Selina Martin: Inside Caruso’s Brain

By Keith Sharp

Selina Martin is fighting feelings of a post-partum like depression on completing her new recording by hitting the road to organize a brief Ontario/Quebec tour. Calling in from her sister’s farm in the Ottawa Valley prior launching tour dates that will see her play Ottawa’s Mercury Lounge March 17th, Montreal’s Bistro du Paris March 18th and concluding at Toronto’s Monarch Tavern March 20th, Martin feels it’s a natural process to feel a bit of a letdown after pouring two years of your life creating a new record.

Titled “I’ve Been Picking Caruso’s Brain, I Think I Have The Information We Need To Make A New World”, or “Caruso’s Brain” for short, Martin has released her album already in Europe to a

positive response and her quirky eclectic writing and performing style has been predominant ever since making her mark in 1995 touring with former Blue Rodeo keyboardist Bob Wiseman.

Whether its performing with accordion, guitars, theramin, keyboards or even playing tuned wine glasses, Martin has left her mark on Canada’s independent music scene, working with the likes of the Rheostatics, Dave Bidini, Amelia Curran and Martin Tiella and Wiseman as well as recording three previous solo records; `Space Woman’ (1998), `Life Drawing Without Instruction’ (2005) and her 2010 `Disaster Fantasies’ as well as numerous contributions to other releases a movie soundtracks.
hands on hips
Martin has a vocal style which could be directed into commercially-accessible records yet stays committed to writing and performing songs about self-expression and “trying to describe the world

around you without presenting them in a way that have been done a million times already,” she declared. “I have absolutely no intention of repeating myself. How boring is that!”

Two years in the making with recording sessions in Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa, Martin worked with producer/musician Chris Stringer to record nine of the album’s 11 tracks with two more; “When The City Falls” and “Lay Down Your Arms” produced with Grapes Godly.

Switching between acoustic and electric and with a vocal style that has been favourably compared to the likes of Kate Bush and P.J Harvey by a receptive European press, Martin’s lyrics switch between “Galore” which is an adaptation of a novel by Newfoundland author Michael Crummey and lighthearted songs like “Bike” and “Hawaii”.
“I wrote “Bike” as an ode to my bicycle which I have owned for 25 years and is my principle method of getting around in Toronto,” Martin professes. “I had written another Bike song which was reflective of other great bike songs like Syd Barratt’s Bicycle Song and Queen’s “Bicycle Race” and even Melanie’s “Brand New Key” but I ended up throwing that out.”

[quote]“I have absolutely no intention of repeating myself. How boring is that!”[/quote]

“Hawaii” was inspired by a quickie six-day visit to the island by Martin while she was in Vancouver working on a stage production called “Craig ‘s List” and was completed upon her return to Toronto.

“It was in November, I had a break from the production in Vancouver, it was raining constantly, I was on my own so the show’s director suggested I could get a cut-rate flight to Hawaii from Bellingham Washington,” noted Martin. “So I booked into this cabin, rented a guitar and started composing some songs. “I was struck by how the residents of Hawaii were just so laid back. They seemed so cut off from the mainstream. Obama, who is from Hawaii was being elected President of the United States and it was like people there couldn’t care less. Then I went to Whitehorse and experienced a different group of people, who are a lot more hard working but still cut off from the mainstream. So then I returned to Toronto and wrote a song which reflected the attitude of these people but from a Toronto perspective. Every one here is doing like 25 things at once which is in stark comparison to people in Hawaii and Whitehorse”.
blue dressAs Hawaii has been selected as the album’s first single, and with funds at a premium, Martin had the idea to shoot the song’s video at the Hawaii Tavern, just located on Dovercourt Street in downtown Toronto. “The Hawaii is like a hole in the wall on Dovercourt, the father of the current owner had this idea of creating an interior directed with items from Hawaii so it seemed a perfect location to the video.”. “It was a guerrilla like shoot, we had no permits and the owner wouldn’t close the bar down for us so we had to shoot the video between 8 and 11 with his regular customers in the bar.”

The video starred an Elvis lookalike who drove in from Niagara On The Lake for the shoot and concluded with an impromptu dance sequence down Dovercourt, much to the amusement of patrons watching the scene from their doorway.”

When asked if the dance sequence was choreographed?, Martin burst out laughing. “Er well, I choreographed some of my dance moves and just asked everyone else to follow suit. It was chaotic but a lot of fun.”

Martin admits the record’s name is a challenge to comprehend. “Caruso is like my invisible friend, and there’s a deja vu feeling about the relationship, like I have some uber knowledge but the flow of the title seemed to work. Fortunately, people these days don’t have to go into HMV and ask for the title.”

2. CD FRONT COVER1Creatively, Martin feels “Caruso” is representative of her as an artist. “I am now more confident with my abilities as a songwriter and as a music maker. In the past I have allowed other people to have a lot more influence on what I am doing but now I am a lot more confident in saying and voicing my own opinions.”

Still, at a time when social media is controlling access to new music, Martin feels she is constantly rolling a rock up hill in battling the odds to justify her existence. “I have to come to terms with a reckoning on how to maintain my artistic integrity while making this work financially without me having to resort to writing commercial pop just to be acceptable”.

Martin is rubbing shoulders with mainstream artists when she tours with the Bluebird North Songwriting Circle, an event in which established performers meet members of the public and both explain and perform their material. “I’ve been working with the likes of Blair Packham, Lori Yates and Rik Emmett and it’s been a great experience for me. Rik even complimented me on a guitar chord progression on “When The City Fell”, which coming from a guitar virtuoso like Emmett was a great compliment”.

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Photography By Ivan Otis

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