Pink Martini is an all-American band, but you would never guess it from their sound. With a repertoire of music inspired by and from countries all over the world, the band brings a unique global flare. Ahead of a recent Pink Martini performance, singer-songwriter and Pink Martini vocalist China Forbes caught up with District Fray Magazine about the band, the tour and her new solo single.
Pink Martini is often described as a “little orchestra.” Even in a tour during a pandemic, the band travels with its whole crew of musicians, including vocalists, pianists, string players, percussionists and more. The band was started in 1994 when Thomas Lauderdale, then working in politics, was unimpressed with the music played at political events. Pink Martini started out playing covers of classical and jazz music, but a year after starting the group, Lauderdale invited Forbes, a classmate at Harvard, to join. Together, they began writing songs and soon gained their first hit, a song in French called “Sympathique (Je ne veux pas travailler).” The song became an instant classic in France.
“As Americans, it is pretty amusing and fun for us that a song we wrote is believed to be a French song and people in France think it is an old French song,” Forbes says. “People come up to me and say, ‘Oh no, no, you didn’t write that, my grandmother used to listen to that when she was a child.’”
Forbes attributes the band’s international focus to Lauderdale.
“He started the band in 1994 before we had cell phones, before the internet and before the world was so connected,” Forbes says. “He knew he wanted to do songs in different languages and songs in their original language.”
Today, the group is known for performing in more than 25 languages.
“As we started to travel, it was expected that if we were going somewhere, we would try our darndest to sing a song in the language of that country,” Forbes says.
Pink Martini’s most recent tunes are two singles released in 2020, “Let’s Be Friends” and “The Lemonade Song.” Though both were released during the pandemic, they were written prior to the days of social distancing and quarantining.
After a long period without songwriting, Lauderdale and Forbes teamed up with singer-songwriter and producer Jim Bianco for a day of writing. That session resulted in “Let’s Be Friends,” which they recorded immediately.
“It was like we were in a ménage à trois with Jim, and Jim rekindled the romance of writing,” Forbes says.
After writing “Let’s Be Friends,” the trio reunited to write “The Lemonade Song.” Before they could finish either song, the pandemic hit. After some time, they decided to release the songs as they were.
“’ Let’s Be Friends’ was a fun thing to put out when we were all being friends on Zoom,” Forbes says. “‘The Lemonade Song’ is really fun and is about making the best out of a bad situation.”
During Pink Martini’s tour, Forbes also released a single of her own, “Full Circle,” on July 30. Forbes debuted the song live at Pink Martini’s show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with the help of the Grand Rapids Symphony.
“Full Circle” was written on either side of a breakup, with the first verse written before a dinner date and the second after that date ended in a breakup. Like Pink Martini’s new songs, “Full Circle” was written and partially recorded before the pandemic.
A solo concert with the Oregon Symphony was in the works pre-pandemic, and “Full Circle” was one of the fully orchestrated songs Forbes was planning to perform. After hearing the orchestra with the song, Forbes ultimately decided against releasing a more stripped-down version.
Since 1995, Forbes has only released two solo albums. Although she often writes and records, her activities with Pink Martini have proved a challenge to releasing a whole album. Instead, she has decided to take a more gradual approach.
“I decided to put out one song at a time, especially now that people don’t necessarily consume entire albums.”
While Forbes’ new single may make a guest appearance at Pink Martini’s concert, the rest of the show is strictly focused on showcasing Pink Martini. Forbes says audiences can expect to hear music made by real musicians playing real instruments and that dancing is encouraged.
“This music is beautiful, melodic and classic, and everyone should be exposed to that,” Forbes says. “Coming out of the pandemic, I think being together and singing together and dancing together is a very healing experience.”