Martha Groves Perry - Music Interview
Martha Groves Perry is a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in San Francisco, California. 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 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.
What got you into music?
I was the third of three children marched down the street to the neighborhood piano teacher for music lessons, and, as most third children are about such things, I remember waiting impatiently to turn 5 so I could start. The piano seemed magical to me … like a big puzzle that produced something beautiful. I’m not sure why my parents started all of us on the piano; probably to make sure we were cultured or something. In any case, I not only excelled, I loved it. I also credit my piano training with helping me have a visual understanding of music, intervals, and chording, not to mention the ability to read music. I later took up cello and classical voice. If you’re interested, I’m in the process of blogging about my journey from classical musician to singer-songwriter recording artist here.
What is your favorite part about being an artist? Is it songwriting, performing, recording, something else?) Tell us why.
My favorite part about being an artist is that I finally get to bring into the world a sensibility that I’ve always had but remained unsatisfied until I started writing and performing my own songs. I’ve had an itch all my life, as long as I can remember, to DO something, SAY something, …. SOMETHING having to do with music that I’ve tried to scratch a thousand ways. Until I finally scared up the nerve to start writing and performing my own music, however I had never felt like that itch was assuaged.
I can also say that every part of actualizing this urge was terrifying … putting myself out there as a singer, daring to write a song of my own, and sharing it with others. Nothing, outside of my family, has mattered to me as much or been so close to my heart, which is why it was terrifying to attempt. The fear of failure or ridicule was almost debilitating. I have always been too concerned with what others think about what I do and how I do it, but this process has helped train me to care about that less and less. Part of it is that the response to my music has been so positive, and not just from people I know who love me, so that helps put to rest the most intense fear: humiliation. And of the three things you list, honestly I love all three. As I say on the landing page of my album website for THESE HANDS (mgpthesehands.com), if I didn’t like playing out so much, I’d be recording all the time (the day job makes doing both kinda hard).
Can you tell us what being in the recording studio is like for you?
As I said above, I would record all the time if I didn’t like playing out so much … and of course if funds were unlimited since I’m unsigned. I feel completely at home in the studio, like when I’m performing. I love how exacting the recording process is, and I strive to have my songs in the pocket and consistent before I set foot in the studio, so I can focus on what message and feeling I’m trying to convey. I love the process of discovering and deciding on the right vocal coordination to use. I’m painstaking and thorough in my prep process, which is why I feel so free in the studio. That is not to say that there are no surprises; I take every suggestion from my producer and try to deliver it as perfectly as I can, and my extensive prep allows me to do that.
The only exception to this sense of complete well-being in the studio was when I was recording the cello part for Butterfly. Part of it was that I didn’t feel like I’d had quite enough time with the part before the recording date … it had not gelled fully yet. The other part was that the song means so, so much to me, and I struggled with wanting to do it perfectly. That session was the only time I’ve gotten a little upset in the studio and had to take myself in hand, stand up, and take a break. The break was short, then I sat down and did the part well enough. I’m pleased with what ended up on the recording.
As a songwriter or musician, are there any obstacles you have had to overcome or obstacles that you are facing right now in your career?
The biggest obstacle was a messy end to a relationship with a band I was in and the profound crisis of confidence that resulted. I have an upcoming blog about this, and as I say there: it is a tender story, and not just to me, so I try to stay on my side of the street when I talk about it. I realize now that it was so devastating because it felt so personal, but also I thought it meant that I wasn’t supposed to be singing at all. That’s how I understood it at the time, but it quickly became apparent … literally within a few weeks … that I was just supposed to be singing *elsewhere.* Eventually I realized and accepted that the issues were specific to that situation, not to my talent or worth. That obstacle was the source of the low-grade terror about putting myself out there as a singer-songwriter when I first went solo, but I’ve pretty much left it behind now.
Now, my only real obstacle is time … and money, of course if I continue to produce without a label. My head and heart are aligned and good otherwise.
Who do you admire most in the music scene today and why?
I honestly don’t pay as much attention to the music scene as I probably should. Part of it is that I have a day job and only so many hours in the day, so what time I have outside my job I spend on my own music. I also have this weird thing that I’d rather be working on my own music than listening to or reading about someone else’s. Listening to other people is often inspiring, for sure, but it also makes me insecure, which of course is terrible, but it’s true. I do go to shows every now and then, but I’m usually sitting up in the balcony or toward the back studying the craft, learning and being inspired or encouraged by what I’m taking in. I like watching other performers because I learn so much; I just don’t do it that often.
That said, as a rule, I admire performers who have figured out how to stay in the center of a song. I watched Sawyer Fredericks do that week in and week out on the one season of The Voice I actually followed, and I admire his ability simply to do his thing. Billie Eilish is another artist who strikes me that way. They both simply are who they are and are doing what they do fully, honestly, and from dead center of the song they are singing. That is art, in my opinion, and it’s what I strive for in every performance, whether in the studio or live.
To date, what do you think your best song is? Can you describe the song for us?
Oh, God, that’s like trying to pick your favorite child. Each has their own kernel of truth. That said, some definitely come together better than others. Also, it’s hard to know what “best” means … Catchiest? Most meaningful? Most personally meaningful?
I think I would say that “best” for me is probably the song that is what I call full integrated: there is one idea, and the whole song is integrated around that idea … melody, lyrics, and groove. The lyrics have been edited and honed, the melody fits the idea, and the groove provides the perfect bed for it all to lie. If I use those criteria, then I’d have to say, not in any particular order: Butterfly, These Hands, Colored Pencils, The Target, Hand in the River, Threshold … oh forget it.
The reality is that I strive for this quality in every song I write (with more or less success), so I’m going to fail to pick just one. I think I keep getting better at songwriting the more I do it, and I finally believe that the songs are pretty good overall, so I’m going to fail at this question lol!
Are you working on any new material right now or what's in the works for the upcoming year?
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 pretty much always working on new material. I’ve blogged about my process … that the melodies all come to me while I sleep, and they come pretty regularly. The question is always if I take the time to get them into a song. I'll probably start another album in a year or two. I already have plenty of songs for it. 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 because their administrative fees are low, which means the artist gets more of the proceeds.