Interview: Camellia Hartman

Winter, you truly are all over the place this season. With the pleasantly warm weekend in full swing, New York City is a bustle of happy activity. To add onto that optimism is a new tune for urban listeners to become familiar with as they dance in the streets. With March and the welcoming of spring just around the corner, there is nothing better. A talented musician by the name of Camellia Hartman, featuring The Soulful Saints and Billy The Kid, has released a solid single, Breathin’ Hard (Over You), which is just what the doctor ordered. Not only is the tune soulful with power, the woman herself is well on her way to becoming a staple in the music scene. To get into the mind of this amazing voice talent, Camellia gave listeners a glimpse into her world.

For Miss Hartman, instrumentation came before her vocals. “​It’s funny, I’ve always thought of myself as a violinist above all else in terms of music, but over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed lending my voice to many different projects in all pockets of my community. Billy and I have been friends for years and in that time we’ve helped each other workshop a few ideas. This new song ​is an exciting turn in our partnership. Billy has really mastered the craft of analog recording, and I overcame some vocal issues I was battling. The timing was just right. It started organically as a casual, friendly collaboration but ended up planting the seed for many more projects to come.” Listeners will be overjoyed with the new material that will eventually take over the airwaves in the future.

Camellia, being a true musician of the craft, has explored many aspects of the music world. It is hard to place a particular project that is her favorite to date. “​… I’m lucky to have worked with so many talented people over the years. The first thing that comes to mind is a folk-rock band I played with when I was in high school, called Diamond Doves. My sister and I sang harmonies, played violin, and I even played some trombone. I loved the music and I had the chance to incorporate several of my musical skills… The guys in the band were very well connected, so I had the chance to play venues like Mercury Lounge, Brooklyn Bowl, Bowery Ballroom and Zebulon when I was 16 years old. [I] definitely peaked early… There have been countless other ‘favorites.’ I think every project I’ve ever worked on is my favorite! All of my work with Dala Records has been wonderful, especially this new song… I also record out of a studio called Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen, which has given me the chance to play and sing on some more experimental tracks. I learn a lot from those experiences, and I love pushing the limits of my versatility.”

As a performer, the woman has some serious ambitions moving forward. “There are many, and they’re all very different… There is one that I’ve been dreaming about for almost 10 years. Since I was a pre-teen, I have really idolized this Norwegian singer-songwriter named Sondre Lerche. I’ve seen him play many times over the years with different ensembles and instrumentation, but​ I’ve never seen him include strings in a live performance, even though they’re all over his records. Sondre and I have become friendly over the past few years, so I’m hoping that sometime soon I’ll build up the courage to bring it up to him. It’d be an absolute dream to play violin and ideally, sing harmonies for him. It’s one of those childhood ambitions that has really stuck with me.” Sondre better be reading this and taking notes!

While musical work is constant, the process is never as smooth as participants would hope. Camellia gave some examples of the rough patches. “​Gonna have to go back in time a bit for this one… Growing up, my music school, Third Street Music School Settlement, had annual auditions for all students for various scholarships and also for the honor of playing in the annual concert in front of the school’s donors and board members. When I was in 10th grade, I was diagnosed with Mono the week of the annual audition, which was already an incredibly anxiety-inducing event… They don’t allow make-up auditions, so my teacher and I had to make the call whether I was going to miss it altogether, or just give it a go in my weak, sickly state. My Taurean pride prevailed. Not only did I audition, but I won a spot in the annual concert. The judges had no idea I was sick and were very amused to learn that detail later on.” That is one way to keep that professionalism alive.

While the music universe is expanding, Miss Hartman sees both sides of the coin. She understands the power that artists hold in this certain period of history. “​Right now, I feel wholly engaged with and inspired by the current musical landscape. I’ve definitely gone through phases of being burnt out on the bustling scene that operates around me and exhausted by the sheer volume of new releases and information to keep up with… In this post-election bizarro world we’re living in, music has been my main source of comfort, empowerment and enlightenment. Not only through the music that’s being released, I think we’re really at a high point within this decade, but through the collective spirit of the music community. I see so many artists throwing their hearts and souls into socially conscious projects, whether it’s lending their talents to fundraiser shows, or donating the proceeds of their recordings to organizations like Planned Parenthood, ACLU, SPLC and #noDAPL. Artists have always needed to support each other in order to foster an environment where we can all thrive, but it’s been truly incredible to see how many people have taken that sentiment and extended it beyond our community.”

Music is only a stepping stone for this artist while limitless opportunities are on the horizon. “​… Career-wise, I hope to eventually find a professional balance between music recording, performance​ and music journalism. If I achieve that, I’d like to also get back into writing about film, which has always been one of my main non-musical interests. Recently, I’ve also gotten into political community organizing, which I plan on continuing for as long as there’s a need for it. So far, I’ve organized a fundraiser for the National Immigration Forum, #noDAPL, and a bus down to D.C. for the Women’s March. I’ll soon be announcing the next installation of the fundraiser series!”

Musically, Camellia has plans to broaden her artistic growth. “Besides violin, I’m quite amateurish at the other instruments I play. Eventually, I’d like to improve on my technical ability to play guitar, bass and trombone… Hopefully, [I can] bring a more evolved skill-set to future musical projects. I think it will fuel a lot of new developments in my music and it will help me grow as a songwriter. It will refine my ear in the recording studio and enhance the potential for musical collaborations.” Making that music magic work well.

Seeking inspiration is rarely a difficult situation for Miss Hartman. “… I’ve recently been basking in the warm sounds of midcentury crooners like Connie Francis, The Ink Spots and Engelbert Humperdinck. I think that sound is definitely echoed in the work I’ve done with Billy at Dala Records. Since the election, a portion of my time has been devoted to the music of resistance over the past century. [Examples include], Odetta, Pete Seeger, Sly & The Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson and John Lennon. [They are] some of my all-time heroes. I also need to shoutout the late William Onyeabor, who I’ve loved for years, but have developed a special appreciation for since his recent passing. In the realm of contemporary music, I bow down to Gabriel Garzón-Montano, Landlady and Natalie Prass… There is so much interesting music coming out right now at the intersection of soul, pop and funk. These are the folks I aspire to collaborate with, who I already learn so much from.”

This rockstar still has a life to live outside of the musical spectrum. “… I’ll keep selling coffee at the LES coffee stand, Rise Brewing Co., where I’m posted up most days. After that, I’ll host the second meeting of a collective I’m spearheading, whose aim is to merge artistic and activist initiatives through events and community organizing. Our goal for the evening is to name the collective and write our mission statement! If all goes according to plan, I’ll be recording my first EP in March with Billy and the Dala family. It’s a big step for me and I’m quite nervous!.. I have a few old songs that I’m eager to put into the world and I have total confidence that Billy will bring them to life better than I could ever imagine.”

For music fans, this is a woman to keep the ears open wide for. If this single and her ambition is any indication of what is to come, then listeners are truly in for a treat. Enjoy the tune below and go outside and share it in the sunshine!

Jam on.




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