But, there's some hope at the end."
There is such intensity to Charlotte that we had to find out what was her stromata. She gave great pause before answering, and said, "Oh dear. I don't know if I can answer that question. That's a really good question, but if I tell you who that is, I can get in big trouble. If I say what certain songs are about - I wrote certain songs about certain people - and I don't think that song's about someone getting far away from me or disappearing and me not understanding why and that song was about me trying to manipulate them into being my friend and trying to control them. I should not have been trying to control them. I was very wrong for doing that, very wrong and I learned a great lesson. You can't control people and I had a big issue for control. You can't make people be your friend. You can't force people into loving you back. And, it drove me crazy. So, Stromata is a bit crazy. When I talk about rotted drugs manipulating me, it was pretty much what was happening. Exactly. Verbatim."
Musical Discoveries asked Charlotte about some of the meanings behind the abstract lyrics on Stromata. "Cut the Cord" was about trying to cut off something that was not healthy in dealing with a relationship. "It was sort of teasing me almost, and there was this imaginary umbilical cord to this person. It kind of reminded me of The Matrix - that was the visual on it. I just couldn't get out of the pod and it was just suffocating me and the other person and everytime I would try to cut it off I'd want to go back. I didn't want to go back. It was just round and round and round and round and it's still not over, but I tried."
"Drip" is about sex and her awakening as a woman. The song it about embracing your womanhood and not being afraid to love your body. Charlotte revealed that she's a recovering anorexic so "Drip" is about her acceptance of her body, the acceptance of her body being able to feel good, and the acceptance of her body wanting another person. "I had a hard time doing that because of my eating disorder. I didn't want anyone to touch me and I didn't want to touch anyone. I've been well for many years and it's kind of exciting that I have no any hangups right now. It's about a lot of things, but that's one of the things it's about."
Charlotte described "Keep Me in Your Pocket" as a love song. She said, "I really wanted to think how I could be attached to this person so that's why there were the lyrics about trying to be somebody's sweater, or their cigarette. It was about the imagery. I wanted to kind of run away to England with this person so I talk about the English Channel. The English Channel doesn't really mean the English Channel - I was really meaning something completely different. Something a little more racy. A little more PG13."
photo © Erin Russell 2006
"The Dance" is directly inspired by a book she read about two years ago. Sue Monk Kidd wrote a book called The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and about her awakening and struggle as a woman in a man's church. This book changed Charlotte's life a great deal. "I was just going to write the song and give it to her but it represents such a big love for myself and I guess it's about someone who is trying to get away from putting on a lot of different outfits, shoes, makeup, and giving it their best shot to make people accept them. But, really, the whole thing is that you are just fine the way you are. There is nothing wrong with improving yourself for yourself, but there are misconceptions that you have to fit into this box or peer group or hang out with these important people to have relevancy in your life is such shit that I really felt that from her book and I wanted to write about it. That I'm done doing the little dance for people, I really don't, I'm fed up."
She wrote and recorded "Little Universe" in about twenty minutes, not the beats, but the song. The song and the recording was with the chord in E Flat and Charlotte sang the lyrics and the melody over it. She sang to a click but wasn't keeping time or counting meters. "I was just trying to do it free wall so the meters would be in frame. Ken programmed the drums for "Little Universe" and the meters go from 6/8 to 6/4 to 2/4 - every single section there's a meter change. There's about seven and a half, eight meter changes in a song. I just performed it live for the first time on Tuesday at a showcase and I was counting." The beats were built around her breath changes. Since she didn't originally count when she sang, she had to go back through and map out what the meters were and where the sections started. It was not a simple process and Charlotte had to relearn the song.
It seems that doing a live show with these particular songs would be a daunting task. "The live show is pretty intense now. I'm taking out a rack of computers that looks like Hal 9000 which is a whole other thing. I'm running my show through what's called a news receptor. And it's basically the brain of the PC that can run massive amounts of software. I'm playing the actual sounds on the record like the music box bells are the actual sounds I've used on "Cut the Cord" and "The Dance." So we've been going insane trying to figure out how to play these songs and map out - I'm doing two to three things at once though and I have a drummer now which is a whole other can of worms - I've been talking about it for a year now. We're still trying to keep track and there's a lot of computers on stage." Charlotte would like to stand up during the whole show due to the high energy of the music. Although there are some quiet moments on the record, she feels that Stromata is so massive that it doesn't seem right to sit down while she performs. "The video is setting the precedent for the whole visual style. It's a harder visual which makes sense because the record is a bit heavy. I'm really happy with it. It just went up on MP3.com."
