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Shuffle: DreamStates Bring Trans Activism to the Forefront with Positive Pop

John R. Aylward Photography
Madeline Eckhart (left) and Natalie Grace Martin are the pop duo DreamStates

Pop-rock duo DreamStates recently released its latest album, “Sad Bad Happy Good”. The 12-track release features multi-instrumentalist Natalie Grace Martin and creative designer Madeline Eckhart sharing vocals over original, rock-and-EDM-inspired beats. 

Both musicians are transgender women and have used their platform to give a voice to underrepresented musicians in the LGBTQ community. 




Spreading activism through music
“I’m very hesitant when it comes to being too outwardly vocal about politics because, as a musician, I feel like my work should be doing that for me,” Martin said. 


If people listen to DreamStates’ lyrics, she said, there should be no question on where the women stand, and how they feel about the current state of society. 


“We are not happy,” Martin said. “Not at all,” Eckhart said. 


Those emotions are what sparked the duo to create “Sad Bad Happy Good” and give audiences someone to cheer for — whether it’s the women belting out positive songs or the listener themselves. 


'This album is geared to make you smile, to make you want to sing along, to make you want to move'

Bringing joy to the local music scene
Martin said the musicians wanted to create an album that served as a celebration of joy that would bring out the best in people. 

“This album is geared to make you smile, to make you want to sing along, to make you want to move,” Martin said. “We’re not kidding — you get happy right now.” 


Martin’s background as a musician includes serving as a Vindicated Records recording artist and working as a keyboardist and backing vocalist for Avril Lavigne


She has been trained on piano since she was 5 years old, later picking up bass guitar and percussion in her preteen years. 


Eckhart comes from a background of acting and designing, performing as a voice-over artist, puppeteer and costume designer. 


The eclectic blend of performance styles and like-mindedness brought the women together in December 2017 where they bonded over their performance of the song “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys, played in the style of power-pop group Paramore


Martin's "She/Her/Hers" live ensemble is where the pair practiced vocal harmonizing together on a larger scale, eventually debuting their efforts at Akron’s first Pride Festival


Evolving as a duo
DreamStates’ self-titled debut album, “Parts One and Two,” was released in January 2018. Tracks like “Colorblind” and “Limbo” evoke a moodier, more introspective and sullen side of the artists, juxtaposed with more straightforward pop and dance tracks. 


“Sad Bad Happy Good” brings more bombastic, epic rock elements to the forefront, particularly in the last track, “Spray Paint.”  The song features Time Cat front woman Jeri Sapronetti. 


Martin explains that the song is about the need to reinvent one’s self — about having your soul and your shell align. 


“We took the idea of a life and imagined it as a dirty wall that we are just going to reinvigorate and splash with color and make a brand new thing out of it,” Martin said.  


'We have had a couple of gigs that flew by us because people didn't really want to have to deal with us'

Giving a voice to the underrepresentated 
The women in DreamStates have performed at a variety of events and venues in Northeast Ohio over the last two years, including the John S. Knight Center, PorchRokr Music and Art Festival, Oakdale House and Aqueduct Brewing. 

“It’s funny because sometimes we do struggle to get that attention,” Martin said. “I do feel like we have had a couple of gigs that flew by us because people didn’t really want to have to deal with us.” 


The musician said the dramatic lack of representation from the transgender community in the music industry propels the duo forward and inspires them to keep performing positive songs with a powerful message. 


“We’ve also had people circle around and say, ‘Oh my God, I wish I would have actually listened to your music before so I could’ve given you the gig,’” Eckhart said. 


Martin said if the duo maxes out and is remembered as “Ohio’s trans musicians,” that is still a position that is sorely needed throughout music as a whole. 


Eckhart said seeing the duo performing and being outspoken in their lyrical content might encourage others like them to gain the courage to be themselves. 


“Not to mention […] doing something they may not have thought that they could do before,” Eckhart said. 


Martin said she knows many people who have stopped creating and performing music altogether during their transition. 


“They’re too scared to go on stage, they’re scared of their voice, they’re scared of what people will think of them,” Martin said. “So if all we can do is keep pumping music out there, and getting that volume of music by trans artists growing, then that’s the best thing that we can do for our community.” 


Martin and Eckhart will perform as part of the Bechdel Film Fest Thursday, May 30 from 8-11 p.m. at Jilly’s Music Room in Akron. 


DreamStates will also play the Riverside Ramble stage at OddMall Sunday, June 9 from 3-4 p.m. in Canton. 

Expertise: Audio storytelling, journalism and production
Brittany Nader is the producer of "Shuffle" on Ideastream Public Media. She joins "All Things Considered" host Amanda Rabinowitz on Thursdays to chat about Northeast Ohio’s vibrant music scene.