red lights


Rising star shoots for the moon

Singer/songwriter Martha Berner
to release new Ten Tiny Little Pieces EP on
January 23rd before national tour in 2007

Jan. 20, 2007
Martha Berner Martha Berner

Story by Tony Bonyata
Photos by Terry Mayer

It wasn't that long ago that singer/songwriter Martha Berner's only following was right here in Walworth County, WI. All that's changed, however, since the release of her debut full-length release, ...this side of yesterday, a little more than a year ago on the Lake Geneva, WI-based label Machine Records. In fact, the former Williams Bay, WI resident's popularity has not only grown beyond her home state but also beyond the Pacific and Atlantic, as her music has been gaining global attention throughout the last year.

Along with Berner's beautiful, often haunting indie-folk music being aired on hundreds of radio stations throughout the nation, international stations from as far off as Japan, Australia, Germany, France and the U.K. have also gotten behind her music. In fact, a music director in Israel recently contacted Machine Records for a copy of Martha's CD. As Machine president and Martha's manager, Chris Buttleman, explained, "I was contacted by Menachem Vinegrad who does a world/folk music show on Radio Upper Galilee in Israel. He told me that he heard Martha's "A Town Called Happiness" single and would like her entire album so he could air more on his show. He also explained that being situated on the border of Israel and South Lebanon that the station could be heard by both sides. His intent and message for his show was one of 'peace through good music' and as he also stated 'it's going to take a lot of good music!' So needless to say we were all very proud that he wanted to use Martha's music as part of his show."

As Vinegrad recently commented, "[My show] Peace Through Good Music is not exactly a campaign, but a hope, a prayer and a message. I play music of all peoples and cultures, with equal respect to all, hoping the message will get through, that this is the way of tolerance and of humanity." The Israeli radio director went on to say, "I hope that someone out there - over the border - listens and says 'Hey, that was on an Israeli station - perhaps they're not so bad, not so different from us after all. I still have faith in the message of the song - and know that Peace will come- if not today then tomorrow."

Good-natured and down-to-earth, Berner is likewise proud of her music being used on this particular station. "I feel very lucky that radio in general has been so supportive of my music, none more so than in my own home market of Southeast Wisconsin. Local stations, such as WKTI in Milwaukee, WBSD in Burlington, WSUW in Whitewater and, especially, WLKG in Lake Geneva have really helped immensely.Martha Berner It's always great to hear that my music is being heard in places like Tokyo and Sydney, but when I found out that a station in Israel wanted to play my music to help promote peace right in the middle of a war zone, I was incredibly moved to say the least. I originally received word from the DJ there right when the big fighting between Lebanon and Israel started. I've actually been to the border of Israel and Lebanon, so I was able to remember and visualize in my mind being there, and remembering guards with guns and just the harsh separation that happens over there. That was when I lived there for a while doing volunteer construction and grounds work at a hospital in Nazareth. So to find out that a song I had written had reached its way all the way back over there, and was being used in a time of such strife and war to try and promote harmony, I mean, wow, what a compliment!"

The musician has also resided in other exotic locales such as Thailand and the Virgin Islands. And while the Southeastern WI-bred artist now calls Chicago her full-time home, she's about to pick up her nomadic ways again with her most aggressive tour to date.

Although Berner's previous national tour (as part of The Hit & Run Tour with singer/songwriters Arrica Rose and Julie Moffitt) took her from East to West coasts last summer, her 2007 tour will not only hit more domestic markets than before - including an extensive leg through the South - but will also take her overseas to countries that have, thus far, only heard her music over the airwaves. "Right now we're mapping out an international tour for Martha in the late summer / early fall of 2007," Buttleman stated. "We're planning on hitting some of the European markets that have already gotten behind her music, as well as possibly routing her down to Australia, who've also shown early support of her first album."

"I'm really excited about going out on the road again," Berner exclaimed. "I would have to say the magic words for 2007 are 'tour, tour, tour.' I'm going to be pressing it very hard. We spent the last year not only touring, but also writing, recording and doing a lot of work on that first album and now it's time to get out there and bring it to the masses even more. I'm really looking forward to it. I enjoy being on the road and traveling and meeting new people. It can be challenging at times, though. It can get lonely, and I do get hungry because the food's not very good on the road. I try to commit to eating very healthy while I'm on tour. I try and hit grocery stores to stock up when I can. That's why I end up hungry, because I try and avoid the bad stuff as much as I can possibly manage."

