MNTRA moves onto Justin Martin's What To Do label with catchy new single, 'Waiting'.
We have had the pleasure of interviewing him and this has been the result.
1. Hey Dillan! Thanks for chatting with the Chromatic Club. How’s your 2024 going so far?
Hi! I want to start by saying thank you for taking the time to ask me some questions and make things a little more personal - in today’s digital world, we see the glitz and glam on social media but often miss the larger intimate stories & true personalities behind it all. You know, the things that make us human? Honestly, 2024 has been a rollercoaster already. To answer this question, I have to take a look back at how 2023 ended. After just completing a North America Tour with The Sponges which ended 12/30 in Brooklyn, I jumped straight into a funeral to start the year. January has been a very challenging month for my household, with financial instability and the loss of a key family member, the year was off to a rocky start to say the least. My dad got a 40% pay cut at work and my mom was struggling to close deals. I didn’t have a single second to process my first real tour & instead jumped right into spending time with family. We’ve never really been close, but it’s been nice to develop a deeper relationship with the both of them this year. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to shift focus a bit. I took some time away from the family and spent over a week up in the San Francisco Bay Area with the one and only Justin Martin. Time with him is so important to me & it’s something I value deeply. He has this magic about him that is simply contagious whether it’s in the studio or just cracking dad jokes on the couch. Over the course of the week we laughed, we joked, saw friends and worked on content for this upcoming release. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor, I really feel like he cares about my well-being, career, family and life. I left feeling rejuvenated, whole & excited for all the things we’ve been waiting to share this coming year. As far as shows go, I'll be playing Gem & Jam Festival in Tuscon this month and I couldn't be more excited about it. Also coming up is one of my favorite parties of last year - Justin Martin’s ‘What to Do’ label party on Feb 16. This time I’ll be joined by his close friend and SF legend, Galen & upcoming female breaks phenomena Felly Fell.
2. Your new single, ‘Waiting’ on Justin Martin’s What To Do imprint. What can you tell us about this release?
I am so excited to put this release out! I can safely say that it is the work I am most proud of to date. So much of my early career and really the last 7 years of being a producer I've experimented with a range of sounds and genres. I was coming from a silly curious place and gravitated towards happy melodies, major chord progressions and even electro-swing. In many ways my project felt scattered and discombobulated, with a range of music in my sets - I hadn’t fully discovered my sound yet. This release is different, and a lot of that is thanks to Victoria and her brilliant mind. She heard so much of my early music but was pushing me to look deeper. We had a number of chats pertaining to the idea of writing music that was authentic to how we were feeling at the time - the truth is I wasn’t the same happygo-lucky naive kid anymore. After 7 years of trying to “make it” in the music industry, touring with my band ‘Boiz House’ and barely scraping by, things were no longer butterflies & rainbows. My heart was broken and “happy music” just no longer felt like the only form of expression to explore - I had to look deeper. Waiting is the culmination of those deeper feelings and years of trying to hone in on what my sound actually is. I will always produce multiple genres and stay true to who I am, but this song just felt like MNTRA. It’s hard to describe but also so clear to feel as a producer. The next phase of releases will still come from the heart, but these ones came from a broken one. Fun story: I first sent this track to Mikey Lion & Desert Hearts. As always, when there is a release I really like, I shop it around to see if any labels are open to signing it. I was so proud of the work and thought without a doubt this track would be a great addition to the label’s sound. Unfortunately, they said it wasn't a great fit for the label. My courage and confidence was shot, and I added another rejection to the list. Fast-forward a few months - Justin Martin is headlining the main stage at Desert Hearts Festival (2023) and he opens his set with ‘Waiting’ , the very song Desert Hearts rejected, and the crowd response was unanimous. It really is a funny story when I think about it. By sharing this I hope to encourage other producers to trust their work, their ears and their hearts. Not everyone is going to see what you see or hear what you hear, and that is what makes YOU the artist. Continue to be proactive, share your art and trust those who gravitate naturally to your sound - some things really are out of our control. Focus on what is.
