The members of Brother Martin are no strangers to working remotely. Founding members of the band, Maria Mirenzi (singer/saxophonist/accordionist) and Daniel Espie (pianist/vocalist) started a “long-distance, musical collaboration” in 2015 while they were both in two different countries, studying abroad. When they came back to Philly, they formed Brother Martin and began collaborating with local musicians: Austin Wagner, James Licata, Jake Kelberman, Michael Santa Cruz, Jack Synoski, Renee Drezner and Bismuth Quartet.
Their latest EP, Trust Me, came out on May 1st. It is an EXPERIENCE. When Maria described the band’s sound for us, one of the adjectives she used was “theatrical”. I wasn’t exactly sure what that meant until I listened to the music. “Theatrical” is the best comparison. There are so many layers, to every song. It creates an atmosphere, an all encompassing experience. If I close my eyes I can almost feel myself sitting in an old theater seat, hearing the orchestra pit beginning to play and seeing the curtains rise for the first scene to begin. Maria and I talked more about the varying themes she explores in each song, starting a band while living in different countries and her hopes that people really feel while they are listening to the album.
CVZ: It must have been strange to start a band long distance. How do you think that affected the way the project evolved?
MARIA: Starting the band long distance was definitely strange, but also kind of nice, to be honest. There was no pressure to start playing right away and we could take our time figuring things out. We had a longer than normal incubation period where we could write songs and let them sit for a minute and seep in before playing them for people. After about a year of long distance writing, there was a real sense of urgency to return back to Philly and to start collaborating with our friends.
It's been an immensely gratifying experience collaborating with the wonderful people in this band. Everyone brings something unique. It's my absolute favorite when someone adds something new to a song -- something you could never imagine yourself. The title track of the EP, "Trust Me", was our biggest collaborative effort on the EP. Our drummer, Michael Santa Cruz, who is a never ending, free flowing fountain of creativity, came to us with this amazingly complicated drumbeat and the opening melody; I re-harmonized some progressions and wrote that middle woodwind section; and Dan wrote everything that sounds super math-y (changing time signatures, hocketing vocals).
The songs on this EP were fully realized when we took them to Miner Street Recordings. Brian McTear and Matt Poirier have become some of my favorite collaborators of all time, and this EP wouldn't sound half as badass without them.
CVZ: Why did the band start? What was the purpose of the driving force to start a project (especially across countries!)
MARIA: There is no other explanation than, it's what I needed to regain my sanity, to feel completely myself and to be happy. When I left the states, I left behind my old college band and brought some degree of depression with me. I was living alone in a foreign country, feeling like an outsider and struggling a lot with inner demons. I wasn't playing a lot of music, and the music I did play wasn't very fulfilling. So I started sending songs to Dan and something clicked.
I think when we are forced outside of our comfort zones and certain things are taken away, what's important starts to stand out. The things we need in order to survive become more apparent. Playing my own original music with people who I loved mattered most and so I knew I needed to start a band when I came back to Philly.
CVZ: I know that the song, Martin explores the grief that you felt losing your dog (I feel you, I actually lost my cat the weekend before lockdown) what other topics do you explore in your music? Is there a subject that you feel more passionately about than others?
MARIA: Exploring the tensions and releases of grief is a big theme in our music. I'm a very nostalgic person. I'm a sick freak who likes to think back on things a lot (maybe it's the Cancer in me, if you believe in astrology), usually sad things for whatever reason. Sometimes I get really caught up and relive the emotions of how a particular situation made me feel. I think what I'm trying to do in this music is literally make you feel what I feel. Here's the quick run down:
"As Long As" is about that urgent feeling to move forward and feeling trapped all at the same time. Feeling grateful to be alive and guilty that so many are suffering at the cost of your happiness.
"Trust Me" is about a friend/significant other betraying your trust and asking for forgiveness.
"Grandfather's Table" is about a piece of furniture that I inherited through a family member's divorce and all the baggage attached to it.
"Bill Vincent" is about my grandfather who passed away when I was 13.
"Recollection" is about finding the courage to speak out against the current political situation and standing up for those who are oppressed and marginalized. The title "Recollection" comes from a hope that one day we can all look back on this and move forward as a society with equity and love.
"Martin" is about the loss of a childhood dog you weren't able to say goodbye to.
CVZ: What do you hope people get from listening to the album?
MARIA: It is my sincerest hope that people allow themselves to feel things while listening to these songs. And if they haven't cried in a while, to allow themselves a good cry. I think we are all dealing with varying degrees of anxiety right now during the pandemic, and while I am a person that emotes on the reg, I know that there are people who really hide their emotions. Masking your feelings is so damaging. Please express your joys, your truths, your sadness, your desires and your gratitude for the people and animals in your life. Let's be honest with one another and move forward together.
This is really just a beautiful work of art. It feels like a theatrical production more than an EP. I can’t wait to experience this in a real live venue, but for now, my laptop speakers will have to suffice. You can listen the Trust Me and watch the music video for the single, As Long As, below!