Charlotte Martin

"This is What I Do"

Music Features Charlotte Martin
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Two summers ago, Charlotte Martin was ecstatic, practically walking on air as she sat in a hip Hollywood coffeehouse, effusing over her then-pending Bong Load Records debut One Girl Army. The minuet-dainty album revolved around her fluttery vocals, tasteful piano chords and her unusual array of Midwest experiences—only 26, she’d already battled anorexia (detailed in her bracing ballad “Something Like A Hero”); earned a bachelor’s degree in Opera; been crowned Miss Teen Illinois; barnstormed her way backstage to meet her idol, Tori Amos; and even penned her own comic book, 766 6th Street, detailing her coming-of-age college introduction to the Goth-rock world. You could hear her fuse sizzling. She was like a cherry bomb, all set to explode.

“Did someone say ‘sizzle?’ More like ‘fizzle,’” harrumphs Martin today. She still looks exactly the same as she sips a monstrous strawberry margarita on a Bay Area tour stop — crystal-blue eyes, long blonde hair streaked with brown, and a fashion sense that definitely leans toward Haight Street hippie. And her youthful exuberance remains a tangible, compelling force. But it’s now tempered with cool caution. The kid is older, wiser now, and — with her de facto bow On Your Shore finally hitting stores — she’s not about to make the same mistakes twice. What, exactly, happened to that much-ballyhooed One Girl Army? Never came out, Martin grumbles; On the eve of its release, Bong Load folded. Or, as she poetically puts it, “My record died because the label went to heaven.” What came next? “Depression,” she sighs. “Deep, dark depression.”

“I went through a real identity crisis after that record got shelved,” explains Martin, whose early masters were recently purchased by RCA. “Army was such a young, vulnerable record because I didn’t have a whole lot of identity as a writer yet. So afterwards, I tried to abandon the whole piano, singer/songwriter thing. I mean, I was still writing my own songs, but I went through so many different changes as an artist. I became a rocker. I played electronic music. I learned how to produce and did all this crazy reinventing of myself. But it never was the right thing, just never was.”

Eventually, sagelike words imparted to her by Amos boomeranged back to Martin. Just make the music you want to, Amos had told her —don’t listen to what’s happening on the charts. And after writing gossamer, self-motivational new material like “Beautiful Life” and “Every Time It Rains”— in which Martin lit a candle instead of cursing the darkness — she knew she was back on track. Co-produced by Martin, Shore lifts the delicate keyboard latticework of Army to sky-blue symphonic heights, with her voice multi-tracking back on itself like a multitude of winged seraphs. She recalls it being “a very simple thing, like telling myself ‘This is what I do. I’m inspired by Kate Bush and Tori Amos, and I don’t apologize for it. I am what I am. I play piano, I’m a classical musician, a composer. And I’m not gonna try and be something I’m not anymore.’”

Now she sees it all quite clearly, Martin concludes, with good reason to be excited this time around. “I’m never gonna be Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine. I’m never gonna be Neil Halstead from Slowdive. I am Charlotte Martin. This is what I sound like, this is what I do.”

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