The Rebirth

Post 5 of 8 :: Mixing Metaphors: One Artist’s Passage from Humming Child to Singer-Songwriter Recording Artist

The Soul Providers

My persistent friend mentioned in my previous post who insisted on plucking me out of a dark, self-imposed silence as a vocalist is Rich Armstrong, a true pro’s pro and working musician in San Francisco. He was putting together a school of rock cover band for parents from my children’s school, and he needed a lead singer. I don’t recall him actually asking me if I wanted to join the band; he simply started sending me the rehearsal reminders and cajoling me to make sure I showed up.

In addition to a ridiculous measure of musical gifts (to list them would take up this entire blog post), Rich has the most sweeping and genuine gift of encouragement that I have ever experienced, musical or otherwise. Making music himself (his trumpet playing is swoon-worthy) may be the only thing he loves more than teaching and, most importantly, empowering others to make and love music.

As might be expected when coaching a singer recently ejected from a praise band, Rich had quite a bit of work to turn me right side up as a singer, much less to craft from that mess a lead singer. During an early one-on-one coaching session when he was trying to squeeze Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” out of me, he stopped me, threw up his hands in exasperation, and shouted, “Loosen up! You sound like a church girl! Dirty it up!”

Mind you, I had not shared details of my most recent failure with Rich; he only knew that I was musically wounded. Then again, this was obvious. In any case, I was startled by his clarity about what ailed me. Rich prescribed “medication” for my illness in the form of a trip to the “Sunday’s a Drag” show in San Francisco, which I blogged about at the time. He was insanely patient and encouraging between well-deserved ass kickings to help me get over myself. When the first performance rolled around, I more or less nailed it, at least as much as a person who is completely terrified to the point of soaking through her clothes in a copious, stress-induced sweat can nail anything. No one ever sweat so much in an outdoor performance in December.

After that sweaty day, I decided never to look back. I practiced every day for several hours, whittling and whittling away at my vocals until I found myself in as much of a pocket as I could accomplish in every song. This was a challenge, because we did everything in the original key, so I had to stretch my concept not only of my capabilities, but also my range. I complained bitterly in my head, but I kept working, and slowly, I improved, and my vocals grew stronger.

On stage, I began deeply and abidingly to relish every moment, squeezing the juice out of every note, every song, every performance. It was the Soul Providers and Rich’s belief in me that molded me into a lead singer with the sort of stage presence I always knew I had but had never been able or allowed to access. Rich demanded that I give myself permission to pull out all of the stops, and my final performances with the Soul Providers proved that I could get damn close. Please enjoy a playlist of my favorite videos singing with the Soul Providers here.

Being in the Soul Providers taught me that I had and could continue to develop the vocal chops needed to be a convincing lead singer. It also solidified my faith and resolve that anything can get better with practice. I also learned that I could command a stage while wearing just about anything (it was a *costume* cover band, after all). Most importantly, I was reminded that doing music is fun … insanely so. I have Rich and my Soul Providers bandmates to thank for that.

I ended up leaving the Soul Providers to start my own band, which is the subject of an upcoming blog post, but first, just one more post about Rich and his insane ability to bring amazing musical experiences to me. Stay tuned ….

To learn more about Rich Armstrong, please visit his website here.


My new album, THESE HANDS, is available wherever you like to buy and listen to music. Click the button below to listen to the album, and please consider a purchase if you like what you hear. Thank you!


The Chrysalis

Post 4 of 8 :: Mixing Metaphors: One Artist’s Passage from Humming Child to Singer-Songwriter Recording Artist

The Praise Band

One part of my story as a musician and singer is the time I spent in a church praise band and the unfortunate way that it ended. I thought long and hard about whether to include this piece in my story, but I could not leave it out; it is too central to my musical journey. It is a tender story, and not just to me, so I will do my best to tell it with honesty while staying firmly in my own lane.

