Singer songwriter Liz Martin has gone through a number of phases during the Covid-19 lockdowns. She started positive enough and then admits she went into a “massive slump”. But now she has come out the other side, with thanks to recent live gigs streamed on the Surry Hills Live platform.
When Liz Martin and her band finished their set on the Surry Hills Live platform recently, one of the band members put down their instrument and said simply: “That feels better.”
Martin couldn’t have said it better herself. Living by herself in a studio flat 30 metres square works fine when you can get out and socialise and play, but it’s another thing at a time of social distancing rules and when lockdown stops band practice, let alone a live gig.
“I was so disturbed at the beginning of lockdown and just couldn’t focus on anything, I was just reading all the news and was really distracted and couldn’t settle at all,” she says.
“But I have to say though that I am lucky in that I live in an artists’ co-operative in the inner-west, and there are 35 of there in a truly amazing space with a central garden area”.
“So while we were all in lockdown with all the restrictions we were at least able to have chit chat as we hung out our clothes on the line. That at least made it a little less weird.”
The lockdown also made rehearsing impossible. Viewers probably wouldn’t have noticed it, but the Surry Hills Live gig was the first time the band had seen each other in three months. They showed up at the studio, had a quick sound check, and then went live to play to the online audience.
“Luckily we have played a lot together in the last few years, so it all fell together quite easily,” says Martin.
“And everyone was super keen to play after all this time.”
As gigging musicians, lockdown has been like suffering withdrawal – both creatively and financially. But even as the economy moves back to normality Martin sees the online format as something which might be here to stay.
“I loved playing in that format,” she says.
“The production values were really high at Surry Hills Live, we could all hear each other well, and for our style of music it worked really well.
“Plus, for the audience there were heaps of people commenting. I saw that the community we normally play to were all online and they were chatting to each other as we played, saying ‘hey’ and ‘how are you going’, so I think it is a format which has a real future as an alternative.”
Martin has also watched other gigs by other artists live online during lockdown, and said she felt connected and part of the performance, and not disconnected.
“You can be comfortable, you can have as much or as little of your alcohol of choice and you can hear everything clearly, so it’s a great experience,” she says.
“When you think about people who are disabled and can’t get into venues because the venues are not wheelchair accessible, or anyone who can’t afford the expense of going out – beer prices, ticket prices – or people who have kids. I think this is a great alternative and I really hope it kicks on.”
The online gigs are also going to be critical, she says, for a music industry which will clearly be restricted for some time. Who really knows, for example, when venues will be able to fully open and when crowds will go back?
Anyone who saw one of Martin’s two performances on Surry Hills Live will have seen how far she has come creatively since she emerged around a decade ago, largely in the electronic music genre through her successful collaboration with Paul Mac.
Ten years on her music is very much band-centric, and stylistically a mash-up of alt-country, jazz, pop and with a little bit of Weimar era cabaret thrown in at various points.
While it might not the best move financially to play with a band, Martin says it just feels right creatively. On a personal level, her fellow musicians feel like family, and playing with them is a “beautiful friendship embedded in music”.
“I just can’t sit in front of my computer to make music anymore, there is just something about electronic music which can be so isolating,” she says.
“There is something magical about five people playing music together and the way you need to listen and respond to each other and how we come together that way, I think there’s something beautiful about it.
“Music for me now is about the connection with other people, allowing room and space for people to bring their own selves and make their own contribution.”
For a prolific original artist, Martin still doesn’t think she has written enough songs. During lockdown she has been exploring some other artists and has been looking at Dolly Parton, the country music superstar who has written some 3000 songs.
“That’s so many from her! I do write a lot but I have a big discard rate, because the songs have to really surprise me to make it,” she says.
Martin’s songs are highly personal and internal, and storylines are hinted at rather than fully explained even though the song are often inspired by stories.
“It’s very much about the soul for me, which could be one reason why I love the band thing right now,” she says.
“I really appreciate country music for that reason, because it has that expression of pain, hurt and woe but also has the joy and the bliss.”
One song from the most recent recording Led Me down, for example, is about giving your heart away to someone, not only to have it rejected at first but to have that person come back – when you yourself have moved on. This, apparently, has happened to Liz Martin.
Then there is another song about a love between someone living and someone who is dead, sung in the voice of the dead person.
“That one was inspired by vampire films, but while it’s something I can imagine, this one hasn’t actually happened to me!” says Martin.
Songwriting inspiration, she says, can come at any time, and the voice recorder on her phone is full of scraps and snippets of ideas which occur to her, often while she is walking or driving.
I suggest that a potential album could be excerpts from these phone recordings, but Liz isn’t keen, preferring fully worked songs evolved with her bandmates.
So I ask about what is next, and Martin talks again about the band and how much she loves it, and also about another performance on June 27 on Surry Hills Live as part of the PLATFORM Live disability arts festival.
“And then, there is the future…dot, dot, dot,” she says, hinting at a tomorrow which, while it might be uncertain in some ways, will also have lots of music – in whatever form.
Cover image credit: Joy Lai Photography.