Q&A with spiritual acoustic singer Martin Kerr

Image credits: Lovesey Management

English musician Martin Kerr has made a great impression on Canada as he has recently featured on Canada’s Top 10 releases with his previous album release. His single with singer Josh Sultana titled ‘Delicate Love’ talks about forgiveness and rising up again after the fall, a lighthearted yet mellow track indeed. Martin Kerr’s music has also caught the attention of the queen of emotionally driven and acclaimed musician Sarah McLachlan. He has also opened for one of Sarah’s live shows pre-covid. Now, the musician and songwriter has recently shared a new single ‘Set Yourself Free’ which also ties into themes of redemption and forgiveness.

We find out more about the spiritually intuitive pop singer below.

Please describe your sound for us.

Soulful singer-songwriter. Right now with my collaborations project, it’s getting a lot more experimental! 

How did it all start for you?

On the street! When I was twenty-two I dropped out of university to move to Canada and marry my long-distance sweetheart. I started busking at farmers markets to pay the bills and built my audience on the street, one passer-by at a time. I’d always been a singer, in school musicals and rock bands growing up, so performing was second nature to me. 

Which three artists would you say made you want to create your own music?

I could name three you’ve never heard of –  I’ve always been most inspired by meeting ordinary people who can make amazing music. Every community has brilliant musicians and storytellers, and you can get to know them personally, rather than just being one of a million fans straining for a glimpse through the crowd. Martin Newman, Conrad Lambert and Payam Beint are the first three that come to mind. All of whom showed me what it was to be a real musician when I was a kid in the UK. But if you want to know household names that inspired me, I’d go for Tracy Chapman, Radiohead and Counting Crows. But there are so many!

What is your go-to gear/equipment when creating?

As simple as possible! Just me and my beat-up Taylor acoustic, and my phone voice memos app. If it’s gonna be more complicated than that I’d rather be in a studio with someone who knows what they’re doing. Actually, this current album (Grateful – The Collaborations) was all written in the studio (Velveteen, here in Edmonton) with three other songwriters on each song (two co-producers and the featured artist). It was my first time working that way and it was super fun. Really took the pressure off me only having to come up with 25% of a brilliant song. We definitely came up with sounds and songs I never would have imagined on my own. It’s really liberating to explore parts of yourself you had forgotten about or never explored, and collaboration makes that possible.

What are some of your key influences in your music? Whether it be the sound created by others, imagery, films or any kind of art form.

My favourite things in life are honesty and adventure. My parents weren’t rich but they always managed to take us to visit new places, even if we slept in the back of the car by the side of the road! I’d been to thirty countries by the age of 18.  So the places I’ve been and the connections I’ve made with people in other countries definitely come into my songwriting. Someone (Mark Twain I think) said that “travel is fatal to prejudice”.  You can hear that in songs like ‘Mr. Liao’ and ‘Enemy’ from my previous albums.  I love singer-songwriters who can tell me something very personal and yet universal. Music to me is a spiritual thing. Sometimes even the saddest songs can be inspiring and uplifting by their honesty and beauty. Like ‘A Case of You’ by Joni Mitchell or Fast Car by Tracy Chapman.  And I love when the sound itself transports me somewhere, even if it’s somewhere imaginary. Growing up in the 1980s I loved the sound of Juno synths and 808 drums, though I’d never really used them, so it was really fun to get to play around with some of those sounds on this album. The films Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth were big influences on my heart. I’ve been to see Les Miserables in London’s West End 3 times (and cried every time). And the album So by Peter Gabriel was a big influence on me growing up and there are moments on this album where I was consciously paying tribute to it. My favourite books that have inspired me are The Alchemist (by Paulo Coelho) and The Seven Valleys (Baha’u’llah).

What is one sub-genre you think doesn’t get the attention it deserves?

Ooh, contemporary folk is my favourite genre. Folktronica is a cool little sub-genre that most people don’t know about. Here’s a cool song by Merz: https://youtu.be/P42xDJUU5j8

Any new or upcoming artists on your radar?

Yes! Primarily the artists I’ve been collaborating with, including Josh Sahunta, who is an incredibly down-to-earth and talented guy. The choir of backing vocals he made on our song just blew me away the first time I heard it.

What single night out has been the most memorable for you? As a performer? As an attendee?

As a performer, it’s hard to choose between opening for Sarah McLachlan (and hanging out with her before the show) or playing my own show with the 60-piece Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. They were both beyond a dream. As an attendee, I can’t beat the Edmonton Folk Festival. The whole hillside lights up with thousands of candles and you get the most beautiful view of the city, the sunset, stars, northern lights and sometimes a spectacular summer thunderstorm, all while sharing incredible music with your neighbours.

Famous last words?

“Every place has good people and every person has good places” (it sounds better in Chinese).

Follow Martin Kerr:

Website  / Facebook / Instagram

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