By Bec Wolfers
Tasha D from Brisbane band Smoking Martha is one of the most talented vocalists I’ve ever had the buzz of seeing perform live. As someone particularly interested in powerful female musicians, Tasha was an exciting discovery for me. When I first came across Smoking Martha at a mutual gig, I had the sense of watching something big in the making. Here was a bona fide star, the kind that I could see taking not only local, but international, audiences by storm. (And the kind I can imagine would impress even the most critical of vocal reality shows floating around TV, and deservedly so).
Tasha immediately struck me as a vocal melange of Gwen Stefani, Janis Joplin and Robert Plant…with the stage presence of Cassandra from Wayne’s World. Her tight, polished band has chosen an apt name in ‘Smoking Martha’…their vintage-tinged rock’n’soul performance is a fire that smoulders, warping your senses with waves of heat…sparking, hissing, teasing, and occasionally igniting into a full-blown blaze.
I sat down for a phone interview with Tasha, eager to get more insight into her amazing vocals, and hear Smoking Martha’s story.
Tasha’s passion for what she does is immediately palpable. For her, music is an important source of self-expression, and a necessary creative outlet. When I saw Tasha perform, I got the mental image of a shaken-up bottle of cola. If you hold back that kind of talent, she’s gonna pop! I have to admit, though, I was surprised to hear her tell me,
“I actually used to have a high, kind of mousey speaking voice as a kid. Even now, my own mother sometimes gets surprised with what I come out with when I sing. I learned to sing by ear, joining in with the records playing in my house growing up. My parents are big music fans, which I’m grateful for, because I got into a lot of bands through them (especially Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Metallica). My sister’s R&B collection was also a big influence for a while. Some of my biggest vocal influences are Melanie – who I first experienced that full on shiver of emotional connection to when I heard her song ‘Candles in the Rain’ – as well as Chrissie Amphlett, Gwen Stefani and Jewel.
“I like a huge variety of musical genres, ranging from pop to metal. I don’t like to discount anything, and I judge music only on whether it makes me feel something emotionally – because that’s what I feel music is all about. Technique-wise, I learned a lot through simply experimenting at home: learning songs and singing them over and over again until I could imitate what I heard.”
It’s not surprising to hear a variety of influences have helped to shape Tasha’s exceptional voice. I was around a corner, unable to actually see the stage, when I heard Smoking Martha for the first time. I found myself genuinely surprised to see that Tasha, a slender and attractive young female, was the source of the deep, raspy, soulful voice I’d been hearing against the band’s driving rock anthems. Tasha luckily wasn’t offended by this, and said,
“The shock factor is definitely one of the things I most enjoy about performing. Your reaction isn’t unique! A lot of people seem taken aback when they first hear me sing. That sound is something I’ve deliberately cultivated as a singer. And playing with people’s expectations seems to make us stand out as a band, which is always nice.”
Smoking Martha, as it exists now, has only been around for about 6 months. In that short space of time, the band has achieved some impressive accolades, including playing shows in Melbourne, and a support slot at The Hifi for 90s veterans Everclear! I asked Tasha how the band came together, what influences have shaped their sound, and what it was like to support a big international act.
“Smoking Martha’s journey definitely has had its ups and downs. I began performing vocally in high school, but it wasn’t serious, and I soon put all that on the backburner when I began my job in fashion. I didn’t perform or write any music for a long time, though I was an avid gig-goer. But then I met (lead guitarist) Mick, who has a long background in punk bands, and he encouraged me to get out there. He could see I was really struggling mentally with not having a creative outlet in my life. I wasn’t coping very well, even though I loved my day job. So Mick and I began writing some songs and performing together acoustically.
“We soon decided we wanted a full band sound, and enlisted more people to make that happen. We knew of Pabz (Smoking Martha’s drummer) through mutual friends – he’s fantastic at what he does, and luckily he liked our demos. We began jamming with him at the beginning of 2012, and also enlisted Aaron (rhythm guitarist) at that time. Then we found Chris (bassist), and felt we’d found a group that all gelled well together, musically, and as people.
