Mark Martyre

MarkMartyreMark Martyre and I caught up at a coffee shop to discuss his music as we approach Raz Mataz Magazine’s upcoming Music Almost Famous show.


Raz Mataz Magazine (RMM): Describe your style of music.

Mark Martyre (MM): I play guitar and some piano, and sing. Style, I’m not sure… singer-songwriter I guess.  That’s the main genre [laughs].


RMM: How long have you been playing for?

MM: As long as I can remember. A long time. I started playing while I was young, and have been playing live regularly for six or seven years.


RMM: What was your first instrument?

MM: Guitar. I just listened to music and tried to play it as well as I could. I guess I still do that.


RMM: And what about piano?

MM: I just picked that up along the line. Whenever I was around a piano or whenever I play a house piano at a gig I just figure it out. I just like messing around.


RMM: Were you surrounded by music as a kid?

MM: No, not really. Just something I did on my own.


RMM: What kind of music influenced you when you started playing?

MM: What I play now probably isn’t similar in any way to what I listened to growing up. I mean, I grew up in the 90s, so I was listening to grunge.


RMM: Yeah, we were all listening to grunge in the 90s.

MM: [Laughs] Yeah, everyone owned Nevermind, everyone listened to Pearl Jam. I don’t play that style of music now, but certainly it got the ball rolling. Everything evolves. I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan now, but I’m sure that if I had listened to him when I was 13, it wouldn’t have had the same impact. I was too young to appreciate the lyrics. But something happened back then that lit that spark.


RMM: Let’s talk about your songwriting process – how do your songs evolve?

MM: Sometimes I’ll have a lyric in mind, even one line to start, and then it will go from there. But sometimes it’s the other way around.


RMM: What’s your approach to writing lyrics? Do you have a particular lyrical style?

MM: I like telling stories, but it’s easier to tell a story when I can relate to it. So autobiographical stories I guess. But I’m a big fan of lyrics, and I don’t want lyrics to be an afterthought. I do want the lyrics to stand out. A lot of times me music is just a vehicle for the lyrics, and sometimes if there isn’t music to go with the lyrics, I’ll leave it as a poem or a short story. But my music is lyric-driven.


RMM: So you write things other than lyrics?

MM: Yeah, poems, short stories, prose. Stuff like that.


RMM: Do you ever play in a band or with other musicians?

MM: Yeah. I often play with an accompanying guitarist or piano player. I don’t have a band, but I like to bring other musicians on board for shows.


RMM: How do you approach adding other instruments to your songs?

MM: Well, I guess you could say I’ve been blessed in a way to play with some of the musicians I’ve played with. Many of them are far better musicians than I am, so when I get together and rehearse, I just start playing my songs and they sort of pick up on the vibe. I mean, if there’s a part I don’t like, I’ll say something, or I might say, you know, “guitar solo here” or something. Usually I have a sense of how I want it to sound at the end, but I let the other musicians put their own spin on it. Some drummers have a jazz background so that shows through, or maybe I’ll play with guitarists that are more country-influenced, so I’ll get that kind of vibe. But overall, the song kind of is what it is.


RMM: What do we have to look forward to for Friday’s show?

MM: I’ll be playing just guitar, unless someone else shows up with a piano, in which case I might play some keys.


RMM: How often do you play live, and what’s your show schedule like?

MM: I try to book as often as possible. I love playing live. It’s the best way to get the music out there, for my anyway. In the city, outside the city – wherever I can. I try to book far enough in advance that I can do some promoting. And if I’m playing outside Toronto, I’ll contact the venue and figure out if I should be trying to headline or if there are other musicians I can open for; I’ll contact local bands if I can’t fill the place myself. Or sometimes I’ll just have a slot in a coffee shop or something.


RMM: What recordings have you done?

MM: I used to play in a proper band, and we put out two records. Last year I put out six live CDs, live bootlegs from my shows. And I put that together as a box set, those recordings. This year I’m looking to do a solo record.


RMM: When you do the solo album, will there be other musicians or layers, or are you just aiming for a refined version of your live show?

MM: No, I mean I’ve thought of that. I could just, you know, call up a buddy and hammer through 15 songs live off the floor in a day and see what I could get. But I want to make a product that people might not be able to hear in my live show. The album itself would be a representation of my music as a whole. You might hear songs with just me playing piano or guitar, you might hear songs accompanied by a couple musicians. And it would be a full-length album. I’ll hopefully get that rolling this spring.


RMM: Do you often play outside Toronto?

MM: I try to. I’m trying to play more and more outside the city, but it’s tough. It’s a logistics thing. Some places I can go and come back in one day. When it comes to places like Ottawa or Montreal, that’s when I start thinking about playing two shows to get more out of the travel. I’m a one-more operation, so it takes a bit more effort to make these travel gigs make sense.


RMM: Any specific plans for the summer tour season?

MM: I’m booking the summer now. I have my April figured out. I’m hoping Waterloo will happen in May. I keep trying to play as often as I can. It’s fun, I love doing it, and it’s what I want to do and need to do.


RMM: And the box set will be available at your live shows?

MM: Yeah, it’s in CD form. The box set is a full package, six CDs with photos and everything in a wooden box, so I feel like it’s worth it [laughs].


RMM: How would you describe your live show?

MM: Mellow. It’s something I need to do, you know, you lose yourself in the moment. I feel comfortable; it makes sense to me. I was probably nervous the first time, but now… it’s not that I don’t care, obviously, but I’m just doing my own thing, getting caught up in the music. And doing it more often helps, too.

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