By Kip Tabb | Outer Banks Voice on February 5, 2021
An important part of the Outer Banks music scene for more than 30 years, Laura Martier’s ability to sing and interpret everything from jazz to soul to country has made her a compelling artist. Her new album, Diving for the Light, is her most personal one.
Having grown up in Wisconsin, Martier and her husband Dan have two children, and here on the Outer Banks, she has become an important part of the arts community. From 2007-2012, she was the Executive Director of the Dare County Arts Council (DCAC). It was a difficult time for the organization and her energy and vision about how to expand its mission had a lasting impact.
Most people have been introduced to her through her many live performances at a number of local venues. One of the most memorable came in 2013 when she took on the role of Patsy Cline at the now closed Jubilee Theater in Kitty Hawk.
More recently, she and her husband have formed Birddog, a duo with Dan on drums and Laura handling vocals and guitar. Performances have been curtailed, of course, by the COVID pandemic, but that seems to have given her a chance to explore other avenues of musical performance.
Twenty years ago, Martier released her CD Intersection, which was recorded in New York City and featured her jazz interpretations. More recently she and Dan released Open Air, a recording focusing on Latin, soul, rock and Cajun sounds.
But Diving for the Light is different. “I’ve never recorded my own solo record with all my own compositions. So it’s the first one for that,” she says.
The journey to creating Diving for Light began just over a year ago in January when Martier gave a tribute performance to Joni Mitchell. It was the last live performance for Laura and Dan before the COVID19 restrictions.
Learning how to recreate the songs as Mitchell would have played them forced Martier to learn open tuning on her guitar. Open tuning tunes the entire guitar to a chord, creating a fuller, richer sound from the instrument.
“The open tunings, that opened up the whole concept. The ability to play complex chords with one finger down. And sometimes no fingers down. That was new for me,” she explains.
There was another inspirational moment as well, also pre-pandemic.
“We went to see [saxophonist] Kamasi Washington at the Norva,” she recalls. “He had two drummers. He had his dad playing clarinet…He had…these amazing positive words. It was like this gorgeous love fest of jazzy funky music. And I was just, ‘that is what I want to do.’”
Then COVID19 changed everything. There were no more gigs for Birddog to play. Dan, who has been touring as the drummer with the Tim Reynolds band TR3 for the past eight years, was not on tour. Other projects that Laura and Dan had were not happening.
With time on her hands, Laura started writing music.
“I wrote a song every day. It’s crazy. But…it was easy. I had time and space and I [would] pick up my guitar every day and it was like, ‘Okay, what’s coming through today?’” she says.
The result is an album that reflects where Laura is in her personal journey and where she has come from.
There is a decidedly spiritual side to Martier, but her musical roots are very much in jazz, and that background forms the core of the arrangements on the album. Diving for the Light, though, is a reflection of the songs she has written. It is her voice that floats above the chords and rhythms of the songs; it is her voice that interweaves a melody with the saxophone.
The lyrics stamp this work as something intensely personal. Direct in their message, they are an open reflection of where Martier is in life right now. There is more, however, that makes the album personal.
Diving for the Light uses two drummers and Dan is one of them. The other drummer is Laura and Dan’s son, Josh, who is the drummer for the Outer Banks band Zack Mexico, a self-described psychedelic pop/indie rock band.
“It’s like a dream come true,” Martier says. “It’s such a gift. I’m so grateful.”
The album features another one of her relatives. Needing a saxophone for the tracks, she turned to her nephew Santos Sharma, a young, up-and-coming musician living in New York City.
“He is the amazing sax player on this,” she says.
There are some local connections as well. Ed Tupper, who plays bass for a number of local groups, is on the album. The full, lush sound of the arrangements, Martier notes, was created by Matthew Wentz, the guitarist on the tracks and the lead guitar for Zack Mexico.
“Matthew Wentz, he was my go-to guy,” she says, “I just sent him videos, just me and my guitar. He put them all on [musical] charts.”
With the music scripted, magic happened in the studio.
“These guys are all, they’re so accomplished, they understand arrangements, are so experienced. We didn’t rehearse. We just came in and did it,” she said.
After the studio work, it was Wentz who sent the music to Sharma in New York and keyboardist Dylan Hayes in Portland, Oregon, then blending their sound into the arrangements.
“It all came together so well,” Martier declares.
Creating, perhaps, what she was hoping for, and what she sings in the final words of the last track on the album, “What is Calling You?”
“And a voice said
What is calling you
Dreams are possible
They do come true.”