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Vicci Martinez premiers new material with a different beat

Sound evolution

Team Vicci: From left, Aaron Stevens, Paul Hirschl, Vicci Martinez and DJ Phinisey. Photo credit: Scott Haydon

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It's easy to take some of the Puget Sound's brightest stars for granted. Tacoma has a way of enveloping its populace like a glorious afghan, soothing and nurturing the talent within. Whenever one of our finer artists flies the coop to Portland or Brooklyn or Los Angeles, it always comes as a bit of a shock - a sharply drawn breath that leaves a pain in your chest. We always move forward, true (some times slower than others, granted), but it's easy to leave a hole in one's absence.

No one really talked about it while it was happening, but I think we can all retrospectively agree that there was a bit of tension in the air when our own Vicci Martinez found herself in California on a reality singing competition, showing her worth to the rest of the country. Yes, this tension was accompanied by a million well wishes and the hope for Martinez to go as far as she could on The Voice - and she did quite well, as it happens - but the worry that she would disappear to the clutches of national stardom was there. It was easy to take her for granted.

And yet, in the years that followed, despite having a tenure as a signee to a Universal Records affiliate, grabbing a modest hit with her Cee Lo Green collaboration, "Come Along," and generally gaining a huge swath of new fans, she would eventually return to Tacoma and to her more independent roots. Teaming up with local hip-hop producer DJ Phinisey and Goldfinch members Aaron Stevens and Paul Hirschl, Martinez once again entered the studio to produce a record that's wildly different from the singer-songwriter work she's done before.

"Aaron Stevens and I got together and decided we wanted to do a little artistic project with my beats and his lyrics," says DJ Phinisey. "Aaron came up to me and said that he had written this song for Vicci, and he wanted me to do the music. Vicci came through, did her thing, I put the whole thing together, and then she heard it and loved it. It kind of went from that to her going, ‘Will you guys make some more tracks for me?' From there, it turned into what it is today."

What it is today is a collection of around 30 songs written and recorded over the course of a year on the eastside of Tacoma. In a departure from Martinez's earthy earlier works that balanced blues muscle and singer-songwriter lightness, this new batch of songs has the polish and sheen of Top 40 pop, taking its cue from the current glut of EDM-influenced music and hip-hop beats. Imagine a more danceable version of Wild Beasts' skeletal R&B with elements of touchstones like Madonna and Ace of Base. Rather than take the stage as the consummate frontwoman we've come to expect from Martinez, this is a true collaboration.

"It's been a really exciting exploration for all of us," says DJ Phinisey. "We definitely knew that I was going to bring some hip-hop undertone, because that's what I do, but it's just been really fun to take Vicci to a new level from what she's previously done, as far as the soundscape. We never had a thing where we said we were gonna make some Top 40 pop. It's just been how we've been feeling."

An EP and a full-length are both coming down the pike, but most people will get to hear the new material April 18th, when Vicci Martinez, DJ Phinisey and Paul Hirschl take to the Rialto Theater stage to premier these songs live.

VICCI MARTINEZ, w/DJ Phinisey and Paul Hirschl, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 18, Rialto Theater, 301 N. Ninth St., Tacoma, tickets $19-$69, 253.591.5890

Vicci Martinez's I Am Now is now on sale.

>>> Vicci Martinez's Rialto Theater show benefits Centerforce Tacoma. Photo credit: Scott Haydon

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