3. You’re based in California, tell us about the West Coast underground music scene and what sets it apart from others?
We could spend days just talking about this question alone. To be honest, I feel truly blessed to have grown up in the West Coast, and more particularly to have a journey in music out here. I want to preface with the notion that I have lived in almost every part of California now, San Francisco, Bay Area, the central coast (San Luis Obispo), Santa Barbara, Orange County and as far south as San Diego. There is really something special about the West Coast Underground scene with so many layers to unpack here. Some of the first parties I ever attended were not in clubs or venues, but rather outdoors on top of a mountain or at renegades with the best sound systems in the world. 10 Hours of music leading to a sunrise above the clouds - the stuff you just won't find anywhere on the internet. This West Coast music scene was my upbringing. It’s inevitable that these parties shaped my journey as an artist and really gave me a deeper understanding of how people absorbed sound and culture - I didn’t have to be in a dark sweaty room playing club music to be successful, I could travel from campsite to campsite, homie-fest to larger underground dance festivals, all without compromising to fit a certain mold. In 2017, my close friends & I started a collective called Boiz House. Whenever I talk about Boiz House, I get emotional because it had such a huge impact on my arc as an artist in the underground scene. Boiz House was simply a group of best friends who shared a vision - to use music to bring people together, and that's what we did. I can see now all the people that have come together or met on a Boiz House dance floor scattered across the underground spaces of California all contributing to the scene in their own ways. The community we helped build is something remarkably beautiful because it was such a supportive one. Creatives from all walks of life, with all different skill sets came together to showcase talents and spread hugs. Painters, sound geeks, fashion designers, circus performers and more would come together to throw these small events as we grew through our 20’s searching for ways to leave our mark on the music industry as a whole. Our fans became friends and our friends became family over the course of 7 years as we continued to spread our sound and energy. I will forever have the utmost gratitude for anyone who supported the Boiz House project or was a part in shaping our future. There are so many shoutouts I want to make in this section because truly there are just some incredible people bringing incredible music to California. Daisy Chain - a collective based in San Diego has really brought together a community that was silent. They are bringing in some of the world’s best in underground bass music - you’re just not going to see these artists at your next commercial event. There are just so many incredibly talented people down here pushing the scene & music forward and after traveling out east and across America I can say it is truly just a different experience out here. About 10 years ago a newer generation of musicians were taking the underground by storm. Artists like Snuffy, Player Dave, Sammy Legs, Sumthin’ Sumthin’, Eazy-Baked, Flyy, Saka & more who started in similar positions as myself are now all so close to reaching an audience that extends beyond the underground. Four Tet is playing these guy’s tracks out - I mean it’s just awesome to experience the whole circle really starting to make a statement to a much larger audience. There are so many crews I could name doing something special out here - the Dirtybird community however was definitely one that will have a lasting impression. I will forever have that community to thank for showing me a side of the West Coast underground I'd never before experienced & I know a lot of folks felt the same way at one point. All I can really say is, it is worth coming out here to experience for yourself - it’s impossible not to feel like I’m a part of something much bigger than myself & I wish that for everyone who takes breath in on this planet.
