Riveting Riffs Logo One  Charlotte Martin - A Tower of Creativity & Strength
Charlotte Martin Photo Three

Charlotte Martin has been a lot of things during her lifetime, a beauty pageant winner and contestant (numerous times), an Opera singer, Classical pianist, she was signed to a major record deal, she is both a private music teacher and she teaches music at a college in the Greater Los Angeles area, but if you asked her what her greatest accomplishment has been and the one from which she has derived the most satisfaction she would likely tell you it is being mom to her son and daughter. If you asked us what strikes us most about Charlotte Martin we would tell you it is her toughness. We are not talking about the kind of tough that comes with an edge or that is confrontational, but rather the kind of strength that wills one through life. She overcame anorexia early in life, for more than a decade she has dealt with considerable physical pain from a condition known as arachnoid neurological syndrome and she has soldiered on with her music career, albeit at the moment she is more focused on the educational and songwriting aspects of it.

Charlotte Martin grew up in Charleston, Illinois the daughter of Becky and Joseph and with a brother six years older. Joseph was a professor of music for forty-seven years and he played woodwind instruments, while Becky was a singer who also taught choirs and music in general.

“I grew up listening to a lot of music. I listened to a lot of Classical and my dad also loved Elvis. My mom was also very influenced by Christian music and I grew up singing in churches. She always sang in the worship band in church and she played as well.

I grew up in a great community for music. The access to music education there is so much more intense than it is even here in California. You would think it would be the opposite. There were a lot of opportunities for me to be involved in things,” she says.

Charlotte Martin Photo TwoIt was not until she reached college that Charlotte Martin started to broaden her music palette, influenced by her roommates who were Classical music major, but who also were listening to music that bordered on goth. Her brother introduced her to Cure and U2 and during the nineties she began to explore the music of Alanis Morissette, Nine Inch Nails and Paula Cole.

Charlotte Martin’s teen years were filled with both challenges and her abundant musical skills were recognized.

“I think I was twelve when I started choreographing show choirs for my own school. Then I did it all through high school and I started teaching voice in eighth or ninth grade. I had a studio of twenty-five people.  I was known as the singer in the area. I already had a decade of Opera and I was singing really difficult material. I was well-known.

Going into Eastern Illinois University I had a full scholarship for voice and I lost my voice. I was teaching so much, that I lost my voice. My muscles got tired and I went to a (doctor) and I got the scope camera put down my throat and the muscles weren’t pushing the folds together. I was just weak. I went on three months of vocal rest and the first time that I sang was during dress rehearsal the week of opening night for an Opera, which I had the lead in. That was crazy.

I attacked my college career a little differently. I had to sing in two or three ensembles and do an Opera twice a year, so I had to be very careful. I did a lot of research and I had a great coach. I approached my singing and speaking from a vocal health (perspective). At that point my technique was pretty solid. By the time I got to college it was more about technique for me. It was about interpretation of the text and emoting and things like that. My coloratura was pretty set in stone by the time I got to college,” she says.

Charlotte Martin also started competing in beauty pageants from a young age.  

“I did a lot of beauty pageants and I started around the age of twelve. I did Miss National Teenager and Miss Illinois Teen came later. I was just trying to find ways to get out of Charleston to perform and compete. This was before The Voice. There was only Star Search and this was my way of doing it. Miss Teen Illinois and Miss Teen USA came about, because my brother told me that I wasn’t pretty enough to do the beauty pageant. It was on a dare that I did it. My dad didn’t think I should do it either. They were kind of half joking and saying stick to the ones with talent. I did it just to prove a point and then I won. I think I am the shortest Miss Teen Illinois in history,” says Martin.  

It was also during her teens that Charlotte Martin became anorexic.

“I got help. I was very sick. I lost my hair. I could have died and I feel like in a lot of ways my vanity saved me. When my hair fell out I thought this is not fun. I don’t really want to be sixteen and seventeen and losing my hair.

My therapist was a tiny little woman I remember every time I went into a session she would be eating a Snickers bar or a donut. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how she could eat anything that she wanted. It took time for me to recognize I had a problem and that I wanted to enjoy my life more than to control my life.  That is where it was for me.

There was a certain amount of control that I needed, which is why I (became anorexic). There was a certain amount of self-hatred. The pageants certainly didn’t help, but I will say though when I won the Miss Teen Illinois the director wanted me to gain ten pounds, which I did. I ended up doing pageants beyond that. I did the Miss America system and I gained weight and I won the swimsuit. It sent strong messages to me that it wasn’t about being a stick. The girl who won Miss Teen USA the year that I entered, she had a real body. She wasn’t a stick figure.

It was then that I was able to look back and I was able to see that it really was an illness. What I was seeing was sickening. I think that I had to be saved from myself. It takes a while. It is not an overnight thing where you just wake up one day and decide that you do not have an eating disorder anymore. My message (to others) would be don’t give up,” she says.

