In August I caught up with my friend Joe in Chicago. He's the visionary behind Milk Carton Pop Stars and Martika's undisputed number one fan. I think I'm demented when it comes to La Toya and Beyoncé but Joe takes stanning to previously unimagined heights. He has boxes of merchandise, thousands of clippings from around the world and even Martika's phone number! Which came in handy when we drunkenly decided to interview her. Some of our conversation has already appeared in an article I wrote for Idolator but fans have been asking for the full thing, so here it is. I'd like to thank Joe for all his help and Martika for being a total sweetheart. I can't wait to hear her new stuff! Oh and before I forget - make sure you follow Martika on Twitter and check out her glamorous new website.
Hi Martika, how are you? I'm a huge fan so this is really exciting for me.
Thank you so much. I was on your blog site and it's so much fun. I had a really good time exploring.
That's really sweet. Thank you. I guess where we’d like to start is by asking about your comeback. Everyone is excited that you're making another record.
Well thank you. I’m glad to hear that people are excited about it, so am I. Part of the reason to do it is just because over the years I’ve always received such good vibes from people I’ve come across. Just really wanting to hear another Martika record. So now I am just in the studio working on new songs for the new release. We just started and we’re having a blast. Really fresh and exciting new vibes for everybody to enjoy I hope.
Could you maybe tell us what kind of sound you’re going for?
Going for dance-pop. Back to my roots.
Sounds great! Have you noticed that there’s been a bit of a revival from artists from your era? Recently I saw Debbie Gibson and Tiffany on TV, they’re doing their reunion tour.
I am. Totally have noticed that resurgence. It seems the 80s has kind of been long enough now, it's cool, it's in fashion. People are enjoying revisiting that time from when I was out. I know there's lots of tours going on. A lot of artists from the 80s and 90s that are out. People just need the happiness from it now. I absolutely have been inspired by that and being able to be a part of that. As well as bringing new music into the mix.
What are your expectations with the new album? Are you going to tour it? I really want to know if you’re coming to Australia. I am not sure if you’re aware of how popular you were there.
Oh thank you so much. Australia is really big star in my memory bank. I had such a wonderful time there. Love your country. Love the people I met there. Would love to go back. Touring...yes, absolutely yes. If there are venues that work, definitely would love to come there. Play, perform. Play some of the old stuff, the new stuff. Obviously touring is based on what fans can afford in these economic times. The expectation really is to make something fabulous and to get back out there. Play the songs that people remember. Give them some new music. Get on stage again and share that with everyone. Hopefully... Australia... you and I, Mike - we're going to be hanging out. And my husband Michael. We'll be rocking.
As a hardcore fan I know what you've been up to but I guess for a lot of people who remember your two albums, they’ll be like where did that girl go? What has she been doing for the last 15 or so years? Maybe you could just give us a little recap about what happened.
I haven’t been anywhere. I've been right here. Just pulled away from the spotlight, jet set pace at the time. Just really needed to have a bit more of a personal life. That kind of pulled me outside of the public eye. I've always (been) very creative and musical. Writing, contributing and collaborating with different friends. Not so mainstream. Writing songs, jumping on stage here and there. Not really having that Martika machinery to show up for all the time. At some point along the way I met my husband Michael, who’s an incredibly creative musical artist. We started working together and recorded a couple of CDs together as a duo called Oppera. We’ve been touring on that. Also we created a web based internet series called J8ded which I was working on for quite some time. Basically you know I’ve been here. (Giggles) I was really taking time to focus on things in life that were not career oriented but from a more personal perspective. Relationships, everyday life. Learning new things and having different experiences.You even changed your name though, didn’t you? Are you still going by Vida or are you returning to Martika?
Well, Vida has kind of turned out to be a little incognito name for me. Although people still recognize me, and my face. A lot of times in life I just needed to not be Martika the celebrity all the time. So that's how Vida came about. I just love the name and what it means, which is life. So it's kind of became a spiritual name. I did use it publicly for a while and I just wanted to share that side of myself with the world. Doing this project though, embracing Martika, being my famous stage name. The name everyone knows me as. And now to also bring Martika back with the songs and the catalogue that are associated with that name. Which is really, who I am. It's all good. You can call me Martika, Vida, hey girl!
Over the past years have you actually been performing your back catalogue? Or will this be the first time in a long you've performed those songs?