4. Your debut album is set to release this summer. How have you been gearing up for it and what can we expect?
I seriously can't wait to share this piece of art with the world. It’s taken me just about 2 years to get the music and concept together so you can imagine it’s been a lengthy process, with all the ups and downs & everything in between. This project is the culmination of everything I've learned & experienced in electronic music so far - and more importantly is probably the piece that most closely reflects my internal dialog as a human on this planet. That being said, it’s been quite a lot of prep work to get all the moving pieces to work together. I’ve gone through so many rounds of revisions & changes to really get these songs to last on a shelf instead of getting lost in the piles of music being released each and every day. You can expect several genres on the piece of work that tell the story of a journey through love in several of its stages: friendship, infatuation, lust, heartbreak & the ultimate self discovery that happens when it's all over. Something else to expect that will accompany this piece of music is a 6 minute short - animated film. Taking on this project and managing a team of animators, writing the story, drawing the initial storyboard and bringing it all to life are just a few pieces of this massive project. The animated short film will be released shortly after the album drops this summer. Animation has always been a huge interest of mine and Justin has been kind enough to support my vision fully. Without him, birthing my first animated production would not be possible. For now this is all I can tell you! You’ll have to wait a little longer to find out more <3 This is the perfect place to shout out someone who has been absolutely integral in the album, my project and honestly my entire life. My manager, Zoe Shanks, a seriously underrated behind-the-scenes gem who makes all of what I do entirely possible. The artist manager in today’s world has a lot of responsibility that often goes unnoticed or under-appreciated. They have an extremely difficult almost impossible job - to manage someone else’s emotions, expectations and ultimately help an artist bring their vision to life (& more than half the time, the artist doesn’t even have a clear vision). Zoe has been there for me through thick & thin and she's brought a new level of maturity and care to this project. She’s fed me, coached me, housed me, & asked me the deeper questions unlocking new layers to my artistry She’s earned the title creative director on this animated film & really has shown me her true colors. She cares, for all the right reasons and I couldn’t ask for a better right hand woman. She has gone on to support Justin in his label & project and is an integral part of all things What to Do. Without her, the ship sinks.
5. Last year, you embarked on an impressive 6-month-long tour across North America. Tell us about your favorite moments.
This was actually my first solo tour as an Artist & I have to say it was an absolute blast. To be honest, I have to thank Nick & Ryan (The Sponges) for providing me an opportunity like this - without them none of it would have been possible. I was curious - to see what touring this hard would feel like - after all I’d never done it before. I had to see if the lifestyle was one that was really cut out for me. Nick and Ryan were honestly incredible mentors - I mean these guys have touring down to an absolute science and it was pure joy to be a part of. I’d have to say Meow Wolf, Santa Fe was an absolute blast. We went back the next day to check out the entire space and I left feeling like we could've spent days there and still would not have experienced all the space has to offer. Another one of my favorite stops was Walter Where?house in Phoenix, AZ - if you’ve never been, this place is an absolute wonderland to experience. I also love sharing the stage and for this show in particular - I brought out my best friend TCHiLT to join the party. He is one of those funk overloads that just oozes out swagger & incredible music. SILO Brooklyn & Spy Bar in Chicago deserve some honorable mentions on the list! I think it’s hard to pick a favorite moment but the truth is being on the road sharing music with people who have never heard of me before was so rewarding. I thought I'd be more tired, burnt out & perhaps even depressed (post tour blues) - but instead I feel more energized and motivated than ever to get back out there & begin watering the seeds that were planted on this tour.
6. What else do you like to do outside of DJing and music production?
Hmm…good question! I guess it really depends on my mood - some of the rituals include reading, journaling, spending time in nature or with friends. My friends and peers really mean so much to me, and they drive so much of what I do. I love checking in, I love hanging out & I love getting to the root of why things are why they are, together. I really do live a simple life for the most part, behind the shades is a guy who really enjoys a dumb movie or late night conversations that last till the sun comes up. To be completely honest this is a tough question for me. I view it like this, there are two sides to my existence. There is reality: what we all must do to survive. Make rent, pay the bills & earn a living. Then there is the fantasy: a life outside the mundane, sharing music and energy to any and everyone open enough to receive it. It’s a personal mantra of mine, to blend reality & fantasy and to exist as one. In simpler terms, I think choosing to do music, producing and being part of the industry as a whole is a lifestyle choice and it can take up your whole world. It’s always on my mind; what’s the new song this week? How can I get my kick and bass to sit better in the mix? How does any of this affect people on a dancefloor? Does any of it even matter at all? This lifestyle means I am constantly in a thought cycle or pattern in which music holds the highest power. I guess, it feels like I don’t really have the option to do anything else.