The Muffins’ Martha Johnson Sets The Pace For World Parkinson’s Month With Slow Emotion

The Muffins frontwoman delivers a fortifying hit of emotional oxygen for patients.

Martha Johnson channels the healing power of music in her new single Slow Emotion — showcasing today on Tinnitist.

They say music can be the best therapy, but leave it to Martha & The Muffins’ community-minded frontwoman to make her music a form of group therapy. Her new single is a fortifying hit of emotional oxygen for those living with Parkinson’s Disease. That’s a topic relevant not just to Johnson — who was diagnosed with the condition nearly 25 years ago — but to every fellow patient she’s met along the way.

Seeing release under the project name Martha Johnson And Company, the song furthers the reputation for courageous exploration Johnson has carved out as co-founder and singer of the seminal art-pop band Martha & The Muffins (or just M+M), and in numerous other projects that have kept her at the vanguard of contemporary audio and video art. This time, she’s used soothing keyboard pads and an easygoing, quasi-R&B bounce to send a message about the need to stop, listen and relate:

“Empathy not sympathy
That’s where we want to be
Take it slow, then you’ll know
How to be kind
How to free your mind
That’s where we want to be
I’m moving in slow emotion now…”

“I came up with the title Slow Emotion years ago,” Johnson says, “and it seemed like a good fit with the theme of accepting and adapting to the changes — both physical and emotional — that you go through when you are living with Parkinson’s Disease. One of my favourite lyrics, ‘Empathy not sympathy… ’ sums up the message of the song very well. I also like the randomness of referencing the title of a J.M.W. Turner painting as a line that has so much power in it: ‘No rain, steam or speed.’ ”

The song came about thanks to a suggestion from Johnson’s neurologist, Dr. Alfonso Fasano at University Health Network’s Krembil Brain Institute in Toronto, who felt he could help promote awareness of Parkinson’s to a wider audience while showing that life and creativity don’t end with a diagnosis. Fasano encouraged Johnson to collaborate with another of his patients, songwriter/musician Fabio Dwyer, and the two hit it off, combining their individual ideas into a cohesive whole. As a third voice, Johnson brought along Mark Gane, her perennial partner in M+M, to finish the composition. Then it was off to the studio.

“We wanted to have as many people as possible with PD involved in the recording,” Johnson says. “Fabio had already collaborated with me on writing the song, and he also played guitar and bass beautifully on the track. I managed to find five people with PD who were excited about adding their voices to the song. The vibe in the studio was amazing, and we were all so proud to have recorded a chorus of voices lifting everyone’s spirits higher.”

Photo by Stewart Stein.

Her 2000 diagnosis with Parkinson’s was the catalyst for Johnson to stop performing live. Instead, she threw her energies into making records — both new releases and Muffins reissues. She and Gane also launched a fruitful side career scoring films and TV programs. In 2013, Johnson released her debut solo album, Solo•One, which she co-produced with Ray Dillard and Gane, and which featured three tracks co-written by Ron Sexsmith.

Today, Johnson continues to collaborate with younger singer-songwriters and work on new recording projects. Most recently, in January, Martha & The Muffins released a haunting cover version of the Buffalo Springfield classic For What It’s Worth, which Johnson and Gane had played and recorded entirely on their own at their home studio.

Slow Emotion maintains Johnson’s seemingly unstoppable forward momentum — ironically in the context of a song that urges everyone to consider living life at a slightly more relaxed pace. “I’m hoping that people are moved by the song to a place of better understanding,” she says. “Parkinson’s is continuously a life-changing event for me. Beyond that, generally speaking, life is what you make of it, and you’ll have a better time if you just slow down a little and really take it all in. I think that’s relevant to everyone.”

Watch the lyric video for Slow Emotion — and the making-of documentary above, get more information on Parkinson’s HERE, listen to more from Martha & The Muffins below, and find them on their website, Facebook and Twitter.