FEATURE INTERVIEW with Daphne Lee Martin

Interview by Corrine Jensen
October 26, 2011

Daphne Lee Martin, of Raise the Rent, is a free spirit harboring a wise soul and a genuine smile for everyone she greets. Her lyrics and voice have been enchanting folks all over the country and New London is no exception. Recently, the lovely Daphne took time out of her busy life to answer a few questions for WailingCity.com.

WC: So let’s talk about Daphne Lee Martin. You grew up in a very musical family and you even performed together. What was that dynamic like?
DLM: I was lucky enough to have parents who were both musically inclined, and there were instruments and records around all the time. When I was 8, my mom caught me singing along to "Chapel of Love" and I had just intuitively started singing harmonies without really knowing what they were. We started singing together, old country and folk songs and when my sister was old enough, she joined in as well. We did that off and on up until I was in my early 20s, but we all grew up and moved apart, it's tough to keep a group together from 900 miles away. We still have a good time singing songs on those rare occasions when we're all in the same place; it holds a really neat nostalgia for us, almost weepy at moments. And now that I have a baby nephew, the whole family is surrounding him with music. He'll probably blow us all out of the water!

WC: You were born in Ohio and wound up traveling all over the country performing but obviously made New London your home. What is it about NL that drew you to ultimately stay?
DLM: I moved to Brooklyn in my teens and started performing at open mics, in the subway, at folk clubs and doing living history interpretation for South Street Seaport Museum. I was really star struck by the boats and maritime music, it was all so romantic that I signed up and ended up working for over three years on various schooners, teaching environmental education based on Pete Seeger's Clearwater program. It was a nice hand-in-hand adventure with some music mixed in. I ended up on all 4 coasts of the US for chunks of time, playing sporadically, but I never got to develop anything or work in an ensemble and eventually I really ached to get myself into a place where I could knuckle down and do music more seriously. I'd had friends here in Connecticut at Mystic Seaport who had been a big part of my life through the maritime music community and a few of the schooners I'd worked on had stopped through New London for OPSAIL and Boats, Books, & Brushes. The crew had stumbled into the Dutch Tavern and checked out places like the Hygienic and the town seemed to have the most beautiful potential. Then I saw my house, and I couldn't sign the papers fast enough. Some people look their whole lives for that place they can really call "home", whether or not they were raised there, and New London is it, it's home for me.

WC: I’m sure New London, having such an amazing and diverse music scene, didn’t hurt. What have you observed about it in your years here?
DLM: New London is absolutely chock full of brilliant artists: visual, performance, con... errr... ha ha! The music scene is of the caliber of a city like Omaha, Portland, even Austin, a real music destination. Our biggest problem as a scene is that we're all far too comfortable here, and we seldom get our acts on national tour routes to help spread the gospel of New London to the rest of the country. We like playing in our back yard, and though the enthusiasm in the scene has ebbed and flowed over the years, I've seen a huge sea change over the last couple of years with bands beginning to look at music as their business, as an actual career rather than a side project. Bands are developing websites, producing albums, and reaching out for more recognition in ways they hadn't in years before. And if that keeps growing the way it has and we get some bands on the road, New London will be a household name across the land in no time. That's one of the most unique things about the scene; we really are all in it for the community. And more and more, acts that might never have mixed are collaborating to innovate some sounds that I think will make us an even more interesting group of musicians. I have a remix coming out with my western swing album that leans on dub and includes Erik Lamb rapping; it doesn't get any more collaborative than that!

WC: That sounds so interesting and I can’t wait to hear it! Ok, are there any local groups/singers that you're digging right now?
DLM: I'm really into those rappers at the moment; their energy is so fresh and positive. Their lyrics are really well thought out, the music is hypnotic and fun, and they're the hardest working promoters around. I hope the rest of the scene takes note of these cats: Erik Lamb, Skobie Won, Poe Swayzie, Camacho, and their crews. On the Americana side of the scene, I'm really impressed with what John Fries has been up to. He's not only working hard, but I think he's finally shaped his sound and his band into one of the tightest, most pro acts in town. And of course, my two favorite songwriting mentors endlessly amaze me: Jim Carpenter & Chris Castle. My one request: more chicks! Anybody want to start a girl rock band with me?

