Hemming Finds Peace with Fame and Life on the Road

Featured Image via Eleanor Stills Photography 

We live in a unique era of the music business, a time where the Internet and Music Reality TV have facilitated the rise of countless artists into stardom. However, success after their discovery is often far from guaranteed. Few are ever cognizant of the consequences when making that kind of leap without following the traditional path, an oversight that can mean the difference between fading and sustaining. This distinction is not lost on Philadelphia Singer/Songwriter Candice Martello (a.k.a. Hemming), who, after being chosen to appear on VH1’s “Make Or Break: The Linda Perry Project,” earned the opportunity to record and release her debut through Perry’s Custard Records label. She followed up “Make or Break,” with a national tour alongside Rachael Yamagataheld a residency at Philly’s Ortlieb’s music venue, released Hemming’s self-titled debut last summer, and opened for Chris Cornell on a massive theater tour. Don’t make the mistake of calling her a “Reality star” though, as Martello admitted to The Philadelphia Inquirer that she’d “rather forget” she was ever on reality TV. Instead, Martello prefers to devote her attention to her captivating brand of cutting Alternative-folk powered by a powerful voice and stirring songwriting. I had the opportunity to speak with Candice Martello about her time on the road, the sonic inspiration behind Hemming’s debut, and what comes next!

ROP: How has the last year been for you since your Records’ debut?

Candice Martello: It’s been great. The biggest thing for me was getting to tour behind the album. It’s been done for a while, but we obviously had to wait for [Make or Break: The Linda Perry Project] to air. So it’s been done for almost two years I would say. The first tour I went on with Rachael Yamagata was all around the US and I was just thrown on to do four songs before the opener, The Dove and The Wolf. I was just doing four songs before their sets, but it was still an awesome experience. It was kind of a bummer, though, because I didn’t have any music to sell. When I went on tour with Chris Cornell, though, I actually had the vinyl and CDs and got to see how many people were buying the music. It was great because I’d get such amazing feedback from people who’d tell me they saw me with Chris Cornell and they loved my music. That was amazing because all you ever want, as a musician, is to have people hear your stuff.

Album Art courtesy of the artist

Album Art courtesy of the artist

ROP: Have you learned to, sort of, feed off the energy of the crowd as you progressed performer?

CM: Yeah, I’ve always had stage fright. Like super bad stage fright. But that tour helped condition me a lot more. It was also a dry tour, so I couldn’t even relax with a drink beforehand, you know? [Laughs] That’s how I did it on the Rachael Yamagata tour, but if you drink a couple beforehand and then a little after for a while it can really start to wear you down when you combine it with all the travelling. So I was actually happy to do it sober. I’ve been doing performances in everything from basements to big clubs for so long and the only thing that helped me conquer those giant spaces sober was doing it every night. I definitely got more comfortable with it.

ROP: What was the start of your career like?

CM: I was constantly trying to get into bands. My solo stuff has always been something that came together when it did. I would record stuff and show it to some people, but never with any expectation of playing it live. It would just be something that I did on my own. But I would always want to be in a band, like if someone needed a guitarist or a back-up singer I’d try to get involved. I was in a six-piece experimental band playing… It was almost like Broken Social Scene because I was able to play my solo songs when I was fronting it, then the pianist would play his stuff. Everyone had their own separate material that we would all play as a band. It was all over the place. It was fun!

ROP: What’s been the difference playing with the full band versus solo?

CM: It’s different feel. It’s super rockin’. Playing solo is definitely more intimate. You can hone in more on the emotion and the lyrics more, but I don’t think any of that gets lost with the full band. I have a big voice, which I don’t think a lot of people expect that to come out of me most of the time. But having a band that can hold that voice, especially on those big rockin’ songs, it feels good to listen to when everything is kind of, individually, holding up on its own. The live band I have now is actually more rockin’ than the record, which was more simple and very intimate.

