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April 11th, 2012




Cat Martino (Stranger Cat) - I Promise

Letting go of the past, Cat Martino immerses herself in the moment with “I Promise.” With help from Sufjan Stevens and Man Man's Chris Powell, the song takes a dark, electronic turn.

    Ever since meeting Cat Martino during our first Shaking Through session with Sharon Van Etten, we've known she's a woman with a powerful voice. Since then, we've watched her collaborate with an incredible repertoire of artists (Sufjan Stevens, The Shins) as she's developed her solo career. Now, two years later, we were thrilled to bring her back to Philadelphia for another go in the studio—this time, with her work as the focus.

    While many wrapped up their SXSW trips, Martino visited us from Brooklyn for a weekend in the middle of March. Enlisting the help of frequent collaborator Sufjan Stevens and Philly drummer Chris Powell (Man Man), she set to work on “I Promise,” an electronic-influenced slow jam about letting go of past relationships.

   Martino got her start in Long Island basements during high school, where she spent hours with friends experimenting with different sounds and styles. But after heading to Rutgers University on a singing scholarship, she turned toward the freedom of dance, finding the rigors of music academia too confining. Studying both disciplines transformed the way Martino worked creatively, making her music an intensely physical art form. “I could transfer the same choreography concepts to making music,” she says. “It was like by studying dance and creating choreography, I was making rhythm with my body.”

    “Making music was painting the sounds, or making physicality with sound—it's all the same really.” After college, having moved to New York, Martino was beset with an undiagnosed, painful illness that constrained her physically for the first time in her life. She was forced to break the inspirations around her down to their core elements of beauty, an experience that has fundamentally affected her style. “I felt like what it would be at the edge of mortality,” she explains.

    Martino's creative process reflects those experiences, beginning with a stream of consciousness as she experiments with melody and lyrics simultaneously until something starts to feel good. “If something feels potent, I'll just be repeating it over and over again when I find that thing,” she says. “I'll find that one phrase that was the nugget of the song and then I'll edit, I'll build and structure once I find what that core is.” For “I Promise,” that core phrase came toward the end of the songwriting process: You can never go back. Yet the creative process itself was a continuously changing experience, as the song's direction shifted several times going into the recording process. “You go through so many emotions when you are writing a song,” Martino says. “For me it was finding a balance between having fun in the studio and telling the truth, which isn't always fun.”

     Like Martino's songwriting process, the recording session for “I Promise” was an evolving process. With only 48 hours to record and mix a song that was written just days before the session, Martino, Stevens, and Powell embraced experimentation and let the song develop as they worked. For Martino, the quality of the company made all the difference in turning a potentially stressful session into a great experience. “There is something about the studio, the people involved, that makes artists want to come back. The vibe is good and the work is good. They are all about the right things,” she says. With so much incredible talent in the room, the song came together in great form as the three entered a mindset of “concentrated playing.”

    “It's sort of like being a kid, playing with figures in a castle or building legos,” Martino explains. “They are so focused on what they're doing, but it's playful. I want that energy between the other people in the room—the communication that we are all there for the same purpose.”



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