It was during her junior year of university that Charlotte Martin wrote her first song.

“I was twenty-one when my boyfriend’s little sister who was also a music major and a very close friend of mine committed suicide on New Year’s. I wrote my first song for her funeral. I wrote it very quickly. It started something in me that I couldn’t stop after that. I just kept writing. I didn’t know how to process her death, because she was young, beautiful and talented. She had everything going for her and no one knew. It was the first tragic thing that I had experienced with someone else whom I loved. The year after that my uncle died in a car accident. Real life stuff was happening to me and all of a sudden I needed to write about it,” says Martin, also noting that it was very cathartic for her.

The song that Charlotte Martin wrote, was titled “Melissa,” and she says it talked about the light that her friend had in her.  

“My song “Melissa, “circulated around the pageant community. I sent it to the bass player of the band for the Miss Illinois pageant.  He gave it to a recording engineering student at DePaul University in Chicago and he called me and he said I would like to record you.

While I was finishing up my senior year I drove up to Chicago and I started working with him and he just kept recording me. I fell in love with the writing and recording. We did a little record together called Mystery, Magic & Seeds. It was a horrible record,” she says.

Upon graduation from Eastern Illinois University Charlotte Martin had decisions to make, “I could follow in my father’s footsteps and get my masters. I had a scholarship to Indiana University in Opera for my masters or I could have gone to the University of Illinois. I couldn’t decide.  I had written about 100 songs and At the end before I decided to take the plunge and move to Los Angeles, my dad was the one who pushed me.

I should back up and say my uncle when he died he didn’t have any kids and he left me about thirty thousand dollars, so I bought a little car and I moved out here. My dad said you need to pursue this.”

Moving to Los Angeles was not a smooth transition for Charlotte Martin, “It was a year of a lot of worry. I didn’t know how it was going to happen and how I was going to make money. I just saw my money going down, down, down and I knew if I had to get a day job I wouldn’t last. I didn’t want to come back, so I worked really hard. I hung out at a coffee shop in Hollywood every day, just to get out of my apartment and to meet people. At this coffee shop and in my little apartment I wrote my first album called One Girl Army on my little piano. I worked eight to ten hours every day. I met very few people.

There was a friend of mine who knew a scout from Interscope Records. Right when I was running out of money I decided I have to do this. I had a friend help me to book a show at a little club in Hollywood. She helped me to flyer the show. I did not have a demo. I did not have anything to play for anybody. She helped me to pack the place and I invited my friends. I was in the right place at the right time.

He (the scout) quit Interscope and he decided to work with a more experienced manager. Overnight I was showcasing for major labels. I was signed maybe ten months later after a pretty intense bidding war. (She signed with RCA Records)

I didn’t get an advance or anything, it was more of a licensing deal. We did a one off together and the plan was RCA was going to use One Girl Army (recorded on Bong-Ra Records) to promote me, before I made their record. I am sure it helped me to get more money looking back.”

Charlotte Martin talks about her first full album released on RCA, On Your Shore,  “It didn’t get made for the first three years, because no one knew what to do with me.  I didn’t know what to do with me.  I recorded at the house and my soon to be ex-husband who was not my husband at the time, but he was my boyfriend Ken Andrews taught me how to program and I made a little EP for myself. While I was being sat on by the label I said if no one is really interested in making my record I am going to play some shows and I am going to release this. You guys are not going to get mad at me okay? They let me. They would come to my shows and see that I was selling this record that legally I shouldn’t have been selling, but they didn’t care. It was not a bad place. It was just people kept getting fired and the label president who signed me was fired and then (new) people came in and normally they drop everybody that they don’t personally sign.

I had nothing recorded and I would work with producers and then nothing would work out. I did have the same A & R guy though. He didn’t know what to do with me, but he believed in me. He kept me protected from some of that. Instead of playing material for them that they might not like we would just bring them over to my house and I would play for them. They (the record label people) would say we aren’t dropping her.  We don’t know what to do with her. More time passed and I started doing shows, before I even made (the record) In Parentheses. Bruce (the A & R person) left and a new guy came in as the head of A & R. He was British, my manager was British and they were friends. He flew from New York; I played for him and then he greenlighted my record. Ken and I made On Your Shore and that took about a year.

After that I started touring in between and aggressively.  Ken was in a signed band on Elektra Records and so he was touring and mixing records. It was just trying to find the time. We would find a month here, a month there, and two weeks here. A lot of On Your Shore and In Parentheses were recorded live. We eventually got it done and we settled on a sound. I went for the Peter Gabriel / Kate Bush Pop orchestral art thing. I wanted it big, because that is where I came from. Charlotte Martin Photo One

I had creative control, but I didn’t. It was definitely a compromise. I wanted to wear a unitard in my “Every time It Rains,” video and I remember they were sending pictures to the guy in New York and to Ashley (A & R) and they were nope, nope. They said blazer and jeans. They really wanted to downplay my looks. Ashley took my musicianship pretty seriously and so did my manager Richard. They wanted the music to be first and so did I.”