Charlotte's music has changed and grown over the years, and this album is much more musically adventurous than her previous ones. We wanted to know if the decision to make the new album more musically adventurous was a deliberate one or just something that happened as the music developed. Charlotte answered that the writing was definitely deliberately more adventurous and also part of the development. "There were a lot of songs written and not all of them were that adventurous and songs that were selected - I hate when i have to start to axe songs off albums, this is why making albums is so scary for me, and that's why I make a lot of EP's cause it's less scary. Absolutely it's a tough process for me - it's very painful. The songs that I remember are the songs that I think need to be heard."
There was difficulty in sequencing the CD. Charlotte had narrowed her selection to approximately twenty songs and each of the songs that made the album was deliberate. In fact the final release differs slightly from the advance in the selection of bonus tracks for the CD and the online version of the album. "The sequence was very deliberate in the fact that this record, if you take each song off of the sequence, I could write a whole other record around that style." She continued saying that every genre, except for country and rap, was covered on Stromata. It is the first time that each song is so different. She moves from an almost hip-hop sound to Celtic to cabaret to '90's grunge electronica to tribal sounds to haunting little ballads, and "the crazy, angry sort of song." She wanted all the songs to be different and felt that each song easily could have another whole album written around it.
She continued saying, "My parents think that even though every song is completely different in the relationship to other songs, they think it's the most fluid record I've done in my vocal delivery. Isn't that weird? I think that it's really weird that my father, who's a musician, would say that because he's very critical of everything I did vocally, this is what I should be doing, and this is the most interesting. Because I can. It's taken all these years to hone my vocal style and hopefully I've pulled it off. I made a record that is so unbelievably different that I don't know where you'd put it. Since we started sending the record out, it's a different kind of feedback. You know, like 'what's going on?' Every song is so different, and I'm like, I know. It's really tough for people because they want to categorize it in the box with other artists and they just can't. You can take apart one song but as a whole work of Stromata, the whole record, you can't do that. It's Charlotte Martin, finally, thank God."
photo © Erin Russell 2006
There were songs that didn't make it onto Stromata and Charlotte commented that those songs are currently sitting on her hard drive. She laughed and said, "It's on the hard drive which no one has but me and Ken." There is the possibility of a Stromata B-side being put out late next year due to the sheer volume of songs. Charlotte felt that it would take years to get out all the material which dates back to 1999. "I can definitely see releasing an EP that I'm trying to make a statement on I can see releasing the B Side as a part of Stromata and I'm definitely letting people know there is a B Side."
Musical Discoveries heard Charlotte's new version of "Four Walls" when she performed in Cazenovia. "It changed again, believe it or not. I recorded another version called The Phenomics. It's in half time and its with abby three organ. It involved a whole lot of synth - it's a beautiful sort of marching and kind of heavy. I'm going to play it live on this tour. I have a recording of it and I don't know where I'm going to put the recording, but I'm really happy with the way it came out. So I'm going to bust out all three versions at some point - the regular version and the solo version from Cazenovia which people really loved." She did try to record a solo version of "Four Walls" but she couldn't recreate the live sound to her liking. "I had a real hard time recording "Weird Goodbye." It was supposed to be on Stromata and I couldn't quite nail it the way I wanted to nail it, record it. I'll try and I'll work on it for a few weeks, but if it's not quite there then it's not supposed to be there yet. And sometimes it takes me a year to nail a song correctly. And sometimes they just go away. I finally recorded "I'm Normal, Please Save Me." Yeah, but that's not on the record though."
Charlotte took voice lessons for sixteen years and piano lessons for fifteen years. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Vocal Performance/Opera from Eastern Illinois University where her major involved everything from choral work to operas and included private study, competition and theory. "Just Before Dawn" highlights her exquisite classical and operatic training. We asked if we'd see more of this type of music in upcoming projects and how that would fit in with the electronic feel that she's been going for. Thoughtfully, Charlotte said, "I have no idea how that's going to fit in. But, I am playing with the idea of doing an aria record. It's an operatic nouveau aria record, and I don't know if that'll be in two years or if that'll be my next LP. I've already written a couple of other pieces sort of like "Just Before Dawn." I think it worked on this and I have to keep it going. I have to go on crazy health modes to sing opera. I have to take lessons again and get a coach and there's just not the time. I would probably have to get a piano player to play for me to do it properly, cause it's really hard to fully let out the full volume of my voice sitting down. Which could be interesting if I could do this whole show standing up - we shall see."
