Hillside Chats: Sammie Martin Speaks on Song-Writing

When I walked into Hillside for my chat with Sammie Martin the sun was shining for the first time in what seemed like forever—but Sammie’s bright demeanor somehow outshone the weather. At first I was a little intimidated; when I arrived, Sammie sat at a high top table looking intensely at her laptop. This anxiety was quickly alleviated by the start of our interview.

For starters, Sammie talks with so much enthusiasm when discussing her music, it is impossible to not share in her eagerness. Her passion is even more evident in the actual music, where she brings heart and sincerity to the lyrics she writes.

I had the privilege of listening to a sample from her debut album, which comes out next week. It was exciting to see that she is actively promoting herself, and with good reason.

So tell me a little bit about yourself.

I am a singer-songwriter, born and raised in the North Shore. I love Boston; I’ve called it home my entire life. Music was very much a part of my upbringing. My dad plays trumpet, my half-brother sings, my grandfathers on both sides sing, so it was very integrated in my life from an early age. I play three instruments: guitar, piano and drums, but I can’t read music.

Oh you don’t? Did you just start playing at an early age?

Yeah, I started playing guitar when I was twelve. I bought my first epiphone Les Paul with my own money, and it was like the best investment I ever made. But it hurt because it was $600 [laughs]. My dad was like, "You know, you gotta do it. You gotta learn the value of your dollar" and I was like, "You’re right."

And then I taught myself tablature type songs on that guitar. After that, I begged my parents, when I turned sixteen, for an acoustic guitar just because it’s so much easier of a set-up [to learn]. So they got me that when I was sixteen and then I just took off with learning rhythm.

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

So would you just watch videos to learn?

For guitar, usually, if something was troubling me I would just watch a video of somebody doing it. For piano, it’s terrible: I sit in a room with my headphones on for like six hours at a time and just sit and listen and try to match the notes on the piano and figure them out and memorize them.

You must have a pretty good ear then? Musically, I mean.

Well I try. I mean I guess it’s good [laughs]. I think that’s for other people to judge. I’m awful at talking about myself if you can’t already tell.

Did you take music classes in school?

I sang all throughout high school. I wasn’t in band because that would’ve required me to read music. I slowly started to pick up things like "Oh, this is a face" or "Oh, this is a staff" and those little things, but otherwise it was all [learning] by ear. It was the same for writing music. I would hear things in my head and then just try to recreate them on guitar.

That’s amazing. Do you have any other musical influences that go into what you do?

My mom is a great musical influence in the sense that she cultured me into what good music is, I like to think. I was raised on the Carole King Tapestry album, which was definitely a great musical influence.

The Beatles came to me from my uncle; he was very into the 60’s rock scene. He opened my eyes to them, the Stones and that whole genre of music. That led me to like Janis Joplin and that whole area of great singer-songwriters. Then there’s Bob Dylan, who I love, and you have to love for that whole social justice thing.

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

As for current influences: Sara Bareilles is my idol, I have her lyrics tattooed on my feet.

How would you describe your own sound, comparing it to an artist or a feeling?

This is my first album, and I actually started writing the lyrics when I was about fifteen. The songs kind of start and evolve from there, going through the different stages of my life.

From that perspective I think I would describe the sound of the album as what it means to be vulnerable, and the beauty that comes along with being vulnerable. On "The Inside of Goodbye" [a track from the album] I feel an evolution that takes you through that sadness and that anger, but also through an introspection, that ends with a self-acceptance and the welcoming of love again. Not to sound overly corny, but I think it’s a relatable sound.

Since you started writing at fifteen, do the songs on the album follow your growth as a person?

 Absolutely. I can see the people that I wrote these songs about, but I definitely want the music to speak for itself. Even though I started writing at such a young age, I think that because the music is so relatable it transcends age, so I don’t think it sounds young.

How did you get into the recording aspect? Where do you record your music?

My friend that I went to high school with, he works for Q Division in Somerville, which is where the Dropkick Murphy’s recorded "Shipping Off to Boston," and he would get me in [the studio] at like three in the morning at his rate, which saved me a lot of money.

So I would have to get up for rugby practice at like eight in the morning, go through my day and roll up into the studio at these crazy hours, with all my friends asking, "Have you slept at all today?" [laughs].

I do like to do [the recording] in the area or at home. I have some friends that go to Berklee and they love it, but I like to keep it where I’m comfortable. This past semester I also joined the Sharps, so I do a lot of their vocal percussions and am beginning to dabble in their arranging. Our vocal director has been awesome about showing me the ropes and teaching me things like time. It’s all starting to make more sense to me.

Do you do live performances of your new material?

Yes! The best example I can think of is the bonus track on the album, "We’re Still There," [which] was written for a friend who was at the Boston Marathon, close to the second bomb. The song is an interpretation of the conversations we were having after that.

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

So I took the song to Daytime Bar and Grill and held a fundraiser for the run fund and performed a lot of my original songs. Hopefully I will start getting into live performances on campus; I have some friends on WZBC that are willing to play my music as well.

My goal, I guess, is to bombard the college markets with my music. If I can get my music out in the college scene hopefully there will be people that want to hear more of me.

 

When does your album come out?

April 10th

Wow, that is very soon. Where will people be able to find it?

cdbaby.com. They are a great resource for new artists. iTunes is great too, but cdbaby doesn’t want the rights to your music, it’s really just a medium for getting new work out there. I am very excited to start marketing myself and showing people my music.

So far I’ve heard you mention rugby and the Sharps. You are also a psychology major. What else do you do and how do you manage to do so much?

Rugby and the Sharps do take up a lot of my time. Rugby’s season is in the fall, and now the Sharps are a major commitment. We’ve had four shows this week, for example. These activities are definitely my two distinct outlets in life.

I use rugby, not for aggressive purposes, but just to be active and break a sweat. Music, then, is very therapeutic and the Sharps have taught me a lot about music and the way I write music from a technical aspect.

Is music always going to be a part of what you do?

Yes. Music will definitely always be a part of what I do because I consider it a part of who I am. I wish I had a crystal ball that could tell me if I was good enough to make it in the music industry, which unfortunately it is very difficult to break in to, but I know it will take a lot of work, which I am willing and prepared to do.

As much of an idealist as I am with my music, I am also a realist, which is why I’m studying here, in case [the music] doesn’t work out. Either way I would be happy with both outcomes in my life. Even though they are two distinct paths, I will always have my guitar next to me and in my life.

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

Katherine Kerr / Gavel Media

That’s is very cool. So to wrap this up I think you should tell your fans your favorite sandwich at Hillside.

Oh this is tough. I would have to say my go-to sandwich is the Turkey and Brie. Because Brie goes well with, I’m pretty sure, anything and the New England Classic isn’t specific enough to Hillside.

Plus they no longer have cranberry bread.

I know, what’s up with that! The other day I went to get a Turkey and Brie and they asked what type of bread I wanted, naturally I said "Cranberry please," and they were like "I’m sorry we don’t have that," so I just had to look at them with some sad puppy child eyes.

That’s how we all feel. I think we're in the same boat. 

I’m glad we are all on the same page. It’s relatable, maybe I’ll write a song about it. That will be the title of my next song: "Where’s the Cranberry Bread?"

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