Martina Sorbara

Martina Sorbara Biography

The first thing you'll want to know about The Cure for Bad Deeds, the sensational U.S. debut by Martina Sorbara, is what's that gunk on her hands? Look carefully at the cover. Big smile. Dancing eyes. And, up to the edge of her red nail polish: gunk. With what we'd learned about this young Canadian singer/songwriter, we assumed it was grease that she'd gotten all over herself while tuning up her car.

The idea isn't that far-fetched. Though only 23 years old, Martina has developed a unique writing and singing style, one that reflects youthful intoxication with life as much as a premature wisdom about the ways of the world. But she also possesses a fearlessness that goes beyond music, a willingness to confront and conquer any challenge that comes her way.

Consider: She makes all her own clothing -- not just casual stuff, like that sweater on the grungy-fingered Bad Deeds cover, but high-style formal outfits, like the gown she made for her friend and video producer Wendy Morgan to wear at the Canadian Much Music Awards. She also builds her own guitars, one of which she uses on the new album. (Martina plays piano on Bad Deeds too, and while she hasn't gotten around to actually building one, she did spend some time working in a piano repair shop to learn the basics, just in case.)

So it seems reasonable that she would do her own tune-ups and lube jobs. More important, though, is that this same refusal to be intimidated lies at the core of her music. Unlike many other songwriters, she doesn't evade responsibility for what she says; right up front, she'll tell you that each lyric, whether about envy or heartbreak or even lascivious interest, comes directly from her own experiences.

And each inspired twist of melody, each artful rhyme, and every interpretive risk that she takes -- all that comes from her heart, and from her prodigious musical gifts.

This uncommon confidence traces back to her upbringing in rural Ontario. She and a twin brother are the youngest of six kids; their parents are freethinking products of the Sixties, who believed that the best way to raise their youngest children was to give them license to learn through experience. Anything that got in between them and the real world -- television, for instance -- was banished from the house; the doors were flung open, and Martina and her brother wandered out to seek adventure on their own.

"We were allowed to do whatever we want," Martina remembers, her quiet speaking voice belying the boldness of her outlook. "There were old barns and houses that we'd break into. We'd build fires in the backyard by ourselves, or we'd walk down the creek on the ice and fall through."

Oddly enough, her first efforts at writing songs were tentative. Martina had begun taking piano lessons when she was about seven years old, started teaching herself guitar a year later, and at 12 she was writing classical-inspired keyboard compositions. Four years later, inspired by the eclectic records in her family's collection, she decided to start adding words to her music. But she did it secretly at first: "I had this fear of being discovered," she explains. "I wouldn't write anything down, because I had gotten in trouble for reading my sister's diary and offering to give it to one of her ex-boyfriends. For my first three years of writing songs, I was so embarrassed that if anyone talked to me about it, I would turn red and change the subject."

Eventually Martina's assertive nature won out, and as she finished her primary education at the progressive Waldorf School in Thornhill, she began playing and singing her own material more freely. Her obvious talent won her a scholarship at 18 to the prestigious music program at Toronto's York University. But only three days into her freshman year, sensing that the academic thrust of the curriculum wasn't what she needed, she impetuously dropped out and started chasing her dreams around town.

Supporting herself as a dishwasher at a bar and a waitress in a coffee shop, Martina hustled after work on her own, cold-calling club owners and scrounging a gig here and there. Word spread quickly about the disarming newcomer, who could quiet a room with a whisper or whip up a frenzy with a roof-raising showstopper. Working solo one night, rocking the dance floor with a jazz band the next, Martina built a buzz that led to a pivotal appearance at the Blue Skies Folk Festival -- pivotal, in that it inspired her to record her first demo recordings, in one marathon session, just to have something to sell at the event. ("That isn't always the best reason to whip up a music really quick," she admits. "You don't know if you want someone going home with something you made in twelve hours.")

More important, it earned her an invitation back to the festival in the summer of 1999. There, she met and befriended Jian Ghomeshi, singer/songwriter for the popular band Moxy Fruvous -- who, on hearing Martina perform, offered to become her manager and produce a more ambitious project with her. Their association led to the Canadian release of The Cure for Bad Deeds in early 2002, a stunning performance that marked Martina's "official" debut. The Canadian press was near unanimous in its enthusiasm; Eye Weekly (Toronto) described Martina’s "vulnerability" as most affecting and said that the "genuinely moving piano and guitar meditations, intimate secrets reminiscent of the core of Joni Mitchell’s confessional template Blue. Consider that high praise indeed." Indeed.

The world is about to catch on. Bad Deeds is poised to conquer America. Martina typically performs live with only a drummer present. This understated setting gives her room to breathe all shades of life into her lyrics -- slinky, seductive, and unexpectedly ironic on "Better Man," wistful yet self-assertive on "Once I Was Mighty," wry and dark on "Casanova"...

You get the picture. In its contradictory qualities, the music of Martina Sorbara conveys a depth that's rare in modern music. Never inaccessible, occasionally elusive, The Cure for Bad Deeds above all heralds the arrival of a major-league talent. No longer setting fires on the family farm, Martina Sorbara is ready now to set the world on fire.

The grease? Oh, right. Turns out that it actually is grease from Martina's car, though not from her doing any hands-on tinkering. "When I went with my friend to take the cover photo, I had this vision of having really great red nail polish with dirty hands," Martina admits, a little embarrassed. "But, you know, Martin Sexton still thinks that I work on my own engine. We traded records when we met, and he was like, 'So what's on your hands?' I told him it was grease from my engine, and he was like, 'Do you change your own oil? If you do, will you marry me?' And I was like, "Uh, yeah, I change my own oil. For sure!" So I totally lied to him."

We're betting it's just a matter of time before she's a Stateside star … and she starts doing her own tune-ups too. Martina Sorbara is that kind of a girl.

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