Martine Locke: Songs with soul
It is a strange comparison, but Martine Locke’s red, wild curly hair is the perfect reflection of her music – unfettered and vibrant. This coffee lover’s songs conjure up numerous soothing images- warm winter afternoons, the smell of freshly cut grass, saxophone music on rainy evenings. Afterall, love and soul are key ingredients in songs penned by Martine. However, in spite of singing for 25 years and launching 13 CDs, Martine found it hard to sustain herself as an independent artist. Though she has moved on to the more profitable business of real estate, music still remains Martine’s first love.
In a conversation with TAL, the Adelaidean speaks about her inspirations, struggles, and the need to continue singing.
Tell us something about your childhood. Did music play an important role then?
I spent most of my growing up in the Adelaide Hills – Gumeracha, Balhannah – I loved to ride horses and was a huge tomboy, playing cricket on the dirt road outside our house and building forts in the pine trees that lined the street. We would build intricate mazes that joined all 5 trees together. I remember listening to my sisters Bay City Rollers live album when I was about 10 – laying with my head against the stereo, daydreaming. At the end of every song, when the audience applause was raucous and loud, I would stand up, put my hands in the air and say ‘thank you, thank you’ to my fictitious adoring audience. My love of music started in those moments. I was always looking for an opportunity to learn something about music, play a new instrument, get into a choir, to perform.
When did you realise that singing was your true calling?
I started performing when I was around 16 – my mum took me to a talent quest in North Adelaide. I think I came second and that lead into other similar contests. Around that time, I also found church and fell in love with the music. I started to sing in my church at the time – a Uniting Church in the Adelaide Hills and that lead into an almost 10-year career singing in churches around Australia.
How would you describe your music? Have you had any formal training in music?
I call it acoustic folk with a dash of rock. So I suppose it would be in the Acoustic Genre…it’s too rock for folk and it’s too folk for rock. No formal training – the pure love of music drove me to make shit up often and then wonder what that chord was called, or whether it was ‘allowed’ in music theory. Sometimes I think not learning music theory gave me more room to move, and then sometimes I think that not learning it might have stopped me from moving around the musical spectrum further…but it is what it is.
How do you go about creating your songs? What’s the thought process like?
There’s no easy answer to that question. Every song is different for me. It could be as a result of something on the news, or a line I hear someone say, or an experience, or a feeling. I try to be organic in my process and just it flow when it flows. Sometimes it can take 15 minutes to write a song – sometimes I am still working on them years later.
What kind of subjects do you touch upon in your singing and why?
There is nothing I won’t sing about if it means something to me – it has to mean something though whether it’s personal experience or something someone else has gone through that has spoken to me. I’m very centred on social justice topics being married to a woman has brought songs my way regarding marriage equality, or just love and injustice. Being an immigrant and seeing the fight so many immigrants go through to keep their families together has spurned songs. Just the state of government – here and in Australia. You would think Trump being in power would have spurned a million songs but I am so overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of his presidency so far that I haven’t made it out of the disbelief stage yet.
How has your journey has a musician been? What kind of challenges did you face and continue to face? How did you overcome them?
Honestly, I recently became a real estate agent because I was tired of struggling to make ends meet as a musician. I spent a good 20 years being paid enough to live and the last 5 years have been difficult for myself, and a lot of other musicians, in terms of making a consistent living. Getting people out of their PJs and into clubs has changed. Using online performance platforms has definitely helped that but things have changed since I started touring in Australia 25 years ago.
For how long have you been a professional musician? Which album has been the most emotional and why?
I have been a professional musician for 25 years and have 13 CDs out in the world – four with The Velvet Janes (WA duo) and nine of my own. I think my cd ‘On the Verge’ was the most emotional because I was literally going through a relationship break up when it was being recorded. I drove from California to Seattle to record it and was in a car accident on my way up that destroyed my car. An RV pulling a six horse trailer passed me on the highway and misjudged the distance and knocked me off the road. I spent two weeks recording that cd and having to go get a massage and chiropractic every day so I could keep moving in the studio. I love that cd and I can hear my journey in my voice.
In the last 25 years, have you ever doubted your career choice?
Sure. Usually, it’s around money and retiring and how being an independent musician and thinking about retiring never go together. Earlier in my career I really never doubted it. It was what I did, it was my calling and it was the space I was most happy in.
Who constitutes your support system?
My wife Jamie, who plays djembe and cajon on stage with me also. I have a great network of friends around the world which has always made touring exciting for me. I loved travelling to a new town where I had a mate that I hadn’t seen since last year when I toured through. Touring and performing has always been more about relationships for me than anything.
Who inspires you?
Any independent artist that’s out there doing it inspires me because I know the work they are putting into it all. It takes big ovaries to get out there and take your music to the world – especially when we are living in a world so directed by major label artists. Ani DiFranco has always been an inspiration and touring with her was a tremendous highlight for me because I got to see her work ethic up close and personal. Voices like Pink and Adele and Lady Gaga inspire me because they are just so damn good.
What advice would you give up and coming singers?
Love what you do. That’s the thing that will keep you showing up night after night when 1 or 10,000 people show up. The highs and lows are part of it and we’ve all gone through them.
Martine was born in Alice Springs but moved to Adelaide when she was around three. She spent the next 24 years there and then moved to Perth. The singer considers drinking coffee her favourite hobby.
Follow her journey on Facebook.