No stranger to a healthy lifestyle, Berner recently undertook a raw vegan diet that she felt helped her both mentally and physically. While admittedly not a lifestyle change she has recently begun the diet again. "Although I don't have plans to become a raw vegan, I'm currently doing the four-week raw vegan diet again. I'm using the diet more to try and develop new habits for myself and get my body and my mind more in tune with more fruits and vegetables, just to help that discipline."

As it turns out, radio isn't the only medium that's been receptive to Berner's music over the last year. Along with numerous appearances on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox morning news shows throughout the Midwest, national music publications have been very supportive as well. Magnet magazine's associate editor, Kevin Lo, likened her to, "Natalie Merchant with fewer adult contemporary leanings or Aimee Mann on a folkier trip. Her voice can thicken and thin like Joni Mitchell's and it's unmistakably her greatest asset." Performing Songwriter magazine's music editor. Abby White, summed up Berner's talents even more succinctly when she simply stated she's, "fabulous!" Even daily newspapers from Tucson to Toronto have been raving that she's "one of indie's finest talents" with "radio-friendly hooks and melodies."

Despite all the attention elsewhere, Berner is still most fond of her local roots and fans. "I love coming up there [to the Lake Geneva area]. I do most of my recording there, which is so peaceful. It's great to get out of the city and smell the fresh air again and see the stars. And I love my fans there. They are so enthusiastic. They're great - they pack the house and sing along and party down with me through the night. They'll always be my first!," she laughs with pride.

Berner also remarked further on the actual recording of her new Ten Tiny Little Pieces EP, which was recorded in a single day last October at the Velvet Chateau recording studio in Lake Geneva. "It was amazing and my favorite recording experience so far. The combination of the musicians was everything. It was perfect; the chemistry, the way everyone came together and also just to be in such a warm home environment, as opposed to being in some kind of sterile studio, was great - everyone just hanging out drinking tea, drinking wine, whiskey, whatever, and practicing and hashing out parts. I couldn't ask for a better environment to create in." The singer continued, "We're probably already about a third of the way through the process of recording my second full-length album. All those songs are done and written. We've got rhythm tracks laid for about half, and guitars and keyboards and stuff. We'll be getting some of the 'magic group' together again and wrapping it up sometime in early February."

Along with her two Machine releases, the musician is also featured on a recently released CD, which benefits survivors of sexual abuse. Entitled The Voices and Faces Project, Vol. 1, Berner's song "A Town Called Happiness" is featured alongside other heavy-hitters such as Neko Case, Joseph Arthur, Motion City Soundtrack and Michelle Shocked, among others. "It was a real honor to be a part of The Voices and Faces Project for a number of reasons. First, to be involved in something that is working very hard to bring awareness to such an important cause as survivors of violence and sexual assault is a real honor. And then the icing on the cake is being included on a compilation with artists like Neko Case and a lot of other great musicians and bands that I admire. That record was in the Virgin Records Recommends [Listening Stations at their stores] and the Amoeba Top 20 over Christmas, and Amoeba is like my favorite record store on the planet. It was great on multiple levels, but those two most importantly. It's also my desire to become involved in more non-profit and awareness projects. It's hard to do at the moment with touring and playing live shows, but my plans on the horizon are to partner up and support organizations like that as much as I can."

While all of the initial attention has been great, Berner seems grounded with realistic goals and approaches to what's expected of her. "For me the meaning of success is actually on two two different levels and I certainly realize that it's going to take everything I've got to achieve it. There's certainly a monetary level, which means making enough to give me the freedom to work on music however I want, and to also continue what I'm already doing on a much grander scale and develop a fan base worldwide. I would love to be able to visit cities all over the world and be embraced as warmly as I am up in Wisconsin and Chicago and the Midwest."

"Not to say that I'd settle there," she continued, "but if in five years I'm continuing to have the opportunity to tour worldwide and get these great warm welcomes and to be able to do it full time, that would be really satisfying and awesome. Now if I could rule the world and kick Bono's ass," she jokingly continued, "that would be even better! I'm definitely going to be shooting for the moon, but if I happen to land on a star on the way up I'll be just as happy."

Watch "Ten Tiny Little Pieces" on NBC's
The Morning Blend

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