The thought of meeting Martina Sorbara was a bit intimidating to say the least. She is the front-woman of internationally loved electro-pop outfit, Dragonette. The band has called the U.K. home, cultivated a following in Japan, topped the charts from Austria to their native Canada, and Martina herself has been active in music since 1998. With a resume like that, you’d be hard-pressed not to be a bit shaky interviewing her.
When Martina walks in the room the first thing you notice is her energy. She’s a heck-of-a nice person and fun, really fun. Her outfit is casual a tank top and jeans, but she plays it up with a cocktail of bracelets, rings and a necklace. You sense authenticity in her that surprises in the best possible way. Her voice is high-pitched, infectiously delightful and it sings, even if she’s just talking. Every part of Martina is perfectly fitted to being the leader of an international band, it’s no wonder she’s been so successful. We chatted about growing up, what beauty means to her, and working with Jian Ghomeshi—read on to learn more.
How does the kid of a lawyer/politician get to become an international recording artist? What was it like growing up in your household?
My parents before anything else are hippies. There was never any pressure for me to be a doctor, lawyer or anything like that—we were always encouraged to carve our own path. My five siblings and I all went to an art school, so we were always encouraged to express and create. My twin brother is in film, my one sister is an architect, and now my dad runs a cow farm. So you can see how becoming a musician wasn’t unusual. When I dropped out of university after two days, my parents weren’t even shocked. I consider myself an artist first, music just happens to be my career. My sanity and happiness relies on a creative output. Whether it’s music, visual arts or something else—I just need to be making things. I recently saw an osteopath for my hand because I was literally creating too much shit.
“My sanity and happiness relies on a creative output.”
Your solo records were more folk in nature. Where did the badass electro-pop come from?
I felt limited by what I was writing at the time. Every time I played guitar and piano, it felt like I was singing the same song again and again. When I met Dan [Martina’s husband and bandmate] we created the Dragonette sound without any real intention. He came from an electro synth background and it kind of just matched up.
At the start, the electro sound felt almost like an act to me. I felt at the time it wasn’t me and I was just doing electro stuff on top of my music. Even though I listened to a lot of music that wasn’t folk, I couldn’t reconcile the two things. I think that my ‘hippie’ background made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to be something else; like I had to play to that. But then something clicked in me and I realized that this is all me too. I wasn’t singing about anything fluffy. It was just as real, except it was on top of synth music. I’m still singing my life and my emotions; the decoration is just a bit different.
Your songwriting is an expression of who you are. How separate is your stage persona with the day-to-day Martina? Was it something you crafted with forethought?
At the beginning I really thought I had to put on an image of what I was expected to look like. I felt like, ‘oh I play pop music, so I should look like a pop artist.’ One of the most defining changes of my life experience was when I realized people are here to see me. I saw that they want to see who I am and that’s really my only job on stage. I might have to play it up a bit, but my only job is to meditate on who I am and present it to people because that’s why they’re here.
“…my only job is to meditate on who I am and present it to people because that’s why they’re here.”
A lot of your fans think you’re a total bad ass.
I think I have badass tendencies. I’m also a pussy. I’m also insecure and vulnerable. I think all those things are important. There are layers to everyone, nobody is only a badass.
You collaborated with Jian Ghomeshi early in your career. What’s your relationship with him like now? What are your thoughts on the scandal and outcome?
I don’t have a relationship with him now. I didn’t know what to think when I heard what happened, except that it was galling and painful. My experience with Jian is that he is so amazing at his job. I don’t think anybody can do that job like the way he did. He’s an amazing, amazing intellect. He’s charismatic, but that doesn’t say anything about what he’s capable of.
It’s interesting how the Ghomeshi trial is revealing the layers of issues women are dealing with today.
I heard these women talking about it at the airport. They thought Jian should get off because the victims are contradicting themselves. People are judging those women, but how could people know how they feel? Unless you’ve gone through that you don’t know what it’s like, so how can you have that opinion?
“I was never attracted to regular beauty. I found a lot of mainstream music to have a very narrow definition of beauty.”
You’ve once said that girls don’t have to always look outwards to define who they are—they can create their own definition. What female figure did you look up to growing up?
I was never attracted to regular beauty. I found a lot of mainstream music to have a very narrow definition of beauty. Whether it was melody, voice, or what’s sexy looking, I found the things I was attracted to be very “other.” [Women like] Sinéad O’connor, Björk, and Ani DiFranco were beautiful to me, but not in an archetypical way. Just being able to express something different from what other people were saying was really beautiful to me. That’s what formed the basis of my songwriting.
What was the biggest setback you faced in your music career? Has anything ever made you doubt pursuing music?
There was a moment in time, early on in Dragonette, where we left our label and had to ask ourselves if the band will continue. They had all these high hopes for us after we released our record. We were expected to be international rock stars, but we knew we were just an indie band. It felt like we failed, but that led us to taking a big step as a band. We were reborn like a phoenix from the flames with laser focus and moved onwards to release Fixin’ to Thrill. The record was more like a ‘fuck you’ to your pop music label and we’re doing whatever we want—we solidified our identity as an indie band.
What are your goals today now that you’ve found success as an artist?
The goal has been, and still is to create, create, and create. We’ve done Lollapalooza and Coachella, but I’d love to be invited to go back and play. With record sales being contorted, festivals become what validates the band.
Speaking of record sales, “Hello” was one of your first mainstream hits. What was your thought process in deciding to collaborate?
I had no expectations for that song, to be honest. I think collaborations are just exercises in having a new creative experience. I don’t do them with an expectation of it advancing my profile. If I get a track in from a big name DJ and the track isn’t amazing, I’m probably not going to write something amazing. Just by virtue of it being a big name I might feel like I’m under pressure, which would affect my songwriting. It’s better to just remove all expectations and think of it as simply wanting to write an awesome song.
Got any advice for the non-artists to create more?
People get discouraged before they even start making something. Everybody wants to be good at something fast and get that instant gratification. Creativity can be a slow burn where you have to put in the hours.
Thanks to @cafe_neon for letting us interview and shoot.