Singer, songwriter, DJ, actress, comedian, playwright, variety show hostess, scene queen… Amber Martin has one of the most colorful and coveted resumes on the planet. She’s recorded with the Scissor Sisters and collaborated with everyone from Karen Black to Joan Rivers to Justin Vivian Bond to Joyce DeWitt. She hosts a buzzworthy weekly variety show at a gorgeous venue in Chelsea, and she deejays the Mattachine party at Julius’ every month with John Cameron Mitchell! Thotyssey is grateful that this busy Renaissance chick found the time to catch up with us.
Thotyssey: Hi Amber, thanks so much for talking to us! How’s it going today?
Amber Martin: Fantastic! I’m working on my taxes! Fun stuff!
Sounds like it! I know you just came back from the Diana Ross concert in Staten Island, how was it?
Legend. Beautiful ornate old theater. She sounded great. Looked beautiful. Three costume changes!
That’s our Diana. So, let’s get into it. You are totally the life of the party now whenever you’re deejaying, very positive and welcoming and energetic. Is that Amber 100% of the time, or do you have to turn that on professionally?
Strangely, I am always jacked up on love. I rarely if ever get depressed… Is there something wrong with me? [laughs] No, I just love having fun and being social. Making people smile is my life food. Just don’t piss me off… that isn’t very pretty. I come from a funny family. We always hugged and laughed and played music when we got together. Still do actually. It’s just in my DNA, I guess.
So, I see you’re from Nederland, Texas. What was growing up there like?
It was the seventies and eighties. As a kid, [I would go with my family] out to the country where my grandparents lived in the woods. Super Super Backwoods, with creeks and dirt roads. I got to play outside with my cousins for hours. Those days were magical. Music was all around me. My family on my mom’s side are all musicians. So there was always live bluegrass playing somewhere.
The music on the radio was great too, of course: late 70s soft-rock, classic rock, classic country. TV was rad too. Soul Train, Saturday Night Live with the Not-Ready-For-Primetime players, Carol Burnett, Maude!
I was an only child. Big imagination! I would build these ornate Barbie doll houses that took up the whole living room. I had Big Dreams [laughs].
I could go on and on and on about specifics of growing up in Nederland in the seventies and eighties. The eighties were great for me because of clubbing. It was The Smith’s, Yaz, the Human League, The Cure, Book of Love! So much fun, dancing at the clubs as a teenager. Everything I just described had a huge impact on who I am today. There was always love, lots of love! Oh, and I was a pageant queen! [laughs]
Nederland Jr Miss, Miss Nederland, Miss Dance Drill Team USA and International. Mom put me onstage at a very young age. I’ve loved it ever since.
Where was the next stop after Texas?
Portland, Oregon. I was also a flight attendant when I first moved [there] for three years I had a performance group named House of Cunt (three chicks and two boys). We ruled the early Portland streets, and then got support from a proper theater.
You were makes Amber Waves all over the place! So when did you come to New York? Did you immediately embrace the nightlife?
After eleven years and finding my signature performance style, I came to NYC in 2006. My immediate gig was a monthly party and performance, B-List, at Nowhere Bar. Then I did a run of my multi-media musical comedy show, Wigshop, at Rapture Cafe (owned by Hattie Hathaway and Joe Birdsong). I hit the ground running.
What was Wigshop, exactly?
I played multiple characters. Plot: The story of a wig shop and it’s manager, Cath. Cath is me, on video screen. I also play each of the live “customers” that come into the wig shop to get their transformation. Essentially, I am interacting with myself on video. It’s really funny. Each customer that comes in gets a wig that Cath chooses, to make them a “better” person. As soon as they put the wig on, they become a new person and always sing a song. The music is the key ingredient. Then the customer leaves, and the next customer comes in.
The best part is about halfway through the show, when Cath has to close for the night. It’s what happens inside the wig shop after the doors are locked and the windows are shuttered for the night. That’s where the real magic happens!
Yes, that [show is] how I met a lot of the movers and shakers. I’m going to re-Stage it this summer, possibly fall…. with alternating special guests.
Sounds amazing! And John Cameron Mitchell saw you in it during that run?
