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VOTI - voices of the industry

MARTHA D LEWIS

 

Martha Lewis Photo © SBurnett

Huge congrats in releasing your sixth album ‘All That You See’; a journey of love, healing and social commentary. What was your inspiration behind this album and how does it connect with your personal journey of creativity?

 

I’ve had a huge and varied musical journey just in the last 2 decades, taking in composition for my small orchestra, theatre music, film and documentary presenting and in 2017 I found myself disconnected from writing in ‘song’ form-which was where I had started (way back in the 1980’S). I wasn’t sure how to get back to ‘song’ writing and bring in all that I had learned. So, I took a decision in 2018, to step back from my career and study for a one-year MA in Songwriting. It turned out to be good decision because it immersed me in an insanely inspirational world of writing songs every day, sometimes 2 in a day for the course. When the course ended I had a flurry of writing social political songs about the world around us intended for a new album. In 2019 the writing abruptly stopped with the unexpected loss of my soulmate of 28 years. I resumed the journey in 2020, with this album, which is called ALL THAT YOU SEE. I would say it’s a journey of love loss healing and social commentary songs.

 

 

As mentioned above, you were a radio presenter for BBC Radio 3 – what was it like to begin your work experience in the media industry, and has your musical background benefited you at all?

 

I absolutely loved presenting for Radio and feature film docs. My musician background has helped in that we are used to standing on stage and essentially asking an audience to listen to us. As a songwriter I enjoy the process of telling a story and that is what radio and doc presenting is about. I haven’t considered that it is a different medium.

 

Recording at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios must have been an exiting and creatively stimulating place to work, what led you to choosing an iconic studio?

 

In 2018, I was invited to a songwriting Boot Camp at Real World Studios. It was an awesome experience to be at this world renowned studio, just like recording at Abbey Road or Angel studios or any one of the other great studios of the world, you can literally feel the history of music within the walls. When I was in the mind-blowing main control room at Real World Studios, I took a picture of the studio and placed it on the home screen on my phone. I promised myself that when I recorded my album, I would record it at Real World Studios! I dreamed of being there throughout the writing process and when the songs were ready, I managed to find a space – just after lockdown- and finally got to record . It was an amazing experience, the staff , the engineers the musicians were awesome. As it is a residential studio, something quite special happens when people are away from their home environment, the music-making connection goes onto a very different level .

 

Glancing at your whole music and performance career, performance in many formats has been clearly important to you including television and live performances, song writing sessions, international radio shows, and much more. When asked about your profession, how do you usually describe yourself in a nutshell?

 

I’ve really enjoyed the variety of projects that have come my way, all of those projects have been challenging and it suits my temperament to keep moving, keep growing, keep learning new skills, going beyond my comfort zone. If I’m pushed to summarise myself in just a few words, I often say I’m a music artist, writer and presenter.

 

 

Today, 60,000 tracks are uploaded on Spotify every day, with more than half of them being songs. What elements do you think distinguish one singer from another?

 

Yes that statistic can be disheartening to learn, it can seem that your album or song is a drop in the ocean. We have to be realistic and acknowledge that the huge budgets of major labels is often a driving factor in the success of a product. We as Independent artists can only do what we can, to try a vie for the diminishing amount of editorial space. The way is see it, is that if I created a product that did not represent me and it did not achieve much, then I would feel emptier than if I created a product that I am proud of. If I know my work is the best I could do, and it represents me, then I have to trust it will have its intended journey. I don’t know if I can say that I have an ‘unusual ‘ or ‘distinctive’ voice, but I do know that its mine.

 

What inspires your musical style, people reference jazz, blues, world and art-pop in your music. Would you sau you’re a genre-fluid artist, and is there any specific genre you have a greater interest in and why?

