‘Deer in the Headlights’: Essence Martins’ Inner Light Shines on Her Introspective, Ethereal, & Thought-Provoking Debut EP

Essence Martins © Lorraine Khamali
Essence Martins © Lorraine Khamali
London indie folk singer/songwriter Essence Martins takes us track-by-track through her diaristic debut EP ‘Deer in the Headlights,’ an achingly intimate and breathtakingly beautiful coming-of-age record unpacking what it means to be a friend, a partner, and ultimately, a part of this big world.
Stream: “Like a Fool” – Essence Martins

Deep in the throes of her early twenties, Essence Martins doesn’t have all the answers to life’s many questions.

But damn, if she isn’t trying to figure it all out, anyway.

The North West Londoner’s diaristic debut EP is a cathartic and vulnerable exploration of relationships, identity, purpose, and being – all channeled through fresh, wide eyes and a soul-stirring indie folk palette. An achingly intimate record of raw reflection and inner reckoning, Deer in the Headlights is Martins’ breathtakingly beautiful coming-of-age: A gentle giant of warm, wondrous sound diving headfirst into the depths of what it means to a friend, a partner, and ultimately, a part of this big world.

Through fragile songwriting and emotional performances, Martins reminds us what it’s like to learn life’s lessons the hard way, one stumbling block at a time. We all get where we need to be eventually, but we definitely trip a healthy amount along the way.

Deer In The Headlights - Essence Martins
Deer In The Headlights – Essence Martins
I never doubted
we both had a chip on our shoulders

But when you went away
I was lost like a kid in a crowd

After that day I stood still
like I never grew older

And I didn’t know it,
but I had my very own
cloud hanging over my head
There’s a million cars on the road
They got places to go
Oh and I’m like a deer in the headlights
Just tryna get by
No tools to stitch up
the wounds that you opened

You left me dry,
hit and run and you drove it

A million cars on the road
You couldn’t take me home
– “Like a Fool,” Essence Martins

Independently released February 23, 2024, Deer in the Headlights is an enchanting, immersive introduction to British-Nigerian artist Essence Martins. Once an aspiring professional tennis player on an American scholarship, Martins pivoted after her first year at university, making the life-altering decision to pursue music. She graduated from The Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in London last year, and quickly landed a gig touring and performing as a backing vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist for acclaimed singer/songwriter Birdy.

Her debut EP arrives out of this turbulent, yet equally exciting period of growth, self-discovery, personal development, and change. Working with Jules Konieczny (Tom Grennan, Everything Everything, Bad Sounds, JVKE), Martins brought to life six songs she wrote while in school, each of which taps into the magic, the upheaval, and the sheer whirlwind energy of her late teens and early twenties.

Essence Martins © Lorraine Khamali
Essence Martins © Lorraine Khamali

“For me this EP is about ‘firsts.’ The process of creating and putting it out is a massive milestone and I’m so proud of who it’s made me today,” Martins tells Atwood Magazine. “I kind of had my future planned out for me. I was meant to be a tennis player, but did a whole 180 with my career, and with that came a lot of feelings. Mostly excitement, a lot of nerves, indecisiveness, learning and growing and being ok with starting all over again.”

Deer in the Headlights explores topics of wonder and curiosity in ‘Wandering Souls,’ platonic love in ‘Brussel Sprouts,’ friendship heartbreak in ‘Rubber Band,’ navigating situationships in ‘Pending Status,’ mental health in ‘Hate No More,’ and feeling like a deer in the headlights through all of that in ‘Like a Fool.’ For me, the project is a stream of consciousness. The songs show how I experienced the world when I wrote them.”

Don’t know if I miss you
Don’t know if I care anymore
We’re clearly an issue
You think you’ll fix it with sex?
And I’ve been staring at this red wine for too long
And I’ve been waiting by the door like a dog
Ooooom you’re still standing
While I die waiting, pending status
Ooooo, too long we’ve been static
While I die waiting, pending status

Martins’ tender folk-adjacent style is reminiscent of contemporary alternative singer/songwriters on the mainstream periphery.

