An open mic jam is a place where musicians congregate as strangers and leave as friends, a place where you learn new tricks and binge on creativity. And every now and then, it’s a place where you strike gold. Erin Kay and Leo Martinez—who now play as folk duo Kay & Martinez—were fortunate enough to achieve the latter on a January night at Have Mercy.
“We sat down and Leo brought out his guitar after the open mic ended, and we sang together and we thought the blend of the voices was pretty good,” Kay says just behind the autograph table at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival.
“Then we met a couple more times and started writing music together,” Leo says. “I eventually incorporated my bass drum and tambourine, and here we are.”
The duo has recently released its five-song Live Off the Floor EP in July and was fortunate to be part of Folk Fest’s annual School of Song, along with locals David Jay, Dennis Bouwman, and Jessica Heine. This was just six months after they started playing together.
“For other people to look at us as a duo who got together in February, it might seem bizarre, but I was touring with bands when I was 18 or 19, man,” Martinez says. “I was a drummer in a few punk bands and I wrote all of the music … It looks like it happened over night, but it really didn’t.”
Kay is also an accomplished singer-songwriter in her own right and has been a touring artist/music teacher for a number of years.
“You have your experiences that you take with you,” Kay says. “I’ve got to do this as a solo artist for awhile, so I think our backgrounds in music have helped us launch a lot quicker.”
Regardless of how long they’ve been playing together, the chemistry between Kay & Martinez makes it sound like the young duo has been together for a number of years.
Watching them live as a tweener at Folk Fest’s main stage is an infectious treat as Martinez keeps the kick drum steady while strumming his tenacious acoustic chords and blends his leathery voice with Kay’s passionate cries.
“Leo is really in the moment and I think we follow each other really well so that stage presence really works for people because there’s that level of vulnerability there,” Kay says.
“The thing that I like about this project is that it’s very spontaneous,” Martinez adds. “We don’t plan anything really. And we’re enthusiastic to play these songs because we don’t over rehearse them to death.”
The duo is just returning after a mini Alberta and B.C. tour but you can be sure to catch them live in the near future.
“There’s another album in the works, and maybe we’ll go EDM, but we can’t be certain,” Kay laughs. “One day at a time, baby.”
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