“The guys are all incredibly talented, and bring a range of different influences to the table. Mick brings the punk and some metal energy – some of my and his favourites are AFI, Rise Against, Stone Sour and Maylene and the Sons of Disaster. Chris is originally from Melbourne and is a bit of a chilled out hippie, very into 60s bands like The Who, and underground/garage bands from that era. He also has big love for Sonic Youth. Aaron is big on rock like Led Zeppelin, Billy Talent and Midnight Oil. He loves to support the local scene, and get out to shows. Pabz is more into ballsy, heavy rock, like Stone Sour and Maylene and the Songs of Disaster. And Led Zeppelin and Queens of the Stone Age are big influences overall for the whole band.
“We’ve been gigging regularly around Brisbane since mid-last year. The Everclear support came up pretty early in our career and was a huge surprise, but a massive boost for the band’s confidence. It was crazy performing for a packed-out crowd, and very exciting for me to meet (Everclear singer) Art Alexakis and Everclear. I genuinely like the band, and think Art is a great songwriter. We did our best to put on an energetic performance on the night, and got a lot of new fans from the exposure.”
“You’re Jekyll, you’re Mr Hyde
It all depends what side faces the moon
At the ebb of the tide”
I was interested to see how Tasha crafts her lyrics, as I really like the images present in Smoking Martha’s song ‘Ebb of the Tide’. Tasha is a lady after my own heart, as she says,
“I feel like there are enough love songs in the world, and although love is one of the best things in life, I really have no interest in writing love song after love song. I actually just wrote my first song about the happy side of love, which I think came out successfully. But apart from that, the only love songs I’ve written tend to probe at the darker side of love; the catastrophes and craziness. In ‘Ebb of the Tide’, I explored the idea of changing into someone else, whether it be through drug/alcohol use, or just the different sides of our personalities that can emerge and be at war. Sometimes people can change into something almost evil. Hence the line about Jekyll and Hyde.
“I get a lot of lyrical inspiration from reading books and watching films…I feel like I absorb a lot from the stories I consume, and either a phrase or a whole theme will come out afterwards. I’d definitely call myself a storyteller…I’ve always been really interested in sharing my stories, and swapping stories with people. That’s a big part of why I love writing music. And more than anything, I guess I write about passion. That seems to be the biggest theme throughout all of our songs.”
Smoking Martha will be recording their first EP around March/April this year, and taking some time off gigging to record. I prodded Tasha about what the band is hoping to achieve with their first release.
“At the moment, we’re trying to decide where to record it, as that’s an important decision. We’re also really interested in the idea of recording to analogue tape…which helps give that full, ‘real’, warm sound we’re looking for. A lot of studios don’t record to analogue anymore.
“Once the EP is done, we’ll have a launch gig for that and then tour with it on the east coast of Australia!”
My last question for Tasha was what she thinks of the Brisbane music scene, and what local bands have been inspirations to her.
“I love going and seeing live music as much as possible. I love the Brisbane scene…I feel like we don’t entirely fit in any of the current popular genres as a band, but I also like the fact that we’re doing our own thing.
“Some local bands we love are F1-11, Ironbird, Kill the Apprentice, Trust and Fall, and Zeus Baby. I think it’s incredibly important to support the local scene! There are lots of amazing bands overseas, but there are also so many gems in your own backyard.”
Smoking Martha is definitely a gem of this nature, and I look forward to seeing what Tasha and the boys achieve in 2013. And trust me, you’ve gotta see this band perform live…
Catch Smoking Martha’s smoking live show at an upcoming gig:
25th January, Prince of Wales Hotel (Brisbane), with Dirty Liars, Here’s to Neverland & The Black Catapult
10th February, The Tempo (Brisbane), with Dave’s Pawn Shop and Tusk
1st March, Prince of Wales Hotel (Brisbane)
15th March, Miami Shark Bar (Gold Coast)
Smoking Martha links