Cat Martino and Sufjan Stevens Act Like ‘Geeky Kids’ on ‘Yr Not Alone’

(Andre Costantini)
(Andre Costantini)

Since this interview, Cat Martino is now a member of a new band called Stranger Cat. Help fund their upcoming album here:

Originally published in Spinner, November 9, 2011

A couple of years ago, New York singer-songwriter Cat Martino had back injuries that were compounded by a lack of health insurance. As she now says of that time, it was hard for her to figure out what was going on or how to get better. While at home, Martino came across her boyfriend’s pedal board and out curiosity stuck a microphone in it.

“It was really cool,” she tells Spinner, “because all of a sudden, there was just this choir sound around me. I could make my voice sound like a bass, and I could make rhythms. It was really just a fun thing to do.”

That discovery marked an evolution in her sound, pushing her beyond her previous folk-influenced style. Having recently sung backup on albums and tours by Sufjan Stevens and Sharon Van Etten, Martino steps out on her own with her record ‘Yr Not Alone.’

“I had changed and grown as a musician,” she says. “The way that I was playing was changing, and the way that I was singing was changing. So it was organic for [‘Yr Not Alone’] to be very different. I was exploring new sound palettes and new instruments, so time had passed, and I was doing different things. “

‘Yr Not Alone’ showcases Martino’s expressive and soulful voice against a background of ambient and lush sounds. The album’s title track was inspired by Martino’s encounter with a Charlie Chaplin-like character during a rehearsal at a café-bar venue in Prague where she was scheduled to perform.

“I just thought he was this beautiful tragic character,” she recalls, “and I was interested in who he was. He just came in and then left. It was raining, and it was like this cinematic moment. I realized nobody at the place had known him, and I sat down on the piano and wrote that song right away. I really just had this sensation of greater feeling of mind that I don’t want anyone in the world to feel lonely, and this sense a song can make a listener feel comforted.”

The song ‘Yr Not Alone’ also features guitar work from her co-producer Jack Petruzzelli and vocals from Stevens, whose recent album ‘The Age of Adz’ Martino appeared on.

“I jam with a lot of my friends,” she says of the Stevens collaboration. “It seemed like we were both interested in doing the same thing. We were kind of like geeky kids playing with pedals and stuff. I was like, ‘Cool, why don’t you come over one day and we can hang out and play?’ It just sort of happened very organically.”

While a majority of the songs have an ambient pop feel, the country-soul song “Surrender” is a slight departure.

“That’s why I put it last on the record,” Martino explains. “There’s a vibe on it that is kind of like an easy home vibe … like a Dusty Springfield thing.”

Another song on the record Martino really likes is ‘Hole in the Sea.’

“There’s an ethereal quality to the start of the record, but when you move on in the record, it gets more primal,” she says. “It was something that I was really, really feeling. That song, just expressing that primal thing, it felt so good.”

Raised in Long Island’s Rockville Center, Martino has been singing since she was a child. (“There’s a cassette of me singing ‘You Light Up My Life’ at age 3,” she says). By the time she was a student at Rutgers University, Martino had begun performing at open mikes in New Brunswick, N.J.

“When I moved to [New York], I was playing a lot,” she says. “I think some of it got interrupted by this health bout that I went through. These past couple of years have been like a resurrection.”

One of her musical highlights of the last year came when she stopped in Dublin during Stevens’ tour.

“The tour evolved to have an experimental chaotic art-rock vibe during [the song] ‘Impossible Soul,’” she says. “Once we had all the songs down, to keep it fresh, we would try various stunts at the end of the song. In Dublin, I climbed on top of a monitor and jumped onto the balcony to sing the finale — such an adrenaline rush! I would never do that in another show, but this one called for it; it felt like I was playing an outer-space cartoon version of myself.”

Martino is gearing up for a tour with the Loom that begins Nov. 11 in Chicago. “I’m excited,” she says, “and it’s a little scary to put yourself out there behind your name. I’m excited to make something happen. I think there’s a lot of exciting things on the horizon.”

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