Raised on a farm in the Ottawa Valley, now based between Toronto and France, acclaimed Canadian singer-songwriter Selina Martin pushes the boundaries of pop, rock, punk and experimental music while writing incredibly hooky pop songs. On July 9 she will play her first ever concert on the A38. Ahead of the show, she was kind enough to answer our questions.
Your music has been described as “sneaky beautiful” and “sharp as shards”. What do you think of these descriptions?
I like these descriptions. They’re uncommon. The writer has done some listening and thinking, which many don’t seem to have time to do, but it is very much appreciated. Perhaps they mean the music is not predictable yet still beautiful, and that I have a certain punk rock energy, which I think is true, even though the music wouldn’t be classified as punk rock.
You’ve been compared to PJ Harvey, Kate Bush, Björk and David Byrne. Do you consider them your heroes? Do you take inspiration from other artists?
I don’t think I have heroes. Outside perhaps my mom. Though I admire those artists a lot, I think they all do very cool original work, and I’m flattered by each of those comparisons.
I do take inspiration from other artists, for sure. I think mostly from when I was younger; when I used to listen to The Beatles and Queen albums over and over and over, and then later The Jam and The Boomtown Rats, (as well as PJ Harvey, Kate Bush, David Byrne and Björk). I go through long periods/phases when I don’t listen to other artists, especially when I’m writing. But lately I’ve been listening to public radio in France. No commercials and no playlists. It’s great. So you may only hear a song once, but it’s often good and also inspiring.
If I hear something I really like I will buy the album, and then listen to that over and over and over.
Do you have any favorite artists in cabaret?
In the movie Cabaret? Or artists who do cabaret in general? I can’t really think of cabaret artists I know at this time.
I have a theatre background, and I still occasionally perform in theatre. I think that’s why my music (especially my first album) was compared to cabaret. I think the reviewer called it “a socio-political cabaret”.
You’ve composed music for film, television and theater. How is that kind of work different for you compared to writing your own songs?
I love writing for film, theatre, television and commissions – I wrote 3 songs based on Canadian books for an annual Toronto event called “Torn from the Pages”, and then performed them at a beautiful concert hall. It was amazing.
Writing for specific projects is easier in a way and it’s also harder in a way. Constraints are constraining, but also helpful, if you know what I mean. They give you a box you have to play inside of, and maybe if you’re lucky they give you a starting point.
My own songs come directly from my gut. They are usually instinctual. Often they take a long time to form, or to show themselves to me. I don’t know what they’re about until they’re finished, and then they tell me what is going on in my life, or in the world, or both. They seem to know more than I do.
You haven’t released a new album for several years now. Are you perhaps working on a new LP?
The music for the new LP is finished! I’m really truly very excited about this one. It’s the most representative of me as an artist to date and I also produced it, which is a first for me. I wrote the music for it mostly in France, when I was very much on my own and fairly isolated. Each album I’ve made is an evolution, and they always take time.
As I said, the music for the LP is finished, but it is not yet manufactured. Vinyl manufacturing timelines have been very affected by the pandemic. I will hopefully release the full album in the fall. However! I was able to make an advance 10″ EP of some of the new material which I will have for this tour. It’s called LES EGGS! One of the songs will be also on the full-length, but the others are bonus tracks, and one is my very first French translation.
I’m really happy with it and cannot wait to share it.
Why did you move to France? How is it different for you compared to Canada?
I moved to France – as I intimated a bit in the last question – to be lonely. This sounds perhaps weird, and was not the best thing to do before a pandemic but that part was out of my control. I believe the human condition is ultimately loneliness. I think all art expresses loneliness on some level. We are all alone. But we need to be together. And this is a perfect beautiful thing. I wanted to explore these things: loneliness, solitude and the desire for community and connection. I wanted to see how being more alone than ever before affected my art. And I felt strong enough to do it at the time.
But why France, in particular? I had some French language skills from school, plus I had been in France when I was younger and always wanted to return.
Have you been to Hungary before or will this be your first visit here?
Yes, I have been to Hungary. I played two shows there before the pandemic, I think in 2018. One in Kecskemét and a second in Szeged, both of which I’ll be returning to after our concert at A38. I remember meeting some excellent people, driving through some beautiful forest, and buying some very nice Hungarian red wine.
What can the audience expect from the Selina Martin show?
I try to make a show that is energetic and engaging, that is captivating and compelling, and that inspires the creation of more art. My new trio (Tom Meienburg (DE) – bass/vocals, Victor Thélème (FR) – electronic drums, samples, vocals) is very exciting. We three have worked hard to make interesting arrangements that serve the songs.
Music is fuel. Music is also medicine. I think and hope we deliver both of these things.