Born in Poland, raised in Australia, and now a free spirit with no permanent residence other than her trusty vans and guitar, Marta Pacek has left an undeniable imprint on the places she’s stayed and the people she’s met. And conversely, these same places and individuals have allowed her to live the transient lifestyle, where regardless of the destination she will find friends and family. And where it all started was a journey Canada, and that one visit, that one chance would change everything for her. And the results have been stunning. Earlier this year, she released Voodoo Dolls and False Alarms, a stunning 10-track album of alt-country and folk music.
In the midst of a run of shows in May of this year around the Ottawa area, including in Wakefield, Quebec, Perth, and Cornwall, Marta and I had the opportunity to sit down and talk about where it all began, the turning point of her life, and whether her future includes Quentin Tarantino.
Let’s get to know you a little bit about yourself. What drew you to music and did your family have any influence?
My mother was a singer in a rock band before I was born, so I guess there was some vocal talent somewhere, and I think I have to give her credit for that. But my parents didn’t really encourage me to do music at all. In fact, they discouraged me. I remember being 13 and saying to my mom that I wanted to be a singer. She said, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea because what happens if you get sick and you can’t sing anymore? Then what?” The fact that I didn’t have my parents’ approval early on, made it difficult on me. Being the good Polish, Catholic child that I was, I listened to them and just didn’t do it. I instead studied and focused on other aspects of my life. Eventually, I decided to just do music.
When was that?
I was 21. That was when I started thinking that I really want to do this. I started playing guitar at that age, and people thought I was crazy because usually you pick up a guitar when you’re 15. I even had some friends say that I was too old, and I was like, “I’m only 21. I can do anything!” I don’t believe age should restrict you from doing anything.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I think it was called “Wild Thing”. It was a rock song. It was about doing music and rebelling against my parents’ wishes. My parents were really strict. They were tremendously overprotective of us – there are 3 girls in my family. To go against what they wanted was a big deal. At the time, I guess I felt like a real rebel. I wasn’t going to study psychology or do anything really academic because this is what I really want to do even if it doesn’t meet your parents’ standards of success.
Now, I think everything is different, as I’ve been doing this for a few years and I haven’t had to ask them for any money. They know I’m o.k., but initially they were probably thinking they would have to support me until my old age.
You spend several weeks a year now in Canada. What has drawn you to the other side of the world?
Nothing really. When I first came here six years ago, I didn’t know much about Canada. There was no love interest or a really dramatic reason. There was a management company who discovered me through my association with Mark Seymour, who is an iconic Australian songwriter. They bought me to Canada, and at the time I felt like I was running away from things in Australia. I was doing music in Australia while also working at a day job, and I wasn’t really inspired by it. I was kind of feeling stuck.
So when I first came to Canada, I was meeting with industry people, and I kept thinking this was my ticket out of boredom. I stayed for 8 months the first time. I made a lot of friends, and I found myself musically here. I didn’t feel like I had found my sweet in Australia, and I didn’t have a network of musician friends because I was only doing it part-time. When I came to Canada in 2008, I was doing it full-time. I had decided that I wasn’t going to give this half an effort, but I was going to dedicate myself to this.
You told me that when you were 19 and your parents went away, you secretly flew to Europe for 2 weeks. How has this free spirit helped you with your career?
I don’t know. I think it’s just in me. But who knows, maybe in a few years I’ll be in the same place with six kids. Right now, I enjoy touring, playing music, and not being in the same spot all the time. In the last 6 years, I haven’t been in the same city for more than 2, 3 months.
It helps having a great tour van like Troubadouria.
Absolutely! It’s the perfect escape. Buying that van was a pivotal point for me. I had been living away from Australia for six years, and I was never anywhere permanently. You know, when you rent or lease an apartment, you furnish it. Well for me, I never had anything like that. I never did settle down. So buying the van was my version of settling down. I furnished that van.
You probably don’t know this about me, but I love decorating, and I have an interior design background. I love furnishings, fabrics, etc. It is really creative. I knew right away how I wanted to decorate it. I had a lot of fun doing it. And that is my home – my North American home. I also have a van in Australia and an actual home there so I’m not exactly living like a gypsy, but I do love being on the road.
What new challenges await you?
More music. More albums. More crazy producers – crazy as in crazy good. More tours. I would really like to get my music in a Quentin Tarantino film or on a modern-day Western show like “Justified”. I love film and I love music, so it’s a natural progression for me to want to hear my music on film or TV.
“WORD” – A game of word association, where I provide a word or phrase, and, Marta, you can reply in any manner you wish.
I think of home.
2. New Zealand
Sauvignon blanc. (laughter) I really couldn’t think of anything else because I’ve never been to New Zealand. I do know that I will get a great Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region there.
Poverty, from what I can recall as a child. But it is also family and beauty.
Interesting. When was the last time you visited Poland?
Back in 2010. I went to visit my grandmother. I was right at the end of an Italian tour, and my mother happened to be in Poland at the time. I was in Italy, and I thought, “This is crazy. I should just hop on a 3-4 hour flight and come see you.” I had not seen my grandmother in years, so that’s what I did. Instead of coming back to Canada, I went to Poland. I made a couple of phone calls to the airlines and changed it. I was only there for a week, but it was a really nice visit and I’m glad I did it.
4. Voodoo Dolls
5. False Alarms
Worry for nothing.
I should say “profit margins” (laughter). They’re the number one selling merchandise that we sell at shows. People just love them. All you have to do is give one person a harmonica at the show and everybody suddenly wants to know, “Where did you get that?” They fly out the door at each show. People love them. It’s the best thing I ever did instead of t-shirts, those little harmonicas.
8. Martha Wainwright
9. Neil Murchison (manager, collaborator, friend)
Annoying (laughter). I’m just kidding. Troublemaker. He’s a troublemaker.
10. Frank Koren (guitarist)
Solid. He’s kind of like your rock. He really is. He’s my right-hand man.
Awesome! Canada is my escape. It is like a fantasy land for me because it’s not Australia. Everyone speaks different. You might not think it, but you have Canadian accents. In Canada, I feel like I’m treated special because I have a different accent and I’m from somewhere else that is warm, almost exotic for people since it’s so far away. I don’t know, Canada is just a good place. It is where I found myself musically. I always see it as my escape – I escaped out of Australia to find myself. I guess the word would be “escape”.
Brooklyn is passion. It is so intense. Sure there is shallowness and trends, but Brooklyn is just about passion. People are just so passionate about what they are doing, whether they’re wearing blue nail polish or making a prototype for a new reality, or whatever it is. It is young, vibrant, and passionate.
13. “Thar She Blows”
For me, it means she appears.
17. Fleetwood Mac
I have mixed feelings about Fleetwood Mac because their music is so good. But because I know a bit about the history and what the band had to endure… (hesitation) I admire them. I admire them, let’s just put it that way.
18. Stormy Days
Never comes! There you go!
Over the course of the 10 days that Marta was here in Ottawa earlier this year, my wife and I had the chance to spend quite a bit of time with her. In that time, we formed a bond to the point that she’ll be playing at our first house concert on Sunday.
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