Curve Magazine June 2007 Volume 17 #5
Rhode Island-based singer, songwriter, composer and pianist Kristi Martel dives into an emotional abyss and lives to tell about it on Ravengirl, her fifth full-length release on Sealed Lip Records. Martel has shared the stage with Melissa Ferrick and Jason Mraz, played in venues from Kimo's in San Francisco to New York's famed Knitting Factory, and spent the spring touring both solo and with the Kristi Martel trio. --Jaime Roca
Tell me the story behind Ravengirl.
In 2003 my former life partner [Amy "Littlebird" Nuara] died by suicide in San Francisco, and it was such a traumatic experience and it was so painful every day. ...A lot of the songs on Ravengirl, maybe half of them... very much deal with my partner's death, but even more so deal with my healing and my transformation after her death.
How did it feel to record this album, given the subject matter?
Fear isn't really the right word, but just a recognition that this is such a big project. [I] felt very scared. A lot of joy. A lot of grief. A lot of power in the community developed to record this album, and I guess love and joy in that community and sort of a freedom. A feeling like the culmination of the album has opened up so much for me, and there is that special, sparkly, on the edge of that freedom feeling.
How would you describe its sound?
I can never really talk in terms of genre. It just doesn't work for my songwriting. I write from the inside of the song. The emotion or story of the song determines the sound. Sometimes it's alternative rock. Somtimes it's blues or jazz. Sometimes it's very avant-garde and experimental. It's always soulful. It's always real.
The album featured a fretless bass, played by Kurt Meyer. How did that help achieve the sound you were going for?
I realized that the bass sounds in the arrangements that I was creating in my head were fretless and upright bass lines. They were more melodic, more like Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush bass lines than like standard rock bass lines. And I knew that a fretless bass player would have a more developed ear because of the nature of the instrument, and that suited my songs well, since they really demand sensitive listening.
Who's been your biggest influence?
My biggest influence is probably Prince. I started listening to him when I was 11, and I saw him live for the first time when I was 12. Kate Bush's music was the first I had ever heard that sounded anything like the music in my head. I started listening to her and Throwing Muses when I was about 14. The Muses' main writer, Kristin Hersh, has continued to be a huge influence on me.
With Ravengirl finished, what do you have to say about the journey?
I love the album so much, and I love performing a lot of the work on that album. The audiences are loving it, and all of that has been very exciting, and it's getting good reviews. It [was] featured on NPR in January. It's just been a very powerful experience to find that going that deeply into something so painful is bringing so much love and support out in the world, it's just a remarkable process. ...I have five brand-new songs already, and I love the new songs. I am so excited about the new direction that my music is going. I feel so uninhibited. It feels almost like I can do anything right now.