Images Niall O’Brien
Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) is an annual music event gathering aspiring producers, singers, arrangers, DJs and musicians from all over the globe for an opportunity to get industry wisdom from seasoned professionals. During its application phase, Red Bull holds workshops in as many as 50 countries, each being its own mini-Red Bull Music Academy consisting of couch conversations, workshops, performances, and what not. It’s only recently that Malaysia finally got a taste of the music initiative. Held for the first time in Kuala Lumpur last 9 March 2012, RBMA Session saw Kevin Martin in his latest musical alter ego, The Bug, as the inaugural lecturer of the Malaysian iteration of RBMA. JUICE was given an opportunity to have our own private couch session with the erudite producer of many names – discovering the magic dub has over women, Kevin’s anarchic tendencies, music journalism, and tonnes of other topics his rambly and verbose replies segued to in the course of just 40 minutes…
What’s new with The Bug, a new album? You seem busier with your King Midas Sound persona…
Yeah, yeah. I’ve just been working very hard on a new album [as the bug] cause for the last year or two I’ve spent mostly working very heavily on the new King Midas Sound stuff. It’s just something that overtook me, overwhelm me. Everything I do I get really obsessed by, for me I’m not very good at multi-tasking. I prefer to just do one thing at a time as well I can. And King Midas Sound had a snowball effect, we never expected the interest that we had. We didn’t expect to be offered as many shows, but at the same time we wanted to try to improve the shows. Basically I had to take a break, I was working harder than ever. I had to put The Bug to one side for a while. And also because it gave me more time to think about what I wanted from the new The Bug album as well. I guess I think quite conceptually about things, for me I had to find the right angle I wanted to in on the next record.
Is it difficult for you to juggle all these different music personae?
No. I love doing what I do. It’s all me ultimately. I just wish I can clone myself 3 or 4 times. There’s literally not enough minutes in any given day. I wish I had more time, I wish I had 2 more of me, and that’s a major problem. It’s a blessing though, I do what I love. Most people I meet don’t get the opportunity I have. So for me I feel lucky every day I wake up because I know what I love and what I’m trying to do. As time passed on, you improve on the craft you learnt. I see it very much like that. For me I started music out of necessity, I felt like there wasn’t anything else I could do and wanted to do. My father and grandfather were both musicians. Postpunk music had a really big impact on me.
Just in terms of philosophically, culturally, and aesthetically. I pretty much made a parallel world out of music because the real world didn’t make much sense to me, and I can remember even as a kid blocking out the sounds of my parents arguing by putting 2 big speakers on both sides of my head. For me music is my biology, my physiology is musical. I think everyone is the same. That’s why music has been popular since prehistoric men. It’s about vibration and frequency, and we all react to that, they are major components of human life. Sound and how sound is passed from an instrument or a voice, from person to person, is just intrinsic to human beings… that’s a long answer and I diverted in a few ways. I apologise for that [laughs].
It’s alright, we dig long answers [laughs]. You mentioned that you had background in postpunk. Does the same postpunk ethos carry over to who you are now?
I think all things carry on. If you end up constantly working on music and trying to redefine who you are and why do it. And you try to find a way to get closer to your goal in making music, that stuff will always be in you. When I first heard Joy Division, Public Image Ltd, or the Birthday Party, they were all major experiences for me. Those influences stayed with me, but I’m very much more interested in looking to the future. I’m very hungry for new music, I’m very hungry to be inspired by new music. I want to feel competitive about music but not in a bullsh*t macho ego way. More in a way that would make me work harder and know that I gotta better myself.
For a long time in the studio complex where I worked, Jamie from Vex’d and Asian Dub Foundation were all in adjacent rooms to me. I’ve never been in that sort of environment before. It was really inspiring because you would feel like “whoa, they’re stepping up with this, I have to see if I can go one better than this,” but in a good way, you know. Not in a stupid way. In a supportive way, everyone is trying to make the best they can. I’m a perfectionist, on average it takes me 4 years to make an album. London Zoo took 4 years, Waiting for You took 4 years. I’m not gonna release stuff until I’m happy with them.
What’s the process like for you? Do you create tonnes of stuff at the same time or do you make one track at a time?
Generally I do into a song for a long period of time. I tried experimenting where I don’t do that – I tried working on several ideas at the same time. But I just realised that wasn’t the best way for me to work. The minor slight to that is I can take too long on one song. I remember an instance when I was doing a remix of Thom Yorke for XL Records where I got really lost in the track. It ended up taking up 4 months, crazy amount of time. I can remember halfway through having a real crisis, thinking maybe I’m just shit, maybe I wasn’t very good at what I do and this was just one huge mistake. I would often go through those periods, it’s like self-torture in a way.
It’s what you love and what you hate – those extremes and opposites are very much a part of the music process as far I’m concerned. And part of living life… for me life is experiencing extremes, the middle ground for me is living death. Those extremities of pleasure and pain are intrinsically linked, to achieve one you have to go through the other. Another long answer, I’ll just give you small soundbite answers from now on [laughs].