Melbourne-via-North Queensland artist KATE MARTIN is no stranger to releasing albums, but her latest effort, Set My Life To Fire has something different about it compared to those preceding it. Meticulously put together, it details Martin's experiences moving cities, learning from pain, falling apart and putting herself back together again. More uninhibited than ever before, Martin really comes into her own here in this album, playing with new sounds to create an expertly crafted record.
From the heart-wrenching 'Alchemy,' and the experimental 'Megafauna' to the critically-acclaimed singles like 'Kinstukuroi' and 'Set My Life To Fire,' this record is Kate Martin's opus - it's her years of hard work finally realising its truth, and it's a thrill to listen to. To celebrate its release and to get to know the record a little better, Martin has given us some in depth insight into her new album. Check it all out below, and get Set My Life To Fire into your ears right now!
'Tell Me Not To Fear pt 1'
This track is more of a 2 minute crescendo and mood dictating prelude rather than a traditionally structured song. I sing a repeated phrase over and over as the track gradually builds. It starts out even-tempered and by the end feels more like an intentional plea. This track is about fearing the inevitable - losing love. Some tracks on the record like this one are a reflection of that time in my life. I always wanted to have a loop based jam as the opener to this album. I originally started performing ‘Tell Me Not To Fear pt 1’ in my live shows by looping vocals and percussion (tribal drums, hand claps and claves). Tell Me Not To Fear pt 1 is the prelude to pt 2, which is at the end of the album, they serve as bookends.
Autumn Leaves is about the struggle of letting go of the things that aren’t benefitting you. The patterns we follow that go unquestioned and turn into habits are the hardest to recognise and undo. The lyrics are about having lightbulb moments where you see something in yourself so clearly that you were once blinded to. Autumn Leaves touches on the sometimes gritty and solitary experience that this can be. There’s a side to this record that explores a particular pain and resistance that comes with the death of ego and truth taking its place.
Alchemy is my favourite track on the album. If a song’s mood could capture my personality this would be it. I wrote this song with my friend and long time collaborator Michael Carpenter. In all our years of making records together we’d never sat down with the intention of writing a song from scratch. Before Alchemy was written I felt there was a song missing from the album. I had a clear sense of knowing what I wanted to achieve from collaborating with Michael, it was a particular mood and feeling I was chasing. After sifting through a handful of songwriting and production references we sat at the upright piano at Love Hz Studios in Sydney and wrote Alchemy. The song is about love, reflection and remembrance. I wanted to make a song that focusses on dynamic contrast, with verses and pre’s that draw you in and chorus’ that catapult you back out. We had a lot of fun building the chorus’ of Alchemy, layering synths and automating their pitch live, stacking tones of pitched vocal layers and making them sound lush. It’s the subtleties that really make the song though, all the little ghost notes throughout the verses and the syncopated snare hits in the final chorus. We weren’t at all inhibited when making this song which is why I am so fond of it, making it felt wholesome and earnest.
Megafauna is to my mind the most left-of-centre track on the album, it’s sort of the odd one out but I didn’t really mind, I still wanted it on the record. It just does it’s own thing. My decision to let this song take on a life of it’s own was inspired by artists who do whatever they want and people either like it or they don’t. The bass line was completely inspired by Mark Ronson, I love the way he writes pop music, I wanted it to drive the song and be way up in the mix. The chorus vocals are pretty rough, it was a one-take demo vocal that I recorded through a SM58 and VE-20 processor with a third harmony on which in the end we decided to leave in. I remember Michael who I produced Megafauna with laughed at the time and said “Too bad for whoever mixes this song”.. Of course he ended up mixing it in the end. Poor Michael. But that was the vibe, I didn’t want to over think it.
