For Charlotte Martin, the most important thing is making a connection.
"Every single part of me is a piece of somebody else," says the 26-year-old, piano-playing chanteuse. From connecting her life's tales with her powerful lyrics, to her fans that see themselves in her songs, Martin is an extraordinary kind of songwriter that builds close ties with anyone who hears her music.
That magnetism is no more apparent than on her latest release, IN PARENTHESES. Evoking influences as diverse as Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple, early Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell - but still very much her own musician - Martin's disc is a telling snapshot of her life. And like the rest of us, she's just trying to figure it all out.
A not-so-closet Goth with bleach-blonde hair, Martin has a knack for crafting emotionally-complex songs that continually flirt with pop structures. While her beautiful voice and piano-playing prowess offer an entrée into her music, it's Martin's uncompromising lyrics that keep you coming back. On IN PARENTHESES songs like the smoky "Pretty Thing" and the title track speak to Martin's past obsession with being accepted, but overlooked. The bewitchingly-dark "Up All Night" is a tale of a teenage girl struggling with the idea of having an abortion. And "Monster (What Would I Do)" wrestles with the thought of speaking your mind, even though you're afraid to do just that.
"IN PARENTHESES is the first real attempt at saying who I am - who I am right now," says Martin, who then states the obvious: "I'm very open. I just lay stuff out there."
It wasn't always like that. Martin grew up in a small college town and dedicated most of her time to studying opera. She took piano lessons and eventually went to Eastern Illinois University, where her father is a music professor. That's when it all changed.
Martin moved in with a very-Goth roomie Raven (they're still best friends today) and went through several life-changing experiences. Beyond the normal college-age drama and relationship trials, Martin had two friends commit suicide in the same year. One was her then boyfriend's sister, who was also her best friend. The first song Martin wrote was for her funeral.
"I didn't really live until I got to college," she says. "I had all of this stuff happen and found out that I had a lot to express."
Martin continued expressing herself and moved to Los Angeles to begin her career. However, it didn't go as planned. "I thought that I'd just move to LA, get signed and that would be it," she says. Martin did get a deal and recorded an album, ONE GIRL ARMY, with producer Tom Rothrock (Beck, Foo Fighters) for Bong Load/RCA. Showcasing Martin's talents for tackling big issues without hesitation, ONE GIRL ARMY touched on the personal topics of anorexia ("Something Like a Hero"), stalking from the stalker's perspective ("I'm Normal, Please Date Me") and risqué examinations of the battle of the sexes ("Take It Like a Man"). Sadly, it never came out. "I was naive when I first got signed and felt like I needed a lot of people to help me. But now I know that I can just make music and put it out on my own. If you want to help, great. If you don't, great. The people will decide. You've got to take control and do it yourself."
Now she stands stronger than ever before - both artistically and professionally.
"I have my own studio and have learned how to become my own producer," she says. The music on IN PARENTHESES was overseen by a combination of producers, but many of the songs were produced by Martin.
"Producing my own music changes the way I approach songwriting. I can do more and go other places," says Martin who has expanded her sound with drum machines and more keyboards.
Time has also allowed her to fine-tune her delivery. "My writing has become more direct. The structure of my songs is way different from ONE GIRL ARMY, which was very artistic and very quirky," she says. "Now I'm learning how to get right to the point with my songs."
Martin's openness comes through in other ways than just her recorded music. A comic book junkie, Martin and friends have developed their own online comic for her website, titled "766 6th Street," after where she lived in college. It gives viewers a glimpse into her room - literally - and what's going on in her head.
"It's that whole thing where if you make fun of yourself, nobody can make fun of you," says Martin, who always keeps a bright sense of humor. "That's why the comic exists. It's just an opportunity to make fun of myself in the most awesome way."
During her live shows, Martin also gives all. She attacks the keyboard, allowing her charismatic personality to take over the room with the same intensity as the topics she's covering. Martin uses her shows to further connect with her fans, keeping the evening conversational and often baring gifts for the audience. It's no wonder her shows have grown to become constant sellouts.
"I give away presents at my shows because I want people to keep coming back," she jokes. "I don't know why, I just feel the need to give people presents. I think sometimes I freak out on my own fans."
Martin recently sang the song "Bring On the Day" for the SWEET HOME ALABAMA soundtrack and is working on her full-length debut. Until its release, Martin will continue connecting with her fans - through her website, her live shows and her open personality, but mainly through her music. They're sure to follow.
"Some artists have changed my life. In the humblest way, I really hope I can do that for somebody some day," Martin says. "I want to give my fans something special."
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