 

I would agree that my music journey has taken me to explore all kinds of genres. I am very interested in the jazz singer songwriter genre at the moment. I’m particularly curious about what role the genre labels take in determining the journey of an album. For example; some say I’m firmly in the jazz genre , others say I’m too jazz , others say I’m not jazz enough..its mind boggling to try and figure out where you fit. Reviewers bookers agents are people with their own agendas around genres and so It’s all so subjective. I look forward to a ‘catch-all’ genre label that describes ‘eclectic’ or ‘mixed’ influences.

 

The last two years have been extremely challenging for us musicians, with few or no performances at all. In these tough times, what was your approach to releasing and promoting your new music?

 

The most significant impact of this post-covid release has been that I was not able to plan ahead for a tour to coincide with the album release in April. I didn’t dare because atr the beginning of the year – and to this day- gigs are still being cancelled. As a consequence, I am really looking forward to getting back on the road, hopefully sometime this Autumn.

 

It’s great to hear about your work in the film documentary ‘My Sweet Canary’ as a singer, do tell us more how your work in this came about?

 

My parents are Greek Cypriot and came to UK in 1960’s. So I was born and raised in London, our weekends were always full of Greek gatherings and weddings, where my parents would be play music from their culture, like all parents would. I got to know the Greek Blues without knowing a large chunk of this repertoire was from the 1920’s Greek-Jewish singer Roza Eskenazy. It’s a little bit like hearing songs from the Great American Song book from various artists from the 70’s and 80’s without realising they date back to 1920’s. As part of my world- jazz music performances I began to play some of the old Greek Blues. The director of the film ‘My Sweet Canary’ found me somewhere on the internet doing a performance of Roza’s songs at Pizza Express Jazz club Soho. He asked if I would be a main presenter and singer in his film. It was an absolute honour, especially as the story of this iconic woman artist had never before been documented. Gosh, if we think. as women, that our journey is tough, can you imagine what she went through 100 years ago. This experience has definitely been a high point for me.

 

You’re an acknowledged educator in performance and vocal skills. What is it about teaching that you value the most and how has your great performance experience impacted your teaching work and vice versa?

 

The journey of singers resonates with me. Particularly the relationship to confidence and self-belief. I have found that many singers are shy and unconfident, myself included. I try to impart information that I have gained over the years that has helped me to overcome my obstacles so that I can step further forward in my career. For example it helps young performers to know that even the biggest music icons at the top of their game have once battled to navigate their insecurities and their own demons. And for some performers this is ongoing relationship.

 

 

Alongside your hectic schedule, you also support early career musicians mentoring for Help Musicians. We all know that the music industry can be quite a complex and competitive field – what would you suggest to up-and-coming artists, so they could expand and stabilise their music careers?

 

I have been fortunate to have been mentored by some prominent people in the business and supporting up-and-coming artists is my way of paying it forward. I have found it to be a 2-way relationship and have learned as much as my mentees have in Help Musicians / Ivors Academy scheme. As for stabilising a music career, the industry is so very different from back in the days when I began. My main thrust of my work is to encourage authenticity and support their confidence so that they find that authentic voice. In this unpredictable and sometimes harsh business, that foundation is a strength of spirit and that can help to protect you (a little!) when times are hard. Also the nurturing of the journey as an experience and not just the ‘goal’ . in other words enjoy who you are working with , each step for its own sake. ETC THOUGHT To be COMPLETED …. I always suggest to new artists that they read the stories from famous artists before them. Their stories are full of rejection and perseverance. It’s so affirming to know you are not alone and that it is a hard business for everyone. Nurturing and understanding your own relationship to confidence, self-belief and performance is one of the most essential things to learn. The hard-earned skills of playing and writing will not have an opportunity to flourish if you can’t navigate the emotional side of the business.

 

Lastly, if you had to take one musician to the moon from either the past or the present, who would it be and why?

 

Oh that’s so hard for me to answer! Can I take 3 please? Billie Holiday for authenticity in her voice. Bill Evans for exquisite compositions, John Martyn for my first real exploration of whole mood-journeys in a song. As I’m a Gemini, I can’t choose, but I’d be happy if any of them could fly to the moon with me. I presume I’m going too? You didn’t say?…ha ha!

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