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INTERVIEW – MARTIKA, January 2016

| 27 February 2016 | Reply

INTERVIEW – MARTIKA, January 2016
By Shane Pinnegar

We haven’t heard much from pop princess Martika (born Marta Marrero in 1969) for a while now, but that is all set to change when she joins the line-up for Metropolis Touring’s Totally ‘80s Australian tour this July. SHANE PINNEGAR pinned Martika down to talk about the tour and her career.

Martika 01

Martika’s biggest smashes were her debut single Toy Soldiers – still a staple of ‘80s compilations some 27 years on – and Martika’s Kitchen, the album she made in collaboration with Prince. She’s looking forward to bringing these hits to Australia alongside Terri Nunn of Berlin, Katrina of The Waves, Men Without Hats, Stacey Q, Paul Lekakis, Real Life and Wa Wa Nee.

“It’s cool, isn’t it?” she says excitedly in a voice which is part Valley Girl, part eternal teenager, “I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s going to be nice and the fans are going to just really hear so many songs that they remember, that I think that’s going to be really fun. It’s always good to have a great sing-along, right?”

Pop music was so ubiquitous in the ‘80s that it didn’t matter whether you were into punk or metal or rock, you still heard all the pop hits and can remember them intimately thirty years later.

“I know, you’re a bit of a rocker, aren’t you?” she asks with a chuckle. “I hear what you’re saying, though, because that pop music was just in your face, right? You can’t get away from it, they were just playing it, so you would probably be like, ‘damn, I’m singing this song, I don’t even like this song but I can’t get it out of my head.’

“That really is the thing about pop music, even if it’s a rock genre, but they still have to have those catchy pop melodies. It’s that radio friendly format. It’s that pop format, that structure that’s just real accessible and so, I think it’s such a natural thing. It’s kind of like when you’re watching TV commercials, when you hear a jingle, it’s that hook, right?”

Martika’s own memories of growing up with ‘80s music weren’t so different to ours halfway around the world.

“Eclectic, really,” she recalls, “like all of the stuff on the radio and on MTV, because MTV had such a huge impact, I think, obviously, on the world, but for the youth, being that I was coming into my teenage years right when MTV was exploding and came on the scene. Even though there have always been film clips of artists, it wasn’t like we had it in our face 24/7, all the time, and those playlists, which now you realise they are always, like, really short, the playlists that get rotated, so it’s just constantly feeding you that whoever is getting that big push at the time.

“It’s just everywhere, so I just remember all of it – the pop, like you say. That Madonna, all of that ‘80s explosion of, kind of, after electronica came in and we had all of these more dance space electronic acts or poppy acts, but then we also had the rock acts that were so huge in the ‘80s: Guns ‘N Roses and all that cool rock and roll.

Then [we had] the meshing of hip hop with rock, like with Run DMC and Aerosmith, like that was all going on, right, it was just bringing all of that funk and R&B into MTV with Michael Jackson and Prince and then Janet [Jackson] and all of the stuff that was happening. It was so… it was a lot to take in, right?”

Martika 02

Martika’s first forays into showbiz came with dancing from an early age, which eventually led her to an uncredited role in the movie Annie when she was 13, and then a permanent role in U.S. TV show Kids Incorporated.

“I was in dance recitals as a 4-year-old in my tutu,” she remembers fondly. “I danced all the way through my childhood, all the way into film and television, but also singing and doing live, I was in L.A., California, so I was at close proximity with the industry, obviously, so that made a huge difference as my path evolved, because I was in the cabaret for kids when I was 11 or 12, like in Hollywood. By the time I was like 13, I was performing on the Sunset Strip at the legendary Roxy Night Club, except I wasn’t performing in a rock band, I was performing in a cabaret for children, on, like, Sunday afternoon.

“It was just kind of strange… that’s kind of what I came out of, doing song and dance type of stuff for a few years and then that landed me into musical children’s television and I ended up being on Kids Incorporated, which was basically a young version of what the modern day Glee type of format, that thing. We were singing all the hit songs of the day and all of the oldies and Motown and some original stuff. To me, I thought, ‘well, I’m just practicing for my music videos that I’m going to make someday.’

