Martyna Wren, singer and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about playing with Jools Holland at Thoresby Park, meeting Tom Paxton, her experience with the Americana Association Songwriters Workshop, and the release of her new single Coming Up For Air.
Martyna Wren, singer and songwriter has won the National Songwriters competition through the UK Americana Association for her song Coming Up For Air. She performed in front of twice Grammy Nominated (and recent inductee into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame), Beth Nielsen Chapman, and celebrated artists Graham Gouldman (10cc), Angaleena Presley and Glen Phillips.
Her new song was selected by the BBC’s Ralph McLean to be part of this amazing opportunity.
Having previously performed at the Royal Albert Hall, London’s Cadogan Hall, and supported the likes of Paul Carrack on his recent UK tour, and Jools Holland, Martyna has been soaring into 2017.
Whilst working on her latest EP she took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.
I’m very well thank you Kevin, how are you?
All is good today and firstly let me thank you for taking the time to speak you me.
That’s okay it’s my pleasure.
And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?
I have to say that life at the moment is treating me very well thank you. Things are going really well at the moment so no complaints.
I have to tell you that I first saw you last year supporting Jools Holland at the Thoresby Estate when I photographed and reviewed your set.
Ah, now it all starts to drop into place (laughter). I thought that I recognised the name.
If you remember it was like a monsoon (laughter).
I remember it really well; it simply poured down all day. It absolutely poured with rain.
Back then you were performing with Greg at the time as a duo. Just what has happened to Greg?
Yes that’s right we were performing as a duo but my manager David felt that he wanted to manage me as a solo artist, so for the time being at least I am now doing it as a solo artist. All of the songs that I performed with Greg at Thoresby were written by me, so at the moment I am solo but I really do like Greg and I really do hope that we will work together again sometime in the future.
So am I to take it that for the moment Greg is under the patio?
On the subject of that particular day did Mr Holland give you any words of wisdom?
No, simply because the weather was so appalling that it made it extremely difficult for the two of us to meet up. However, we all had dinner in the same hospitality suite so I was listening to every word that the orchestra were saying simply because I wanted to hear what Jools was saying to them before they went on stage (laughter). It was great. I have to say that the whole event was fantastic and a really special place for me to be able to play. The audience was really appreciative of what it was that I was trying to do. It was great because after I had finished my set I went to watch Jools and song after song after song I just kept thinking ‘I know this song’ (laughter). You don’t realise just how many of his songs have been hits during your lifetime.
I have to say that I really do like your latest single Coming Up For Air, I think that it is fantastic.
Thank you so much. I really appreciate you saying that.
So what is the story behind the song?
Right here goes. The song was written for my mum who had been diagnosed with late stage cancer. Originally she had been given three months to live and here we are two years later and bless her, she is still going strong. She is just amazing. My mum was extremely brave but the way in which the family dealt with the news was amazing. We really did rally round and support one another even when it felt like a really dark time. There was actually a lot of love there as well. So I wrote the song for my mum for her birthday.
And staying with the song, I feel that congratulations are in order, because of that song you were selected to attend the Americana Association Songwriters Workshop. How was that?
That was simply an incredible experience. However, it was also absolutely terrifying because I had to get the feedback from the likes of twice Grammy Nominated, and recent inductee into the Nashville Songwriters Hall Of Fame, Beth Nielsen Chapman together with Angaleena Presley, who I am a huge fan of. I have to say that it was scary but they were great and some of the feedback which they gave me was absolutely amazing and far more than I could ever have asked for. All in all it was a really inspiring day.
And we really shouldn’t forget to mention Graham Gouldman of 10cc fame who really can write songs in his sleep.
That is so true (laughter). We were all going through the list of all of the songs that he has worked on and it was just endless. He is another one where you think ‘I can’t believe that he has written all of these songs, all of these hits’.
On the subject of writing what are you up to at this moment in time?
At the moment I am just narrowing down songs for my latest EP. I currently have far too many which is a good thing and it is really nice to just work on them a bit more before I call for outside help (laughter). When I am happy with the songs I will then bring in an outside producer and people who are not attached to the songs so they can say ‘this one is really strong’ or ‘on this one you need to do this’ because I find it very hard to edit my own work. That is the stage that we are at today. After that it’s a case of getting into the studio and recording them. It all sounds very easy doesn’t it (laughter).
When the EP is finally released what formats will it be available on?
I would most definitely like to see it released on vinyl. I know that some people kind of discard CD’s but I find that when you are at gigs people want to have something physical and I know that I like to get straight into my car and listen to it on the way home from the gig. I am not totally against physical music; I really do think that there is a place for it.
