Leaving Nashville for London half a decade ago, Norma Jean Martine is an incredible talent gearing up for the release of her debut album later this year.
Ahead of that we got the opportunity to put some questions to the emerging talent all about her music, goals for her career and much more. Read on to find out what she had to say...
For those who haven't yet heard your music, how best would you describe your sound?
That is the hardest question to ever answer because it's so hard to see yourself and your art objectively. Based on what others have said though, it's like if Adele or Amy Winehouse were to sing emotional guitar music.
You moved from Nashville to London five years ago; why did you make that choice?
I was studying Music Business and Songwriting at Belmont University but quickly dropped the major because I realised the music industry was a thing you had to live, not something you should get a degree in. I changed my major to German and Spanish and had planned to study abroad in Dresden for my junior year. One of my songwriting mentors, Drew Ramsey, (India Irie, John Legend), said to me one day while I was sitting in his songwriting class that I had a "blue eyed soul thing" about me, and that maybe I should consider going to London. That's when the first seed was sown.
That week I was sitting at the local coffee shop, Bongo Java, reading American Songwriter Magazine when I found this little blurb about a girl I had followed musically for years, from her time on Broadway in the original cast of Spring Awakening to putting songs of her own up on her MySpace. I hadn't heard about Lauren Pritchard (now known as LoLo) in a while, but I remember that article saying that she had recently gone to London to work on her debut record with legendary songwriter and producer Eg White.
After reading that, moving to London seemed a lot more possible, and I went to my study abroad office that day and changed my trip to London instead of Dresden. As you can imagine my German professor was a bit confused, but she knew how important music was to me and was really supportive. She's still a good friend to this day.
What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced in your career to-date?
I would say one of the hardest things has been trying to understand who I am and what my music means to people outside of myself. It can be very difficult to be subjective. I've struggled with this and letting my music go for a while. I don't have children, but I know I - and most of my songwriter friends agree - our songs are our babies. Letting them go is sad, but you know you have to do it so they can go out into the world and find themselves and reach their full potential. I know my parents were scared to let me move so far away across the ocean, but it's been one of the best things I've ever done. I've found so much opportunity in Europe.
In the same way, I've let songs go that I've wanted for myself, but they've gone on to touch people in ways I could never have imagined. The power of music is such a beautiful and moving thing. I don't really understand it and sometimes hope I never will because it's nice to wonder sometimes.
You've worked with some big names in your career to-date, what are some of your favourite memories?
Writing with Burt Bacharach at his house in LA was one of my favourite moments. He opened up to me quite quickly, and even though he is such a legend, he made me feel like we were equals right off the bat. We even cried a bit. I'm in love with the song we wrote together and it's a real honour to know I'll have a Burt Bacharach song on my debut album. It's really crazy when you think about it!
Ronan Keating recently named his new album after the song I wrote. I was on a fitness holiday in Ibiza when I got an email from him about 'Time Of My Life'. Being a New Yorker, his name didn't quite have the gravitas for me that it does for a European. I gave him a call so we could discuss the song and the other women at the camp nearly fainted. Meanwhile for me, he was just a really cool guy on the phone! Things like that are pretty funny.
I did a charity show with Brendan Benson in Nashville a few years back. Jack White and Ricky Skaggs and the like were on the bill, so that was definitely pretty surreal. Jack is one of my musical heroes. I stood next to him but I was too scared to say 'Hi'. After the gig though, people said their favourite parts were when me and Jack sang. That was probably the best thing anyone ever could have said.
Now you're signed to Universal, what are they like to work with?
Universal have been great. They are really supportive and respectful of my creative vision, which I think is really essential for my art or 'product' to have an overall personal and coherent aesthetic. I know there is a demonisation of major labels and an assumption that indies will always give more freedom etc., but in my experience, I have never not felt free with Universal and the people I work with there.
In regard to the Freedom campaign, this is the first time McArthurGlen and Universal have collaborated and it's been a fantastic project to be a part of. I've loved shooting the video and the press shots, we all worked so brilliantly together and I really felt that both brands understood and respected my style, music and me as an individual.
What was the experience like of re-recording George Michael's 'Freedom' for McArthurGlen's new Spring campaign?
When I first heard the song it reminded me of 'Sympathy for the Devil' by the Rolling Stones. Since George Michael came out in 1990, we kept his sort of percussion sounds and the drum loop vibe, but added more guitars over it, so I guess in the end it ended up with a Primal Scream sort of thing about it.
It's an honour to have been able to record and release the track. I know it's George Michael's personal favourite song. I wasn't even born yet when the track was originally released, but after doing some research and understanding the cultural context of the song, one can realise why it was so iconic, and why it's still so loved and relevant today. 'Freedom' has without a doubt stood the test of time.
Do you have any definitive aims or goals for your career going forward?
I just want to be happy and see where that takes me and for my music to connect with people and maybe make them feel a little less alone in their human experience.
What should we expect from you in the coming weeks and months?
The Spring campaign with McArthurGlen launches in the UK on March 21 and following that, my next single 'No Gold' will be released in April followed by my debut album in September. There is definitely a lot for me to be excited about!