This flautist has come a long way. Hailing from Maghull, LAURA J MARTIN speaks to Bido Lito! on the phone from London, to share with us the process of finishing her new album Dazzle Days. After leaving Liverpool she lived in Japan, and now her collaboration with Mike Lindsay (Tunng) has seen her travel to Reykjavik and back. Serious geographical ground has been covered here, and a great deal of musical travelling has been undertaken with it.
Martin’s first album, The Hangman Tree, was well received, and her unique musical style has not yet seen her boxed-off and classified into any genre. It’s been referred to as Scouse-folk, flute-folk, psychedelic-folk, and many other kinds and incarnations of ‘imaginary’ folk, I’m sure. (Actually, imaginary-folk isn’t half-bad!) When I tell her I can’t immediately think of anything musically similar and ask how she would describe her style, she pauses and says graciously, “Well, I’ll take that as a compliment”. I never do come across a nice tidy genre in which to place her (although she does at one point describe her own voice to me as an “unhinged choirboy voice”), and outside of such lazy boxes is absolutely where she should stay.
The flute has been Martin’s constant companion across her various musical plains, and she describes it now as her “secret weapon”. And though I’m betting it might become a worse and worse kept secret as she continues to become better known on the folk scene, it remains true that the flute is something a typical audience doesn’t expect to see as a primary feature in what may at first appear to be a classic set-up. She still has an enormous capacity for producing that surprise factor in her performances, and my guess is that has always been the case. To have progressed from being Kidkanevil’s hip hop flute accessory, to two albums and a stable ongoing collaboration with Euros Childs may have been a stylistic leap, but the ever-reliable flute remains a constant throughout.
However, a shyer, more nervous fraction of Laura’s personality comes to light as she tells me of her unsteady course to embracing singing as part of her act. She says that, as a child, she was the “stubborn kid in school who wouldn’t sing”, and although personally I would consider being reprimanded by teachers for not joining the chorus of children tunelessly groaning through whatever hymn was overhead-projected onto the wall at the time a gallant effort in the fight against ‘the man’, it seems that it shaped Laura’s musical career in a much more meaningful way. Her flautist talents, while always a loyal tool for her expression, were at times more of a shield behind which she could hide. Her first few brave steps into singing didn’t come too easy: she says with a laugh that her first 100 gigs or so were marred with an “impudent stage fright and fledgling self-confidence”, causing her to question herself: “can I really carry this off?” But, three years later, she describes singing as feeling “natural, normal and great”. And playing her own songs before a live audience, while sometimes can still be nerve-wracking, brings with it the exhilaration of feeling a song turn an initially anxiety-inducing performance into a sincere one, using the emotion and adrenalin to add authenticity to the set.
With that in mind, this second album could bring with it a set of new challenges for performing; Martin reveals that the content is perhaps more sensitive than previous projects. While The Hangman Tree was an outward-looking commentary on stories she would encounter – she lets me in on how one song was inspired by an arson attack on a flat in the block where she lived in Japan – the new effort Dazzle Days is more inward-looking, inspired by her own experiences and musings on life. “The album is split into two halves,” she explains, “the first half is punchier and maybe poppier, the instrumental title track bookmarks the two, and then the second half is more expressive and reflective than the first.” She marks out At The Close Of The Day, which happens to feature her younger sister on saxophone, as being particularly emblematic of the more introspective side of her songwriting.
Many different musicians joined Laura for the final stages of producing this album, causing something of a stylistic shift, especially with the synth additions from experimental maestro Benge. Working with ideas from others on her songs is something that she seems to find aids the creative process. “It’s easy to get stuck in your own tunnel vision,” she says, “and musicians like Gillian Wood, who helped with some of the arrangements and performed cello for me, have added so much to the sound that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve otherwise.” It is still very much her own, though, and she cites film composers as being an important influence – which is in evidence as she carries themes through from one song to the next, forming the cinematic foundations over which the melodies glide.
She has come a long way, but it sounds to me as though Laura J Martin has reached a point where she has managed to perfectly position herself to continue exploring her boundless creativity. She is a self-produced artist, with a multitude of like-minded and influential musicians eager to collaborate with her, and a live performance which comfortably straddles excitement and sincerity. Good luck in finding a tidy little box for that.
Dazzle Days is out now on Static Caravan