The screen door of the green farmhouse on Carrington Road in Port Howe is open, letting bright March sunshine splash onto the floor inside. As I raise my hand to knock, I don’t hear the sound of drums or a guitar; I hear unmelodious clattering.
“Come in,” Christina Martin says with a smile. “I’m making coffee. Would you like some?”
Christina opens the doors of her china cabinet.
“Choose your cup and saucer,” she commands. “These belonged to my grandmother.”
The dining room window reveals a sweeping vista across fields and woods to the Northumberland Strait. Sitting down at her narrow antique table with two cups of fine-bone china between us, Christina laughs when I tell her, “People want to know who’s living in the green house?”
“That’s a great title!” she exclaims.
Perhaps she’ll be inspired to write a song for a future album. Which answers part of the question: Christina, 32, is an award-winning singer/songwriter (her second album, Two Hearts, won an East Coast Music Award for Best Pop Recording in 2009) who grew up in New Brunswick. The other ‘who’ in the green house is Dale Murray, 37, a singer/songwriter in his own right but also Christina’s husband and music producer. Dale’s grandmother had a cottage at Northport.
“Dale and I had been seeing each other, I’d been living in Halifax for about seven years, and we wanted to move outside the city, to the country,” she explains. “We didn’t know where, but we play a lot of rural areas. I’ve always loved playing in rural, small, intimate, lovely areas. I’m drawn to those areas.”
Dale’s mother found them a place to rent near Wallace but it soon became clear that if they wanted to bring their plan of working in the country to fruition, they needed room for a studio.
“Someone was talking about this old farmhouse and I said, ‘Can we just go see it?’ There were a few big selling points,” Christina says of the large three-bedroom house they moved into in January 2011. “It was in great shape and it was perfect for what we needed and what we wanted. This whole place just screamed ‘We can work, create and be at peace here’ and I need that. I never dreamed we’d be here this soon in our lives,” she says as she fills her grandmother’s cups with a second serving of coffee. “As a musican, you have in your mind the idea that you’re never going to own a house. I think that’s one of the biggest things to overcome, the mental patterns that we develop, convincing ourselves we can’t do this or that.”
Spoken like a would-be psychologist. Although she’d dabbled in singing and song writing since she was a child, Christina earned a degree in psychology and business. She quickly realized music was her true calling but as a songwriter who mines her own life for inspiration and manages her own career, don’t think that education is wasted.
“I’m lucky I have certain business skills and conscientiousness for that kind of stuff. I’m organized and I love planning. But there are things that I don’t do because I have to focus on writing. I could do business 100 percent of the time but what kind of art would I be producing?”
Through the window, I see a garden plot lying in winter disarray. “Are you handy?”
“We’re learning to be handier,” she answers. “I like to do things and if I had more time and money, I would be handier. I don’t think Dale would be offended if I said he is not handy.”
Behind us, from what was likely the original dining room but is now Dale’s studio, we hear an emphatic “No.”
This musical duo is quite happy to hire local help as they need it. Being self-sufficient is not their goal; nor is the remoteness of their home and studio an issue.
“We knew we wanted to live outside the city and it wasn’t a false desire,” says Christina. “We settled right in. When we go out and tour - for about a year and a half after a new album, you’re out on the road quite a bit - my social time is that. That’s when I meet people. But I really value my time alone. I need that to be creative and to organize and do my work.”
Although she’s lived in big places like Halifax, Austin, Texas (where she recorded her first album), and Germany most of her adult life, Christina isn’t lamenting the loss of the advantages that come with living in the city.
“There are more performance and promotion opportunities in a city but not necessarily a financial benefit. We were lucky that we were at a point in our musical careers where we could come out here and still afford to buy a house. Even though we have to drive two hours to Halifax or Moncton or wherever the gig is, it’s still more affordable for us to be living and working here.”
They wasted no time making the most of their new way of life. Christina’s last album, an acoustic compilation called A House Concert, was recorded and produced by Dale in the green house, with a live audience, seven months after they moved in.
“Our whole focus in this green house is music,” says Christina, already co-opting my description. “I think it’s even more of a motivation to keep going in what we’re doing so that we don’t ever have to live somewhere because we have to.”
Considering that just yesterday, Dale released his first new album in seven years and Christina’s next album will be released this summer, it appears Grandma’s china will be used quite a bit.
“We’re very lucky,” says the co-owner of the green house on Carrington Road. “I hope it continues that we can live where we want to live and work where we want to live.”