Photo: Paul Wright
Photo: Paul Wright

Five Questions With… Samantha Martin

On November 20, Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar return with a sorely needed shot of vintage R&B in the form of their new album The Reckless One. The group’s third release for Toronto-based Gypsy Soul Records, it follows 2018’s Juno-nominated Run To Me with 12 tracks that showcase the band’s full range, and Martin’s powerhouse vocals.

The Reckless One also displays Martin’s growth as a songwriter, which she says has been fuelled over the past few years by a busy touring schedule and big changes in her personal life that left her feeling ungrounded and emotionally raw.

Those are always part of the ingredients for classic soul music, but in the absence of being able to play live shows since pandemic restrictions were put in place, Martin has also been channelling her energy into advocating for better financial support for both artists and live venues. She’s also started a potential side hustle with her boyfriend building custom furniture since, as she puts it, IKEA stuff wasn’t right for their new apartment.

We caught up with Martin to find out more about The Reckless One and how she hopes things might play out in order to get back on stage with her band again. Keep up to date by going to samanthamartinmusic.com

What makes The Reckless One stand apart musically from your past work?

I think this album builds on what we started on Run To Me, in terms of offering a fully formed idea, sound, and unified vision. Much of that is owed to the producers,  Darcy Yates and Renan Yildizdogan, who found the balance between Darcy's tight and grounded rhythm section, and Renan's often soaring Wall-of-Sound-style instrumentation and vocals. But The Reckless One explores and pushes boundaries that Run To Me didn't. For the first time in my career, I felt unencumbered by what others thought about me, and just took the opportunity to be vulnerable and trust the process.

Which song on the record has particularly special meaning for you?

I have to preface that by saying I left a long-term relationship in early 2018. I couch-surfed with several different friends, lived in four different apartments over two years, and right up until March 2020 I was an absolute flight risk. During that period I was learning how to fall in love again and trying to find my new path, on top of touring like crazy. Much of the album deals with my mental state during those two years. I've Got A Feeling is the song that inspired the entire record, and it marked a new chapter in my personal life where I was figuring out how to be grounded again. It was also the first time I wrote a song about falling in love rather than falling out of love—which was a whole new experience for me as a songwriter and as a human!

Was the album recorded during lockdown? If so, what was that process like?

The bulk of the album was tracked in late 2019. We did overdubs in March and April, which is where things got a little tricky. We were able to get Jeff Heisholt into the studio to play the organ, but Jimmy Bowskill did the strings and some lead guitar parts from his home studio. Renan did nearly all of the percussion and a few of the auxiliary keyboard parts on a Farfisa and Vox Continental at our label engineer's studio, RHC Music.

We would isolate for 14 days, get together for a day or two and then isolate again. We would send parts and mixes to Darcy to listen to from home, make mix notes, make changes and start the process over again. It took a lot longer to mix the record than it would have if we had been able to all get together in a room. The mastering and the artwork took a little while too, I think because we felt like we had so much more time to get it right.

How have you adapted to engaging with your audience since the pandemic began?

To be completely honest, I don't think I have excelled at this as much as some of my peers because I went to a pretty dark place. I also have a tendency to want to make things as big and fancy as possible, which takes money. For my birthday I did a Facebook Live Stream from my living room that was supported by the National Arts Centre, and I managed to raise about $1500 more for the Unison Benevolent Fund during that show. It turned out pretty great all in all, but somehow cost me $500 to put together.

I have had a few moments to be creative in other ways. I have taken to “set decorating” for other musicians' live streams, and I shared some humourous quarantine diary entries on my socials that people seemed to enjoy. I guess I just try to be honest with my fans, and part of that for me is not putting it out there when I’m struggling to get motivated. I realize it’s been hard for everyone.

What's your mindset looking ahead to next year and the prospect of hopefully playing live?

This week my mindset is pretty great. There is a lot to do, and a lot to look forward to with the album coming out. I tend to thrive under pressure with a near-unmanageable workload because that’s been the norm for so long. We will be putting on a real live show to a 50-person audience in Belleville, Ontario at The Empire Theatre, which will of course have a live stream component to it. I am really excited to play with my band again; they are like family and I have missed them. As far as long term plans for live music, that’s anyone's guess.

We have three tours of Europe planned for March/April, May/June and Aug/Sept, but judging by the new lockdowns, some of this may not happen. I am holding out hope though, wearing a mask and washing my hands. What else can one do?

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