"Just Before Dawn" is a song that she'll be performing live. She is very excited about performing this song live. "I just think I have to do it once because here I am, at the dawn of the decade of my 30's and I have to do that. I studied for years and I feel like I owe it to myself to see if my voice could do what it was trained to do at this maturity in my life. I have a dream about doing it in chapels with the beautiful acoustics and just bring out a piano with me and just do recitals." She mentioned that as a singer, especially in classical music, you begin to peak around the ages of 30 to 35. She said that between thirty and forty, singers begin to get most of their control, focus and the most volume.
In discussing the inspiration behind "Dust," Charlotte said, "The lyric was a word tree I wrote a while ago but the song came later. It's just basically about how you have so many days on this earth and you don't believe you're going anywhere else, you'd better take account everyday - every cup of coffee, every breathing moment you have cause you don't know if this is your last day."
"Crimson Sky" is very electronic and she talked about the words in the chorus. "Asha ka ee ee ah asa oo oo - that's it. The fans were singing from "Something Like a Hero" for over a year and I had to give them something to learn! It has no special meaning. But, it means something to me, cause I think of my voice as a rhythmic instrument, it's basically a drum that's in tune with the sound." Charlotte explained the the crimson sky is like the end of her world. She said if she left the planet today, the crimson sky would be her destination. The crimson sky is both frightening and beautiful at the same time. "It's like my armagedden with my own physical body. I don't believe my body is the end. I think we go on and on and on and that's what the song is about."
There are some extensive touring plans in the works, and Charlotte is planning on touring through the fall. She plans to be on the road in October and through part of November. She was supposed to go to the UK this year but it didn't work out due to the upcoming record release. She's like to go to Japan and Europe next year to try and get Stromata out there. She plans on touring in Canada a year from October. "If I headline, I'll make the trek, and I haven't been in two years."
Besides working on the release of her new album, Charlotte has done the soundtrack to the video game, Advent Rising, some songs on movie soundtracks, and her work with LADNA (Los Angeles Digital Noise Academy). She explained that the LADNA project was going well and finished seven or eight songs. Charlotte contributed to two songs and hasn't had the time to do more. There are twenty-five total members with ten or eleven artists being constant contributors. Her enthusiasm was evident when she said "the stuff is turning out amazing. It's just really cool. It sounds like 25 people got together and made a record and we're all so different - you put in in the blender and hit high, there you go. And Ken is mixing it all. How do you tour with a virtual band? I don't know how they're going to do it."
As always, Charlotte is a delight and great fun to chat with. Her upfront and honest attitude is refreshing, and she exudes tremendous warmth and sincerity. Musical Discoveries asked if there was anything she wanted to tell our readers. Her genuine concern for people came through and she simply said, "I want to say that even though everything seems really, really messed up in our world right now, and really dark, with all the wars and poverty and we're melting from the heat waves over our planet, that we are all the same and there is hope and there is a point to all of this life. The point is other people. And I would just encourage all of your readers to just love people as much as possible. When it's all said and done and it's the end of your life whatever it is, you're going to be facing just the people that love you and that you love and that's really all that matters."
The Dinosaur Flight Records Stromata CD (dfr 0001, 2006) is comprised of fourteen highly varied tracks including the CD-only "Cardboard Ladders." The album download includes fifteen tracks comprised of thirteen tracks common with the CD plus "Habit" and the Red Swan remix of the title track. In the run up to the album's release, two EPs each featuring the title track plus two bonuses were released. These bonuses include "Dust," "Empty Wells," "Crimson Sky" and "Apology." Of the bonuses, "Empty Wells" is the clear standout.
While accessible online in reasonable resolution, a higher quality version of the "Stromata" music video, Charlotte performing in front of a vast array electronics, is also available for download from popular outlets. Listeners will find a variety of styles across the various releases that build on the artist's earlier work, including the Rarities series released during her Spring 2006 tour. Charlotte has made various tracks, including the title track, from the release as well as alternate mixes generally available at her MySpace site.
