The turmoil lurks beneath Melanie Martinez’s surface

By MIKE CHAIKEN
EDITIONS EDITOR
Melanie Martinez’s music is an unexpected mixture of music box melodies, Grade Z movie soundtracks, 1990s alt rock, and jazz chanteuse.
The sound on her first full-length album, “Cry Baby” lulls you into moments of contentment,  followed by the chills.
Her personal sartorial style underscores a performance artist dipping her big toe into the world of MTV and YouTube.
And the words to Martinez’s songs?
Listen carefully and you will wade into a world where turmoil lies in wait beneath a placid surface.
In some ways, Melanie’s music is the aural equivalent of movies such as “American Beauty” or “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” films that enthralled and disturbed as their tales showed what people are truly like beneath their socially acceptable masks.
Take for instance Melanie’s latest single, “Pity Party” (which offers a musical nod to Lesley Gore’s 1960s classic, “It’s My Party”), Melanie sings. “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to/ Cry if I want to (cry, cry, cry)/ I’ll cry until the candles burn down this place/ I’ll cry until my pity party’s in flames.”
And in “Dollhouse,” Melanie sings, “Places, places, get in your places/ Throw on your dress and put on your doll faces/Everyone thinks that we’re perfect/ Please don’t let them look through the curtains.”
“My main inspiration was children’s themes,” said Melanie of the songwriting on the album, which has youthful titles such as “Sippy Cup,” “Tag You’re It,” and “Milk and Cookies.”.
Melanie, who was calling from New York City, explained that before she began writing she drew up a list of titles that offered a childish tilt. From there, she said, she wrote songs that reflected a more adult situation. Those scenarios were sometimes drawn from the experiences of people she knew or from her own life.
Melanie explained her songwriting also is influenced by film director Tim Burton, as well as visual artists Mark Ryden and Nicolleta Ceccoli.
Burton gave the world films like “Edward Scissorhand,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and “Beetlejuice,” which are clearly present in Melanie’s work. Both Ryden and Ceccoli create art work influenced by illustrations in children’s books, and then they take the illustrations into a more adult, macabre direction.
 “I’m really attracted to the dark core of it all,” said Melanie of Ryden and Ceccoli. “It catches my attention… (The images are) so pretty and pastel.”
“I kind of cling to things that are childhood-related,” explained Melanie. Not so much fluffy bunnies, but things that are “deceptive and weird.”
“Cry Baby” is Melanie’s follow up to her successful “The Dollhouse EP,” which featured the single “Carousel.” “Carousel” was included in the trailer for FX Networks’ “American Horror Story: Freak Show.” Melanie, however, first came to national attention as an alum of the Fall 2012 season of NBC’s “The Voice.”
Melanie’s work, as a whole reads more like “artist” rather than simply “musician.” Her lyrics are descriptive… mini novels. Her music videos are mini-movies. And her sense of fashion has a clear mad genius tone to it.
Melanie agrees with the prognosis that she is more “artist” than “musician.”
“I am a musician. I look like a musician. I can play an instrument. But I only play the guitar.” Other people, she noted are adept at several instruments.
“I never introduce myself  as a musician,” said Melanie. “I’m an artist.”
And art is where she feels most at home, said Melanie.
Listening to her album, Melanie’s music is sparse, and a bit eerie. And in the midst of it all, there are unexpected touches of “odd” instrumentation… in particular Melanie’s music features the sound of toy piano.
Asked how toy pianos made their way into her sound, Melanie said she collects vintage toy pianos. Melanie said she isn’t sure why she is drawn to the sound of the toy piano. But she said the sounds of the toys offer so much character.
Unlike some young artists, Melanie has been given the privilege of taking charge of creating her own music videos. These mini-movies offer a surreal languid universe, perfectly befitting her music.
“I’m obsessed with directing music videos,” said Melanie. And when it comes to the images that accompany her music, she said, “I’m very, very particular.”
Unless someone is a mind reader, Melanie said they don’t know what visuals are in her head for her music. “I can get better results (myself) rather than trying to explain it to someone else.”
When Melanie steps on to the stage in Connecticut, she said, “This tour is going to be different than the last three.” She said she will be— within her budget— trying to tell her story live. “I’m trying to step it up…,” said Melanie of her stage show. “Its very exciting that finally can tell my story to people.”
Besides sharing her stories, Melanie also is looking forward to connecting to her fans.
“I’m excited to sing along with the audience,” said Melanie. “I love to hear them sing because it means all your hard work paid off.”
Melanie Martinez performs at the College Street Music Hall on College Street in New Haven on Thursday, Sept. 10 with Handsomest Ghost and Connecticut’s own Sarah Barrios at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20. For more information, go to CollegeStreet MusicHall.com or MelanieMartinezMusic.  com
Comments? Email mchaiken@BristolObserver. com.

Melanie Martinez will be performing at College Street Music Hall on Sept. 10.

Melanie Martinez will be performing at College Street Music Hall on Sept. 10.

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