I loved singing in the praise band. There were times during those two years that I experienced some of the greatest joy making music in my life. It brought together my faith and my need to do music in a way that met me more deeply than I can express. I am intensely grateful for my time there and what it taught me. I learned that I am most alive when performing music, particularly when singing. I learned that I am a good musician. I learned that even though I did not yet have the skills, I definitely wanted to be in the front singing lead, not in the back singing backup. I also learned that my scope needed to be much larger musically, culturally, and spiritually than most Christian music allows, particularly if you are a woman.

Getting kicked out of a praise band raises ugly questions, and it’s safe to say that it was devastating in my small world, both personally and musically, not to mention spiritually. To be fair, I was invited to stay on as an instrumentalist, but I was uninvited to continue as a vocalist. Given where my heart was, this felt like being thrown out, and I was so crushed that I left and decided never to sing again. Fortunately, God had other plans for me, including a wedding gig singing for friends a few weeks later from which I could not back out (thank you, Richard & Maria!), and another persistent friend (who appears in the next blog post) who dragged me out of a very dark place to be a lead singer for a cover band he was pulling together.

Happily, I now consider this moment as a colorful and essential part of my story. I am intensely grateful that I was kicked out because I am not sure I could have left on my own. This rejection propelled me into a much broader, richer musical world and ultimately led to my pursuit of songwriting. It also provided immense motivation to work tirelessly and steadfastly to improve and develop as a vocalist. I was not so much trying to prove them wrong as I was simply insisting on giving myself a faithful chance to become the singer I wanted to be.

Probably the most important thing I learned is that if someone thinks I suck, I can carry on despite this opinion even though at the time it felt like dying. I also learned later that even if I maybe do suck now and then, it’s forgivable, and it doesn’t mean I will suck forever if I work hard enough. And I work harder than almost anyone I know. This is one of the best gifts I have received in my musical journey.


My new album, THESE HANDS, is available wherever you like to buy and listen to music. Click the button below to listen to the album, and please consider a purchase if you like what you hear. Thank you!


The Seed

Post 3 of 8 :: Mixing Metaphors: One Artist’s Passage from Humming Child to Singer-Songwriter Recording Artist

Bev Barnett & Greg Newlon

Singing with Bev & Greg, Roudon Smith Winery, October 27, 2007

Bev & Greg spotted me at a church talent show when, having finally bought myself a guitar for my 40th birthday, I played and sang one of a handful of songs I had learned around the campfire – John Prine’s “Paradise.” They knew me already as a classical cellist with composing and recording experience. Not long afterwards, Greg called me and asked if I’d like to play a cello line on a song for their upcoming album.

Of course I said yes, and I made my non-classical recording debut on cello in their gorgeous and bittersweet (i.e. perfect for cello) song, “Eloise” from Any Doorway Will Do. It was during that recording session that Greg gave me a morsel I have pondered since and later became the subject of a blog post. The gist of it is that in order to do music well … anything really … you have to get over the fact that it’s you doing it. This is probably the most valuable thing I learned in my 2 years singing and playing with Bev & Greg over many shows, including several out of state.

There were so many firsts in my time with them: first time singing into a microphone, first time writing a cello part for a non-classical recording, first time singing backup, first time performing percussion, first time singing and playing percussion at the same time, first time getting paid to sing, first time traveling to perform music. I also learned how to write vocal harmonies, both in terms of proper pitching and proper musical arrangement, by listening to Greg’s painstaking work to write high harmony parts for me. This was the first time realizing that simply “pulling a harmony” on the fly is fun, but not always musically accurate or even advisable.

With this bucket of knowledge to draw from, I also became (and learned actually to believe that I was) a great backup singer. I learned how to blend, how to be present without upstaging the leads, and how to love every moment of being on stage and making beautiful music that moved people to grateful tears. Their music is that good, and the harmonies, so carefully crafted, are that sweet. You can see a selection of my favorite videos singing with them here.

