Of the back of their Bushstock festival performance I sat down with Abi Woodman and Humphrey Luck from MarthaGunn in the Snug Bar at Defectors Weld for a chat.
We sat right by the window, overlooking the Shepherd’s Bush green, each a bottle of water in hand as it has gotten warmer outside.
The band had just delivered a rocking festival set at the Courtyard stage and after catching their breath, I was ready to throw my questions at them.
Hi Abi, Hi Humphrey, you’ve just been on stage here at the lovely Bushstock festival and have put on a great performance, how do you feel?
Abi: I think Humphrey and I had a really good gig!
Humphrey: I think we all had a good gig! We really enjoyed it. There is some sort of magic to these kind of gigs. The gigs where you get thrown into it and don’t really have time to think about anything before. There is less time to care. I always feel more present when thrown into something.
Abi: Yeah, when you are playing a normal show, you load in, have a couple of hours, then soundcheck … there is a lot of time for you to wonder what is about to happen and to get nervous, whereas when you go straight on stage you can’t really think about anything, you’ve got one chance to enjoy it.
As Bushstock festival is organised by Communion, your record label, does this feel like a special ‘homecoming’ sort of festival set?
Abi: The reason we got signed to Communion was in this room. We played at a Bushtsock Warm Up Party, and Jamie Emsel (Communion Music MD) was here as well, and before we played, Matthew & The Atlas were on stage. Emma in the band wanted to do something where she wanted to tap dance, but her shoes weren’t making the right sound on the floor, so she asked around ‘ Does anyone have a size 6 shoe with a good heel?’
And I was like ‘Yeah me! I do’, so she borrowed my shoes and then later on we played. Jamie must have really liked it and I think that was the moment for him that he really wanted to sign us. So this room and Bushstock festival have a lot of meaning to us, we really love it!
Do you have any rituals or things you do before hitting the stage?
Abi: We do have a warm up chant, that we do before we go on stage every time.
Humphrey: Max and I, whenever we have the space to do it, we like to go outside before we play and just jump around and kick our limps around like crazy to loosen up.
Abi: Stretching is important! Never underestimate a good stretch! We are only getting older, so at some point someone will go like ‘Oh fuckkkk….’. It is probably gonna be Frankie with his back, Humphrey with his knee and I’ll probably just collapse and it will all be over.
You’ve all met at Uni and have been together as a band since 2015, tell me more of the beginnings of MarthaGunn!
Humphrey: We actually met before uni! We all moved to Brighton for uni, me Abi and Max had just met before.
Abi: Max was living with a friend of mine and I knew he was a guitarist, so I asked my friend ‘Is he any good?’ and she was like ‘I think so’. I knew he was gonna be good, I saw him on a night out and I looked at him and I instantly knew that we were gonna play together. You know when you just look at someone and ‘know’. It was a bit weird and I didn’t tell him that until two years later, when he was my friend, cause otherwise he would have probably never spoken to me! Frankie joined a little bit later and once he joined, things really started to take shape.
Humphrey: It was our last gig with the drummer before him, at really early stages. We played that show and in the support band, Frankie was playing drums and we all thought to ourselves, ‘It would be really good if we could get a drummer like him!’. It then turned out that Max already knew him.
Abi: I think Max went up to him and asked, ‘I don’t think you’d be interested in playing with us?’ and Frankie was like ‘Yeah, actually I would like to’. It was good timing, as Frankie’s old band was breaking up. We met the next day for a drink and my two questions for him were:
Can you sing? Which was a big ‘Yes’, from his side.
Do you like dogs? I don’t think it was a massive ‘Yes’, he is more of a cat person, but you have to be an animal lover to play with us. That was it – he was in!
And here we are years later, did you ever think that you would have come so far?
Abi: One hundred percent! That might sound really weird but, I don’t think you’d get to any point if you didn’t have the foresight or believe that you could get there. You know sometimes, you get a weird feeling about something and you know it is going to happen, you don’t know where it is gonna go but something felt right.
Humphrey: We all have a lot of self-believe. We all believe in what we are doing.
Abi: And we believe in each other!
You are called MarthaGunn and are from Brighton, exactly like THE Martha Gunn from Brighton, how did you decide on your band name? Was it just a given or is there more to it?
Humphrey: Yes! Martha Gunn is a folklore heroine, she is called the Priestesses of the Bath, she used to operate bathing machines in Brighton in the eighteen hundred and Abi is an ancestor of hers. Naturally, her dad suggested we called us that.