ROP: I like that you used ‘intimate’ because that’s honestly how it felt. The music felt like it was coming from a very raw and sincere place.

CM: Yeah we were listening to a lot of The Pixies and Breeders and stuff when we recorded it. That was the whole idea at the time. We wanted to avoid overproducing everything and let the songs speak for themselves. I think it sounds great, but I like what my band makes of the songs. No one wants to go to a show and hear the record exactly as it is. So I feel like, when people see the full band, they’re not going to expect to get their faces rocked off so much. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a whole new experience in comparison to playing solo.

ROP: What does the next step look like to you now? You’ve had such tremendous success in a short amount of time. Have you had time to consider what the future looks like?

CM: I’m trying to focus on doing the next record. It’s not coming together as quickly as I would like it to, but it never does. I would love to just come out with new stuff. My goal would be to tour with the band in maybe smaller markets since it would be a nice in-between for the next record. Maybe go on tour with some friends in another Philly band in the back of a van. I toured with Rachael doing big clubs and we went ten thousand miles in a four-door rental sedan, I was on tour with Chris in a tour bus doing giant theaters, and now I feel like I need to do the painter’s van tour hitting house shows, small venues, and festivals.

ROP: That’s amazing to see you’ve been able to stay so grounded through all of this. It’s rare to hear about someone attaining that kind of success and then wanting to dial it back down a little afterwards.

CM: Honestly, it happened too fast for me. The label did so much for me, I’m super grateful for the fan base I got and all the super amazing places I’ve been able to play. But, because my story is this weird “reality TV show thing,” I felt like I took a giant leap over some stuff that I would have otherwise had to do to reach this level. Personally, it never felt right. When I was getting certain opportunities, I found myself thinking, “Man, this is only my second US tour and I’m playing Walt Disney Concert Hall?!” It just seemed weird! [Laughs] I’m happy to go back down and start building from the bottom. I made a great fan base while I was out there, but it’s more about getting back to my roots, getting back to the things that got me into music in the first place.

ROP: Do you feel like Philly’s scene is starting to come together?

CM: It’s definitely becoming one of the top music cities. I think one of the biggest things is that it’s affordable to live here and be a musician without having to work every single second. In New York, the cost of living there means that, even when you’re not playing or performing, you’re constantly working other part-time jobs just to pay the bills. You have no time for anything else. Musicians here have basements and a bunch of DIY venues they can play at, so you’re not confined to picky venues. Even the actual venues in Philly aren’t that picky. You can totally get a show at a great venue like Boot & Saddle or Johnny Brenda’s. It’s a music city. Philly’s conditioned for musicians. It’s not too flashy. It’s gritty, it’s dangerous, but that’s the kind of stuff that drives art! It’s honest. A lot of Philly’s music is just honest.

ROP: What were some of the ways you would decompress during the Theater Tour?

CM: I had a lot of alone time. It was a very lonely tour. Chris flew everywhere, so it was just the tour manager, merch guy, guitar tech, cello player, and myself riding on the tour bus. They were were friendly but, once we got to the venue, they’d have to get to work immediately. I’d have to sit alone and kill time before the show started. I ended up wanting to spend a lot of time alone, which was something I was never very good at before. I used to be one of those people who’d hit up friends and say “Hey, is anyone up to anything? Let’s hangout!” I was never any good at being alone and that tour helped me do that. Eventually, I’d just de-stress by either sitting in the green room for bit or going on a walk in the areas around the venues and talking my camera with me. We were in a lot of cities I had never been before, but there would be venues located in weird areas where there was nothing surrounding towns or anywhere close enough to walk to… unless I took, like, an Über or something. I did get to walk around Atlanta and Oakland a little bit. Any time I was in the city I’d just go out with my camera, get a cup of coffee, and look for vintage shops or record stores.

You can catch Hemming performing at Drexel University’s Leonard Pearlstein Gallery with Queen of Jeans Tuesday, April 19th!

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