I also learned from watching Bev sing. I had and to some degree still have insecurities about my singing, which are probably shared by other women who have the audacity to sing lead. My young female self ingested deep directives not to take up space, and singing lead is nothing but. Yet I watched Bev sing anyway, and beautifully. I asked her once when she realized she had a great voice. She laughed, then said she didn’t believe she could sing well until she was in her 40s. I took that to heart, and I credit watching Bev with planting a seed to try to write and sing my own music.

Later, after MapleDream (an original girl band I co-founded, the subject of an upcoming blog post) ended, and long after I sang my last show with Bev & Greg, Greg became a musical mentor to me. Over the course of about a year, he taught me about songwriting and chording, and he put several of my songs on solo guitar and thereby taught me how to do it myself, another subject about which I’ve blogged. In other words, he taught me how to be a solo singer-songwriter. Still later, it was Greg who, when I asked his advice about how to record an EP, steered me to Kenny Schick, my producer. Greg’s mentoring is tough and unvarnished, but full of a steady, encouraging love, and I am grateful to him and to Bev for everything they gave me.

To say that I owe Bev & Greg a lot is a massive understatement. I think it’s fair to say I positively would not be where I am today if not for them. Thank you, Bev & Greg … very, very much. And let’s sing again together sometime … I still remember my parts ❤️.


To learn more about Bev Barnett & Greg Newlon, please visit their website bevandgreg.com


My new album, THESE HANDS, is available wherever you like to buy and listen to music. Click the button below to listen to the album, and please consider a purchase if you like what you hear. Thank you!

The Call

Post 1 of 8 :: Mixing Metaphors: One Artist’s Passage from Humming Child to Singer-Songwriter Recording Artist

Classical Origins

I asked my then 10-year-old daughter what she thought after seeing me perform as a lead singer in an over-the-top costume cover band (the subject of an upcoming blog post). She was old enough to be able to process her mother’s doing something that outlandish, but fortunately not yet old enough to be mortified by it. She answered with the direct, clear-eyed honesty of her age: “You were doing exactly what I think you are supposed to be doing.”

Just like every girl growing up in the 70s (or so I imagine), I wanted to be a folk singer. My parents listened mostly to classical music, but also to Simon & Garfunkel and the Kingston Trio, and I knew every song in detail – melodies, harmonies, and lyrics. I also grew up around campfires where angsty college students with guitars – almost all of them young men – poured out Neil Young, Eagles, and America like water, and every girl in the fire’s glow lapped it up. That felt like the closest thing to real life.

Ballard High School Orchestra Rehearsal, Louisville, KY, 1981

At my house, however, music lessons were classical, and they started with the neighborhood piano teacher. By high school, I was playing piano concerti by Mozart and Beethoven. I also took up the cello in the sixth grade, and I was always the kid in choir that got the solos, so I started classical voice lessons in high school, with plenty of Caro Mio Ben and Sebben Crudele to feed the agony in my pubescent psyche.

My classical training was not what I had in mind back when I was singing wistfully around the campfire, but I am grateful for it because my it allows me to understand music and musicianship in ways that I would not otherwise. I even considered auditioning for music conservatory instead of applying to college, and for many years, I regretted not trying. Now that I am writing, recording, and performing my own music, however, I realize that this is where my heart was all along, and I wonder if conservatory might have steered me so far from this path that I may never have found it.

My daughter’s vision into my heart, even though my performance that day was far from perfect, reminds me that I am on the right track. Thank God I asked.


To listen to and purchase my new album THESE HANDS, please visit my page on Bandcamp.com or click the button below. Thank you for visiting and reading!

CD! Move! Gig! I’m Baaaack!

DavenportRoadhouse_Flyer_24September2019

I’m back! I have been pretty quiet for nearly two years, but as promised, I have been working steadily on my first full-length CD, which, as predicted, is on track for an early 2020 release. It will have a nice, even dozen songs, and it even allowed me to dip into my cello on a track or two!

