The Virginia-Born performer had a successful career off Broadway and in TV and film before launching her music career after a chance encounter with a songwriter while shooting the CMT reality show “Popularity Contest”
We can start with the whimsical, not so “Crazy” notion that she was born to be a country crossover star. Among Sides’ musical heroes is Patsy Cline, another Virginian whose music spanned the country and pop idioms effortlessly. It would be easy to jump from there to the singer’s current home of Nashville, where she recorded her first album with producer Larry Rogers, whose legendary credits include Ricky Nelson and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Her first single “Picture Perfect Girl” got radio play at small and large market stations—including KGYO, the biggest station in Denver—and she toured the Midwest extensively. A Jefferson Pilot station jumped all over Sides’ music and the station’s support helped her get into the prestigious Taste of Colorado festival. In Arizona, the song won a station make it or break it contest before the Eager County Festival.
These successes led to her working with multi-platinum producer Kevin Beamish, who helmed REO Speedwagon’s classic Hi Infidelity album and who has scored over 45 #1 and Top 5 singles by top country artists like Kenny Chesney, Brooks & Dunn, Clint Black and Martina McBride. Beamish helmed Sides’ prophetically titled follow-up collection “I Got Faith” in addition to “Some Assembly Required.”
It might also be appropriate to mention the way serendipity works in Sides’ burgeoning career, particularly in the way she discovered the song that became her new single. “I write a lot of my own material,” she says, “but if I hear an outside song that I identify with or think I could have written myself, I’m going to take notice. I found it on the desk of Jim Vest, a veteran Nashville music guy who produced the ‘American Beauty’ track I recorded to promote the U.S. Beauties Pageant event. The title ‘Some Assembly Required’ intrigued me and the lyrics were unexpected and knocked me out. He told me that it was going to be recorded by a 15 year old singer, and I said it’s too edgy for a kid, that I would love to bring my own life experience to it. Ultimately, it was the perfect fit.”
But perhaps the most intriguing part of Sides’ story is how a multi-talented performer who lived in New York for seven years and found success in every area of the entertainment world ultimately became a formidable country/pop singer/songwriter. One of her notable roles in her Off Broadway career was in “Alice in Wonderland,” and her film and TV roles included appearances on HBO, Comedy Central, TLC, and HGTV. This leap from the Big Apple requires a bit of off road traveling to the small town of Vega, Texas, population 900, the site of Country Music Television’s reality performance competition show “Popularity Contest.” Her agent suggested she audition for any show where she could show off her musical talent. When she got picked, her unique performance background earned her the nickname “the NYC Opera Singer”—even though she hadn’t sung opera in years.
A 27-year-old songwriter Doug James, a native of Vega who was back home visiting during this time, saw Sides doing one of her concerts in town and asked her to check out a few of his tunes. Before she even heard the songs, she committed to recording “Already Gone” and “Dreamin’ Out Loud” live on the show. She liked the Americana flavored tunes so much that she later invited James to sing duets on these songs when she recorded them several months later (as “Popularity Contest” was about to air on CMT) on Born Again In The Country.
“I had been developing my confidence as a songwriter for quite some time and always wanted to record my own full CD,” she said. “The fact that Doug’s songs went over so well really inspired me to move in that direction,” says Sides. “I had gotten back heavily into country music by then and so it seemed like the perfect path to travel. My opera training is helpful in making my vocal timbre unique from other singers in this genre and, more importantly, it makes me understand the voice from a different perspective so I will be able to sing for years without hurting my voice in any way.
“My music is pretty modern,” she adds. “I most admire the female singers who bring a range of real life experiences to their art along with their innate talent. “I Got Faith” has a lot of women empowerment songs that reflect me finally coming into my own and knowing what I want out of life as both an artist and person. Even with 15 years of vocal training, I realize that if you are good at your instrument, you are always working to make it even better. I’ve worked hard to get my voice to this point, but I realize that it’s never perfected. I have many hard memories of Broadway auditions with 800 other girls, another thing that keeps me very humble. There is always further to go and others out there who want these opportunities. I’ve been singing onstage pretty much my whole life, so this makes performing now seem very comfortable, a natural extension of that.”
While pursuing her musical dreams, Sides has never been shy about giving her time and talent to the needs of those less fortunate. Her sister, Dee Dee, is the New York Development Director for an international organization called Operation Smile, which raises funds for reconstructive surgeries on children with facial deformities; Sides has performed numerous shows and participated in many fundraising events for them. Marthia has also joined her best friend, Jessica Johnson (who co-wrote “I Got Faith” with Marthia) on a march dedicated to the cause of anti-human trafficking that took place in Washington, D.C., New York and Los Angeles. Sides also performed for her fellow participants in the event, which was sponsored by Virginia Stop Modern Slavery (VASMS), a grassroots community organization promoting anti-human trafficking efforts in Virginia.
The assembly of the parts of Marthia Sides’ life wouldn’t be complete without a mention of the amazing performing and musical talent that’s part of her family history. Her great grandma was a young, Italian born vaudeville star who sang and danced under the name “Barazzo” at places like the Beale Street Palace. Her grandmother was an opera singer who was once asked to participate in the Met’s Young Artist program. And her paternal grandfather was Elvis Presley’s engineer at American Studios, where The King recorded after his years at Sun Studio. Her dad was also an engineer who sang.
Looking back on the greatest piece of advice she was ever given, Sides says, “My dad told me from a very young age, ‘No matter how talented you are, no matter what you do, no matter how successful, you’re going to be lacking something if you sing only for yourself.’ He told me that as a singer, my work was all about making people happy. He would say, ‘You’re there because at the end of the day, your audience is out there because they want their lives to be better. They’re looking to you to help them escape what may be the worst week of their lives.’ I remember a show I played in a college town called Manhattan, Kansas, where a friend had, ironically, moved after studying in Manhattan, New York. After the show, a guy literally came up to me and said, ‘I have had the worst week of my entire life and you have made it better.’ Turns out my dad was right, and it’s my pleasure to get out there now and bring as much joy as I can to people who need to hear it most.”