We had the amazing opportunity to chat up close and personal with Justin Martin at the Dirtybird BBQ party at Miami's Villa 221 during Winter Music Conference this past March. The venue was a perfect place to reinvent the legendary Dirtybird BBQ bass-feast tradition, native to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. It had the same family-fun feel with free food and amazing music in Villa 221's perfect, jungle-like indoor/outdoor venue. Justin was kind enough to step away from his merrymaking for a bit and share some of his time with us. Check out the interview below and don't miss his new album Ghettos & Gardens, released on Dirtybird Records May 22nd, 2012.
1.) If you could describe your musical style as a flavor of ice cream, what flavor would it be?
Probably rainbow sherbet…there's a little bit of everything in there, and very fruity!
2.) What's the biggest sacrifice you've had to make being an artist?
You know, I can't really complain about anything. It's my dream job, so I feel completely blessed and lucky to be able to travel the world and play my music. I'm gone a lot…i would say the biggest sacrifice is probably sleep. But you know what, they say you'll sleep when you're dead.
3.) Did you ever consider using an alias?
I did! I was originally Jerry Boathouse, which was just a goofy name that we came up with. It was right after I graduated high school and it was the first time I ever got drunk, and I was just sitting around with my buddies in the backyard drinking from a handle of gin, like worm, nasty disgusting gin, and we were just sitting around calling each other names. We'd be like, "Whatever Harry Fongdang!" just stupid names, and someone said "Jerry Boathouse" and the name kinda stuck for a while. But then for my first real gig, I remember I got paid in check form, and it was made out to "Jerry Boathouse" and I couldn't cash it, so i was just like, "You know what, I don't know about the whole alias thing." So i just ended up sticking with my own name.
4.) Who do you go to for feedback and ideas when you're making music?
Either my brother Christian, or Barclay, Claude VonStroke. We've been together from the very beginning and we all have the same kind of idea and vision for the Dirtybird label, so I trust their opinions and I trust their critiques a lot.
5.) What are 3 words that describe your bond with your label mates?
Ummm….you know….3 words? I'm not good with words….how about "I love you"? Haha!
6.) How do you get into your creative zone either in the studio or before a live set?
It's different for both. Performing, it sounds cliché, but you just kind of feed off of the crowd and the people there. For in the studio, I just tried not to force anything, and if there's a day where I'm beating my head against the wall and I'm not making music, then I'll go outside, I'll go ride my skateboard, or go to a museum or something, or veg out and watch TV. And sometimes you just find inspiration at the most random times. It's the tracks that you basically sit down and write in an afternoon that come out the best, and that doesn't happen every day, so you just kind of have to get your inspiration from not working too hard, but still working hard at the same time…balance. A healthy balance of fun and work I think.
7.) Dirtybird has a very special place in many SF/Bay Area hearts…how is performing for your local fan base different from any other crowd, like Miami for example?
Well it's hard to say. When I come to Miami not during the Conference and I play at this place called Electric Pickle, the crowd is incredible. It's one of my favorite places in the US to play. And the crowd in San Francisco is next level - it's my home, it's where i get to test out all my new music, and people are open minded. You don't feel like you have to play a certain sound or a certain way, you can just go and do whatever you want. And i kind of feel like Miami is similar. During the Conference it's a lot different, but it's also really good because we have people who are hardcore fans from all over. I think both are great.
8.) What is the story that you tell with your new album, Ghettos & Gardens?
The inspiration behind it was…well, people always describe my sound as "tender and tough" and I wanted to make an album that you could basically listen to at home or on the dance floor - to have lots of beautiful melodies, but to still have that Dirtybird bass. So Ghettos & Gardens, it's 2 opposite ends of the spectrum, but just 2 completely beautiful things. On a more literal level, we play in the park, where we started our Dirtybird BBQ, which is like a beautiful garden area, and then also cities all over the world. There's a lot of meanings behind it; I just wanted to make some music that was from the heart and a little bit of everything.
9.) Did you realize that when you started doing the Golden Gate Park parties that they would get so huge?
No, we had no idea it would ever get that big. The first one we did was probably like 30 to 40 people, and I remember my brother had just bought the Dirtybird sound system and we put the speakers so far away from each other because we were anticipating a huge crowd. There was this picture of the park with no one in it, there's the Dj booth, and then these speakers on 2 opposite ends of the field, super far away from each other, and no one there! But we never really set out to throw this massive party, we just wanted somewhere that we could play our music outside for our friends, and it just grew and grew.
10.) Do you have a favorite track on your new album?
I think my favorite track is probably #1, "Hood Rich." i just got the chance with this album to explore different sounds that inspire me, and that one is just, i don't know, I dig it. I'm happy with it.
11.) Do you ever have a gut feeling about how successful a track is going to be after you've produced or remixed it?
I think I feel that way in the beginning of every track. I'm really excited about it, but then you don't really know until you try it out for the first time, and then i'll be like, "Alright, maybe I need to go back to the drawing board on that one." But I never really know, I'm always trying to make something that's new and different and I'm not saying, "Ok, this works so I'm going to do this every time." So it's always taking a chance, I like to take a chance and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
12.) Describe how your sound has transformed since 2003 when "Sad Piano" came out?
It's changed a lot! Back then I was just starting off, I'd just bought a computer not even a year earlier, and I was really inspired by the San Francisco deep house sound, like Miguel Migs and Mark Farina. And I hadn't met Barclay yet really…I mean, I guess I had at that point, but my mind hadn't been corrupted by the Detroit techno stuff that he likes…haha. And it was just like everyone came together - me and Barclay and my brother and Worthy went to SF, and we were all inspired by different things. We just started making music that blurred the lines between genres, and initially i didn't set out to do that, but as time went on I just tried to progress in my sound and make music that's different.
13.) Do you want to perform on the HOLY SHIP! cruise again next year? What was your favorite moment from this year's maiden voyage?
Oh my God! That was next level fun, that was incredible. Favorite moment? Sitting in the hot tub all of Saturday, and the rap party was pretty awesome - Craze and A-Trak - just because it was different. But there wasn't a moment on that ship that I wasn't having fun. I don't wanna speak too soon but there's a chance that I might be returning next year with some of my… colleagues. It sold out like the day the tickets went back on sale!
14.) Are you excited for the Hatched tour coming up this summer?
YES! There's nothing better than playing with your friends, so we got a great crew of Djs, it's going to be super dope.