Marteen isn’t afraid to be ‘out of the box,’ which sometimes means ignoring people who think they know best when it comes to his music, style and unique haircut. Here, he schools us on that important concept, which is also illustrated on his debut EP.
Talking to Marteen, the 16-year-old Bay Area artist who is easily making some of the catchiest songs this decade, is like drinking a cool glass of water. He speaks quietly, but with a barely-contained passion and energy that makes everyone in the room wake the hell up. Marteen is smooth, talented and ambitious, and his debut EP, NOTHANKYOU., is merely the first step in what’s sure to be a wild — and wildly succesful — ride. You can stream the record and check out our Q&A below.
Your EP is finally here! What’s the story?
I’m a super happy person, so I like to make fun music and make people dance. That’s what I’ve mostly made, but I’m starting to get more introspective and explain how I think about things. Some of that is portrayed on the EP. I’m super juiced about it.
What was the process like?
It was different for each track. My producer JR [Rotem] and I have our way of working. We’ll figure out the concept, whether it’s from my own life or something I see. I’ll go in the studio and lay a bunch of melodies, do 3 or 4 takes.
Speaking of those concepts. You’re pretty young, so I’m going to guess you haven’t had a long-term relationship yet…
…What inspires those types of tracks?
I’ve had somebody that I’ve liked and things like that. Love songs I’ve made are from that situation.
Back to what you said about becoming more introspective — the title track, “No Thank You,” feels like one of your most revealing songs yet.
It gives insight as to who I am. I think I’m super different compared to everybody else, and a lot of people think I should be a certain way, and be like everybody else, and change my haircut and style. This song is basically me being like, “No, I’m going to do me, I don’t need your opinion, no thank you.”
And “Sriracha” is the biggest jam ever. Can you explain what it means when someone is a “Lil ‘Racha?”
When somebody’s a Lil ‘Racha, it means they’ve got a lot of spice. Flavor. They’re not basic. They’re different in the way they move. Y’all know what I mean.
How was it touring with Dua Lipa?
She’s sweet and her crew is really cool. She’s busy, so we didn’t get to hang out, but I saw her a bunch of times and she’d say “good luck” and things like that.
If you could tour anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Anywhere? I want to go everywhere. I want to perform in Australia, Europe, Asia, Japan…I have so many Korean fans. South Korea loves “Sriracha.” And the haircut. I have to go see them.
Who do you want to collaborate with?
Big Sean is dope. TY Dolla $ign. Childish Gambino is one of my favorite artists.
He just announced that he’s retiring! You have to hurry up with that one.
Yep, Donald Glover said the next album would be his last project under Childish Gambino.
Nooo! We need to get that feature ASAP. I saw him randomly in front of the studio once, chilling. He’s such a cool dude. His stand-up comedy is hilarious, too.
Who else inspires you?
Right, you and Kehlani are cousins. Do you see her at Christmas or whatever?
Yeah! Sometimes. [Laughs] It depends on what she’s doing. She’s busy and I’m starting to get busier. But whenever we’re in the same area and we can see each other, we do.
Who do you want to tour with?
Khalid. Alessia Cara, I love her. Drake.
You’re pretty young. When did you know this is what you wanted to do as a career?
I was around 12 when I started taking singing seriously. I began doing covers. I liked it so I kept doing it! I played baseball for 5 years before that, and that’s what I wanted to do, but I changed it up. I realized I really wanted to do this.
Wait, you were almost an athlete?
Almost! I was alright. I was a good fielder. I wasn’t an amazing hitter. But I got a couple doubles. Now, I would never want to do anything else.
Another important question: do you have a driver’s license?
I don’t! I don’t even have a permit. I need to get one. I really want to drive. I’m going to make that happen this year.
You used to use your given name, Martín. What inspired the name change?
Oh! How’d you know that?
I did some digging.
[Laughs] It’s originally spelled with an accent over the “I,” but it looks like Martin, so that’s why I changed it — it’s pronounced “Marteen.” I’m a quarter Colombian so everyone says it like that; people weren’t calling me Martin. I didn’t want to get people confused because you might read it as Martin! It’s also kind of square.
Now, let’s talk about the hair, because this is very controversial…
Talk to me about the day you got this haircut.
My dad and I found this barber from Europe and he created this cut called the London Fringe. So I went to my barber in the Bay and we started to do it. I wanted something different — everyone had the pineapple hair, you know? And I wanted to be out of the box.
It took me a second; I didn’t know if I wanted to cut it, but I said screw it, let’s do it. The first time it was…alright. It wasn’t so together and there were parts everywhere. It slowly got to the point to how it looks now. It’s gotten better over time. Now I see other people getting it! I saw on Twitter, someone’s little brother was getting the “Marteen” cut. It’s lit.
It is a look for sure. What are your goals for this year — besides getting a permit, that is?
I want to perform in arenas for thousands of people. I want to be on TV shows. Jimmy Fallon, Kimmel, Ellen. I want to do big things.
Anything else in the pipeline?
I’ve been in the studio a lot the past couple of weeks, making new music. Hopefully for the next project.