London born, Berlin-based folk-pop sweetheart, Martha Rose, warms us with a very special glimpse into her Kreuzberg apartment and favorite Berlin hangs. Over the course of one chilly winters day, we get the chance to chat about her new “Affliction” EP in collaboration with musical wizards and producers, “Ben & Magnus”. Love letter’s that were never sent – books, records, her “synth-doused” “Spit” debut album, and most importantly we get a unique peek into what lies beneath her ever flourishing creative process.
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So for this new EP you collaborated with the infamous “Ben and Magnus” of “The Hole Boys” and founders of Neukölln Country Club… What was it like to have collaborators and producers work on your songs?
It was amazing, and very interesting. They kind of whisked me away to their studio in Wedding and I felt like a kid in a magical toyshop, I never had access to a studio with that kind of feeling before. I was always scared it would be intimidating and depersonalise the creative process, but the opposite was true – Ben and Magnus are dear friends of mine and very talented musicians, and they opened a lot of musical possibilities, so we could just play with the songs late into the night until we liked how they sounded.
If your EP were a place what kind of place would it be?
The EP would be an abstract set for a 1950s movie dance sequence. I know this sounds crazy, but I mean like one of those dream sequences, where there are endless expanses of pink or white, and the film takes a more theatrical direction, and the heroine dances with her dream man and is pursued by fantastical shapes and beings, and the movie studio gets to show it’s creativity and special effects.
The songs on “Affliction” might take some listeners back to your more folky Martha Rose sounds. How does it feel as an artist to go back and remake some goodies from the past?
Yes, a couple of the songs were older ideas which I felt were never fully realised, and I wanted to do them justice. It’s scary to me to keep writing more and more songs when the recording and releasing process is inevitably slower and more restricted by categorisation. I wanted to avoid that with this EP, and just go with my heart. I felt in a very tender mood while revisiting and improving these songs, I didn’t just want to push things to be louder and faster. It’s nice to take a step back and explore the softer and calmer side of my music, and Ben and Magnus are the perfect people to do that with. They know exactly how to make great subtle ‘Kuschel rock’ vibes. It may come across as more folky than what I’ve been playing live recently or the songs from the last album, but I’m fine with that. it’s a kind of reclaiming of musical freedom in a genre driven industry.
The title “Affliction” was inspired by a mini series of religious poetry by the 17th century Welsh/English writer George Herbert… Are most of your songs and albums inspired by literature?
Haha yes a lot of them are. I never consciously intended it to be that way, but so many images lurk around in my head after I read things that move me, and I find they often open a portal for me to dive into and bring songs out of.
Do you think that comes from your background in German and English Literature?
Yeah, it definitely influenced my song writing a lot. I’ve always had this feeling that I don’t like to fully write about somebody in an obvious and direct way. A lot of my songs are about heartbreak and emotion and stuff like that, but it’s also nice for me to have a framework of metaphors to put them into, or to draw inspiration from literature talking about similar feelings. For example, there are very strong influences, especially in “Spit” LP, from Günter Grass. His novel, The Tin Drum, even made me want to study German literature, because I read that novel and I was like, “Whoa”. And also there’s a song on the album called “Othello, Bro!”, and that’s about Othello, because I remember I really, really thought he was an idiot, when I studied Shakespeare. I thought, you know, why did he not believe her? And then I realised, once when I felt really jealous too, that it’s very easy not to believe the truth. If you want to believe something hard enough, you can make yourself believe it.
Do you remember the first song you ever wrote, and what it was about?
The first song I every wrote — yep, I remember it [laughs] — its called “The Nightingale”, and it was about heartbreak. I went to university, and me and my boyfriend at the time broke up, and it was sort of about him. The song was based upon the story [by] Oscar Wilde about the nightingale and the rose. The general vibe was a very sad, heartbroken, loyal person giving everything to another person, who didn’t care.
When you write your songs, have you noticed a pattern of when you’re most likely to be inspired?
Yeah, when I write songs, I notice there are a couple of patterns now. I very often have it where I go to bed, feeling bored and sad and lonely, I’m like, “Ah, I’ll just go to bed and then at least I’ll get an early night”. And then, just as I’m about to fall asleep, I have an idea, and then I get really annoyed because I have to get up, and turn the light on, and write it down, and get my guitar out, or my keyboard out, and I’m like “Ughh!” But then it’s really fun because I know I have to follow that, you know, and I trust it now, because it’s happened a few times where I’m just like, “Okay, I have to get up, I don’t want to forget this”. And I’m really old-fashioned, I still don’t like just recording it onto a phone or something. But also, not just that, in general I often get ideas for melodies out and about, at really awkward moments whereby I have to sing them to myself the whole way home in my head to not forget them, which is funny.
What was your main inspiration for your debut LP “Spit”?
My main inspiration for my LP was probably just like a combination of different heartbreaks [laughs]. It was that feeling I really wanted to express — deep, emotional frustration, and emotional loss, and I really wanted to turn that into something [that is] my own, and express it and not be trapped with it in my own head and my own heart.
What do you think Berlin has to offer musicians that sets it apart from other major cities?
I think it’s not easy being a musician over here, like anywhere that’s cool and exciting, it’s full of musicians and it’s not easy to feel like you’re making any kind of progress sometimes. But, I think it offers you a sense of excitement, and you could find a little scene — and there are lots of different little scenes — but if you find one, and you make friends within it, and you play shows together, then it feels very free and magical and less constrained. I felt that, compared to England, it was a bit easier to make friends with everybody and have genuine friendships and really work together, and really help each other — I don’t know, that also happened in England, too, but it felt very good here, in Berlin.
And now for some quick questions:
Which song best represents your current mood?
haha, this one unfortunately (it’s a cool song tho): Moody by ESG
What’s your favorite snack?
My favorite snack does vary, but I’m a big fan of Ritter Sport chocolate, if I want a sweet snack. But if I want a savoury snack, I really like a veggie hotdog, with ketchup, and mustard, and onions.
What book are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading this book called Near to the Wild Heart, by Clarice Lispector, which is a crazy book I just picked up. This young Brazilian writer from the ‘40s, a woman who emigrated from the Ukraine to Brazil and wrote this book, and it’s really beautiful, and passionate, and sort of mad, angry feelings and frustrations. It was the perfect book. I found it the other day and I was just like, “Yes!”.
If you could choose between being a bird or a fish for a day, which would you be?
Definitely a fish, because it would be like flying in water anyway, and I would love to explore the magical places in the depths of the ocean that nobody has seen.
What was your last most regretted purchase?
I bought this weird raincoat from Humana recently that I immediately hated. I tried to take it back, but they wouldn’t let me. It had a big hood with a scarf attached that I thought would be really practical and warm for cycling, but just made me look like a character from the Handmaid’s Tale or some other medieval hooded vibe horror movie. I cut it off though, and now I like the coat again.
What’s next up for you?
Right now I want to have a little Christmas holiday, and then push on to record another full length album, I’m really excited to get started on that. On the long term list: tour Japan, draw more comics, and get more synthesisers.