This will be the first time I've performed any of the Martika material since...Oh wow since back in the day. I've never performed a Martika set since I finished performing the promotions for "Martika's Kitchen".
That’s crazy! It's almost like you almost have to rediscover your own songs again. Have you been listening to your old stuff?
It's been an interesting process. Sort of like visiting your childhood and your youth. Just hearing where I was at that time musically, vocally. Just the energy of what the songs said. To be able to look at them now, after having lived so many new experiences. It's almost like being slightly being removed from that persona and that time of my life. I put the video on YouTube of "More Than You Know" and it's like Martika's performing and I start singing and dancing with that girl. She's not quite me anymore, it's like a new me. It's having to find a way to tap into where that energy of where I was at that time that people came to know. But also be able to sing it to genuinely from where I am at now. It's kind of like bridging that together. It's a whole process. I want to give the audience the Martika they remember. The qualities and the music that people love about Martika. But at the same time also showing them the new grown up Martika that I am now.
Did you have a favourite when you re-listened to the albums? Is there a song or songs that you particularly love?
Well right now I've been more listening to just the singles because that's the starting point. People that bought the albums will know all of it. But the general public that might come out and see me or happen to be at club where I'm playing, I want to make sure I give them the songs they heard of the radio. The videos they saw. I've kind of been in the zone of those records. "More Than You Know" just is so innocent. I love it. It's just happy. So fresh coming from a young girl who hadn't been through that much in life and was just really innocent. That purity and that joy is cool. Obviously "Toy Soldiers" is so cool. I still love the haunting quality of that melody. That hook. Especially the "won’t you come out and play with me" hook going into that. That still has a lot of power for me. "Love...Thy Will Be Done" it really feels, more and more, after all these years like a true spiritual hymn. Which I always love to go back to because it's really the thread that flows through everything. A philosophical outlook on life and existence for me.I always have a special place in my heart for that song. "I Feel The Earth Move" has such a cool rock energy, high powered dance, with the rock and roll vibe. That song is always so fun to get up on stage and perform. And then "Martika’s Kitchen", I always loved the sassiness of it. The tongue-in-cheek quality of it. This new record will definitely have some of those attitudes. Just sort of not taking yourself seriously and being willing to be playful. I didn't really tell you which was my favorite (laughs) it's kind of what I got from all of it. After looking at it again now that I'm working on putting some of this stuff together, put it on speed and bring it on stage.
Can I ask the flip side of that question? Is there anything that you looked at and just gone "oh, ok maybe that wasn't such a great idea"?
(Laughs). Well I'm the hardest on myself and I'm my worst critic. I can find flaws in absolutely everything I do. Even in just the vocal. I might have a vocal performance and think "Damn I wish I could of redone just that one bar. My tone could have been better". I could pretty much pick everything apart. In hindsight you just do your best and you show up. I did that. In that regard I don't really regret so much the creative stuff. I just gave it all I had at the time and worked with people that I was working with. We all brought it together and collaborated and did something cool. I'm definitely, Mike, not gonna start putting up the things I'm embarrassed about in this interview. (Laughs). You guys can wonder about which moments are the most hideous. You can talk about it later. I don't know.
I was watching Kids Incorporated yesterday with my friend Joe. People outside of America had no idea that even existed. I want to know how you got into that, what that meant for your career. Also are you still in touch with any people from that show?
There were some really talented people on that show. Fergie, of course, Mario Lopez, Shanice, Rahsaan Patterson. There were some really talented people in that cast. We had a lot of really great guest stars that came on the show. We got to work with some legendary people. I actually grew up in LA, in the suburbs. Lived about an hour outside of Hollywood. Fortunately for that, I was able to get out to Hollywood for the entertainment industry more as a kid. Even just being in dance recitals. I was in my little dance studio since I was 4 years old. That's really where I started. By the time I was like 12 I was already out in Hollywood with an agent and going on auditions and on movie sets. I had done Annie the film, as a dancer. I was on that set for about 3 months. The summer of my 12th birthday I think. After that went back to school in September and back to dance class and I was extremely, bored. (laughs).