I was recently speaking to Grant Nichols from Feeder and he told me that they are releasing their new material on cassette tape.
That brings back so many memories (laughter). Especially when you had to get a pencil to rewind it (laughter).
I said that very same thing to Grant as a joke and I don’t think that he realised that I was having a bit of fun with him (laughter). He asked me what I meant when I asked ‘does it come with a free pencil’ (laughter).
Well you most definitely will need one (laughter).
If you are working on a project which you need let’s say six songs for, before it can be released, do you completely discard the songs that do not make it onto the record or will you revisit them at a later date for a future project?
Sometimes I will revisit them. However, I do find that once I have discarded something that it just sits in a notebook somewhere. But more and more now I am being asked to co-write and even write for other people. So what I am now finding is sometimes because a song doesn’t suit me it might be really great for another person. So yes, it’s good for me to keep my back catalogue most definitely (laughter).
Do you find song writing easy; does it come naturally to you?
Song writing is just something that I have always loved and I think that helps it come more naturally to me. I do have the times when you will get the ten minute song and you think wow where did that come from, but I also do have times when a song takes a lot of work; it doesn’t always happen, so I think that the key is to keep writing.
When you are writing a song, is it lyrics or melody first?
If you had asked me that three or four years ago I would have said that the two come together, they are never separate. But now the more that I listen to the Americana side of music, it is as much about the story and the lyrics for me. Sometimes I will have a lyrical idea and then the music comes after which would never have happened before so that is quite nice.
Do you currently have any live dates arranged for this year?
Not that I can announce because they haven’t been finalised as yet. But yes, I will be performing at some stage of this year.
Was it always going to be a career in music for you or did you have a Plan B?
(Laughter) I always pretended that there was a Plan B but I think that I have always known that for me it was going to be a career in music. I have been playing and writing since I was six or seven years old. Plus, I have been quite stubborn about it being all that I ever wanted to do, especially the song writing (laughter).
On the subject of singer song writers I see that there is a picture of you on your website with Mr Tom Paxton. What was it like meeting him?
I think that I can safely say that Tom is one of the nicest musicians that I have ever met. When he saw me he gave me a huge bear hug, it was just wonderful. His warmth both on and off stage is just incredible. It’s easy to see just why he has had such a long career.
Who has musically inspired you?
If we talk about way back then I would always be listening to early Julie London recordings. There was also The Carpenters but then I discovered the likes of Joan Armatrading and Bonnie Raitt. So quite a mix I guess. Now I feel like every day I find something new to listen to. There is so much music out there that it is just so lovely to keep discovering something new.
Testing your memory now, what was the first record that you bought?
Now that is testing my memory. The first actual record that I bought with my own money was Popped In, Souled Out by Wet Wet Wet on vinyl (laughter). I remember there being a picture of the four of them on the front cover looking cool in their suits, clicking their fingers (laughter).
Who did you first see performing live in concert?
Oh let me think. If my memory serves me correctly then that would have been Sarah McLachlan. She very rarely performs over here and I was lucky enough to get to see her live and let me tell you, she was incredible.
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
That would have been The Bird And The Rifle by Lori McKenna. The story behind the song is just so incredible. However, having said that any time that I listen to We Walk The Same Line by Everything But The Girl that never fails to make me cry, so I try my hardest not to play it but it keeps popping up on my playlist (laughter).
Obviously both the singing and the song writing are taking off and going in the right direction. However, can you ever foresee a time when you will become more of a song writer than a singer?
Actually I can. I’ve had more and more interest for me to write for different people together with collaborating with other song writers. In fact song writing is something that I am much more comfortable with. I am naturally quite introverted and whilst I love the performance side of the business I find that it takes a lot out of me. Whereas song writing I can do behind closed doors with just a few people in the room. The songs to me are the really special part so yes, I can definitely see that over the years I will embrace song writing.
If your career was going to be as a song writer, which artist would you really like to write for?
That’s easy, for me it would have to be Bonnie Raitt. Her voice just kills me, it absolutely floors me. For me to imagine her singing one of my songs would just be incredible.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
As we have just touched on, I would like to think that I could be writing for other people as well as for myself. I would love to go across the pond as they say and go to America and spend some time there and perhaps get to work with some of the amazing song writers over there.
Would you turn your back totally on the singing side of the business or would it become something that you would dip in and out of?
I love performing and I love singing but it would be so nice not to have everything focused on just that. I think that when I have material that I want to put out then it is a lovely thing to be a singer song writer.
On that note Martyna let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me, it’s been a pleasure. You take care and I hope to see you performing live somewhere soon.
It’s been lovely Kevin and thank you for talking with me. When you do see me please do come along and say hello. Bye for now.