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Interview with Singer-Songwriter Tori Martin

by Dan Reifsnyder, GSC Reporter

Dan Reifsnyder:  How did you get started in music?

Tori MartinTori Martin: So I did not grow up in a musical family, but at the age of 14 I started singing in a church choir. And when I was younger, I just loved music and sang all the time and my Paw Paw really noticed that and encouraged me to peruse music – especially Country music, cuz you know, that was the best. He raised me on the classics of country, and I grew up singing around his record player. He put me in Texas girls choir when I was like, 8, I actually made it. You audition for it  and you perform all over the world. He actually paid for me to be in that – I didn’t know it was him until later in life. He bought me my first guitar, which was an acoustic guitar, but I told him that I was a rock star and needed an electric. So he bought me an electric guitar. So that is how I got into music. When I was in the church choir, there was a sound engineer there who was a record producer, Grammy Award winner. He heard me and saw my raw talent. I started working with him, taking vocal lessons, learning music theory, taking piano. And then I started being a co-worship leader along with his wife who was the worship pastor of that church. That was kind of my first stage. I always tell people that’s the best stage to start out on, because you can literally bomb and they’ll be like “Praise the Lord! You did so good honey!” So they’re not gonna judge you. I sang there for like 2 years, and then when I was 16, I came to Nashville for the first time and recorded an EP. That was pretty epic. I recorded at Quad studios…Taylor Swift had recorded her then huge album that made her a hit. So I had stars in my eyes. So at 16 that’s when I started recording and I had my very first concert in Azle TX, which is my home town. It was at like the community center, but I had Nashville players behind me and everything. It was epic, and my little city loved it!

DR:  So your grandfather was a pretty big influence on you

TM: Yes, huge. I probably would not be doing music if it wasn’t for him. He bought me my first guitar, believed in me. All that.

DR:  Who are your musical influences?

TM: I love Dolly Parton, she is my queen and my idol! Not just in music but in everything in life. She’s just an amazing human being. But some of my influences when I was younger were Whitney Houston. I used to stand on a chair in the middle of our hallway underneath a light and pretend I was singing “I Will Always Love You”, which was written by Dolly Parton and I didn’t know that when I was like, 10! I wanted to be a big singer like Whitney Houston. But also Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Etta James, Aretha Franklin. I love Soul and Country and Rock and Roll and everything.

DR: Is there a song you wish you had written?

TM: Probably “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton! I absolutely love that song. When people ask me “Whats your favorite song of all time” one, it’s really hard to pick because there’s just so many great songs. But I love “I Will Always Love You” because it can hit you in so many different ways in life and different meanings. She wrote that song for Porter Wagoner when she was leaving his show. And I dunno, I’ve had that hit me in different ways. Like at our wedding, my husband and his sister danced to that in memory of his mom. There’s just so many different ways that song can relate to you and I just think it’s good. It’s simple, it’s amazing. Whitney Houston sang it, it’s good enough for her. I love it, it’s amazing!

DR: Nice! Do you have any projects you’re working on?

TM: I have some new things that are happening in 2019, I can’t disclose a whole lot of information about them. But very exciting things happening, I’m hoping to release some new music in spring. I have a single that I’m working to release. I just gotta get the funds, I’m an independent. Anyway, working on that and some other exciting things.

DR: You have played a lot of places. What is your favorite venue that you’ve played?

TM: One of my favorite venues I think I’ve played to date is the Texas State Fair. Not being from Texas or the South you might not realize how huge that is. It’s the biggest fair in the whole state. I was in a competition when I was 17, the Texaco Country Showdown. So you had to make it through the local round, and then I made it to state and that was to play the Texas State Fair, which was huge. The Chevy Main Stage, they have Kacey Musgraves, Kid Rock, Willie Nelson people playing this massive stage. Oh my gosh, the gear, the lights. It was the real deal. The real McCoy. So I played that for the first time when I was 17 in that competition and I ended up winning and going to the regional round in that competition. What was really exciting about that was that it was epic to be 17 and singing on that stage. And I won, hello! But they actually asked me back and for the next 3 or 4 years I played the stage in the fall with my band! So I thought that was amazing and I loved playing that show because people from all over the world would come to that state fair. So I wasn’t just playing just to our region. I was playing to all kinds of people all over the world. It was epic. But you know, I want the Grand Old Opry, Madison Square Garden. The Ryman. The good ol’ stuff.

DR: How would you describe your music?

TM: I would describe my music as Country and Pop and Soul and a little bit of everything. I didn’t just stay closed into one genre, I love all genres and I feel like I have influences from each of them. It shows stylistically in my voice and in my melodies. I’m definitely very Country Pop, but I also have some of that old school influence and that comes through.

