Disaster Fantasies – Getting to know Selina Martin
I’m in deep like with the album Disaster Fantasies, by the Toronto based singer-songwriter Selina Martin. The CD has been out for awhile now, but since I live in the San Francisco area, I never really got a chance to hear it until Selina gave me a copy last weekend. I’ve sort of known Selina for a few years now, mostly online and mainly through our mutual association with Toronto music producer (and my lifelong BFF) Michael Philip Wojewoda. But on Friday, April 6, I happened to be in Toronto for my sister-in-law’s wedding that weekend (congrats Susan & Bhupindra) so Michael suggested that I come to a recording session at his studio, mainly to hang but also to “make art noise” (his words) with his sonic collective FFOB, formally known as the Faceless Forces of Bigness. Turns out that FFOB were to be creating a sonic backdrop for Selina, who would be singing a song she’d written for a collaborative project with them.
The few times I’ve met Selina in person, she made a strong impression. She’s one of those people with a dynamic presence, just in conversation, but when she sings she’s reveals powerful voice blessed with faultless pitch. I was stoked that I was going to be hanging out with her and Chris Stringer (her producer and a founder member of FFOB) along with Michael, for the entire day. On top of that, I was told that our mutual friend, the equally talented Kurt Swinghammer, would be dropping by later to add some “art noise” of his own. Win win.
After meeting up at the delightfully low-key and bohemian cafe known as Saving Gigi, we decamped to Michael’s studio two blocks away and began setting up the patches on synths to build the improvised backing.
I asked Michael if I could play a bass or a guitar, instruments I’m very familiar with, and he wisely warned me off, saying that it would be better if I played a synthesizer. I agreed, only I had not brought one.
No worry, says Michael, “Buy the Animoog app for your iPhone.” I think it was $1.99 or something like that, so I did and MPW (as we sometime call Michael) hooked me up to the board as I naively screwed around on my phone to find the right tone.
Selina produced a lyric sheet and tuned up one of Michael’s guitars to play the “song” part of the collaboration, a lovely tune about birds. We did a few takes, then Chris had to leave just as Kurt was arriving. We went and got something to eat at a nearby place, then it was back to work on a couple more takes this time with Kurt playing the Mooger Fooger unit and some tone generators.
During the course of the day, I noticed a copy of Disaster Fantasies on the shelf in Michael’s studio. I asked about it. It had come out last year, but it was Selina’s most recent album. I wanted to hear it. There was going to be an impromptu hang over at Kurt’s and Selina was going to go home first and she told me she’d get me a copy. I offered to pay for it. I think I was supposed to actually but when she presented me with the CD, late into the evening at Kurt’s, I forgot. (I suppose I should settle this off-blog!) Anyway, I put the disc in my suitcase and waited until I got home, on the following Tuesday, to pop it in the car stereo.
Wow. Disaster Fantasies, produced by Chris Stringer, is a great record. Selina Martin is an incredible artist and more people outside of Canada should know about her. So I blog.
“Brace yourself for a subtle
Shift from private to public.
They come with altered landscapes,
dead eyes & wooden handshakes.”
From the first seconds of “Public Safety Management” (above) I was hooked, but then came “Always On My Mind” (an original and not the Willie Nelson hit) was followed by “No Form”
“Take this much, it ain’t much, all I’ve got is nothing, no form, no form.”
From there, things just build and build through eclectic and provocative songs like “Rape During Wartime” and the softer “Breathe In” which feels almost conventional (but don’t be fooled).
Those layered harmonies stand out, as do pretty much all the clever arrangements.
“If you need a spine, I don’t use mine, it’s made of homemade wine, it’s see-through, and it bends with time and pressure.”
She can write a lyric, and an original melody to carry it. All of this was evident before the album’s seventh track, “The Spirit of Radio” a Rush cover which she makes her own in a singer songwriter way that could have been ironic (in most people’s hands) but ends up showcasing the beauty of Neil Peart’s lyrics.
“Invisible airwaves crackle with life”
I think I always knew that Peart’s lyrics were a manifesto, as well as a nostalgic love letter to the altruistic notion of radio, as well as a lament for how music’s heart is often crushed under the wheels of industry. And yet there it is, a nugget of truth just long enough to be an epitaph, if too long to be a bumper sticker:
“One likes to believe in the freedom of music, but glittering prizes and endless compromises, shatter the illusion of integrity.”
And isn’t that what this is all about? The music that Selina Martin is making, with her fellow musicians, is all about honesty and the freedom of music.
On her own webpage, where you can find buying information for the album (from iTunes to vinyl!) Ms. Martin says, “I think collaborating with Chris Stringer was perfect for this collection of songs. He seemed to know exactly how to realize my ideas, and the ideas he brought to the table were somehow intuitively perfect. This album is my most hard rocking & most accessible to date.”
I couldn’t agree more. Pleased to meet you, Selina.