Things in my personal life have been busy as well. We sold our family home of nearly 18 years in Silicon Valley and indulged a longtime wish to live in the city by moving to a condo in North Beach in the heart of San Francisco. Releasing the home where my children grew up as well as many of the things it contained (not to mention our communities), has been transformative and productively disorienting. I now have the seeds of many new songs, so there is plenty of fodder for another CD … or two …

As much as I love the recording process (LOVE it), playing out is as good … or better. I’m happy to report that I have a gig on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 in response to a booking request from my friends at Davenport Roadhouse (thank you, Helmut!), where I played in April & November 2017. Can’t wait to get there to share my new songs and the best of the old!

I plan to book many other shows in the upcoming months, including a CD release show that I will schedule as soon as I have a better idea of when mixing, mastering, and artwork for the CD will be complete. I look forward to returning to venues where I’ve played before while also looking a little further afield (maybe even a small tour?) to bring my music to an even wider audience. Please let me know if you have a favorite venue that you think would enjoy a great singer-songwriter show.

Please also always feel free to drop me a note on my Facebook page here or on my website here; I’d love to hear from you … It also always helps when folks follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, so please consider tossing a follow my way if you’re so inclined.

In the meantime, please stay tuned, and know that I deeply appreciate your support and encouragement!

In the Studio

I’m back in the studio. My goal in 2017 was to play out and write a new song once a month. I overshot the first goal with 14 gigs last year and came up only 1 short on the second goal with 11 new songs.

2017 taught me or reminded me of several things:

  1. Everything gets better with practice.
  2. I can learn, memorize, and perform three hours of music, no problem, most of it mine.
  3. It’s fun to play out a lot, meet people, watch them dance to your music, and watch the list of people who care about your music grow little by little.
  4. Songwriting is still an arduous process for me, but my songs get better the more I write.
  5. I need to do this.

Much as I hated the idea of not playing out for a while, once I got back into the process of recording, which I’ve talked about before in my blog, I remembered how much I like it. It’s so painstaking, so slow, so meticulous (or at least the way I do it), that it kind of drives me nuts, but I am also loving it.

IMG_1098

First Street Cafe, Benicia. Photo by Greg Plant

I recently accepted a promotion to a demanding, interim position in my day job, and I played with the idea of putting music to the side for a while and postponing starting my CD. I tried that on for a few weeks in December and quickly realized what a mistake it was. This worries me, because I hate the idea that my music is nothing more than a vanity project to keep a working stiff from losing her mind. Then I remember the faces of the folks I didn’t know who happened to be there when I was performing and who closed their laptop to listen, put down their fork to dance, or moved closer to make sure they caught every word. I remember these faces because they encourage me when I wonder if the time I spend practicing instead of being with my family in the evenings is worth it. Yes, I could do music just for myself, but if there is no one else who wants to listen or cares, it is so much harder to justify the effort. Maybe that’s codependent or whatever, but it’s true for me.

I am really looking forward to bringing this new CD to you, probably in about 18 months if I’m realistic. I did my first recording session a few weeks ago, and recently received the initial mix of the first song … Cheers for Tears, which I used to close my sold-out EP release show a year ago November. Even my teenaged daughter says it sounds good. Now I’ve sent off two more songs to Kenny (my producer) to sketch for another session in a few months. Stay tuned, and thanks for the support.

Getting to 110 with 11 Free Downloads …

SneakPeekBanner

My Facebook music page has 99 likes. I’m frankly a little startled that there are that many, and I’m grateful for every person behind each one. Coming to a show, buying my music, or letting me know on social media and in person that you enjoy what I do helps me to carry on in this solitary and sometimes seemingly ridiculous venture. Even taking a moment to read a post and care about what I’m up to is immense support, and I thank you very much.