During the "In Parentheses" and "On Your Shore" period, Charlotte was often compared to Tori Amos, such allusions are far less prominent in the artist's recent work. A range of styles is present in the Stromata tracks beginning with the robust hook-laden electronic title track. Charlotte certainly has not left her keyboard and the dramatic solos or singer songwriter style far behind but listeners will immediately notice the layering in a number of the album's tracks including the title.
Charlotte warned her fans that the new album would include a broader range of percussion and she begins to deliver them in the percussive "Cut The Cord" and further builds them into the very difficult track "Little Universe." Keyboard textures are equally varied as evidenced in the contrasting sweet and at times purposely off key melodies built in to "Drip" and the tender ballad "A Hopeless Attempt."
Lyrical messages evolve metaphorically as the album unfolds to expose some of the artist's darkest memories. And the album is not without sing along style tracks like "Civilized" that work equally hard to communicate the artist's most difficult feelings. The midpoint of the album is defined by the Stromata version of the upbeat and charismatically arranged "Four Walls" previously recorded for the Veins EP and played extensively on Charlotte's Spring 2006 tour.
The progression into the second half of the album is dramatic. Sung without layering, the tender piano-laden ballad entitled "Inch" precedes the substantially upbeat, percussive and highly memorable love song "Keep Me In Your Pocket." While the album defies comparison to other artists, our staff thought of Rachael Sage, particularly in Charlotte's piano solos within this track.
The whimsical track "Pills" while one of the darkest tracks on the album is one of the album's two most unique. Has Charlotte picked up on the Tori Amos one-liner from "Cornflake Girl" (Under The Pink, 1994) here? Alternating betweeen very lightly arranged solo verses and orchestral choruses, the sound effects illustrate Charlotte's stunning creativity. In sharp contrast, the brief track "Just Before The Dawn," the artist's only operatic recording--aside from a track on Rarities--is sung in German accompanied by Emily Wright on cello.
Not to disappoint those Charlotte Martin fans that continue to make Tori Amos allusions, the stunning CD-only track "Cardboard Ladders" and download-only track "Habit" singer songwriter tunes have been included respectively. "Cardboard Ladders" features Charlotte's stunning lead and and harmony vocals layered atop piano. "Habit" is a superbly performed, emotionally delivered and extremely tender ballad sung solo atop piano.
Since our listening to the advance CD, Stromata enters its natural conclusion with the standout track, "The Dance," a stunning lyrical hook-laden, percussive, memorable track. Accompanied by acoustic percussion and children piano sounding keyboard, Charlotte's lead vocal is richly supported by layers of stunning harmony vocals in the chorus. Charlotte's duet with herself in the middle eight and brief piano solo is stunning. The final track of the album is the standout "Redeemed." Originally written some years ago and performed live, the track is truly a connection of the artist's formation with her present. Tremendous lead and self-backing vocals are combined with rich arrangements and the most stunning piano solo on the record.
In addition to the album's main tracks, enthusiasts will find the Red Swan remix of the title track and the four bonus tracks on the EPs leading up to the Stromata album release. The first EP includes "Dust," which while written after many of the tracks builds upon the sound of Veins. A strong B-side, Charlotte's crisp keyboard and tender lead vocal work well with offbeat percussion and harmony layers. "Empty Wells" is the strongest of the B-sides, the standout in fact, sung by Charlotte tenderly yet powerfully atop light but percussive piano. Layers add contrast and texture in the chorus.
The vocal and instrumental effects in "Crimson Sky" continue to illustrate Charlotte's creativity. The a memorable melody in the chorus and dense arrangements that include vocalise layers have also drawn attention from the fan community. "Apology" is a more densely arranged track, primarily as a result of the thick keyboard washes and percussion accompanying Charlotte's lead. Harmony vocals sung duet style work well in the choruses.
Charlotte Martin certainly has continued to advance her career markedly and is certain to please her fans with Stromata and the various bonus tracks. Her new live show promises to be especially rewarding with the addition of electronics and a live drummer. The Stromata CD is available from both online and retail outlets and is downloadable from all the major online shops. With control of an independent label backing her plans for future work we can continue to expect great things from Charlotte Martin.
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