DR: I agree. You put on a very good live show!

TM: Well thank you! I’ll take a quote from you later! * laughs *

DR: Who would be your dream artist to open for or go on tour with?

TM: She’s not touring but Dolly Parton. One of my dreams is like “I’ve got to sing with Dolly before she goes to heaven!” So I’m like “Lord, you better keep her around, she can’t go now!” She just had a birthday, right?

DR: Yeah, not too long ago. I think she’s like 73?

TM: Yeah, she’s in her prime! She’s doing fine. That’s my dream person to sing with, but I love the stage. I’d go on tour with anybody tomorrow. If they called me I’d be like “Fine, let’s do it! Sounds good to me!”

DR: How did you get hooked up with Sheree?

TM: Well, I met Sheree through two of my cool friends, John Cirillo and Dan Reifsnyder. You guys told me about Sheree and literally after I met Sheree, basically everybody I’ve met in the city they know her! And they’re like “Oh, Sheree! I love Sheree! She’s a sweetheart and I’m glad you’re working with her!” Everybody knows her and loves her!

DR: So you’ve been on the radio, you’ve had a lot of accomplishments in your career.

TM: I have! And I didn’t really talk about it, but after my first concert at 16, I  started playing Opry Houses in TX which is like a dying breed.

DR: What are Opry Houses?

TM: So Opry Houses, a lot of them you have to audition for or you have to know somebody to get into them. But it’s Texas style and all they do are country standards. Tammy Wynette “Stand By Your Man”, LeAnn Rimes “Blue” those are ones I always sang. I started performing and singing there and it was to get in front of a real, paying audience. I did quite a few competitions…I did private auditions for The Voice when I was 18 and I started performing and actually getting booked as an artist and playing shows all around Texas and Arkansas regionally. It’s been crazy. I’ve played for nobody and I’ve played for 20,000 people. I started building my fan base regionally and released my first song to radio in the Texas market, which spans from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana…that whole region. My very first one I didn’t use a promoter or anything and I made it on the charts! I got into the top 80. That doesn’t happen, so I wanted to see what I could do with a promoter. I promoted my next single and did a radio tour. Those radio tours are brutal but awesome and I’ve been on so many radio stations and built so many fans that way. I’ve had 3 songs hit the top 20 in Texas and I released an EP out there. And during the middle of that I was contacted to do an audition for American Idol. At the time I had so much good stuff going independently, American Idol was not on my mind. I said “I’ll just go audition and the worst they can say is no!”  Well I ended up going out there and auditioning in New Orleans, Harry Connick Jr’s home town, and I made it! I went through all the crazy rounds you guys never see – I made it through the executive producers, the label, everything. And then I got to sing for the big guys. I got to sing for Keith Urban – not gonna lie, that was the guy I was most nervous about. Made it out to Hollywood and got cut out there but I did have to press pause coming off the show a little bit, but it was worth it because it gave me a notoriety and publicity you can’t pay for. That happened in 2015, I was on Season 14. And in 2016 I released an EP and moved to Nashville in 2017. I wanted to take it to the next level. I’ve built my fan base, I love my fans and I don’t want to just be regional. I want to take it national, I want to go global!

DR: What are your thoughts on women in country right now?

TM: I love all the things that Nashville is doing to show the lack of women on country radio, but I still don’t understand why women aren’t on radio. It’s ridiculous, and blows my mind! We’re in 2019! You can go to Texas and you can hear women all over the radio. At the end of last year, there was one woman in the Top 40 and it was Carrie Underwood. And I feel like there’s so many new female artists being signed to record labels. Why aren’t they on the radio? It blows my mind. I read an article on Music Row Magazine by the head of William Morris Entertainment, talking about the lack of female artists on the radio. And she said right now, there’s so many new artists that aren’t on the radio and when you’re not on the radio it’s hard to get a tour slot. So they’re having to come up with ways to break an artist without radio, which is one of the biggest markets! One of the biggest things they’re doing right now is getting their artists to open for Pop artists like Sam Smith and Niall Horin. Kacey Musgraves opened for Harry Styles! So they’re putting female artists in front of these different platforms to give them more reach. And I think that’s amazing because you’re going to build your fan base even bigger. It’s really sad to me when artists like Sara Evans speak out and say they’ve had a longstanding career and can’t get a song on the radio. There are a lot of girls out here who are amazing and have incredible songs. You just gotta keep showing up, keep being awesome, and keep doing it.