FACT: Justin Martin’s second album Hello Clouds was supposed to land a year ago….
In fact, Justin was so confident he would finish it on time his manager even booked a 60+ date album tour last summer to support it… The last date was London, September 11.
Seven months and nine days later, Hello Clouds finally lands.
Worth the wait? Of course! It’s his most delicately barbed, bass-laced body of work to date and works as proper experience from start to finish.
Worth hearing why we had to wait? Of course! In fact, as backward and weird as it sounds, the way the whole album-tour-before-the-album-is-finished situation has worked out has been to the album’s benefit. Here’s how….
So no difficult second album clichés?
The music came really easy this time around. I learnt a lot with the last one. And because of the success of the last one I felt I could be a lot more creative and be even more leftfield. Some of the songs that stuck with people from Ghettos & Gardens weren’t the big bangers. I felt I had more freedom to make ‘music’ music and not just straight up Dirtybird dancefloor stuff.
Then the dancefloor versions come later….
Yessir! That’s a project I immediately want to jump on after the album. Like we did with Don’t Go on the last album. I love having different versions for the dancefloor that subvert the original but still have that same feeling.
So let’s talk about the whole late release thing… The tour is supposed to be after the album, not before!
Ha! I gave myself a deadline of six months to finish the music and we booked the album tour. This was a year and a half ago and I told my agent there was no way I wouldn’t finish it by then. But by the time the shows were booked I still felt I needed more time to perfect it. So we went ahead with the tour anyway! We turned it in to the road to the album and I got to test things out on the road, lock tracks in the vault and come back to them with fresh ears. It was really beneficial and gave me time off this winter to revisit it and make what you hear today. I was so happy I had that time and didn’t rush it out. It’s a much more cohesive project. Deadlines kill creativity! When it’s ready, it’s ready. You can’t force it.
But the first deadline created the tour and whole situation…
Very true! It lit the fire under my ass to get it started. But that time to let it marinate was essential. To go in and listen again (and again) and get the mixdowns right and really tweak it so it’s an enjoyable listening experience from start to finish.
There’s a very hazy consistency to the album throughout. It’s sadder than your previous stuff, too. Is this you finally growing up and being an adult and stuff?
It might be yeah! The tracks do have a sadder undertone to them, yeah. I’ve always been attracted to the emotional undertones. I love that tender, emotive feeling to music. Striking those heartstrings with melancholic chord progressions and hopefully the actual stories in the writing. Everything I do is about me pushing myself and trying to exceed what I’ve done before, it’s music that comes from my heart. It’s music I want to listen to again and again so hopefully my fans can relate to me on that. I’ve never enjoyed writing music as much as this.
Let’s talk about your writing… And who you wrote with. We’ll start with Femme who’s on the album title track.
Femme is an amazing singer. She used to be part of a group called Ultraista and I did a bootleg of a Four Tet remix of a track of theirs called Small Talk. It got such a big response, she was the first vocalist I wanted to work with on the album. I told her ‘the first time I fucked with your vocals magic happened, we need to repeat this!’ I played her a few ideas, she picked one, we wrote together came up with a hook and by the second studio session we had the chorus down. We had a lot of time between sessions for me to tweak it and add little ideas and elements and sections. I’m really proud of this one, it’s the title track for a reason. It’s supposed to make you feel good. Like you’re flying.
Is flying the inspiration for Hello Clouds?
Kinda. When I was touring for Ghettos & Gardens I was on the road and was thinking back about how personally rewarding writing the album was and seeing how it moved listeners. I was already thinking about the next album. And of course a lot of my time is spent in the air. We’ll take off, I’ll open the plane window and be like ‘oh hello clouds!’
It’s the next step from my debut, it’s me being out in the world, dreaming up new ideas and looking up at the sky and imagining this whole dream world. That’s the world I wanted to create with this album and I had very specific singers in mind for it.
Like Lena. She got in touch with me years ago with this track with her vocals and electric piano. Very stripped back beautiful songwriting. She asked me to produce it and I got back saying ‘yes!’ But warned her I had my album to finish so it might take some time. She said ‘no rush, take your time’ So I started messing with it and wanted to create this Burial feeling. I wanted to off-set her really positive and uplifting vocal with a darker vibe. The intention was to give it to her for her project but time had gone by so much I wondered about it being a feature on this album instead. She was totally cool with that. I’m very lucky. Listening to the lyrics now they fit perfectly with the whole story of the album. She had no idea about that when she wrote it though.
All these hook-ups have a unique story about them. I take it Charlotte OC does too?
Yeah totally! She tweeted about my old track Sad Piano and I saw she was a singer. I checked out her stuff and it blew me away! She’s going to be massive. She’s very natural, recorded all in one take and has so much emotion in her voice. It’s interesting, the track I originally recorded with her was more of a house track but I wanted to make it more abstract and give it that voodoo vibe her voice reminds me of. After we recorded the vocals I went back in and re-did it from scratch. She’s got this emotional gospel feeling to her voice. It made me think of being at a New Orleans funeral, we’re in tuxes in the swampy heat and tropical rain. That’s how she made me feel!
Talk to me about the producer collaborators on the album….
I live with Ardalan so he was always going to be on the album. We have people coming to San Francisco all the time so if you’re in town and I’m in town then you better believe we’re writing something together. When Kill Frenzy was in town we were working on a ghetto tech DJ Funk style vibe which wouldn’t have worked on the album and wasn’t working in general. We gave up on it. I started messing with different pre-sets on my Prophet synth and he came back in and said ‘what is this’ so we bust out a different vibe. Ardalan came into the room and we just had this great creative process together. It’s funny; we’d been banging our heads against the wall, trying to get something finished then when we decided to stop trying and just make something for fun, it comes together in a few hours. I love that.
And of course Midnight with your brother Christian… I always want to hear more Martin Brothers stuff!
Me too! But schedules don’t allow it. It’s so much fun when we do. He’s my bro, he’s my best friend and we have a great chemistry in the studio so I knew he had to be on the album. I had one track that was piano loop and a two-step breakbeat. I sent it to him and asked if he could make it into something funky. He sent me back with the version with that bubbly bassline that just kills it. It’s like the melody lures you in then boom; it drops you into speaker destroying bass! We had a session together and then I added a few bits of MJ Cole inspired magic after testing it out a lot on tour. It’s a great feeling to have my brother on the album.
That drum & bass mix you did at the Dirtybird Summer Camp is sick!
Oh that was magic, dude. We’ve wanted to play a drum & bass mix together in years. It was a sunrise set and it was special in lots of ways. The heavens opened just as we started playing which marked the end of this epic drought California had all last summer. People left the dance area straight away and we thought ‘ah well this is it, we might have to call it’ then all of a sudden everyone came back with umbrellas and blankets over their heads and everything and went crazy for the hour. It was really special.
Would you ever consider making drum & bass? You reference it so well.
Funny you should ask… The Will Clarke collaboration on the album Back To The Jungle was our ode to jungle music. It’s the dancefloor banger of the album and it gets some great responses when I play it. We’ve made a special VIP version of it that goes into actual jungle and it’s my first legit jungle tune. I’m so stoked. It’s a special VIP for us to have fun with right now but it will come out eventually. I had so much fun making it, it could easily start a new side project. Watch this space!