While no like is more significant than another, it’s fun to watch the odometer roll over to a nice round number, so I will send the next 11 people who like my Facebook music page a free download code for my 4-song EP Something Good. Heck, if you’ve already liked my page and want a free download code, let me know, and I’ll happily oblige. I am grateful for the encouragement, and want to acknowledge that it helps. A lot. For your free download, please FB message me your email address (I can’t message anyone from my Facebook music page) or email me at martha@marthagrovesperry.com. And don’t worry: I won’t add your email to my list unless you specifically ask me to, and I’ll never share it with anyone else.

I started this year wondering if anyone would book me, but I booked out 2017 by mid year, with several invitations to come play again. I also made the goal of writing one new song a month, and still have plans to start recording a full-length CD in 2018. If you want to come along for the ride and get a free download, please click “Like” and join me! (You can also follow me on Instagram & Twitter).

In the meantime, I’m playing at East Village Coffee Lounge in Monterey, California on Friday 10/20 – just under 3 weeks from today – at 4-7 pm, No Cover. Details at marthagrovesperry.com.

EastVillage_Flyer_20October2017

Also plan to stick around afterwards to hear Mike Beck perform “Wooden Music,” his tribute to Stephen Stills & Neil Young at 7:30 – 10:00 pm, $10 cover.

Please consider coming and enjoy great food and java in one of the finest venues in the Monterey area, and thanks for everything!

ArtemesiaBlack

artemesiablacklogo_blackartemesiablack-bw-prArtemesia-Freakin-Black. When I asked them if they would consider opening for my EP release show, part of me was sure they would say no. I even acknowledged that if they opened, the show might be upside down. That’s how much I think of their music. But part of me thought they would say yes, because I knew they were thinking of playing out again after working through the rough patch that losing a loved one inevitably leaves in its wake. When they said yes, I knew I had a show.

First, Sabiné’s voice. It has an intoxicating, other-worldly quality. She moves easily from sassy to dreamy. When I listen to her sing, I can’t help thinking about being in art class as a child and looking over at my neighbors’ papers and thinking how much more talented they were because the qualities they brought to their drawings were so different than mine … so they must be better. Sabiné lives into the people that her songs represent so thoroughly, and she’s not afraid to use her voice in ways that I, in my straight-laced efforts to please some imagined singing arbiter, have not yet reached. I am inspired listening to her because of her ease with what her voice is and what she can do with it. Amazing.

Second, the songs. Sabiné’s writing is so different than mine. Her lyrics are impressionistic, poetic, and suggestive of many unseen layers. She reaches into a world of deeper truth, even as the stories that the songs weave seem so specific. Beautiful.

Third, Kenny. Having submitted five of my songs to Kenny’s ministrations (one being the bonus song I will play with the full band on November 12), I recognize his signature work even though their songs are so different than mine. Kenny reaches into the guts of a song and pulls out its essence, and no matter the genre, seems to know instinctively what the song needs to bring out its full character. Then the damnedest thing is that he can bring that vision – if an auditory experience can be described that way – into existence. The interplay between what Sabiné brings with what Kenny sculpts around her voice, melody, and lyrics is intoxicating, especially when you really allow yourself to listen closely, and preferably more than once. Stunning.

ArtemesiaBlack has so much to offer, so please come to my EP Release Show at Art Boutiki  on Saturday, November 12, 2016 to hear them. They will open, I will play a solo set, then Dave Maurischat, Chris Lanier, and Will Diamond as well as Kenny and Sabiné will back me in a full band set. We had our first band rehearsal last week, and we’re going to blow the doors off ….

Sbpt_buy_tickets_large-copyhow time is 7:30 pm, and advance tickets are available here for $10 plus a small transaction fee, or by clicking on the icon to the right. You can also buy tickets at the door for $10.

I can’t wait to hear ArtemesiaBlack on November 12, and I sincerely hope you will be there to listen, too. Please come on November 12.