You and John, and other DJs including Angela DiCarlo, have been hosting the Mattachine party at Julius’ Bar in the West Village every third Thursday since 2008. You play popular and obscure vinyl records of many genres from the 60s, 70s and 80s. It’s a pretty damn cool party that packs the house with a very diverse crowd. Is it a lot of fun to deejay there?
Gosh. It’s fun to DJ anywhere. We’ve since traveled the party ALL OVER the country: Pittsburgh, Houston, NOLA, SF, LA, Portland, Toronto, etc.
Julius’ is timeless. It was just landmarked with LGBT historical status. Eight years ago, we’d have never thought it was gonna grow and pick up so much momentum. When we first began, it was PJ DeBoy, Paul Dawson (who crafts all the posters) John and myself. Ang joined us after two years. We’re one big happy family now. PJ and Paul (who starred in Shortbus) now live in Florida. They always join us on tour.
Julius’ was in big trouble [with the possibility] of closing down eight years ago. John and PJ decided we needed to lend a helping hand by starting a vintage vinyl party that would be inviting to the older gents and the younger, to integrate them, to give them a place to mingle and a soundtrack that would appeal to all generations. Mostly, our goal was to keep Julius’ Bar alive!
And now, with a lot of thanks to Mattachine, it’s thriving! Back to you: you have maybe the most colorful resume that’s ever existed. You’ve opened for, or collaborated with: Joan Rivers, Sandra Bernhard, Justin Vivian Bond, Kylie Minogue, Scissor Sisters, Donald Trump and Puppetry of the Penis! You must have the strangest and most wonderful Rolodex ever.
I guess you’re right. I’ve been so fortunate to have a circle of magical powerhouse friends around me. You forgot Karen Black and Joyce DeWitt! [Laughs] Two of my favorite loves.
Living in NYC has been been a joy. I’ve met some of the greatest, most influential people of my life, here. It’s a real learning experience. I saw Heather Litteer’s brilliant one woman show, Lemonade, at La Mama last night. I mean, it was completely beyond my expectations, and I expected it to be great. The audience was creme de la creme. It was a giant lovefest of downtown legends. I felt like I was at a sold-out family reunion. A beautiful thing indeed. Only in NYC.
You recorded vocals for a Scissor Sisters song. What was that experience like? Were you in the studio with them?
I was in Jake [Shears]’s and Baby Daddy’s studio. We laid the tracks in roughly one hour. He just said, “Go off, Amby,“ and I Chaka Kahned it. “Inevitable” was born. I’ve worked with Jake a lot. We love to sing together. He’s hilarious and loving and kind.
I hear that you’re back in the recording studio now.
I’m currently recording all original songs for my first ever produced full length record album! Brett Every (who wrote most of the songs for me) and I are hard at work! Stay tuned!
Now I wanna talk about the Amber Zone, which is a weekly variety show you host at Sid Gold’s Request Room in Chelsea every Monday. It’s a variety show with an emphasis on variety: bands, performance artists, screenings… looks like a lot of fun. How did this get started?
Right before Sid Gold’s opened, my friend Steven Hammel called me up and told me I should get in on the ground floor. He said this was going to be a really cool new spot with a piano bar in back. I had pretty much sworn off any new bartending jobs, but I went and met Paul Devitt, who immediately hired me. I decided I wanted to work on Mondays since there was no chody bridge-and-tunnel crowd, and I don’t generally love that kind of bartending.
Paul and I decided that I should utilize my circle of downtown personalities and the beautiful space in the back of Sid Golds to cultivate a Monday night series. That’s exactly what I did. I started to utilize my circle of extremely talented downtown friends. The key word is friends. I only book my friends. But the fact is, so many of my friends are huge downtown and International performance personalities. It totally works!
Each Monday has been a completely unique, badass show for almost a year. I have had performances ranging from San Francisco-based burlesque star Fauxnique to strange, beautiful Kraftwerk-like homemade musical instruments, to stand-up comedy, to belting solo vocal shows, to audio-visual multimedia performance art. This Monday I have my friends, Jed and Julia from the famous Losers Lounge. I’m going to guest in their show, too.
