Interview: Justin Martin
Feeding off the energy of the San Francisco underground, Justin Martin was intrinsically involved with developing the unique sound of Dirtybird Records.
As a remixer of classics like Radiohead’s ‘Nude’ and Marshall Jefferson’s ‘Mushrooms,’ curator of a 2010 essential mix, and DJ who has graced the decks of the world’s best clubs and festivals – Panorama Bar (Berlin), Fabric (London), Space (Ibiza) and festivals shows such as Glastonbury, Spring Festival, Hideout and Eastern Electrics – Justin Martin has achieved a soaring amount of success as a Producer and DJ.
In 2016, Justin Martin will look to the skies with “Hello Clouds”, his sophomore long player. Building on the formidable foundation he established with 2012’s “Ghettos & Gardens”, Justin invites listeners on a high-flying journey through a rich musical landscape, letting his effervescent personality, and an unexpected range of emotion, shine through 13 tracks.
Anticipating the release of “Hello Clouds” Justin was kind enough to speak with us from his home in San Francisco, just prior to flying away to Europe for a handful of gigs (including the infamous alpine soiree, Snowbombing, in Mayrhofen, Austria). Here he speaks on the inspiration he still feels from San Francisco, the family nature of Dirtybird, all things “Hello Clouds,” and more.
“Deadlines are the creativity killer”
I always like to ask people when they release new creative content, what was the very first aspect of, what would ultimately become “Hello Clouds,” that occurred to you?
The concept was born while I was touring for my last album, “Ghettos & Gardens”. After that album came out, my schedule got insanely busy for the last 3-4 years. I found myself doing a lot of work while I was on the road; traveling on planes. I would open up the plane window and say “oh, hello cloud”. It was part of this new era in my life of always being in the air. Clouds represent this dream world, where anyone can interpret what they look like differently. They are something that really invigorates imagination.
Interpretations of cloud patterns are kind of like a natural Rorshach test…
You mentioned your extensive touring of late, which included a pretty lengthy “Hello Clouds” tour even before the album came out. Were there any specific dates or locations on the tour that helped the creative process along?
It’s really funny because, I had planned on the album coming out a year ago. To book a tour that big you have to do it well in advance. I told my booking agent I would be done with the album by then and everything would coincide perfectly. As the dates started creeping closer and closer, I realized I wasn’t going to finish the album but it was a blessing in disguise. I got to road test a lot of the stuff along the way and, some tracks I wasn’t sure about, I got to marinate on them a bit more. There were definitely some tracks along the way that wouldn’t have made it onto the album a year ago!
It’s not too often that someone does an 85 date tour for an album without actually releasing the album but I just looked at it as the road to the album. To me, deadlines are the creativity killer, so I look at a project like this, which you only do so many times in a lifetime, to take your time with. You really need to make sure it’s something you like from end to end.
As this is your sophomore album, how did your approach to creating it differ from “Ghettos & Gardens”?
I think “Ghettos & Gardens” opened a lot of doors. It gave me the ability to reach out to more artists I wanted to work with. With this one, I was surprised by some of the deeper cuts, like ‘Don’t Go,’ because that’s the stuff I really love to write. Sometimes these kind of tracks don’t work themselves into my DJ sets since I usually am playing more tech house, Dirtybird stuff, but I really love to write this kind of music. So, for this project, I wanted to reach out to vocalists I was a fan of. The only other difference is that I had the big picture more defined. With “Ghettos & Gardens” I didn’t really know how it would work and how it would be received. This time around, I had more confidence to get experimental and create songs that aren’t necessarily ones I’d play in a DJ set.
You mentioned the vocalists. Two that really struck out to me are FEMME and Charlotte OC. How did your relationship with these artists form?
FEMME sang on a song called ‘Small Talk’ as part of a group called Altruista. There was a beautiful Four Tet remix that I did a bootleg of. I put the track out for free on Soundcloud and it got an amazing response from my fans. I just love her vocals and wanted to work with her. The first time it was magic and I wanted to recreate that and do something original. She has an album of her own coming out in April as well. When I went to meet her in London, I played a bunch of loops I had and there was one she really liked. I kind of had a melody in mind for the vocal, we wrote the lyrics together, and we finished it up in San Francisco on the tale end of a tour she was on with Charlie XCX.
With Charlotte OC, I was first introduced to her when she tweeted about an old song of mine, ‘Sad Piano’. I ended up on her Soundcloud page and loved her vocals too. They are haunting. Working with her was amazing. She did everything in one take. We were going for this New Orleans, gospel, voodoo, dark vibe.
What about the artwork for “Hell Clouds”? It is very colorful and playful…
He is an artist who is a friend of mine and I’ve been trying to work with him forever. His name is Josh Makorto, based in Calgary. I wanted him to create this cloud mothership. Something you could look at that sparks the imagination. He killed it! The original painting is huge. He painted it on canvas.