“It really was [a great training ground for my own career],” she continues, “because in certain aspects, definitely, I learned so much, because we would get our scripts at the beginning of the week, but before we even started filming we had pre-record, so that was the first part of the process, which the art of recording music was basically just two weeks of what we called pre-record sessions. A few weeks before that you would get your, at the time, cassette tapes of all of the music that you had to learn, so we would be listening to the songs, learning the songs and then we’d go into pre-record sessions and we would record all the vocals and then we’d show up on the sound stage and we’d start learning the script and blocking dialogue and then we had production numbers with dancers. The dancers would be rehearsing, so by the time we got with the dancers, then you were learning the choreography and you had to sing to your pre-record, which taught you how to lip-sync well for your videos.

“It’s those kinds of things, like the lip-syncing in your videos, and this and that, I just did that all the time. That’s all we did, was learn how to make sure that our mouths were timed to the sound, so it wouldn’t look too stupid. You don’t really think about that when you’re a live performer or even recording, but then to put it all together and be able to perform it visually to playback, which you also end up doing a lot of when you’re promoting a record, because you show up on all kinds of TV studios with sound stages where they don’t really have a sound system set up for live, sometimes people probably wonder, ‘why are they lip-syncing?’ Well, because there is a whole other level to have to put the sound system in the room so that it sounds good, not only in the room, but to actually broadcast to you, so that it shows up in your living room and it sounds right, because no artist wants to sound like people are watching going, ‘hey wait a minute, you can’t sing or something, because this doesn’t sound like the record at all.’

“In terms of being able to show up and do all of those types of things, I had a great training ground with my TV background, my musical TV thing that I was doing when I was a teenager.”

If that sounds like a gruelling work schedule for a kid, Martika confirms that it was.

“It really [was], it’s just like being a child in an industry, a professional child, it’s really different. At the time, people would ask about that and to me it was the most normal, natural thing in the world, but now, in hindsight, when I look back to it, as an adult, and I think, ‘we were little kids, we were children being treated like grown-ups.’ It’s still going on. There’s a show on called The Rap Game, which it’s trying to find the next big rap star and they just put you in this situation, some of the kids are like 6 years old, from 6 to 16. That was kind of the age range that I was around all these professional kids that kind of grew up being expected to act like adults, but at the same time, you’re still a child, so it becomes a little bit of a confusing reality, maybe.

“Until you grow up and realise, ‘wait a minute, this is different.’ Then some kids would float back and forth between being a professional and then getting back to school and then there’s school on the set and social workers have to be involved to make sure that child labour laws were in place that made it so that, as much as possible, the children would be protected and have a chance to be kids, but at the same time, you also still had to show up for your schooling and your grades, so you still had all the same kind of pressures and responsibilities that young people have, who aren’t having careers.”

It must have been a heavy time, especially whilst dealing with puberty, but I put it to Martika that she seems to have come out of it pretty normal.

“I don’t think I’m normal!” she refutes. “But my thing is I’m still here and I turned out okay. I’m cool with what I am and everything, so it’s fine. It’s different, but there isn’t any one normal reality, really. Everybody has got their path to follow, but it’s definitely not as normal as going to school, graduating high school and then going off to college and you get your education.

“If that’s what you do, and then you go out in the job force and look for work or maybe you had a part-time job growing up or whatever. I didn’t ever get that part-time job of bagging groceries as a kid to make my own extra money, because I was like 12 years old at Columbia Pictures, working with John Huston and Tim Curry and people like that, [saying], ‘can you do one more pirouette in that scene,’ you know? It was different, but sort of unique and kind of cool when I think about it. Like, wow, I got to do really unique types of things that aren’t the norm, per se. It kind of makes for an interesting life.”

Martika 03

After spending much of her teen years on TV as part of Kids Unlimited, Martika took that real-life training and put it to good use when she released her debut solo album Martika in 1988. Debut single Toy Soldiers, which she co-wrote with producer Michael Jay, and which features some of her Kids Unlimited cast mates on backing vocals, was a #1 hit in the U.S. and New Zealand, and top 5 in Australia, the U.K. and a handful of European countries. Surprisingly, it was one of the first songs Martika ever wrote, and tackles the remarkably adult subject of drug addiction.

“It was!” she confirms. “I only had written… well, I guess now I think about it, when I was growing up, I was always making up melodies and things like that, but I didn’t really perceive myself as a song writer. I thought of myself more, I identified more as a singer, dancer, actor, but not actually creating the music.