I wanted to do something musical and creative like that. With more creative people than were necessarily around me. That's when I started looking for an opportunity, an outlet. I joined a kids cabaret called Let’s Put On A Show. The Too Short for Primetime Players is what we called ourselves. There were about 15 kids from the ages of like 5-15. We were a performance troupe. There were varieties, skits, and we all got to sing songs. Groups songs, solos. Really I spent every weekend for about 3 years. We started at the Laugh Stop in Encino, it's a really famous comedy club. Then we ended up at the Roxy for 2 years on the Sunset Strip. We'd come in on Saturday mornings for rehearsals. Sundays we'd put a show, Cabaret for Kids, which were kids could come have their birthday parties, they had big tables. It was just a place where kids could go to a rock and roll club and feel like grown ups. We used to put this show on all the time.
These people saw us perform. We got write ups in the L.A. Times. It was the thing in Hollywood, all these kids doing this show. These producers saw us perform and they wrote another show called Dimples which was animated mixed with live action. They brought me and a few other cast members from Let’s Put On A Show to that pilot. That pilot ended up being seen by K-Tel. They did the Kids Incorporated pilot and when they put the break down out, which is where they ask for the talent, looking for a certain typecast. They actually put my name in the breakdown "looking like a girl like this girl" cause they had seen me before. It all kind of lead to Kids Incorporated, so in a way it was sort of designed by the performance I had done at the Roxy. Then they actually wrote the show for me to star in. They just didn't know where I was. So when a friend of my Mom said "you know they are looking for your daughter" I went to the audition.
I sang a Pat Benatar song and I got it. They hired me for the pilot, after that was when I found out the whole story I just told you. That they had seen me perform at the Roxy and actually had me in mind for this character. For this musical, like a Mickey Mouse Club meets a young Fame kind of vibe. That's how I ended up being on Kids Incorporated. It took about a year from the time we did the pilot to actually get picked up to do the series. I think I was 14 or so, pretty much just starting high school. Next thing I know I was on a TV set/soundstage, probably about 8 months at a time. Singing and dancing, learning lines, hitting marks. Pretty much school for music videos. We did recordings, I learned how to be in the studio, sing in the studio, how to get on camera and lip synch to your recording and perform the song. Getting to work with the dancers and tying in the choreography. It was incredible training.
Was there a cast member that you were particularly close with or that you had a friendship with?
Everyone was cool. They try and do these reunions occasionally, but everyone is all over the place. We've all kind of moved along and not so much hanging out like we did. Over the course of the years there have been times I've hung out with different people from that show or other shows I did. But the nice thing about being in the industry and working is that even if you don't see them. It's really easy to turn the TV on or go online and see what people are doing. We're all kind of spread out, and everyone is touring. So it's kind of hard to hang out now, like back in the day, when we were all in LA.
Your first album just blew up. That was huge, not only in America, but also all around the world. It was really big in the UK and Australia. How did it feel - even though you have been working from the time you were 12 - to be this massive overnight success? How did you deal with that at such a young age?
Not very well (laughs). It was pretty shocking and overwhelming. You start out getting recognised at amusement parks from being on a kids show and then all of the sudden you go out promote your single at radio. You're introduced to everyone, try to get them to notice you. "Hey I’m Martika check out my new record, blah blah." Meet & greet. Try to get people to know who you are. But at some point, I remember getting to London and there was a huge group of young fans outside of my hotel when I showed up. The cameras, I just think it was very overwhelming. I guess I never thought about how it would actually feel. I think I was comfortable with a certain level of being recognised in certain places by kids, or their parents or their older brothers & sisters. Because they had no choice but to watch Kids Incorporated on Sunday mornings. Things like that.
But to be thrust into the mainstream on a global level no less, was pretty overwhelming. I think just having a platform and a voice like that, and being so young, and not realizing that now I am going to be expected to comment on everything under the sun. To have so much interest placed on me felt extremely shocking. I don't think I was really prepared for how to handle that. I don't think I had people around me who understood it either. So I think that's really important to deal with that level of fame, to stay grounded and to understand how to navigate. I know that had a lot to do with me sort of shying away from that. It's a huge responsibility and you don't want to take it too lightly. The level of influence you wield. I really didn't want to be irresponsible with that. I was just a girl who wants to sing and dance really.I love your second album "Martika’s Kitchen". I think it's so much fun. But it wasn’t as successful as your first album. Do you have a theory or a reason why you think that turned out to be the case?