I even take some Mondays for myself, on occasion. April 25th, for example, I’m doing a full on rocking Journey show with pianist Paul Leschen. THAT, I can’t even wait for! Gonna be awesome. We’re tearing up my favorite Journey jams of all time, just me and the piano! My night has become the finest thing to do on a Monday if you’re a local, or simply like being around old school NYC hooligans. The vibe is purely magic.
And i see you are bartending WHILE you are hosting all of this. That’s a really unique setup! You have other gigs too, like AM Gold, a Sunday brunch party you spin at C”Mon Everybody in Brooklyn. How’s that going?
It’s brunch, so we’re still trying to build it. It’s so fun. I get to spin my late 70s soft rock and obscure vinyl oddities that I usually can’t play at my night time parties. I adore Mike, Eric and Sam, who own it. They are there at the bar every time, because they love the music too. K-TEL FOREVER!
And you return to Nowhere Bar in the East Village on Friday the 29th for Witch Camp. What’s that about?
Nath Ann Carrera and I get to DJ (and perform) together as Isis Black and her life partner, Isis Black. They are the co-founders of the 30 year-old seasonal sleepaway camp for witch teens. We play music that inspires our live play by the same name. This includes 60s psychedelic satanic rock and folk, deep cut gay bathhouse disco and funk, and an occasional metal gem.
We do it there about every 2 months. It’s so fun. All the cult freaks come out. Stay tuned for the next live, FULL LENGTH performance of Witch Camp at The Wild Project. TBA!
And on May 13th, you’re a featured performer at Night of a Thousand Stevies at Irving Plaza. You’ve performed there several times before. What’s that crowd like? Have they evolved into something beyond mere Stevie Nicks fans? And are you a ride or die Stevie fan?
Stevie is huge in my life. NOTS is my favorite night of the year! Children were born and now attend the event since it began. Chi Chi and Johnny, who founded Mother and Jackie 60, still got the magic touch. NOTS sells out consistently, every year. I’m honored to be back for my seventh year. Eight, if you count my very first as back up singer to Justin Vivian Bond, who sang “Nightbird.” It’s a truly epic event.
Can you spoil what you’re gonna sing this year?
All I’m obliged to say is that the words “gold” and “dust” are involved.
Got it! Last question: What do the kiddies need to know about music that they clearly don’t know now (speaking broadly of course)?
They, the younger generation, are being fed a formula that makes a lot of money for rich, fat, white men who belong to tennis clubs and don’t even listen to music. No originality on radio, just robots and models. Same artists, everywhere, all the time. Same faces winning awards.
There are great new artists out there; you just have to search harder to find them. Graveyard, for example.. love them.
Vintage vinyl for your education. Read the liner notes… Read the thank you sections for secret messages. Study the art work on the covers and inside as well (sometimes there’s a bonus poster!). Watch docs on YouTube for artists like Waylon, Patsy, Dolly, Stevie, Devo, B-52s, Kraftwerk, Dionne Warwick, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Lemmy, The Runaways, The Shangri-Las, Bette Midler, Bobbie Gentry, Laura Nyro, Atlantic Records, Find docs on the history of MTV, Blugrass, Punk and the Blues. Sandy Denny, Dusty Springfield… the list goes on and on. It’s about self-education. That’s what it takes today, kids. Effort.
And it’s free… Cause you won’t get it on the radio or at the Grammys or any other award ceremony… Period.
Thank you, Amber!
Amber Martin hosts the Amber Zone variety show at Sid Gold’s Request Room (Chelsea) every Monday night at 7pm, and on April 25th she’ll be the featured performer there, covering Journey songs. She DJs the Mattachine party at Julius’ Bar every third Thursday (this month, April 21st), and the brunch party AM Gold on Sundays starting at noon at C’Mon Everybody in Brooklyn. She and Nath Ann Carrera spin Witch Camp at Nowhere Bar (East Village) on April 29th, Friday, at 10pm, and she will perform at Irving Plaza for Night of a Thousand Stevies on May 13th. Amber Martin and the Amber Zone can be followed on Facebook, and on Amber’s website.