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ST.MARTiiNS: matching music with cover art

Local band ST.MARTiiNS performed at our 3D Festival as part of our opening week celebrations. Lola Stephen explores their approach to music and artwork design.

One of Scotland’s most exciting bands to have emerged in the past few years is Dundee-based duo ST.MARTiiNS. The pair, comprised of Katie Lynch and Mark Johnston, have crafted their own unique sound resulting in a special blend of woozy pop intertwined with intricate melodies and dreamy vocals. They also happen to be two of my closest friends and creative collaborators, having worked on a series of imagery together for the band including the artwork for their most recent releases.

I met Katie and Mark in our first year of Monifieth High School, back when Mark was starting to learn guitar and Katie was singing in local musical productions. The two started to play music together in local venues including the much loved but now sadly defunct Dexter’s on Castle Street, where many young bands cut their teeth. I’d be there at every show, taking photographs from the front row with my first digital camera gifted to me for my 14th birthday. This ritual led us all the way through our teenage years.

ST.MARTiiNS' Katie Lynch and Mark Johnston

While I moved away to study and live in other cities, Katie and Mark stayed as a pair, eventually moving in together and even working across the road from each other. Growing up so closely allowed them to develop their unique sound, eventually leading to ST.MARTiiNS' inception in 2015. Katie explains, “We’ve worked together for such a long time that a sound developed naturally that was unique to us. It’s had many stages along the way, but we are finally happy with the direction that it’s going”.

It’s not just Katie and Mark who are happy with this direction: the past year has seen them play shows and sell out venues across the UK, all the way from Ullapool to London. They've gathered over 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and share festival bills with some of the biggest acts in the country. It’s an impressive but unsurprising feat for the duo whose unique sound and hard work deserves to be heard.

When discussing what motivates them to create, Katie explains that moving back to Dundee after spending time in other cities across Scotland helped the pair concentrate on their work: “It’s good to be focused on music here because there isn’t the same sheer abundance of other artists, you can just focus on yourself. I think that’s important in being creative, to sometimes just be in a place where you won’t be distracted.”

Since their return, they have set up a home studio in Katie’s parents’ house in Broughty Ferry where they record all their own demos and started their own record label, Port of Manteau, with which they hope to work with and encourage other locals to pursue music.

I recently moved back to Dundee myself after being away for over seven years; returning at such a pivotal moment for the city with the opening of the museum and the ongoing creative resurgence. Not only has it been exciting to be back and to have the opportunity to work at the museum and be in the middle of it all, it’s also been so great seeing the growth in the creative community here in Dundee, including the work of ST.MARTiiNS and their label.

While there is so much going on with the city, there’s still space to breathe and, like Katie says, the ability to focus without distractions. This has meant I'm able to immerse myself in my own creative projects, including designing the artwork for ST.MARTiiNS latest singles 'Ur So Pretty' and 'No It’s All Over', as well as their Scottish tour posters. Working together again feels just like it always did, since those early days when we were young, although now we’re all a little bit better at what we do (hopefully!).

Cover for ST.MARTiiNS' single 'No It's All Over'

The process for creating the artwork always starts with a photograph I’ll have taken of them both on my cheap second-hand film camera I bought online. Most of the time the photo turns out to be a happy accident, which Katie agrees: “the original concept doesn’t always happen, sometimes it’s just an image that when I see I’ll know that it fits the song. Collaborating with other people really helps me to see the more visual aspect of music.”

The cover for the most recent single 'Ur So Pretty' was an outtake from the original shoot, this kind of weird, cheesy photo I snapped of Katie jumping on Mark’s back over on Wormit beach which we all thought would be funny to use. We decided to scribble out each of their eyes to fit more with the theme of the track; like Katie says, it’s important the image fits with the song.

Cover for ST.MARTiiNS' single 'UR So Pretty'

The ability to adapt and try out different ideas is important in design, and collaboration and input from different perspectives can really help things make sense. I always work closely with the band when creating the artwork, constantly sending ideas back and forth, especially when putting the finishing touches on the artwork such as fonts and placements for the title and their logo.

ST.MARTiiNS' logo

Their logo, which Katie designed herself, features on all of their work and is now synonymous with the duo. Katie explains: “It was something I used to draw on birthday cards and next to my name when I was younger, I just thought it was really cute. We were inspired by a lot of bands at that time [when they created the design] who had simple logos. I like really simple design. It’s just kind of evolved since then and we both have it tattooed...it’s gone a bit far” she laughs, “I think people would recognise it as us, I wouldn’t change it now and have always liked it. Sometimes you name something or design something and years later you don’t like it so much, but I still like it - so it must be quite good!”

Lola Stephen is the founder and co-editor of Love Letters Zine, an independent publication dedicated to female/non-binary musicians.