It’s really simple. I wasn't here to promote it. It was more from a business perspective and also a promotional aspect of it. When I went overseas I loved it so much, I just wanted to stay overseas. When "Martika’s Kitchen" came out I was overseas more than I was in America. That really didn't help with the promotion of "Martika’s Kitchen". I spent at least a good 8 months solid on the promotion for the singles in the States on the first album. So when "Martika’s Kitchen" dropped I was overseas more so that's obviously why it had more success in other territories than in the States.
At the time were you really disappointed by that or kind of relieved to be out of the spotlight?
Yeah more relieved. Unfortunately, disappointed later. It was the demands of the itinerary, and the schedule and the pressures were getting to me already. It was definitely a conscious decision to pull back. Which isn't really good in a business sense, obviously, and career decisions. But at that time in my life I was making decisions what weren't based on what was good for my career. More based on what I need to do for myself. I really couldn't show up for a career if I didn't show up for myself in some other ways that really were distracting from the focus required for a career on the level that I had attained.
There were rumours that a third album was planned?
There was a third album planned. I did go into the studio a few times to try to make it. You know, it just never gelled. It never felt right. There was some really really cool stuff out of a lot of different sessions that I did over the course of time. It just didn't all come together. Musically, creatively and also from a business perspective, it never really came to be. At some point along the way I really stopped trying to make that third album. Just decided to chill out and stop putting pressure on myself.
What kind of sound were you going for on that third album? It would be interesting for the fans to know. Was it going to be the same mix of pop and dance - or were you trying to be more experimental?
I was in way more experimental phase for a few years. Working on a lot of things. Some really cool directions, just not what I thought the world would want from Martika. I did some stuff that was super musical. There were some great songs, one of them sounded like it could have been on a Bonnie Rait record. Stuff that just came out, that was just so outside the box of what the audience would expect from me. It just didn't seem right to be a Martika album. Some stuff that had a lot more gospel and R&B influence, funk. Some underground hip hop stuff. Jazzy stuff.
Then there were some singer/songwriter things that had a lot of folk elements. I think just because I started so young, and was kind of thrust into the whole process of being a songwriter. The first 5 songs I ever demoed were on my first album. "More Than You Know" was like the second songwriting session I had ever been to. I just really wanted to understand and learn how to do that. In that process there was just a lot of different styles. Then at some point I just decided to write songs, not necessarily for a Martika album. Just to build my catalogue. Some things did end up on other projects. Now, there's just a new focus in my life with the sound and direction which is just right on point with pop dance, back to my roots. I think it should hopefully be well received and go over well. Of course always trying to put some musical substance in the mix.
Do you have any idea that your song "If You're Tarzan I'm Jane" is an underground gay classic?
It sort of just come to my attention recently. I've heard this from other gay friends and people I know. I guess I get it. It didn't click with me at the time. Let's just put it this way, I didn't realize I was making THAT record until way later. OK I totally get how this record is a gay anthem, type of club record.
It's a camp classic. It still cracks me up when I hear it!
Oh that's so cool. I had so many camp ideas for that video. But the label didn't want to go with that single. I was really a club kid. I mean I was gonna be rocking across the stage on a vine and everything. I have that campy side of myself. At the time, being 18 and in clubs for the first time and loving that new wave and club music. Being into fashion, the gay club scene, the style and music. Being influenced by that, but at the time not understanding the sexual implications of it all (giggles). Being very campy and clubby. The label really saw me as a different pop artist, with "Toy Soldiers". They never understood that side of me which is on that record. Especially "If You're Tarzan, I'm Jane". That's the first song on my album and for me it was just being theatrical and really over the top. Fun, not taking yourself seriously at all.
If I had to chose a favourite, it would be "Love Thy Will Be Done". As you were saying before, it's quite a deep pop song. It's beautiful. How did the collaboration with Prince come about?
It was a prayer that I wrote. One night just by myself. It was a prayer I wrote in my notebook. I just wanted to have my own language for praying. I showed that to Prince and he put the music to it. I have to go now but before we hang up, I got to tell you how much I love Carlos Lizalde's Kisses With Wings hats and earrings. We got to give him a shout out to promote. Those black feather earrings were on me half the time. I just loved them.
Thanks for your time. It's been great chatting with you.
Well thank you. I really appreciate it. I'm humbled. We'll speak again for sure. Thank you so much for the support. We'll get together soon and have some fun.