In conversation: Norma Jean Martine
Hey Norma Jean, first up, can you tell us a bit about your background? And how you first got into music?
I'm from upstate New York. I grew up singing in the car with mom and going to open mic nights and blues jams with her. I don't remember not being into music, but if you mean professionally, I think it would be when I moved to London in 2011. That was really when it became a serious thing.
I saw you at Latitude, in 2014, what have you been up to since then?
Haha that was the worst gig ever! I'm so sorry that's the one you saw! I was playing on a stage in between Rudimental and a heavy rock band called Goat. Not great. Anyway haha since then I've recorded my album with Danton Supple (Coldplay’s X&Y), as well as Joel Pott, and Ed Harcourt. It was a great processs, though it was long! I'm so glad it's finally finished and about to be in the world. Since that show I also had the insane honor of going to Burt Bacharach’s house and writing a song with him. That was just totally wild. The song we wrote is the closing track on the record - 'I’m Still Here'.
Tell us about Only In My Mind.
My record was made and written over four years and naturally my personal life changed a lot in that time. I went from falling madly in love, to falling out of it, to breaking up, and starting all over again trying to find that beautiful thing again. Love is such a journey and really that's what my record is. It's not just one season of love, it's all of it.
There are lots of songs about lost love, or broken relationships, do you have specific people and relationships in mind when you’re writing songs like ‘I Want You To Want Me’?
Yes! All the songs are about my life, except for ironically, the title track, which is based on the forbidden love in Wuthering Heights. 'I Want You to Want Me' is a song that I wrote for a boy who definitely didn't deserve it! He doesn't know though, so it's okay.
Is it cathartic for you, writing these songs?
Yes, it's my therapy. I write in a journal, and a lot of my lyrics come from what I write in there; I also like to write letters to people that they never ever get to read. I tend to unload all my emotions and drama onto my co-writers... They all know my whole life story. I have to be super honest and talk through all my emotions when I'm writing, otherwise it's just not real for me. I’m probably a nightmare, but I can’t help my process!
Possibly my favourite track is the title track, though the whole album is great. What can you tell me about that?
I'm so glad you like it!! 'Only In My Mind' like I said was based on Wuthering Heights. I wrote it when I first moved to London before co-writing was a thing I did. I wrote it on my own, which is a lot of why I wanted it to be the title of the record; I consider myself a songwriter first and foremost. It's all about the songs for me. We always remember songs, not so much who sings them!
How did writing ‘I’m Still Here’ with Burt Bacharach come about?
My manager watched a TV docudrama about Cilla Black with the famous scene of Burt telling her continually to "sing it again…!" He's a perfectionist. Anyway, my manager decided I needed Burt in my life, and through contacts we had in Nashville from my time there, we got Burt to hear my voice. He loved it and wanted to work with me, so that following January I went to LA. When I got there he had me sing him a song... I sang him 'Still In Love With You' (from my album) in his lounge.. The whole time I was trying so hard to be into the song, but all I could think was “Holy shit I'm in Burt Bacharach’s house singing him this stupid song I wrote - this is crazy!" He liked it though and said he liked that I was musical and could play piano. Then we talked for a while and he told me about his children, and we really connected on the fact that there is a big age difference between parent and child. My dad was 50 when I was born; Burt is 88 and his son is my age, so it’s quite similar. It's a hard thing knowing just based on math that your time is short with someone you love so much, so I think that was really the essence of the song we wrote. He played me a melody and sang the first line "I'm Still here “ (Burt is famous for handing out titles to lyricists) and it sparked a memory from my first trip to LA, where I hadn't been to the USA in about a year, and was driving on the Pacific Coast Highway towards Topanga... I was really homesick and it felt weird being in my country but still so far away from New York and my family. I called my dad and cried and told him I missed him and he said," Norma I'm not going anywhere, it's gonna take a lot to get rid of me." I told Burt the story, and cried, and he sent me home and said, "I think you know what the song is about." I wrote the lyrics that night and went back the following day. I was really nervous he wouldn't like it, but he loved it and said, “You did good kid, you did good."
What did you learn from spending time writing and performing with him?
I learned the importance of perfectionism. While we were writing he maybe didn't get a chord right, so he would stop and figure it out before moving on... He's very particular about his melodies, but at the end of the day, he says it’s all about heart. I already sort of knew that, but having that reaffirmed by a legend made it all the more real for me.
Does your approach to songwriting differ when you’re writing for other people?
Yes, in that it’s not about me anymore, and I’m able to get inside another person’s head, and make the lyrics work for them. It’s a challenge, so I really like doing it.
What does the rest of 2016 hold for you?
My record comes out. Everything after that is a mystery :)
You’re from New York, you live in London. Which is best and why?
People always ask this question. London has been my land of opportunity, but my family is in New York, so I have to say they are equal in my heart.
How come you decided to move to the UK?
I had a college professor in Nashville who said I had a “blue eyed-soul, Amy/Adele thing” about me, and suggested I go to London. That following week I saw a blurb in American Songwriters Magazine about Lauren Pritchard (LOLO) coming to London to write her debut record with Eg White, and that was when I thought, “Okay, maybe this London thing is doable.” So I signed up to study abroad in London that day, and I’ve pretty much been here ever since.
If you could only listen to one song this week, what would it be?
I’m newly single and currently dating and I guess I’m really feeling 'I Can’t Make You Love Me' by Bonnie Raitt. It’s one of my favourite songs anyway, but it’s really how I feel at the moment. You can’t force love, I guess you just gotta wait for it to halt your universe.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
My favourite color is a spectrum of blues and purples.
Finally, how do you take your coffee? (Or alcohol?)
I like cappuccinos with an alternative milk! Or Green Tea Matcha Latte… which I know isn’t coffee.. Alcohol… I like Moscow Mules and Laphroaig on the rocks is good… but a good red wine is always the one.
Thanks so much for your time Norma Jean, enjoy the album release whirlwind.
Thanks!!! Got my hands up in the air :)
Only In My Mind is out October 14th, you can buy from anywhere decent, and stream from the usual.