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Lauren Leigh Martin Searches for Balance

Lauren Leigh Martin.

If you‘ve been following San Diego’s music scene over the past decade, you’ve certainly taken notice of Lauren Leigh Martin. A powerhouse singer, her own music’s sound touches on Americana, with elements of folk, country, and pop, topped by a wonderfully soulful voice. Meanwhile, she’s been a part of an impressively diverse set of bands and is currently moving into the world of session work. Despite the setback of the past year, she remains determined to move forward in music. How does she find balance between music life and non-music life? “My first reaction is to say that I don’t,” Martin replied good naturedly. “That is the thing we are always searching for, I think. Balance.”

She notes music as a way of life came to her later than for some. “I had a different career for eight years, with Kush Insurance and regular hours. But I was dying inside,” Martin said. “As soon as I was able to make music my career, I knew I was doing what I was meant to be doing.” According to Martin the pandemic hasn’t changed that fact. “It’s actually showed me some hard truths about the industry and my own career in general that I wasn’t happy with,” she commented. “I refocused on my main and original goal to become a songwriter and realized that I can network and support myself with session work just like I did with gigging out four or five times a week. That former lifestyle was not sustainable for me.”

Beyond improving work options, the shift to session work has had a positive effect on home life. “I was making it work but just barely,” Martin said. “My son takes up a lot of my time and focus. Especially now that I’m a single mom. When I had a live-in boyfriend for five years, it was a lot easier to juggle responsibilities. I have him every other week, so I tried to schedule most of my music stuff when I didn’t have my kid, but that doesn’t always work. I can record from home now, so that frees me up a lot to dedicate time to my kid when he needs it and be able to accept work when I do have him. I have a lot of support from my mom and siblings as well. Without them I don’t know I would be able to do what I love.” Martin cites another reason for her determination in making music. “My son inspires me,” she said. “It’s important to show him that following your passion is okay and hard, but worth it to experience authentic happiness. He is very proud of me.”

Early Days
Martin is a rare native San Diegan, born and raised in the San Carlos area. For the past five years she’s been living in Talmadge. “I absolutely love this part of town because of how central it is, but I would move closer to the ocean if I could,” she said good naturedly. “But I have a pretty sweet rental agreement that is hard to say goodbye to.”

Music has always been a part of Martin’s life. “I grew up with such a hodge-podge of influences, but my father and his taste definitely ruled what I gravitated toward,” she said. “My mother was more into Barbara Streisand and Andrea Bocelli, while my father introduced me to everything from Heart and Steely Dan to Joni Mitchell and Ella Fitzgerald,” Martin continued. “I went through a huge folk singer obsession for many years with Joni, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez in my ears, influencing me to think of myself as a songwriter. Nowadays I tend to lean toward the singer/songwriter influences, with Phoebe Bridgers, Emily King, and Wilco as more recent motivation. My local musician friends inspire my writing more than anything though.”

Martin’s father’s musical influence went beyond her listening choices. “My father, Claudio Martin, is probably one of the best guitar players in this town,” she said. “I grew up very spoiled in that respect, but I was also intimidated that I could never be that good.” She’s never considered having another main instrument, “although I have always known I would get way more work and become so much better once I did learn an instrument. I played guitar not seriously my whole life, only ever learning basic chords and never giving myself a chance to learn theory or better techniques. When the shutdown happened last year, I challenged myself to get lessons and not quit. Even though life circumstances have given me understandable outs, I have continued as best I can through it all.”

Martin first hit the band circuit as a singer in 2008, but her first live performance as a solo artist still resonates with her today. “I was seven years old,” she recalled. “It was at my parents’ wedding, helped out by my aunt, (award-winning singer) Eve Selis, and my accompanist, Marc Intravaia (of the band Listen, Back to the Garden, etc.). I sang “Love Me Tender,” by Elvis. It was very well received, and I’ve been searching for that rush ever since.”

