Charlotte Martin Talks "Dancing On Needles," Overcoming Pain and More
Thu, 30 Dec 2010 10:31:29
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Sometimes, you have to go through Hell for your art.
Charlotte Martin has certainly suffered for her music, and the resulting album, Dancing on Needles, is a masterpiece because of it. The Los Angeles singer-songwriter overcame a nerve disorder called intercostal neuralgia developed after supporting the weight of her baby son Ronen.
Incapacitated for much of a year, Charlotte poured every bit of that harrowing experience into her new music, and she crafted a piano-driven journey that's simultaneously poetic, poignant, and powerful. Delivering each note with palpable emotion, it's impossible not to feel Charlotte as she explores the dreamy darkness of "Volcano" or gives a lilting send-off on "Weird Goodbye." Produced by her husband alternative icon Ken Andrews [Beck, Pete Yorn], Dancing On Needles is a delicate and elegant triumph of the human heart. It's also bound to be remembered as one of the most special albums of 2011 when it drops on February 1st.
Now Charlotte is moving full-speed ahead. Walking out of her home, she laughs, "If you hear a dog bark, it's because I'm outside. Alright, where do I begin?"
Charlotte Martin relays her story to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor in this exclusive interview. She opens up about the journey to Dancing On Needles, healing, working with Ken, some favorite records and so much more.
Did you have a complete vision for Dancing On Needles before you went into the studio, or did it come together song by song?
It totally came together song by song. I had a few songs written before my injury, and I didn't really know what I was writing about until I hurt myself and I couldn't write anymore. When you're in the type of pain I was in, it skews your whole view so you see everything through that prism of pain. The rest of the record was all written in horrible pain, and it's about my coming out of it. Dancing On Needles took on a whole new form after the injury.
Was the healing process the overarching thread for the record?
Well, the healing process didn't happen until the very end of the record. Dancing On Needles is actually mostly about the pain process. Most of it was written when I was really sick.
There's still a hopeful aspect to the music though.
I think it's because I am that way personally. Even though I've always been like that, I'm very dramatic and can be very dark. I can threaten very dark things, but I always have this little, tiny bit of hope. That comes out in my music for some reason. I just can't give up, and that's in the songwriting. I'll get to the point where I'm like, "I'm giving up," and then I won't. I'll hang on just a little bit longer. It was heartbreaking to write this music because I couldn't play it. I wrote in breaks. There were so few times I felt like even sitting down at all since I couldn't even sit there. With the kind of injury that I had, most of the time, the medicine didn't work. It was really intense. I got to write in very small windows, and then it would make me sad because I missed writing so much. It really was a bittersweet thing. I was happy I was able to write for 30 minutes but I couldn't spend any time on it as I was so sick. I couldn't go back to it and mull over it like I normally do. Some of my songs in the past would come out pretty quickly, but most of the time I edit. I'll write a rough draft, and I'll edit a few times. Most of these songs didn't undergo that process, especially "Dancing On Needles." It is what it is. Top to bottom, I didn't change anything. I think I wrote it in about 20 minutes or less, then popped some more Vicodin, and laid on a heating pad.
Listening to the album now, you must feel a genuine sense of accomplishment.
I do. Ken and I still can't believe we pulled this off. He did a lot of it. He did most of the production. I was well enough to go to the drum sessions. It had almost been about ten months, and I was still having some pain but I was able to drive. I was even off medicine then. I wrote my draft of a piano and vocal real quick, and I'd email it to Ken. He really was the co-creator of this. On my last few releases, I really got in there and did a lot of the programming and co-produced with him. This time, I couldn't do it. I didn't have much of an opinion at the time.
What's the story behind "Weird Goodbye?"
It's an older song, but it meant a lot for this record and that's why I used it. I could never find a home for "Weird Goodbye". Through the years of being in the music business, you work with about a billion people, and you think they're going to be your best friends for the rest of your life. Then, you never talk to them again. I personally get emotionally invested in people and want these relationships to keep going, and they don't. Through my injury, I lost a couple of close friendships. They were with people who just didn't understand. I wasn't functional, but you couldn't really see it. I could still stand up and talk to you. I guess I would've gotten more understanding from these people if I would've broken my legs and been in the hospital, which by the way, I would've preferred since that heals a little bit better than nerves. However, this song essentially encapsulates that.
That must have been heartbreaking…
Which albums shaped you?
For this record, I didn't listen to anything because I didn't care about music for a year. All I cared about was getting better. The foundational things that shaped me as an artist were Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, Peter Gabriel's Security, The Cure's Disintegration, and The Cocteau Twins' Heaven or Las Vegas. Elizabeth Fraser's voice is incredible. A lot of people might not pick that up, but I studied those Cocteau Twins records and all of her singing for years. She can sing. There are a lot of people that sing, and then there are people who sing! Believe it or not, I was a giant My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive fan. I was really into the 1990s 4AD stuff. In college, I was obviously a big Tori Amos fan. The Cure is a probably my favorite band of all time still. That's the only band I would follow around. I've seen them about ten times. I even think Wish is amazing.
You convey moody darkness in a similar fashion.
Thank you, I try! I might be a little more hopeful than Robert Smith [Laughs]. I wake up and say, "How can you be depressed? You bleach your hair!" [Laughs]
Does being a mom inspire music at all? Or, is that a separate facet of your life?
It was separate. When I got pregnant, I couldn't write a note. I could not write for myself to save my life. I decided to quit being an artist for a while, and I tried to write for other artists. I got cuts on DJ Tiësto and Ben Lee records. I was trying to go for professional songwriter. When Ronen was around nine months old, I played a couple shows, and that was when I was ready. I was able to go in my studio, shut the door, and find my artist part again. It's like an identity crisis. I didn't know how to find myself as an artist and a mother at the same time. Now, I do. I never wrote about Ronen until I hurt myself. I hurt myself holding him. "Animal" is about loving him so much that I didn't put him down. I let him lay on my body for a year, and I smashed my nerve. It was hard to write about, but that's what happened. Getting injured as a parent is very common. Ronen kept getting bigger, and I stayed the same size. One day, it just didn't work out. He's wonderful, and I'm in love with him.
If you were to compare Dancing On Needles to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
The only movies I watch are the Pixar movies I watch with Ronen [Laughs]. I've got to rewind. Parts of the album would be like Requiem for a Dream because I was so out of control. That's what I felt like. Parts of it seem a bit like scenes from The Lovely Bones, such as when she's in heaven—especially "Language of God." Those are the movies that popped into my head.
What's next for you?
I'm playing just a few shows now because I'm six months pregnant. I'm having a little girl in March!
Will you be checking out Dancing On Needles?