In January of 2005 Charlotte Martin and RCA parted ways.

“They wanted to make another record and I didn’t want to. I had a very healthy record deal and if I didn’t make another record they had to buy me out. I took the buyout money and I went independent for a while. I wanted to really creatively do my own thing and I did. That is how Veins, Stromata and Darkest Hour all happened,” she says.

All three independent records, plus a live DVD were recorded in two years and Martin acknowledges that she was exhausted after that.  

“I also wrote ten songs for Eve Ensler who wrote the Vagina Monologues and for her violence against women event called V Day.  I was writing like crazy and I couldn’t shut it off.  I also wrote (some of the songs for) Orphans during this period,” she says.

In 2007 after having suffered a miscarriage of a baby and finding it difficult to write, Charlotte Martin released her first album of songs that she covered. It was called Reproductions.  

Next came a challenge that nobody could have predicted when the joy of having her first child, a son, also came with some devastating news. 

“I was injured from my son’s epidural and I contracted a spinal neurological disease. I basically developed chemical meningitis from the epidural and I got a neurological pain syndrome that left me disabled for many years. I had my daughter in the middle of that. I got shingles in the middle of it. During my thirties from about 33 on until about 38 I struggled to function and to take care of my kids. I wrote about in “Dancing On Needles,” but a lot of the production on that record was Ken (Andrews), because I was pregnant and I was too sick and in too much pain to have a lot of say.

I was told I had MS and I had a doctor who said that if I wanted another baby I should probably do it now, because I was probably going into remission and that it would be enough to alleviate my symptoms. I got pregnant right away, but it didn’t go away, which was scary. It was also telling my doctor it wasn’t necessarily what we thought it was. It wasn’t my brain, because if I could get pregnant that easily my brain was functioning right. For your reproduction system to be working right, your brain has to be working right. It is inflammation of the arachnoid membrane. That arachnoid membrane around your spine supplies your sensory nerves. Some people end up paralyzed. Some people die from it. It took a year and one-half for me to be diagnosed and then it took the head of neurology at a hospital here in Beverly Hills to know what it was. He had seen it five times in thirty years. There’s no cure. Mine has gotten better over time. I get symptoms maybe once a month and I am on half of the pain medicine I once was, so I am doing a lot better. I was studied for a while by anesthesiologists, because I was a pregnant and a nursing mom with and they had never seen anything like it. Your hormones control your nervous system. I was breast feeding my daughter and I was having massive hormone swings, which was causing more pain. I went on more pain medicine, so I could nurse her and then I got shingles. It has been a rough ten years,” says Martin.

In February of 2014 Charlotte Martin released another full album, Water Breaks Stone.

She recalls, “It was right when my ex-husband’s band was reforming and playing their first show. That was a weird time too, because that was about the time my nerves started to fall apart.

(At the time of) Water Breaks Stone I had decided I was going to quit music and to support Ken and go for our marriage. Our whole marriage was very much wrapped up in making records. That is one of the reasons we ended up together, because we were like a little record machine. When that went away from me he didn’t know what to do with me and I didn’t know what to do with me, so I put it all on him. He didn’t know what to do with it, because he was busy being a Rock star and I was busy being a mommy. The horrific pain drove us apart as well. That album Water Breaks Stone is about falling in love with him again. It was really sad though, because he didn’t spend a lot of time on that record, which ended up hurting me later. The song “Twelve Years,” is about he and I being together for twelve years. It broke my heart at the end of it. To finish it and I felt like he didn’t care. Then I wasn’t going to do anything and I didn’t for a long time.

He made The Heart Is a Monster and he toured for two years and we really grew apart. I left in ’17. I did Rapture (the album) and that was about the failing of my marriage. It was heartbreaking too, because I told him I was leaving and he still mixed it, knowing that is what it was about. Rapture is probably the saddest record that I have ever written.

Rapture was me experimenting harmonically and with structure in a way that was really free. I didn’t care if that record sold. I knew that I was going to retire. I was going to announce this was the end of shows for me. I was done. I just went for it creatively. Now I don’t know if it is done (She muses). I didn’t need a bunch of production. I didn’t care. Even though it was the saddest thing I had ever written it freed me at the same time. Songs like “Without You,” and “Maybe I’m Not Her,” with those outros I just did whatever I wanted to do.”

