Published on Cardiff AfterDark (16 Nov 2014)
The latest, singer-songwriter sensation-in-waiting Martin Luke Brown is about as secretive and elusive as other undiscovered gems go. There is very little we know about him yet – his new single Nostalgia is the one track we have to go on to judge what we can expect from him in the coming year. In terms of building expectation though, it does the job nicely. In three-and-a-half minutes, it manages to fit in all the ingredients that make up MLB’s sound – a bittersweet falsetto vocal, glorious harmonies, sentimental melodies and hooks that stick like glue.
It’s a good appetiser as any for what else he holds in store, and there could well be plenty more gems hidden up his sleeve. 2015 is shaping up to be a promising year for the self-taught multi-instrumentalist, and those who were in attendance at Jess Glynne’s gig in The Globe were treated to an exclusive set from him and a glimpse of what lies in store from the Leicester lad. Stopping in Cardiff a week early before the gig, Martin took time out to do an exclusive interview with AfterDark’s Dean Hodge.
DEAN: How has the experience been of touring with Jess Glynne?
MARTIN: It’s been a great experience and strange at the same time. Because of the type of fanbase that Jess appeals to and her overall sound, having me as a support act walking on with just a guitar and keyboard could be really different to what her audience would be expecting.
I wasn’t sure how it would go down, but it’s gone down really well. The reception has been fantastic, and I’ve made a lot of new fans. Jess has been really good to me and my team, and supporting me through Twitter, and it’s been a good atmosphere throughout the whole tour.
DEAN: You’ve had a lot of previous experience as a support act for The Maccabees, Newton Faulkner and Katy B. Has that helped you develop your confidence and style as a performer?
MARTIN: With support slots, you have to learn to adapt. You have to have a balance between knowing who you are as an artist, but also being able to adapt enough so that you appeal to whatever audience you play to and they can get a good introduction to your music. It’s a great challenge as an artist to be able to do that.
DEAN: Because you’re having to adapt your sound to a certain audience or stage, does that inspire you to try new things musically or influence your sound in some way?
MARTIN: I think having to learn to adapt your sound depending on who you’re performing to definitely encourages you to venture into new territory as a musician, and can bring out certain elements of your music that can elevate your songs to a new level without completely changing your overall style.
DEAN: So how long have you been performing and playing gigs for?
MARTIN: I played my very first gig when I was 14, and probably started writing songs when I was 15. Around then, I was really getting into writing songs and began performing in various small venues. I’d never consider music a job because for me it’s something I just love doing. Having said that, it was nice when I got older and was able to be paid in free beer for doing a gig – definitely a good bonus of gigging.
DEAN: I understand you used to busk a lot as well. Was that helpful practice to you as a musician, and a good avenue into performing to larger crowds?
MARTIN: When you first start out performing in venues, having all the eyes of a room on you is initially very daunting whereas when you’re busking, most people will just walk past anyway though some people may stop what they’re doing to watch you and listen more intently to your music. It’s a great feeling when people take time out from what they’re doing to pay more attention to you and your music, and it’s a much easier way of performing before you develop the confidence to play to a bigger stage. Another good aspect of busking is when you start playing your own songs, you can see which songs get a better reaction or attract more attention from people.
DEAN: You moved from Leicester to London for university two years ago. Did the musical scene in London and its reputation as a springboard for other artists’ careers attract you as well?
MARTIN: There is a very good music scene back in Leicester and a lot of talented artists there. However, London was a wise move for me in terms of developing a tougher mentality. The people there have so much drive and ambition to succeed. I’ve always been a self-motivated person, so it was good for me constantly around people similar to myself, and that level of ambition rubbed off on me and inspired me to work even harder to achieve my own goals.
DEAN: Do you think much of the music scene today prioritises image and success over quality and genuine passion for music?
MARTIN: I wouldn’t say one aspect is important than the other because you need to have both to truly succeed in the industry. It’s about being able to strike a balance between the priority of developing your skill and talent, and prioritising ‘selling’ yourself more and expanding your network and fanbase.
I’ve met countless, insanely talented musicians who just spend hours and hours in their rooms practicing which is great, and it’s important to develop your art. But it’s also important you get yourself out there more and meet people who could potentially help you get further in your goals to succeed.
DEAN: I understand you first got your breakthrough through BBC Introducing?
MARTIN: Yes, I uploaded a couple of demos on the BBC Introducing website and it received really good feedback from everyone.
I met BBC East Midlands radio presenter Dean Jackson when I was 17. He’s a great guy and has a very good opinion of music. He also interviewed Kurt Cobain on his show The Beat two decades ago, the only gut in the UK apparently to do so!
DEAN: Your new single ‘Nostalgia’ was recently put on the Introducing Playlist on Radio 1. How did it feel to get that recognition?
MARTIN: I didn’t actually know it was going to happen. I was out for a meal with my manager and producer while we were trying to get another song mixed. Suddenly all our phones were going mental, and people were sending us congratulatory texts. A few days later, I had an email from the BBC introducing team saying my track would be getting playlisted for the week. It was very surreal to hear all these famous DJ’s shouting my name on the radio.
It’s great that Nostalgia has received such a positive response and the timing of the release was great, because a lot of my friends had just finished university and are about to move into a new stage of their life, so that song really struck an emotional chord with them.
DEAN: So will any new material be released soon?
MARTIN: I have lots of songs written now so for the rest of this year it’s just a matter of getting my head down, finishing them in the studio, getting everything lined up and in place ready to release in the new year. An EP will be the first port of call.
The hard task now is working out which songs could be a potential single, which would fit together best on an album or EP and which songs together would give the best representation of me. You don’t ever get a second first impression so it’s important that my first EP is as perfect as it can be. At the same time, I want it to show a lot of versatility and hint at the possible directions I could head in after.
DEAN: Going back to what you said earlier about having to adapt your sound when performing alongside other artists, would you ever be open to doing collaborations?
MARTIN: It’s something I’d definitely consider. I think the most weird collaborations on paper are the most interesting ones, so I’d like to collaborate with someone completely out the norm for me or that no one would expect me to collaborate with.
DEAN: And what do you make of Cardiff so far?
MARTIN: It’s my first time playing here, but I’ve found everyone here really friendly so far, though maybe it’s just the accent deceiving me! They could say I was terrible and still sound polite! I’m looking forward to playing here though, and hopefully will come here a lot more in the future.
Check out the video for Nostalgia below:
More from Martin Luke Brown:
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