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Black Needle Noise Artist Spotlight With Betsy Martin

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Judy Lyon interviews John Fryer

Photo Credit: John Fryer

It’s hard to imagine being rejected as an artist from your hometown community at the beginning of your career, but that’s exactly what happened for Betsy Martin and her band Caterwaul.

Most communities would get behind a local act that gets signed to a major label, but not Phoenix, Arizona–they were just not having it.

But the question was why? It certainly couldn’t have been Martin’s intensely enchanting vocals that playfully moved throughout her band’s music with such fire and grace. After digging a little further I found the answer lay in the local press with a tough-to-impress editor who felt like Caterwaul hadn’t paid their dues.

A short time later, they were also banned from the airwaves on the only local alternative radio station.

The disdain of the local press ended up being a blessing in disguise for Caterwaul as it forced the band to think outside their home turf. After re-establishing themselves in L.A., things really started to take off. Caterwaul went onto produce four studio albums: The Nature of Things (Lost Arts Records, 1987), Pin & Web/ Beholden (I.R.S. Records, 1988, 1989), Port Hue (I.R.S. Records, 1990), and Killer Fish (Lost Arts Productions, 1991, 1996). After Caterwaul, Betsy would join up with Kevin Kipnis, from the premiere goth band Kommunity FK, and create Purr Machine, a band which incorporated techno, goth and industrial trance. They would go onto release two studio albums and an EP: Ging Ging (Cargo, 1999), Speak Clearly EP (Re-constriction Records) and Starry (No Bliss Lost Records, 2007).

It just goes to show that no matter how much one is discouraged, there’s always hope and even a great deal of success when you follow your passions and dreams. As a young girl, Betsy was even made fun of for her “off speaking voice.”

“I was very shy,” she says, “but the first time I heard This Mortal Coil I freaked on Liz Frazer singing “Song of the Siren” and played it for my mother, who told me ‘you sound like her’ and left the room. It lit a big fire under me to sing more and that album was such an influence, which is why it is so cool to have crossed paths with John Fryer. That’s the way it all works”.

Betsy Martin spoke to SEM about “Dead Star,” her contribution to the BNN project.

Black Needle Noise is a 50/50 partnership between Fryer and many different talented singer/songwriters, including Attasalina, Mimi Page, ZiaLand, Omniflux, Jarboe, Betsy Martin, Andrea Kerr, Ledfoot, Spectra Paris, Jennie Vee, Ana Breton, Kendra Frost, Elena Alice Fossi, Antic Clay, Andreas Elvenes, Bill Leeb, and Sivert Høyem.

SEM: John says, “every song should be like its own movie, you should close your eyes and get taken to a different place.” Where do you see “Dead Star” taking you?

BM: When I heard the music John sent, it took me to outer space. So quiet, vast and wide. I am obsessed by the moon and stars and the night sky. With the recent political regime, our planet earth’s future is in jeopardy. So I was inspired to sing about a planet that has died and it won’t tell our secrets about how it died. Then John paid homage to David Bowie as well within the song by adding in similar sounding background vocals. I was touched. John, Kevin Kipnis who added dreamy guitar to the song, we all are heartbroken by the loss of such a great inspiration in music, so it just seemed right.

SEM: Tell me a little about your creative process with John.

BM: Well, at the time, John was in Norway, so he sent the track for Kevin and I to add to. Then we went back and forth. John has always been someone I admired, so it just was such an inspiring time. When I had just gotten out of high school I discovered This Mortal Coil. I was just starting out in music and it was such a musical influence, that it is just kismet that our paths have crossed throughout our lives.

SEM: What are some of your past, present, or future projects that you’d like to note?

BM: My history is that I was part of a band called Caterwaul which was on IRS records in the late 80’s, early 90’s. During that time, I actually had the pleasure of meeting John Fryer who was producing an album for a mutual friend Jonathan Lacey. Jonathan’s band was a Geffen recording artist called The Beautiful. They were recording the album in New York and while that was happening, John and Jonathan recorded songs for a side project called The Opium Healers, which they had me contribute my voice to on several songs. Then, in 2015 Kevin Kipnis was asked to play bass and guitar by his friend Pinky Turzo for her and John Fryer’s band, the gorgeous and fleeting Silver Ghost Shimmer. So John and I reconnected and I have now contributed vocals to “Dead Star” on his Black Needle Noise album.

John is now in the process of producing Kevin and my forthcoming and third Purr Machine album, which should be out later this year.