WC: So, you happen to be married to Mr. Rich Martin who has been a vital part in helping to grow and promote New London’s music scene through out the years and is a highly talented musician in his own right (Low-Beam, Brazen Hussy), what kind of role has he played in the creation of ‘Dig & Be Dug’?
DLM: Well, from inspiring songs to tweaking art files for the replication company to helping nail down PR and radio campaigns, he's been there for it all. There's no way this scene would be what it is today without him and his ventures (Hygienic Art, The Telegraph Recording Company, T.A.Z.) and a few other key folks in town, especially Sean Murray (The Oasis Pub, I AM Festival, Whalie Awards) and Meghan Killimade (WailingCity.com) trumpeting the art that the whole town produces. I could say clich├ęd stuff like 'thank goodness he keeps my head on straight' and 'I couldn't do it without him', but honestly, none of us could! He really kicks ass.

WC: What can fans expect from ‘Dig & Be Dug?’ What kind of inspirations were you feeling when you wrote most of the songs on the record?
DLM: The songs came from all over, some from the old days, and you can still hear some of Phil Agins' influence on how I wrote them. There's a lot of nostalgia on this record, childhood memories and family members appear in a bunch of places. Especially my grandfather, Carlo. My mom's dad was quite a character, rough around the edges and full of folk wisdom. He's become my favorite muse and “Saratoga Rain”, which is based on a Langston Hughes short story, is all for him. Most of my songs grow out of some kind of literary reference, I read fanatically. “Me & My Boots” is based loosely on James Thurber's ‘Is Sex Necessary?’ “Pull My Daisy” is something of a schoolyard rhyme run through the beatnik ringer. I've always wanted to cull down some of the old forms, to re-invent traditional music so that it stays alive in new shapes.

This being the first real record we've put out, we fell into the trap of spending way too much time in the studio working out arrangements. But at the end of the day, going about it that way forced us to all look very hard at the sound we were trying to create and it wound up being pretty unique. I always knew I would want it to be a cross-over record- appealing to both roots music lovers as well and more pop minded people. It was mostly our producer, Jim Carpenter's vision that whittled down a lot of wild ideas into a cohesive album. But needless to say, I can't wait to get cranking on the next album.

WC: We have to mention Raise the Rent’s Kickstarter campaign. How did it feel to have so many of your family and friends and fans go online and donate money to support you guys to have this CD made because they love your music?
DLM: It's a pretty amazing feeling to have that much support after really only ever-playing live shows for these guys. They believe in it enough to chip in to be part of our first recording. Usually what happens is that people fall in love with music they've listened to over and over on a CD in their car or their iPod, but we've never been able to offer people that before and still I have people come up to me and sing me back my choruses- people are paying attention to the live shows. It's the best feeling in the world, and we're so grateful. That's why we're developing so much more media to go along with this album, to thank you everybody for showing us so much love. There'll be that remix with “Sexual Healing”, Hatch Show Print posters, tees, and a series of music videos as well as a special mixtape of songs by other members of the band (we're almost all songwriters) to give everybody some fun stuff to dig on while we work on the next one. Not to mention vinyl! Blue vinyl at that! Big thanks to everyone that made it happen!

WC: Ok, so very last question, to all the singers and bands and musicians out there who want to make it in this town, any words of advice for them from one of New London’s finest…
DLM:  Believe in what you do enough to work as hard as it takes. Think of it as a business, one that needs your constant care and attention, reasonable goals and pure motives. Be ego-less and realize that the only way to "make it" is to make it happen a little more and a little better every day because you believe in your art. None of us are going to make a million dollars at this, and none of us are any more valid than the others. Remember that it's our job to be the storytellers, the dreamers of dreams if you will. Music is what makes bad situations bearable, helps us fall in love, gets us through our workdays and our tragedies, reminds us of things that are true, and things that aren't. We're the vessels; we're here to make everybody else's lives better. It's a tough way to make a living, but it's one of the most beautiful ways to spend your life.

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