Martha Groves Perry - 10 Questions Interview
Martha Groves Perry is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in San Francisco, California. She combines blues, southern rock, and experimental influences for a unique musical experience. Her lyrics reflect the fearless truth-telling and unbothered amusement of a seasoned, female point of view. After fronting and songwriting for MapleDream, an all-female original band, Martha began her solo career with the release in 2016 of a 4-song EP of her original music titled Something Good. Her first full-length CD These Hands was released on March 1, 2020. In addition to writing and singing all of the songs on the CD, Martha recorded cello tracks for two songs as well as acoustic guitar tracks on several others. Martha began her recording career as a cello soloist on classical, rock, and folk CDs by Michèle Sharik, Bev Barnett & Greg Newlon, and Mira Wooten. She sang backup and toured with Bev and Greg in 2007-2009, then fronted a dance cover band until 2011, when Martha left the band to start MapleDream. As a vocalist and cellist, she toured with Michelle Shocked and has also performed with Tony Lindsay, Skip Edwards, James Nash, Jesse Brewster, Rich Armstrong, Crystal Monee Hall, Uriah Duffy, and Greg Tanner Harris. In addition to her instrumental work as a cello soloist, Martha plays piano, guitar, bass guitar, and percussion.
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
I remember thinking as a child that I had a “dead ear” and that I was doomed always to play only other people’s music. Writing music seemed like something only certain, unusual people do, and I was not one of them.
I remember many years later listening to a new songwriter friend talking about the process she had learned at a songwriting course. That planted a seed that perhaps songwriting was something both learnable and do-able. Some time later, I joined a cover band, realized how very simple many pop songs are, and thought it couldn’t be THAT hard to write a song. When I went on tour with Michelle Shocked, I saw how much her music meant to her fans, and I started to believe I could do it, too.
In the end, it was an unexplainable desire that led me to songwriting.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
The *second* most crazy thing is that once upon a time, someone offered to pay me do music, which at the time I thought was ludicrous. Again, I honestly thought only certain, special people did that, and I was not one of them.
The craziest thing, just a few years later, was being asked to go on tour with Michelle Shocked to play cello and sing backup … at the same time. I was a nobody, but a good musician and a hard worker, which I believe is why I got the gig. There were many things about the tour that were bat-shit crazy, but I generally only reveal them in person.
What has been the high point of your music path?
Just a few months ago, I finally figured out how consistently to stay in the center of a song when performing. The result is being able to fully bring that song to life with no concern for missed chords, forgotten lyrics, or a missed note – in other words, any sign of imperfection. Since then, my performances have been more magnetic and even more fun than they were before, which is saying a lot. I have finally allowed myself to perform fully despite my fears, to let go of perfectionism, and fully to embrace what I do.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
I actually blogged on this question after I released my debut EP in 2016. My songs always start with melodies – sometimes with lyrics but most often without – that come to me during dreams. I have dozens of song snippets recorded as voice files in my phone. I take those snippets, figure out which are verse, chorus, and bridge, figure out what the song is about, then painstakingly write the lyrics. I do my best work on long haul plane flights … something about being strapped to the seat with all of the ambient noise blocking out all distractions superchargers my writing process. I then sing the “finished” product into my phone, type it up, take it home, and chord it on the piano in my studio, then transfer it to guitar. I woodshed it for months before playing it out. I am always most in love with the song I just wrote and often have no idea which are the gems and which are the dogs … I love them all … ok, almost all of them …
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
Personally, the biggest challenge is to keep at it when so often it doesn’t seem worth it, at least on the surface. Funding your own work is expensive – in money, time, and energy – and it honestly doesn’t make much sense if you look at it purely analytically. Money is not why I think most indie artists do it, but I’m guessing money probably is a big reason indie artists decide to stop.
Streaming services are “great” for “exposure,” but we all know exposure doesn’t pay the bills, and why would anyone buy an album when they’ve already paid Spotify for the privilege of streaming it at will? That said, recompense is not the reason I write and sing … I write and sing because of that thing artists have that compels them to do what they do for no apparent reason. So I keep going, and I can’t wait to get to the next project or gig. I love what I do.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
This is a hard one to answer. My first thought was either Bonnie Raitt or the Indigo Girls, because both are such important influences for me. That said, I’d also love to share a stage with bands I think are really killing it artistically … pushing limits, creating new sounds, like The Revivalists or Billie Eilish. I do have a fantasy of appearing with Mumford & Sons as well because something in my Kentucky roots really jumps up and dances at what they have going, particularly in their early work. And then of course there’s Peter Gabriel. I would give anything for him to hear and like my music. I so appreciate what he does for emerging artists, and his work is so artistically integrated, and always has been. Yeah. That would be great.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
I am a classically trained musician, so I am obsessive about woodshedding. I prepare for live shows by playing through my songs every day for at least two hours, which is a challenge after a long day at my day job. I want everything in both muscle memory and active conscious memory because I do all of my shows completely from memory – even the 3.5 hour coffee house gigs.
I find I enjoy the performance more when my nose is not buried in a lead sheet, and I’m also able to deliver the song better … without the triangulation that comes from staring at a lead sheet while trying to connect with an audience. Doing things from memory allows you to lift your gaze and see and connect with your audience, which is absolute bliss to me. That said, there is something about playing live that tends to make my mind go blank if I lose concentration, and I want enough practice behind what I’m doing to carry me through memory slips, which are therefore very rare.
I am a very patient with myself when I rehearse, so if a song is not going in the pocket right away, I’ll just keep coming back to it over and over until one day, it’s there and ready to be heard.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
Butterfly on the new album was very difficult to write … not in the writing process, but in the emotional processing required to write it. I blogged about this, too.
I struggled not with what I wanted to say … that flowed pretty easily, but rather with wondering if it was OK for me to write something that essentially laid bare a part of someone else’s life by commenting on how I experienced it. I trusted, because big sections of the song came to me in dreams with melody and lyrics, that I was supposed to finish it and get it out, so again, the writing itself was not hard. What was difficult was deciding it was OK to play it, record it, and release it. In the end, the person about whom I wrote the song loves the song (whew) and even thinks it’s the best, most important song on the album.
What's coming up in the future?
Great question. Until Covid-19, I imagined at least a year of playing out, maybe with a tour from Milwaukee WI south to Birmingham AL sometime in the summer of 2020, and with plenty of playing out in the Bay Area near my home in San Francisco. I do want to get a little further afield to try to get my music into more ears and more areas. I also had a full band CD release show scheduled in San Jose at Art Boutiki on May 2. All of that is postponed now, and we are all just waiting to see how things shake out. Health, safety, and family come first.
I’m thinking I'll probably start another album in a year or two. I already have songs for it, and I’m always writing more … not tons, but regularly. And I think I’m getting better and better at writing songs, so the next album will be even better than this one, which I think is saying a lot because I think this one is pretty darn good.
Tell us where fans can access your music?
To purchase downloads, the best place is Bandcamp.com because their administrative fees are low, which means the artist gets more of the proceeds: https://marthagrovesperry.bandcamp.com/releases
I do have physical CDs at CDBaby.com, but they are closing their online store at the end of March 2020, so I need to get my own online store up and running, clearly, so that’s coming up soon …