She cites Phoebe Bridgers as a massive influence on her writing and her sound, together with Norah Jones, Lauryn Hill, and Paramore. And while the bulk of these songs would do well under the “soul-inflected folk” bucket, what matters more to Martins is not how she fits into someone else’s mold or who she sounds like, but rather, that her songs feel human; that they capture and convey her humanity, her truths, her realities.

“I feel like this EP captures many sides of me,” she explains. “It shows my playfulness with lyrics and time signatures in ‘Brussel Sprouts.’ It shows my curiosity in ‘Wandering Souls.’It explores heartbreak and situationships as well as more serious topics like mental health and figuring out who you are in the world. Every song is a feeling I relate to and I’m not sure that our feelings as humans are completely individual. So I think most people can relate to a lot of the songs.”

“I didn’t know I was writing an EP during the process of making it,” she notes. “I just wrote the songs as they came to me and picked the ones that fit best into a complete body of work. All of the songs on the EP were writing during my time at ICMP where I studied songwriting. I definitely learned a lot about myself during the last three years, and the meaning of some songs has slightly altered to when I first wrote them.”

Essence Martins © Lorraine Khamali
Essence Martins © Lorraine Khamali

Martins candidly describes Deer in the Headlights as introspective, ethereal, and thought-provoking.

The record’s title is intentionally intense, evoking the mix of anticipation, excitement, anxiety, angst, and dread in the songs themselves.

“I often feel like a deer in the headlights,” Martins admits. “I still have no clue what I’m doing, but I try my best to do what feels true to me and I’m constantly self-checking that. ‘Deer In The Headlights’ was the only appropriate name for this project because it’s how I felt during the making of it.”

Highlights range from the unflinchingly honest, sun-kissed EP opener “Rubber Band” – a confessional ballad in which Martins navigates and works through conflicts with friends – to the bittersweet indie pop enchantment “Pending Status,” which served as her debut single last September, and finds her fearlessly singing all the things she was too afraid to tell a wishy-washy partner directly.

“We shouldn’t wait around forever for someone who can’t make their mind up,” she shared when she first released “Pending Status.” “It’s always better to know where you stand even if you don’t get the answer you’re looking for. Knowing is better than not knowing.”

Essence Martins © Sophie Harrow
Essence Martins © Sophie Harrow

Martins cites the glistening folk song “Brussel Sprouts,” her second single and the EP’s penultimate track, as own her personal standout.

A song about having a special person in your life who makes you feel seen, “Brussel Sprouts” is beautiful inside and out; Martins wrote it about her twin sister, who doubles in life as her best friend. “Some people have goodness in their bones. I am lucky to have found one of those,” Martins declares in a light and love-filled chorus – and while we can’t see her, somehow we know she’s smiling as she sings these words:

When nothing’s right, you’re by my side
You’re the medicine keeping me alive
You know how to drown all my doubts
You even got me to, you even got me to eat
Brussel sprouts

“I’ve never written a truer song,” she smiles. “It means a lot to me and it’s also so fun to play live as well! I usually get some laughter in the crowd, which brings me joy. At gigs, I love to shout out my sister and family when I talk about it too! It’s always embarrassing for them, but really funny for me!”

Ultimately, Deer in the Headlights is a truly beautiful, heartwarming introduction to Essence Martins, and one that hopefully serves as the foundations for a long and fruitful musical career to come.

Full of stunning sound, relatable storytelling, and instantly memorable lyrics, Martins’ debut EP is unapologetic, uncompromising, and filled from end to end with her own raw, unfiltered humanity. Whether she’s working through her own issues or dealing with the daily highs and (hopefully not daily) lows of friends and family, Martins ensures we come away from these six songs feeling like we know her. She’s let us in – a trait that holds especially true for the EP’s anthemic, impassioned finale “Hate No More,” an achingly intimate song about showing up for the ones we care about the most, and being there for them through thick and through thin – because “even if they seem like a different person inside, you can always find their light.”