“There was opportunities on Kids Incorporated [where] occasionally the music directors would write original stuff for us to sing, so I was like, ‘okay, that’s cool.’ I liked that a lot: I liked that I could actually sing a song that no-one had ever heard before. It wasn’t really up until the time right before I got my record deal, when I started making demos to try to get signed and be a recording artist, I was in a couple sessions with songwriters who were creating material for me, and then I kind of had a little notebook of poems and things that I would just jot down.

“But, like I said, I didn’t really make that leap into considering that I would actually write my songs, so I was invited into a recording session or two and the second recording session I did, where I actually made any kind of musical contribution, lyrically, melodically, was More Than You Know, and the third recording session that I did, songwriter session that we ended up demoing up for my project, which was Toy Soldiers!”

That’s a good day’s work right there.

“I’m just a lucky girl, I guess,” she says humbly. “I think it was just luck, right? Who would think that? I think that’s why when everybody starts saying, ‘singer/songwriter’ I was like, ‘really? But I only just started writing songs.’ It almost felt unfair to me. I would meet other music people who had hundreds of songs that they’d been writing for decades and I’m like, ‘that’s not even fair, that everybody’s hyping up this thing I did, because you’ve been doing this forever.’ I felt really guilty, like good Catholic guilt.”

I remind Martika that we can make our own luck – sometimes all it needs is some raw talent and synchronicity. Timing is often everything.

“Thank you. Yeah, ‘luck’, that’s right,” she says sincerely. “Something always can be said about just being genuine and just bringing good energy to something. I think that was kind of the energy of that era, too. It was just… I was young, and young people kind of connect with young people and I still hear that in the music now, in new artists, because sometimes you’ll hear something and it’s not necessarily the most sophisticated thing. You’re not talking jazz chords here, you’re talking like, really basic stuff and you’ll hear it in pop music and you’ll just say, ‘wow, that’s not really that sophisticated,’ but yet, there’s something very universal that humans will connect to something and a lot of times it is just the creativity or the energy of it.

“Just like a good catchy tune and conviction, the delivery of it. If you believe it at the time and it gets captured, sometimes some of the cooler sessions I’ve been on were just like that. It is pop music, it’s not like we’re singing Italian arias, we’re not in the orchestra, we’re in pop music and a lot of times it’s just that energy or just conveying an emotion or just whatever, a real story, something that you just want to express to people and share and then you just never know what people are going to connect with.

“You just never know,” she continues zestily, “because I didn’t think Toy Soldiers… I just thought that would be an album cut when we did it, because it was so different and it wasn’t really [my] normal. I was doing very high energy disco-pop, clubby stuff and I’m like, ‘okay, this is the time to do it, because I’m so young. Let me do something really bubbly, happy.’ That’s how I felt in my life and then there’s Toy Soldiers, [which] was like this brooding, moody, weird thing that I did and I thought, ‘eh, that’s just going to be maybe an album cut, just to show a different texture, colour, something different about myself that’s not just all bubbly and happy.’ [Then] that’s the one, that’s the one they grabbed onto, so you just never know!”

 

There’s been talk online for a few years now about a new Martika album, how’s that coming along?

“I know, like, every time I try to do an album, it’s just the story of my life and career, I just get distracted by life and then something will always pull me out of it,” she bemoans. “And this time it happened again for other various reasons. I have, like, eight songs written and there were background vocals and then things always happen and it doesn’t get finished and by the time I’m going to go revisit that I’ve already got something else I’m into.

“Right now I just figure, no pressure, just this tour that’s happening in Australia, is really cool and a great opportunity for me to travel to your country and share my musicality and sing and dance for people and have a great time at it and I’m just really focused on that this year. I’m always chipping away on something musical and at some point maybe I’ll finish something and put it out, I just don’t really know when, at the moment.”

Martika and the TOTALLY ‘80s Tour plays

Tuesday 12th July – BRISBANE Eatons Hill
Thursday 14th July – GOLD COAST Jupiters Theatre
Friday 15th July – MELBOURNE Palais Theatre
Saturday 16th July – SYDNEY Enmore Theatre
Wednesday 20th July – PERTH Astor Theatre
Thursday 21st July – ADELAIDE The Gov
Friday 22nd July – HOBART Wrest Point

Category: Interviews

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