Our conversation segues nicely into talking about the song “Maybe I’m Not Her,” and Charlotte Martin says, “I wrote that song (when) I realized I was probably not the right person for Ken. I was feeling ignored, not by him, but everybody has people in their lives that they think are going to be in their lives forever and then they just fade away. Maybe I am overly sensitive and I feel things differently than other people. I have been hurt a lot in my life and it was a lot about being discarded and feeling just used up. Then the end “Maybe I’m not the one,” that just came off the top of my head. I know there are other people who feel like that. I have a lot of insecurity and it is a weird thing. I always have.

My neurologist loves the fact I used to be an Opera singer, because he is a huge Opera buff but he said of all the people to get a nerve disease, someone like me who is hypersensitive anyway. I even feel pain differently. I had a very low tolerance for pain, before I got this. What he saw on the MRI was quite mild looking, but it was a monster.  It is ironic that I would get a neurological pain syndrome with being as sensitive as I am.”

Charlotte Martin Photo FourAs for the song “Long Road,” from Water Breaks Stone, she says, “The song is about my marriage falling apart. I didn’t know what to do with it. It was not like I was happy about it. Ken and I are still friends and I think we still love each other. I just couldn’t do it anymore, not like it was. He said you are never going to be happy in a relationship where you don’t do any music for a year. I don’t know how you are going to do that or how it is going to last. It didn’t and he was right. Of all the people in my life he understood that part of me better than anybody.  He still does.  I still send him stuff that I write and he still helps me.”

Charlotte Martin possesses an incredible voice and her songwriting is outstanding. Finding herself at a crossroads in her career and in life she found a way to combine those passions with teaching.

“I always wanted to teach, but I was too scared. It just seemed insurmountable, I didn’t think anyone would want what I have, because I don’t have a master’s degree.  I just couldn’t quite figure it out until I absolutely had to. I thought if I don’t do music I am going to die and I certainly don’t want to tour.  It ended up I started to write curriculum. I knew how to sing Opera, even though I had not sung it in twenty years.  I know how to teach myself not to sing Opera. I started writing exercises and the little things that I did to untrain myself. Lisa, my manager, helped me to build my site and before I knew it I had a bunch of students.

I just love to write. I teach songwriting, so I co-write with my students, because that is really the only way to learn. I teach it at a college.

In my songwriting lessons the demand on me is to deliver a song that is good. It is like write monkey, pull it out. Some of them are true co-writes, but with a lot of them people come to me with these fragments and I doctor them up. I change the chords or I write something from top to bottom. Lisa and I have a joke, a lot of it is people getting half of a Charlotte Martin song, but some of it is not. Some of it is people bringing their own thing to it and I have to know what I am doing. I can tell you that I know what I am doing, because I have been doing it for so long,” she says.

One marvels at all the things that Charlotte Martin is able to accomplish, especially considering she is a single mother of two and she still has physical challenges to cope with, but she is also quick to give credit to others like her mother, her manager Lisa and her ex Ken for helping out.

“I haven’t figured it out yet. I don’t sleep. Ken helps me a lot and he lives very close. He helps me, but with him being gone on tour it has been hard. We are helping take care of his house and his lizard. Lisa helps me with my bills and online stuff. I teach a lot. I have thirty-six students, plus I teach at a college. I don’t think you ever figure it out, you just attack it the best that you can. I just get up every day and I try to do a good job. I am trying not to worry about tomorrow so much, because there will be plenty to worry about tomorrow.

As far as my teaching goes it has saved my life, because I am not just a voice teacher, I’m mentoring people. I teach music business at college and I teach songwriting. I am filling this weird need for singers and songwriters. I am teaching improv piano too. I am a Classical pianist, but I don’t read music well. I barely read it. I cheated on my piano jury and sight reading. I listened outside the door, while they had everybody play.

I have a hearing photographic memory. That is the one thing I am good at it, I can play anything,” and at that point in our conversation we share some light laughter, as we invent a new word “earographic,” a perfect description for Charlotte Martin’s ability to hear something once and then to play it to perfection.   

“What is so funny is how my mother gets me to remember stuff, “Say this after me Charlotte and then she will know I will remember it.”

This writer will remember the conversation that he had with Charlotte Martin, as well and for a very long time, because when she sometimes says things like she hasn’t got it all figured out yet or there are things about herself she does not quite understand yet, we think she has a better grasp of that than most of us do. One is left with the impression that with most things in life if Charlotte Martin decided to tackle them, she would be highly successful. Charlotte Martin is superbly talented, but what distinguishes her from a lot of people, is her will, her determination and her strength.

Please visit the website for Charlotte Martin or her alternate website.   Return to Our Front Page

Top Photo by Don Erin Russell ; Middle Photo by Priscilla Scott

 #CharlotteMartin  #CharlotteMartinSinger  #CharlotteMartinSongwriter #CharlotteMartinMusic #RivetingRiffsMagazine

This interview by Joe Montague  published June 4, 2019 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos are the the property of Charlotte Martin and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved