Canadian Roots N’ Roll: A Chat With Toronto’s Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar About Their New Single ‘Don’t Have To Be’, Upcoming Album, & More

Contrary to what the name might imply, Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar doesn’t herald from the Mississippi Delta region. They don’t hail from the United States at all, in fact. This funk-soul unit operates out of Toronto, Canada, taking inspiration from the likes of Mavis Staples, Otis Redding, and Skip James. The result is a sound Martin proudly dubs “roots & roll”, an impressive blend of gospel, soul, blues, and rock. 

Samantha Martin began her career as an artist back in 2004, releasing an impressive catalog of musical projects before finding her groove with Delta Sugar. Her introduction to performing with a live band happened after losing a karaoke contest. Martin was invited to perform at an open jam, where she recounts the band butchering a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”. Determined not to let the incident define her, she continued performing with musicians, practicing week after week.

Martin released her first solo album in 2008, a country record entitled Back Home. The record featured session musicians, but lacked a consistent band. Martin soon formed a blues band called The Haggard, releasing their first album in 2012. The album consisted of nine songs penned by Martin herself, along with four covers (the band didn’t butcher them this time).

In 2014, the group was asked to perform at the Toronto showcase for Folk Alliance International. There was one catch, however — no drums or bass were allowed. Getting creative, Martin decided to play with a guitar and two back-up singers. The result was magic, and the idea for Delta Sugar was born.

Today, Delta Sugar features Martin, two back-up singers (or “co-singers”, as Martin calls them), an organ, horns, and even a saxophone player. Martin says she would play with a 10 or 15-piece band every performance if she could, maintaining the instrumental authenticity of the very records she’s inspired by. Martin continues to write or co-write each song herself, exploring themes of insecurity, loneliness, and desire. And critics are loving it — the group was nominated for a Juno award and 4 Maple Blues Awards after their 2018 album release. 

Despite the pandemic, the group has continued to work on creating new music. Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar’s new single, “Don’t Have to Be”, was released on September 18th, and it sounds like something out of Motown itself. Swanky horns and a dynamic tempo entice the audience to indulge in Martin’s raspy, raw vocals. The group announced a new album entitled, The Reckless One, scheduled to release on November 22nd. 

We interviewed Samantha to learn more about what to expect from the new album, her experiences during quarantine, and how a Canadian band encapsulates the Delta blues. 

So where did you grow up, and what got you into playing and writing
music?

I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and I grew up north of Toronto in a tiny
town called Lion’s Head, but have called Toronto home for about 14
years now. My dad plays the guitar, and I showed interest in music as a child.
When I was six, my parents enrolled me in piano lessons, but those were short
lived. My dad bought me a guitar when I was seven, and started teaching me all the
songs he knew, which was also short lived. It wasn’t until I was 22 or so that I
started writing my own songs.

And how did Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar come together?

In 2008 I released an Americana-style record called “Back Home” under my own name, then formed an Americana band called “Samantha Martin & The Haggard” and we released a record in Samantha Martin & The Haggard was fairly short lived for a number of reasons. I then decided to rebrand and reinvent myself with “Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar”- I wanted to focus more on my love of retro soul, r&b and early rock n’ roll.

How does the songwriting process work within the band?

I tend to write the material, either solo or co-writing, and then bring the
material to the band and we hash it out. I have co-written a few songs with my
guitarist Curtis Chaffey for our record Run to Me and for The Reckless
One.

So it was your new single, “Don’t Have to Be,” that caught our ear. What’s
the inspiration and influence behind this track?

I wrote this song with Adam Beer-Colacino, and Adam Warner. We went into the writing session with the goal of creating a feel-good danceable song, that was reminiscent of early rock n’ roll and soul tunes like The Rolling Stones or Otis Redding doing “Satisfaction”. The topic matter was influenced by how sometimes when you are arguing with someone, you have to take the time to see the other person’s side in order to find common ground, understanding, and a compromise that works for both people.

And can fans expect to see it on your upcoming record?

Yes. We will be releasing our 12-song LP November 20th , 2020, and “Don’t Have to
Be” will be on the album. It will come out on all major streaming platforms, on
CD, and on vinyl. Although the vinyl turnaround times these days are a little
longer than we hoped – so it may be January 2021 before those are ready.

Where was it recorded and who was involved in its production?

The Reckless One was recorded here in Toronto at a brand-new studio owned by
a dear friend Marcus Gilgan, called Home Studio Parkdale. Don’t let the name
fool you – it is state of the art. Our producers were Renan Yildizdogan, and Darcy
Yates. Ross Hayes Citrullo did both the tracking and the mixing, and we mastered
the album with Pete Lyman down in Nashville, TN.

Do you feel the pandemic has helped or hurt your creative process?

The pandemic forced us to delay the release of the record. Thankfully, the album
was already in the can before the pandemic hit. We were in the mixing/mastering
stage, so we had more time to focus on that process, which was great. Overall
though, the pandemic zapped my motivation for a while, but I am back in full
swing now.

What are one or two pinnacle moments in the band’s career?

I think the 2019 Blues Juno nomination (Canada’s version of the Grammy’s) is
big highlight for our career. It is the highest honour in Canada for an artist. And
our first European Tour in January/February 2019.

What does a dream gig look like for Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar?

Thanks to the pandemic – any gig at all would be a dream come true… but I
would say playing to a stadium full of screaming fans who know all the words.
Who wouldn’t want that?

What makes the Toronto music scene so unique?

Toronto’s music scene has had a lot of hills and valleys over the years. There is a
lot of history here from the Yorkville folk revival of the 60s, to the rock n’ roll
boom of the 60s and 70s on Yonge Street, but unfortunately, I felt that in the last few
decades or so, the city has been losing sight of what made Toronto unique. There
are a lot of venues being turned into condos, fast food chains, and pharmacies.
The pandemic has hit the scene pretty hard, and we have been losing a lot of
smaller and mid-sized venues where younger artists would be able to cut their
teeth. There are still great places hanging on, and starting back up like The
Elmocambo (which recently went a multiple year and $30 million renovation), as
well as mainstays like the legendary Horseshoe Tavern, Lee’s Palace, the Opera
House, Danforth Music Hall.

What are three Toronto establishments you miss most that you hope to
frequent and support again sometime soon?

I miss Monday nights at The Skyline in the Parkdale neighbourhood the most. I
also loved going to see shows at Massey Hall and The Dakota Tavern.

What might fans expect from Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar to close out the
year?

A new record – The Reckless One – and tour announcements, so long as everyone
wears a mask, and we can get back to normal.

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