Is there nothing more beautiful than such unbridled empathy and heart-on-sleeve devotion? “Hate No More” is a sleeper hit, its chorus a moment of true, deep human connection:

Don’t tell me to leave you
I do not believe you
You say you’re fine
I’ll call your bluff
But I will keep on trying
Hate no more, Hate no more

Essence Martins © Lorraine Khamali
Essence Martins © Lorraine Khamali

For Martins, the takeaways (for herself and, she hopes, others) from making this record are multifold.

“I hope that listeners will become more curious about the world around them and themselves,” she shares. “I hope people can be more open to love and laughter and heartbreak even.”

“I’ve also learned that I can be too apologetic, and that’s not a good thing,” she adds. “I’ve learned that one of my favourite places to be is in the studio making music with my producer Jules Konieczny. I’ve learned that creating art takes a lot of work, but the best kind – and that it is a real privilege. I’m so grateful to do it. I can’t wait to give it away so people can experience it. I’ve had it for too long!”

Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Essence Martins’ Deer in the Headlights with Atwood Magazine as she takes us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of her dazzling debut EP!

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:: stream/purchase Deer in the Headlights here ::
:: connect with Essence Martins here ::
Stream: ‘Deer in the Headlights’ – Essence Martins

:: Inside Deer in the Headlights ::

Deer In The Headlights - Essence Martins

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Rubber Band

I wrote “Rubber Band” after a fall out between my sister and a couple of her friends. It really hurt her and through this process I found that we’re both very apologetic because we hate conflict and will do anything to avoid it. However, in this situation she shouldn’t have been apologising, so we had to confront them (and I did) but a song also came out it of it. It’s interesting that I had the strength to confront someone for hurting my sister but I probably wouldn’t have if it was for myself. If you’re like my sister and I, stop apologising so much! It’s not always good to be too polite. We should treat people with kindness.

Pending Status

“Pending Status” is about being involved with someone who isn’t fully committed. The flame you once had for them starts to burn out and eventually you have to move on. We shouldn’t wait around forever for someone who can’t make their mind up. It’s always better to know where you stand even if you don’t get the answer you’re looking for. Knowing is better than not knowing.

Wandering Souls

Wandering Souls is about curiosity. It is a small window into my mind. I often wonder what happens to us when we complete our journey on earth. What becomes of our consciousness? Are we reborn? Do we ascend to heaven? Or is there nothing waiting for us on the other side? To me, wandering souls feels like a child who has an endless curiosity about the ways of the world. It has all these questions that no one can really answer.

Like a Fool

Like a Fool is about feeling frustrated with putting trust in someone unworthy. It’s about dealing with feelings of fear, a lack of independence while still hung up on the way things were. Even though this song is fictional, I’ve found many ways to turn it into an experience I can relate to in big life decisions.

Brussel Sprouts 

“Brussel Sprouts” is about having that special person who makes you feel seen. Someone who knows you better than you know yourself. Family is a huge part of my life and I’m so lucky to have an incredible one. As a twin I have a strong bond with my twin sister and she’s that special person for me. We’ve been through a lot together but she’s the reason I want to keep going. I hope everyone can have this person in their lives.
For me eating Brussels sprouts symbolises a right of passage. A lot of us grew up hating it as kids because of its bitter taste, but we’re all told to eat them because they’re good for us. It also reminds me of Christmas and valuable family time. Everyone faces obstacles and Brussels sprouts are just the little bumps in life that we all must encounter.

Hate No More

I wrote this song after a close friend of mine was struggling with their mental health. It’s hard to see someone you love suffering and feeling helpless but it’s important to just be there if you can. This song is about loving someone through their highs and lows and letting them know that nothing they say or do will drive you away even if they seem like a different person inside, you can always find their light.

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:: stream/purchase Deer in the Headlights here ::
:: connect with Essence Martins here ::

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Deer In The Headlights - Essence Martins

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? © Lorraine Khamali 

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