'Set My Life To Fire'
This is the title track of the album, I wrote Set My Life To Fire with Jon Hume in his studio out in the Victorian country side. Writing this song gave me huge respect for pop music and the craft that goes into it. It’s a statement track, lyrically speaking it sums up where my head has been at for a while. Exploring themes like self-abandonment and transition. My favourite lyric from the song is ‘I am but a vapour in the ocean, a terrifying thought but a beautiful notion.’ I was immersed in the concept of understanding my place in the world, I also resonated with this quote from The Great Gatsby “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” When I wrote this song I had been living in Melbourne for just over a year and I was finding it hard to embrace the changes that were going on around me at that time. I wrote Set My Life To Fire as a way of toying with the idea of throwing it all away, it became a bit of an emotional outpouring… the central theme being the acceptance of things outside of my control.
Someone close to me has a niece with a rare eye condition called ‘Tetrachromacy’, it’s a genetic variation that affects mostly women and allows them to see a much wider colour spectrum than most people. Tetrachromat’s possess a fourth cone cell in their eye, this basically gives them supervision. What may just look like a dark night sky to most people could be perceived by someone with Tetrachromacy as magenta or a blend of very different and vibrant colours.
I was so fascinated at the way everything we experience is so uniquely personal even down to the way we see colours. I wrote Infinite Eyes one day when I was in deep thought, imagining what it would be like to see the world through her lens.
Kintsukuroi is a Japanese word that means ‘to repair with gold’. It’s the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with gold lacquer, once repaired, the gold lines show clearly where the piece was once fragmented and shattered. I love the concept of Kintsukuroi because it doesn’t disguise brokenness, it celebrates it. Blurring the line between brokenness and restoration till they become one and the same. Being broken is a part of life that defines and refines us, I saw this art form as being comparable to the human condition. I wanted this song to be heavily percussive and atmospheric, I really wanted the lyrics to shine and the track to be an emotionally supportive bed, to give empowerment to the words.
In my early twenties I went through a phase of wanting to reconnect with my younger self. Purely for the way I perceived the world and how effortlessly music seemed to flow from me, I missed being uninhibited, both creatively and personally. I would listen to my early albums and feel estranged from myself. I was feeling the weight of moving to a new city, losing my first love and having no friends. I was existing in a state of self-preservation. I was desperate to reignite the old me so I went on a mini quest to reconnect and reclaim. To quote Danish architect Bjarke Ingels "What changes over time is the naivety fades away, but it is replaced by another kind of confidence that will make you better at seizing the moment and grasping what is important.”
One of my favourite moments of making this record happened while recording Awaken, we had a string quartet come in to lay down some parts on another song that didn’t make it onto the record. We had them booked til 4pm and finished the other song with half an hour to spare so Michael and I quickly but intuitively directed these amazing players, coming up with parts section by section on the spot. The players were so proficient and totally on our wavelength. For the chorus I asked them to play a free form blend of scale runs in the key of Awaken, totally experimental but it sounded so right. Then we decided to go for major Eastern sounds in the bridge, a call and response type thing interplaying with my vocals. I can’t imagine the song without their parts in it and I’m glad things happened the way they did in the studio that day.
‘First Frost’ is about the first time your heart freezes over. I wrote this song after attempting to move on with another (prematurely) but deep down I knew it was going to end before it began because I had nothing to give at that point. Production-wise there’s not a whole lot going on, it’s pretty minimal bar the final chorus with all the vocal layers and drums, apart from that moment it’s quite introspective and sparse. The feeling of the song is cold which makes sense given the title but there’s also a delicateness to it.
'Tell Me Not To Fear pt 2'
The lyrics speak for themselves with this one, it was written from a place of pain. It’s all about still loving someone after you walk away and believing that you will never find a love like that again. Every relationship and love has its own special uniqueness but in that moment that’s what I found hard to accept. Some elements from Tell Me Not To Feat pt 1 are intertwined with pt 2, it’s fun revisiting concepts and hiding repeated melodies and words subtly throughout the record.
Set My Life To Fire is out now.
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Intro by Emma Jones