During a cold but sunny morning of the Berlin winter, Martin Marion, actor, musician and composer, delighted us with his voice and his guitar. He combines his skills as a theater and film actor with his ability to compose in order to reflect small but transformative facts of life. In the middle of the pandemic, in a lonely library, among the book shelves, he reminded us that despite how difficult the situation may be, we can see life with joy.
We invite you to experience our first Shelves Gigs and read the interview we had with Martin.
Interview by Alvaro Martinez
Photos by Luiza Folegatti
Tell us about yourself
I was born in Slovenia, I am Slovenian and I’m living right now in Berlin, Germany, which makes me, actually, a double immigrant. Double, because, when I was 23, I moved from Slovenia to America, to Los Angeles, to study acting. I graduated in acting, so by education I’m an actor, not a musician. My final education is an MFA at the National Theater Conservatory in Denver. And from there I moved to Germany. Second time immigrant. I lived in the US for 14 years and now I live already 14 years in Berlin.
So you are mainly an actor?
Yes. I play the guitar occasionally, I studied some guitar in Slovenia, about 8 years of classical guitar.
And, how long have you been composing music?
I would not call it composing because mostly it’s just playing, you know, I’m like a singer-songwriter, it’s a few chords and a melody, and to me, usually, what is more important are the lyrics rather than the music. My music is usually very simple. And I started with Slovenian children songs, I published a CD and an illustrated book of Slovenian children’s songs, and that was the biggest music project that I had. You can find it also in Spotify, Deezer, Apple music everywhere. It is called “Zmajek Drago in ljubljena Ljubljana”, and it is a collection of songs about a little dragon flying around in my hometown Ljubljana. And the first of these children’s songs I wrote about 30 years ago.
What are your sources of inspiration when you compose and how is your process when you compose music?
It is hard to say, because every song comes from a different place. My biggest source of inspiration would probably be an audience. I feel like I always write for an audience, and if I don’t have one, which mostly I don’t while writing a new song, I imagine one. The songs come in different ways, usually it starts with a lyric, and the process is usually based on words, more than music. Even though it comes from both ways, sometimes it’s the melody first, but mostly it’s a short text that turns into a melody. Then I have to finish the lyrics based on that melody. That’s mostly how it happens, I would say.
Tell us about the three songs that you sang for our gig at the library.
I wrote them all in Berlin, after I moved here from America. Somehow I had this period of a few years when it was important for me to write some songs, so I wrote more than I did before or after.
The first two are inspired by little plays on words: “bald” in English and the German “bald” are spelled the same but mean different things, and this mistake that Germans make when asking to borrow something: “Can you borrow me?” seemed worthy of starting another song. When I moved to Germany, I spoke English and I was learning German, so these were the themes that came up during that time.
“A Loan”, the song about the wrong borrowing question, all by itself turned into a love song, without me realizing it, I just followed the rhyme, words and melody.
“Bald from behind” was just about the fact that I’m going bald from behind, I thought that it would be nice to sing about that, and as I lived in Germany already I found this similarity in the sound of “bald” in English and “bald” in German which seemed interesting to me. It became a very short song, more a joke than a song.
“Goodbye” is a song that, every time I perform, I end with, because it’s a goodbye, as to say: “Hey, that’s the end! Good bye! And by the way, we are all dying anyway.” It then became the ending of two projects that I had. One is the Anyway Cabaret, it’s a theater play that I wrote and we already performed once in Chicago, and it ends with the “Goodbye” song. Another project is called “Goodbye” itself. It’s a collection of songs and little stories about dying that also end with this very song. So I wrote it separately but it a became part of other projects.