Dreaming Songs: Why I Write

I started dreaming music about five years ago. Not all of my songs originate from dreams, but most do. I wake up in the middle of the night with a melody in my head, sometimes with lyrics, and stagger to my iPhone in the next room, sing it into a voice memo file, then stagger back to bed. I consider these little gems as gifts from elsewhere. The songs that come from them are from me and through me, but they feel like donations made on my behalf that are meant for others.

Despite many other things she has said to discredit herself, Michelle Shocked had a small quote posted on her website that I took to heart when I got home from touring with her: “Make your own music. It is possible.” I was afraid of extending myself this way, but felt guilty about ignoring the nocturnal sprinkling of jewels I began receiving.

There was a time not long before that when
my life felt out of control, and I vowed never to do anything without a clear call, and always to do what I felt called to, even if I didn’t want to. Without this call, I would have abandoned songwriting a long time ago because it is nerve-wracking having your insides suddenly on the outside and packaged in a way that demands a listener. Doing an EP is exponentially more nerve-wracking for this reason, but at the same time, hearing my songs fully produced has had a strangely soothing result, even with scratch vocals.

I saw an interview with Gwen Stefani recently in which she said that when she releases a new CD, she plays it on repeat in her car for weeks because listening to herself singing her own songs is therapeutic. I was startled, because I had thought myself wildly narcissistic because I am doing the same thing with my EP. Every time I listen, an empty place in me fills in a little more. It is the place I used to try to fill with other people’s opinions of me, which is why it was still empty. The opinions of others fail to satisfy. Instead, I am slowly filling it with confidence that comes from being obedient to what I think I am supposed to be doing.

Toni Morrison once wrote:

Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.

I take heart from this thought – that sharing stories with one another authentically and thoroughly is what we need from each another. Songs penetrate easily the gate the intellect hammers up around our true selves. Songs drop straight into the heart. I am moved when people tell me that my lyrics and melodies touch them; hearing this is encouraging and deeply appreciated. Even so, their experience cannot be why I write. I write out of faith and obedience to a call that comes from  a longing that has always been deepest in my heart – bringing myself forward in song.

bpt_buy_tickets_large-copySongs demand a listener, however, and my EP Release Show at Art Boutiki needs lots of live listeners. Please do what you can to come on Saturday, November 12, 2016 to help me celebrate the release of my EP; please click the icon to the right for tickets. ArtemesiaBlack opens, I will play a solo set, then you will see and hear Dave Maurischat, Chris Lanier, and Will Diamond join Kenny Schick and Sabiné Heusler-Schick of ArtmesiaBlack back me in a full band set.

Show time is 7:30 pm, and advance tickets are available here for $10 plus a small transaction fee. You can also buy tickets at the door for $10.

Please come on November 12.

3 EP Songs Selected by Women of Substance Internet Radio!

slide1-1Here’s a nifty bit of news … My EP is getting some national attention! Three songs from my Something Good EP were selected by  Women of Substance Internet Radio to appear in their regular rotation! Each song will join the rotation after being introduced at 3-week intervals in their “What’s On My iPod?” New Music Show, then will later be featured on their award-winning podcastI See You will be introduced first, daily at 5 pm ET / 2 pm PT, October 3-7, 2016. Please listen to the New Music Show here, and please consider  helping me spread the word about this, my EP release show, and the EP itself by giving me a shoutout online on your favorite social media.

Please also come to my EP release show at Art Boutiki on Saturday, November 12, 2016. Thank you so much for your support of me, live music venues like Art Boutiki, and local musicians including Dave Maurischat, Chris Lanier, and Will Diamond, who will join Kenny Schick and Sabiné Heusler-Schick of ArtemesiaBlack in backing me. ArtemesiaBlack will also open the show.

bpt_buy_tickets_large-copy
Show time is 7:30 pm, and advance tickets are available here and by clicking the icon on the left for $10 plus a small transaction fee. You can also buy tickets at the door for $10.