A little taste of Lauren Leigh
https://www.facebook.com/laurenleighmartin/videos/10100603104291270

I’m with the Band

Martin with Chloe Lou at the San Diego Music Awards.

Martin’s introduction to band life came in 2008, the traditional way: a Craigslist ad. “The first real band I was in was when I started singing back-up for Vanja James after I put out an ad,” she said. “I was so excited, but it came quickly to an end once I got pregnant.” Her son was born the following year, but Martin waited until 2012 for her next project. “I started writing with Gary Crite Jr.,” she recalled. “We had a band called The One and Onlys and sort of injected ourselves into the local music scene once we had enough tunes to play out live. After a year and a half of doing that, the band kind of fell apart and we decided to reform as a cover band called RedWave.” That group was soon renamed as RKIVE. “That’s when I started really hustling in the cover scene and making music work for me full time,” she said. RKIVE lasted three years, with Martin exiting in 2018 for “various reasons; don’t date your bandmates and other dramas,” she said. Next up was Lauren Leigh and the Low Keys, with a lot of projects in the mix. “I also created a classic country cover band called Wild Heart that I fronted and was a member of the band Analog Project, also the yacht rock combo High Tide Society, as well as a hired gun for the corporate scene, The Lucky Devils Band, and I was a member of the local Pink Floyd tribute band, Pink Froyd, touring with The Pink Floyd Experience (PFX).”

A notable band for Martin has been the James Taylor tribute group, Mud Slide Slim. Featuring frontman Michael Gonzales, the band also includes her father Claudio Martin (guitar), with Larry Grano (drums), Sam Hunt (guitar), Jim Reeves (bass), Max Zape (keyboards), and Jenny Hecht (vocals). Martin’s current original project is under her name, Lauren Leigh, and is an extension of the Low Keys, featuring Josh Weinstein (keyboards), Joshua Taylor (guitar), Sam Hunt (guitar), Tony Econom (drums), and Harley Magsino (bass)

On the Road Again
Martin has performed at venues around North America, naming two as favorites. “From Touring, the Grand Theatre de Quebec was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. Period,” she said “The acoustics are ridiculous and you feel super classy on that stage looking out at the audience. Just architecturally, it was gorgeous. Locally, my favorite venue to perform is the Belly Up. How could it not be? You get the intimacy, incredible sound, just-big-enough stage for the band, and the pleasure of knowing the absolute legends that have performed right where you’re standing.”

One particularly notable tour in 2019 found Martin touring with PFX (The Pink Floyd Experience), hitting the road through Canada with Platinum-selling rockers, Foreigner. Almost all the venues PFX performed in were hockey stadiums, cut in half, which were “were absolutely freezing at the tail end of winter,” Martin recalled. “They’d just cover up the ice with fake flooring and a stage and that’’s what you performed on.” The tour ran from February 23 to March 22. “During that time we had two official days off and two travel days, I believe.” While most of the dates were opening for Foreigner, they played a few side gigs, all performing the entirety of Dark Side of the Moon. “My job was handling all the female vocals on the album, which included the solo on “Great Gig In The Sky,” arguably one of the most difficult female vocals in modern rock music. Performing that song every night was absolutely crazy, but the venues I got to perform it in, with the incredible engineers I got to work with, made it a dream come true. We had about eight or nine dates where we were the headliners in smaller venues, but we got to do a longer show. Those were really fun. Some of my favorites.”

She notes that not all was smooth sailing. “We were kept away from Foreigner for the most part on our tour,” she said. “I guess I’m far enough away from it where I can publicly say that there were a few people on our tour that had difficulty taking and following orders from our amazing female tour manager. There are no-brainer things and rules that they had difficulty following, so we all suffered because they couldn’t keep their cool. I’m not kidding—there were several times I thought we were getting kicked off the tour because of them. So, our time with Foreigner was limited and restricted.”

