There is a serious case of conviction and compromise embedded to the core of singer/songwriter Vicci Martinez. She turned down the opportunity to perform on American Idol and said no to management icon Bill Leopold ( best known for steering Melissa Etheridge's early career ) . By all reasonable accounts, Vicci Martinez traded Hollywood fame to maintain her artistic integrity. ( Editor's note: Congratulations are in order for Martinez, as she and Blair Hansen won for Outstanding Folk/Country Song at the recent OUTMusic Awards. They won for "Break Away," which is on the soundtrack of the Chicago-produced movie Hannah Free. )
On the phone, she sounds sincere, energetic and her words are fluidmuch like her music. Her energy is humble and, when discussing her future in music, she conveys a childlike innocence. This evident buoyancy has no doubt guided Vicci along the journey from her modest home in Tacoma to a tour throughout California, Pennsylvania, New York and Belize. Martinez has written or co-written all of her own music and has proven that she can defy gravity "From the Outside In." I sat down to talk with Martinez over the phone recently as she was just getting over a cold. She was as personable as expected.
Sarah Toce: Hey, it's Sarah! So, are you feeling better?
Vicci Martinez: I'm feeling a little bit better since yesterday. I made myself sleep all day. I have to go to L.A. tomorrow so I am trying to make myself better for the plane ride. I hate to be that person coughing over and over again.
ST: Well, I do hope you feel better. Let's start with Hannah Free. What does it feel like to be nominated for an OUTMusic Award for your song "Break Away?"
VM: It was pretty surreal. A friend of mine from L.A. actually mentioned that I should write a song for a different movie so I went into that with the idea that it was going to be a different project. I was going back and forth from Tacoma to San Francisco and my friend told me that Hannah Free was looking for a closing song. My friend had the trailer for Hannah Free there in San Francisco for us ( co-writer Blair Hansen ) to watch and we went from there. I was bummed because I didn't get to see the release of Hannah Free at the Castro because I happened to have a gig that day, but Blair went on behalf of both of us. A couple of months ago, Lisa Henderson looked us up and said, "by the way, you're nominated for an OUTMusic Award." It happened just like that.
ST: That's the way it goes.
VM: Yeah, we didn't expect it and it just happened. I was hoping I could get over there to the awards but the airline tickets are so expensive and my grandmother is very sick so that's the priority. It's really great, though, to have that out there and in my back pocket.
ST: In researching your career, I've noticed this pattern of you really standing up for your priorities. It's very admirable because when you look at Hollywood and the music industry in general, singer/songwriters tend to either have to stand up for themselves and go their own way or they end up in this mess of someone they're not and later regretting it. Did you battle with that choice?
VM: I think it was harder for me to do awhile back because when I started, I think the thing that I had going for me was that I was 16 and I could "do this" and "do that", but now I'm 25. I look like I'm 16 according to other people. [ Laughs ] I think, you know, when my dad passed away, I started to look at things like, "okay, what do I want to be thankful for when I am on my deathbed?" The biggest thing is staying true to myself and standing up for what I believe in. I had that struggle with my family coming out and saying, "I don't just like girls. I feel like the way you and Dad feel about each other. That is the way I feel about women. I don't know what it is to be gay; I just feel this way right now." I was younger then. There was a little bit of a time period where my family didn't know how to deal with it. For about a year, I was out of the family loop, their choice, but I stood up and wasn't going to change. My dad at that time was more concerned that I was making drastic decisions based on my age. My brothers and sisters knew. I didn't have to say I was gay. I was pretty much the tomboy of the family. I had a lot of support from them and since then, I've pretty much lucked out by being pretty true to myself. As for my career, I could look back and say, "well, it could've gone that way", but who cares? You still have your happiness. You didn't have to work with the guy you thought was a jerk. No, it was compromising my happiness. I didn't want that energy around me. A lot of people do the opposite and soak it up. Hey, if that works for them, that's great. I don't know when it's gonna be my time for me to go so every day I am gonna do what makes me happy.
ST: Part of your charm is the high energy you have on the stage. You can tell when performers are faking something and when they're really feeling something spiritual happening. It's evident to all involved that you're experiencing that spiritual vibe when performing.
VM: I wanna look back over my career one day and be able to say that I've inspired kids. It's turned into adults now, too. The way that I want to inspire them is by just really pouring it into them to be themselves and not care what anybody thinks because all in all you're gonna be a happier person. You'll make others feel happy to be around you because you're so happy. It's like a domino effect. It makes the world go round. You have to follow what makes you happy. What's cool is that you meet a lot of adults that feel inspired because of what I do. They want to pick up the guitar or even just find happiness in their jobs. It doesn't feel like work because we love what we do. Like you're doing what you love. You've had how many interviews today?
ST: This is my third one today! Sometimes, all the arrows point in a certain direction and I go with it and let the energy take over and do its own thing and I don't push it. There are times when it can be work, but you get that trade-off. I understand what you're saying because I tend to go with the flow, too. Life is really short and you have to go after what you want.
VM: I understand what you mean. Sometimes it is hard work because there are deadlines and you have to meet them. I've been working on this ballet project and I had to put myself into a hole and not leave the house for a week. The reward is great.
ST: So, now tell me, you had mentioned San Francisco. Are you living there now or are you in Seattle?
VM: I am back in Seattle. I got signed to a college agency out there and I wanted to see if they were really going to do anything good for me. They told me that I had to wait until school started back up. Pretty soon, I am going to be all over the East Coast doing college shows. I'll be in the New England area. I'll be doing gigs in places where I really want to play and will be able to get more exposure. With these college gigs, I will be able to pay my band what they deserve. People say, "You have a really great band," but I have to pay them. It's not like we practice in the garage or something. So, I have to tell them, "this is what we need for every show" and that was my choice because I wanted a great band to play with and so I need to pay them. So, I needed to figure out how to do it wisely. The universe helped me out and hooked me up with the college gigs so that we can play and I can pay my band what they deserve.
ST: That's very inspiring. Being from the Seattle area, we like to support our own. When we see you in concert, we can't help but notice that you're on the stage without shoes and banging your drum. We all love you out here.
VM: Thank you. That's very cool. [ Laughs ]
ST: Tell us about your ballet project coming up.
VM: I did a score for a ballet, which debuted in November, but we're going to do a Seattle show at the Triple Door on January 17, 2010. I'm gonna have the ballet company open the show. It's about 25 minutes long. Then we'll play a set and have a CD available of just my own stuffsome instrumental, some vocal stuffit'll just be Vicci stuff. You should go to that if you can. Let me know and I'll put you on the list.
ST: I'm in town so I'll definitely be there.
VM: Awesome. If you have friends, tell them to start reserving so that maybe I can get a second show added. The proceeds will go to the MLK Ballet Company. It's a non-profit company for kids who can't afford to go to dance. They supply the ballet shoes, leotards, etc. That company will actually be doing the dance at the show, so that will be exciting.