Nick Martyn is an accomplished drummer, producer and multi-instrumentalist from Melbourne, Australia. A founding member of Clairy Browne & The Bangin’ Rackettes, he’s worked with renowned artists such as Gotye, Matt Corby and Nai Palm. His latest album under the solo moniker Las Mar, Don’t Read Everything You Believe is out now.
The album’s title – Don’t Read Everything You Believe – is this a reference to the proliferation of propaganda and fake news perpetrated by feedback loops on social media?
That’s among the things it refers to, yeah. More generally it’s the idea that the internet can provide a framework of justifications, usually complete with a forum-based “community”, that rationalises basically any idea you can conceive of. Our prejudices can be something we back up even in the words we use in search engines. Often we’re simply trying to find people who agree with us which is just healthy human behaviour. But finding anonymous online persons, of who’s agenda or even character we know nothing, to justify our prejudices is pernicious if not downright scary. A person’s capacity to appear as an informed spokesperson usually has more to do with them garnering support, in the act galvanising a group based on some confirmation bias, than it does with presenting all known facets of some issue. The internet is the ultimate intellectual wild west.
We used to need to be cynical of information – don’t believe everything you read – but now we’re at a point where to explore any notion through the experience that is online searching, even a total absurdity, is often the same as finding support for it. Ignoring the contradictions is just a click away. So now we need to be cynical of the act of searching itself, or at the very least how we do it.
How did your approach to this record differ to that of your first album?
It doesn’t differ that much in the approach per se. I just learned more things since then, mostly in the technical aspects of recording and playing certain instruments. I felt the need to explore composing in the same way as with Euphemist, my first LP which I think of as the “fine tooth comb” approach. Every detail is painstakingly achieved, a lot of layering and editing went into it, more than I’d admit to anyone! But I have a feeling the next album will be different, in terms of allowing more improvisation and raw moments to make their way onto the record. But I’m very happy with how this one turned out.
Vocals are used fairly sparingly on this record. Why is that?
I’m a big fan of instrumental music – from all sorts of jazz to jam bands, prog rock to symphonies, techno music and the wider world of electronica and a whole lot else. I like the way the imagination works in the absence of words, it’s more like reading a book (ironically) than watching a film – you create so much more in your own mind to see the whole picture. However, I love the craft of songwriting, balancing lyrical imagery and succinct utterances. I see vocal performance and the use of the voice in general in recording like some final frontier. With this album, as usual for me, I’m straddling different worlds, trying to marry things that I haven’t seen together before.
From where I’m standing a Magritte painting and a Guaguanco rhythm go together, there’s a striving in each that feels similar, a desire to be united with the inexplicable.
Your press release describes this album as having been inspired by surrealist paintings, Afro-Cuban chants and electronic dance music. What is the intent behind this disparate collage, and how would you describe the final output?
I would have said, “that’s just what my influences are, what I’m made of so that’s what comes out when I make music.” But I suppose there is intent – in terms of artistic inspiration and influence, I’m deliberately honing the things that have cut me the deepest, so to speak. And not just that, but inspirations that I see the connection between simply because that’s how they’ve formed in me. There’s a lot of types of music and art that in my mind belong together but “out there” in the world, as far as I can tell, seem disparate. Like I was saying before, I’m trying to marry the as-yet-unmarried. That’s the intent at least. From where I’m standing a Magritte painting and a Guaguanco rhythm go together, there’s a striving in each that feels similar, a desire to be united with the inexplicable. The final output I’d say is quite fresh, ambitious and, even if a little unusual, really fun and exciting. Hopefully, it can demonstrate how limiting and simplistic thinking of music in terms of genres is.
What’s your guiding philosophy when it comes to music making and creativity in general?
I guess there’s a few mantras I have, I don’t even think about them consciously but they’re a guide when in the studio or even performing live. Among them, in words, are “almost is nearly good enough…but not quite”, “draw that which is truly what you’re hearing out of yourself” and “if you imagine it better then you can do it better”. Thoughts like this can make you miserable if you try to apply them to everything in life, but in the safe and wonderful realm of making music, I find them to be valuable, even indispensable and fortunately pretty realistic.
What significance does the role of metric modulation play in your music?
I like you, Sungenre, you ask interesting questions. It’s one of the many tools to create intrigue, to heighten energy in music – like a key change, a really strong bridge or an instrumental solo – and it’s one I feel fairly in command of. Metric modulation can also just flip the listener out and create those “how crazy is this shit!” moments, the ones that make you screw up your face with the sheer radness of what’s happening. I’ve been playing drums for over 20 years and I have studied rhythms in contexts far and wide in that time, I’ve had my mind blown again and again by just how powerful, intricate and driving rhythms can be. The potential combinations and possibilities are as endless as anything we can conceive of. That excites the shit out of me almost every day. My music is just a place to get cracking checking that stuff out.
I’ve had my mind blown again and again by just how powerful, intricate and driving rhythms can be. The potential combinations and possibilities are as endless as anything we can conceive of.
What’s your ultimate goal in music?
I’m going for something that I consider to be deeply personal – first and foremost I’m satisfying my own curiosity. The act of making music can also be my greatest teacher, demonstrating not just what I consider to be “my capabilities” but, in a sense, what is capable of existing. Obsession and ambition can drive you crazy, but the point is that it drives you. If my tinkering can inspire others who feel they have a creative compulsion, a vision or ideas to explore regardless of where the world is at around them, to explore it then that would be very humbling and inspiring for me. That’s part of the ultimate goal. If people can find my music and truly be moved by it and consider that it belongs in the world of, “shit that’s pretty damn awesome” then that’s another part. To wrap up as neatly as possible – the goal is to never stop. So long as there’s a few breaks of course!
What’s one audio plugin you can’t live without?
(Laughs) How crucial these things are in recorded music these days. I’d say it’s the humble but fantastic FabFilter EQ. You can go quite a distance to creating an amazing mix with just EQ, and this one is so easy to use and so pleasant to look at.
You can go quite a distance to creating an amazing mix with just EQ.
What’s something you’ve bought or acquired in the past five years that’s changed the way you make music?
A good set of reference monitors. They’re not super duper high-end but they have given me the gift of thinking that I can achieve a great mix. Or one that I think is great at least.
Who are some artists you’ve discovered (or rediscovered) during COVID lockdown?
In terms of rediscovering, I’ve been really enjoying Drukqs by Aphex Twin again. This guy was my musical idol back when I had such things and this album I consider to be his pinnacle. I feel I’ve gone through so many things in life since the time when I first discovered this record that I really do get to re-experience it. It is truly untouchably badass music.
In terms of discovery, the music of John Luther Adams is incredible. Not being able to see any nature for the last few months (beyond the local creek, for which I’m very grateful) has been a strange experience, somewhat “hollowing” is the way I would describe it. But JLA’s music is the closest thing I know to the experience of natural environments without being in them. I have no idea how he invokes this but he does. Particularly in the “Become” pieces or “The Wind in High Places”. Beyond that, there’s some artists and bands whom I’ve been absolutely loving. To name a few – Sessa, Bibio, Kelly Moran and King Gizzard & The Wizard Lizard all just rock my world.
If you could collaborate with any artist in any medium, who would it be and what would you create?
Great question! Can they be dead? If so, I just want to jam with Jimi Hendrix one time – we don’t have to record it or anything like that. Or sit in in Miles Davis’ band, although I think he’d be quite mean to me.