As we head deep into the freezing belly of winter, it could well prove hard for some to build up the gumption needed to drag themselves to a weekend festival, let alone muster the enthusiasm to set off to the draughty warehouses of Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle. However, for those who wrapped up in their winter layers and headed to the Threshold Festival, there’s a strong possibility that one surprise awaiting you there was “one-man-band”, LAURA J MARTIN.As we head deep into the freezing belly of winter, it could well prove hard for some to build up the gumption needed to drag themselves to a weekend festival, let alone muster the enthusiasm to set off to the draughty warehouses of Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle. However, for those who wrapped up in their winter layers and headed to the Threshold Festival, there’s a strong possibility that one surprise awaiting you there was “one-man-band”, LAURA J MARTIN.
More refreshing than a hot toddy and turning the chilly room into a theatrical spectacle performance, her set will have left you dreaming of warm, mid-summer nights in festival season.
Quite rightly, there’s been a lot of media ‘buzz’ surrounding Maghull lass Laura and her debut album, The Hangman Tree, released on Static Caravan Recordings. She’s been labelled an assemblage of genres, hip hop/folk/indie/J-pop/mersey-folk, everything but kitchen sink pop rock to be fair. But trying to label Laura J Martin, someone who is a self-confessed, “total non-purist when it comes to music,” with elongated and nonsensical sub-genres is ridiculous. It’s an insult to her creativity and the amount of fine detail she puts into every aspect of her craft.
The first time Fire Horse came on at Bido Lito! Towers, the production quality of the album practically jumped out of the speakers. With songs often having half a dozen components, making each one stand alone whilst not over-powering the delicate vocals is a difficult task to achieve. But each instrument, effect and loop machine is clearly singular, and every song is a layer itself; an example of how modern music-making is constantly developing and changing. Laura herself says, “It’s so important to go out and see music, to watch people perform, because they see things in a way you never would. An English rapper, Edan, who I love, has such a way of looking outside the box – he’ll be playing the guitar in concurrence with the Kazoo and he uses that wonderful instrument, the theremin, a lot, which I think is brilliant. But, I suppose I’ve always been a sucker for novelty!” This is probably where the truth of Laura’s music lies, and why it’s so hard to try and lump such complex tracks like Spy into a hollow genre.
Laura deduces that great music can be made through collaborating with other artists: “You don’t just play; you react and bounce off of each other’s excitement and then end up with an amazing track”. It’s fantastic to see an artist who’s so open to working with others, particularly as she’s such a complex performer in her own right. When you’re listening to songs like Kiss Bye Goodnight, which features Canadian experimentalist Buck 65, it’s a bit like watching a play move through its acts. Act One: a creepily old-fashioned mandolin winds its way into your ears, before ghost-like vocals lull you through Act Two, and then Buck’s commanding rap creates the twist into Act Three. It’s no shock when Laura’s talking about her influences that she loves film composers: “I love Lalo Schifrin and my new discovery is Jonny Harris; they’re such amazing composers and I’ve always enjoyed film music, I think I sort of subconsciously soak it up.” And clearly, she puts that influence to good work by producing tracks that Danny Elfman would envy.
It would be a mistake to think that Laura views other musicians in the well-stocked Liverpool folk scene as competition, as she states that, “I don’t really feel like part of that exclusive clique because I’m kind of a hermit. I travel a lot and when I’m making music it’s just me in my bedroom with my instruments and talking to my flat mate, Jess.” Jess [Swainson] is the woman behind all of Laura’s artwork and the videographer for Kiss Bye Goodnight, and during our interview Laura takes a spell to champion her, saying she’s the, “only person to do my artwork, she’s my best friend, we grew up together, travelled together and she’s been in the next room to my music for years – she knows it inside out!”
It’s hard to believe anyone could know Laura’s music any better than herself: when asked about why songs like Silent Maria have an Eastern quality, she peels off another layer of inspiration. “People always think it’s because I spent a year in Japan, it’s not; I’ve always enjoyed the culture there and wanted to go to see it for myself. The Eastern pull in my album probably comes from the fact that I was obsessed with watching Kung Fu films; I used to watch one every night before I went to sleep. So that’s probably a big part of it.” It’s hard to argue with that; sometimes listening to her album will have you scrabbling for the nearest copy of Kill Bill.
It’s easy to ponder whether or not films like this are the reason behind her using woodwind instruments like the flute and piccolo. Particularly after discussing her other inspirations, it would seem like a safe assumption. Nope, just don’t attempt assumptions with this girl: “I learned piano as a child, but it was so frustrating because my hands were so small; then I found the flute. I think it’s just more suited to midgets like me.”
Leaving with a beaming smile on her face, Laura chats about how excited she is ahead of the upcoming Laugharne Festival in Wales; the EP she’s creating with Richard James (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci); and the work she’s already started on her next album. Despite being slightly under the weather when we meet, she bats off any suggestion of going home early, “I’ll have a brandy and be absolutely fine!” The lady is a veritable, pass-the-parcel of layers; so drop the needle on The Hangman Tree and may you look forward to wrapping your ears around them.