That said, there were definitely good times. “My tour buddy, Jonny Tarr, who sang some lead and played sax with PFX, and I actually had one particularly fun night out on the town with Foreigner’s lead guitarist, Bruce Watson and their keyboard player Michael Bluestein while in Quebec,” Martin recalled. “They are incredibly talented and down-to-earth humans. Got to hear some crazy stories about performing with Elton John and others from Bruce. Kelly Hansen is a beast of a singer. He has a pretty rigid structure to keep his voice in shape. I was sad I never got to sit down and pick his brain about it all, but watching him on the sidelines was just awe inspiring. Mick Jones, the only remaining original member, and I got to share an elevator ride; I was so nervous I’d be in trouble for it because of how much stress was put on us to stay away from them. But he was cool.”

Trust Fall
In 2020 Martin made a guest appearance on Jonny Tarr’s latest album, Tough Stuff, including a co-writing credit for the song “Finger in the Socket.” To date, Martin has released one five-song EP, Flare (2020), with the first in a series of five singles to be released this year and “Trust Fall” issued this past January. The song was recorded remotely, a new experience for Martin. “Since everything shut down, it took me a few minutes [months] to figure out how I was going to pivot my musical career to fit the pandemic. Session work was the obvious choice, so I immediately started investing in at-home recording equipment.” She currently has a profile on Fiverr and a Patreon account, “but that is slow to start. I get a few jobs a month. I am really trying to expand that side of my business, so I don’t have to rely on live performing to be my bread and butter anymore.” “Trust Fall” was recorded from home. “All of us recorded our stems separately and sent them to our producer, Daniel Crawford, who did an incredible job handling those stems and turning it into something really special,” she said. “The negative side, obviously, is not being able to record how we wanted to, live and together. My band really feeds off of each other and there’s absolute magic when we are together. But we are determined to keep each other safe while continuing to make music.”

Music Ahead
Beyond future singles, there are a host of projects in the pipeline. “Last year I got the pleasure of working with quite a few artists I admire,” she remarked. “[Producer] Jeff Berkley had me collaborate on a track as a part of the Duets album he’s working on.” Details are a little harder to come by on two other soon-to-be notable sessions. Berkley was also behind the board for a recent all-star date recorded for an upcoming charity/fundraising album, meanwhile “[producer] Fernando Perdomo tapped me to work on something pretty big that I’m not allowed to talk about yet,” Martin said. Guitarist Eric Dover of powerpop/rock icons Jellyfish is also involved. “It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever been asked to do outside of “Great Gig…” for PFX,” Martin said.

Martin’s next single will be a song called “Foul Play.” “It’s not exactly a “**** you” song, but it’s close,” she said. “It’s all the heartbreak lines I felt after my last break up that I wanted to make sure got into a song, inside one song. Unfortunately, all the songs I wrote during the pandemic are about this guy, and I honestly can’t wait until my writing brain is ready to process some different material.” She’s particularly excited to debut new guitar techniques. “I am really excited about this one,” Martin said. “I play a moderately difficult picking line on guitar in drop D. It’s the first time I feel like a real guitar player and not just a singer. I’m immensely proud of the songs I’ve written during this time.”

Epilogue
The past year has been difficult for everyone, and that’s certainly true of musicians, but for Martin, the time has also solidified her drive to make music. It’s important for her to create. “Everything I love about being a musician comes down to connecting with human beings,” she said. “Whether it’s on stage with your band and that feeling you live for, of just supporting and elevating each other with the music, or getting that person to come up afterwards who might have been really moved or affected by what you did. Or the email or note from someone who listened to your songs that you wrote and related somehow. The bigger, overarching reason we all do this is to feel a connection with each other, or move and inspire something in the world, even if it’s only for a few minutes,” Martin said. “If you’re not doing it for that reason it will become tedious, self-seeking, and difficult, just like any other job.”

Where to find Lauren Leigh Martin and her music:
laurenleigh.bandcamp.com
patreon.com/laurenleigh
laurenleighmartin@gmail.com
laurenleighmusic.com
Fiverr: Lauren Leigh.

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