Abi: We said no at first as we were quite nervous that people would think I was Martha Gunn, but we are a band. For a couple of months, we were unsure about it, we declared us as a different name at a gig, but it was terrible.
And then one night we were playing a gig and we knew we really needed a band name, Max and I sat down, and one of us said ‘ I like Martha Gunn’ and the other one was like ‘Yeah me too! so now we just need to convince everyone else!’
I think Humphrey was the last to agree to it…
Humphrey: Yeah, I was a hard sell! I didn’t not like it, there is no reason. Now I quite like it in a way, that the five of us can make up who Martha Gunn is, like create a new persona for her.
Abi: They say, ‘ You live as long as the last memory of you.’ I’d like to think that Martha Gunn is still alive through us.
In every friends group there is like the mum of the group, the planner, the one who is always late etc. What would you say are your roles in the band?
Abi: Max is the most likely to be late, but he has been good lately.
Humphrey: (to Abi) You are definitely the planner!
Abi: Frankie is the go-to party guy! Always high-energy, you never see him sad and always ready to make you laugh.
Humphrey: I think I’m just pretty relaxed.
Abi: I think you are the go to man to see a different side of things and you are quite wise. And Ally, he is definitely devil’s advocate in the band, which is a good thing. Cause sometimes you have all these crazy dreams, but then you need someone to say, ‘But what about this?’.
Humphrey: He also has the best general knowledge and he has the best click you have ever heard!
Tell me about your new track ‘Love + Emotion’, on social media you stated that the track kind of came to you, would you like to tell me more about how the track came to life?
Abi: Sometimes I don’t think you are ready to listen to your intuition. My body was like ‘please listen to me’. One night, Ally and I went to a rehearsal studio, we just wanted to jam, without any expectation.
We knew we wanted to write something, but we didn’t want to force it. He then started to play these chords, and I was like ‘Oh my god, Ally keep doing that!’ and it all came out. All the verses flew out and I could hear where the chorus would go, so we just played around until we had the verses and the chorus ready.
We always go to a place in Wales to write, so we finished the song together by adding a bridge to it.
The song is basically about your intuition telling you about something that isn’t right, your subconscious telling you something before you are ready to really hear it.
I wrote that song and a year and a bit later, I finally paid attention to what it was telling me.
I knew, but I just didn’t want to listen. Sometimes when you write music, it comes out so quickly you don’t even know what you are saying. The story is there, all the words have been formed for you, and they are coming out in perfect sense within sentences, which is quite a powerful and strange thing.
My subconscious definitely took over with ‘Love + Emotion’ and said ‘You need to listen to this!’
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block or does the song writing happens naturally? How do you overcome the writer’s block?
Abi: That question, actually ties in nicely with our song ‘Saint Cecilia’.
With ‘Saint Cecilia’, I was going through a period of ignoring the guidance given from ‘Love + Emotion’. I was in this moment, I felt like I had a lot of things to write about, but I didn’t know where to focus my attention.
My mum is a very spiritual person and she did a card for me, which was Saint Cecilia, the music card. And I was like ‘Mum, do you mind if I keep this and I’ll put this card on mirror, which is above my piano, and I will keep it there until I’ve gone through this phase.’
‘Saint Cecilia’ came in loads of different bits. I had these chords, powerful to me, but I didn’t really have anything to go with it. This bass line, again really powerful, but didn’t really do anything with it. On the way to Humphrey and Max’s old flat I had the verse melody as the words were coming to my head.
Again, put it to one side. The pre-chorus Ally and I had written in Wales, but again, put to side. And then at some point Ally said to me ‘Abs, do you realise that all those songs could fit together really well? All those bits.’
I thought, ‘Yeah, they might’. So I started putting them all together. The chords with the bassline, the melody and then it started to grow from there.
That all came out of not following the guidance from what Love + Emotion was giving me and then to finally figuring out what I needed to do. Almost like asking Saint Cecilia, who is the saint patron of music, to help me out. A cry for help towards her.
And last but not least, if you had the chance to do a split EP with an artist/ band of your choice, who would you like to work with?
Humphrey: Daft Punk. It’d be so random, but I love them. The way they think about music is incredibly inspiring to me.
Anything to get closer to them would be incredible.
Abi: The Bee Gees. All three of them!
It was lovely chatting to you both. Thanks for your time you two!
Abi, Humphrey and I could have talked for hours and hours if it wasn’t for all of our schedules keeping us busy for the rest of the day.
If you want to know what else was going on at this year’s Bushtock festival check out the full review here!