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An interview with Naif Martin - Musician/ Writer

January 28, 2019

Tell us about yourself in your own words.

My name is Naif. I am 3 decades old. I like to make art and help people.


You’re a musician and a writer. What sort of art do you most identify with?

I guess music because it’s very approachable and achievable for me. I really have a big appreciation for other types of art like poetry and visual art and photography but I feel like they’re very honed skills that I will never have. Anything can be music so I like that aspect of it.


You’re a multi instrumentalist, is there an instrument you prefer to play?

I like singing the best. I think all instruments are just things to help you sing or scream. My favourite instrument is my baritone guitar though just because it encompasses all the things I like about music. It’s really sad sounding and it’s low and heavy but it also can be really melodic so that would probably be my favourite instrument. 


What is your creative process?

I feel like the creative process is ongoing constantly and I’m always using things like notes in my phone and voice memos to constantly record or jot down ideas and then I guess compiling them is the fun part. I like to sort of make cork boards and write down concepts or ideas for projects or albums or bands or things I want to write about or things I need to get out of my system. That really helps channel the energy into particular areas. Sometimes things like song titles or poem titles or album titles really help me because they get me really excited about an idea and then I’ve got that starting piece of the puzzle and I can fill the rest in. I feel like I’m not able to do much without that first bit that I’m excited about - whether it’s a song title or an idea. It’s rarely a bit of music that gets me excited because I don’t feel as competent as a musician, even though I’ve been playing for a long time I still don’t feel like a great guitarist. It’s often a lyric or an idea and then i’ll fit music in around it and once I’m happy with all the words, what the music is, it’s not as important to me because I’m happy with the message that I’m presenting or what I’m saying.


So once you have your idea, what are your next steps?

Just trial and error. See what sticks. You always have an idea of what you might want something to sound like, or reference points, and I like using them to work within those parameters. I think it’s very obvious when something works and doesn’t work and I think I like to just go with something and see what sticks. I really am quite interested in the muscle memory part of art and music. Why when I pick up a guitar do I constantly keep going to play a progression or a certain type of song? Is it because that’s all I know how to play or is it because I have to play that type of song or I want to make that song? It’s something about the unconscious that I find really interesting with music and art. I find I go through phases where I gravitate towards different chord progressions and types of melody because I feel like that’s the song that I have to make at the time. I think there’s something really cool about just following your unconscious instead of trying to make something interesting for the sake of being interesting. Just following that initial urge and seeing where it goes and being happy with that outcome. I feel like that’s been a good way to discover and learn more about myself, to let my unconscious go with writing or songwriting. I secretly do want to make pop music because I keep making it. Or I am really angry about this thing because I keep writing about it. It just sort of helps me check in with myself and sort of use my demos and writing to measure where I’m at with mental health or in life. Keeping that as a constant process.


What do you use when you’re making a song?

I use my computer. I like to map songs out in my head and think of them like making sandwiches - layering them and looking at it like a big open thing. I think rhythm is really important and drum beats are really important. That’s a part of music that I’m really interested in - how emotion and energy can be conveyed through percussion. I think most decent songs or genres of music are usually driven by great beats. I make a lot of my beats for my solo stuff or demos for other bands on my ipad. Then I send them to my computer and put them into the stolen version of logic that I have and I run all of it through a bunch of guitar pedals and make it sound like dirt.


How has your process or practice changed over time?

I think especially in the past few years I’ve become more comfortable and confident in my own self so I’ve been more productive with art I think because I’m more capable of being happy with what I’ve made. Over the course of the last 10 years, it would be really hard for me to make songs or be happy with something because it was close but not quite. Or I’d be part of a band where you’re honouring a lot of other people’s ideas and sometimes what you want gets lost in a mix. I think the older you get the more experience you have and the more you get to know yourself the easier it is to end at an outcome that you like. I think there's definitely power to the theory of 100,000 hours doing something. I feel like in the past little bit I’ve really been able to set out to make a song and then do that. Whereas before that’s not something I was able to do. I think still working at it and especially with Girls Rock - I didn’t think I had any skills musically but that week really showed me I’d learned a lot through music. You don’t really think about your skill set in art until you use it to help someone else.


What sort of themes do you explore through your music and lyrics and what inspires your songwriting?

I’ve always been fascinated by personal politics, whether it’s relationships and friendships, love, hate, death, life, but also larger more impactful social issues as well. I think a topic that’s featured a lot in my songwriting, especially over the past 5 years has been my gender identity and exploring that, which I think songwriting has really helped me come to terms with. At first it was very buried and cryptic in my lyrics and then screams so no one could understand or hear and now it’s in plain view. This is what it is, this is how I am. I think that’s been a process that’s been really helpful for me to learn how to be comfortable with myself too. I think being raised and socialised as a boy or a man you sort of aren’t given a lot of the skills to express yourself openly, so music was one of the only places where I could be openly emotional and expressive and process a lot of that stuff. I really found music in general helpful because it was kind of like this grey area where boys were allowed to be super wussy. It was kind of cool. Sort of like tightrope walking - you can talk about being really sad and fucked up and broken but also it’s hyper masc and all these other things. It’s a grey area where people really let artists do whatever they want but otherwise in real life people would be quite intolerant to the diversity of the people making the art. 


What do you as an artist stand for?

I think that’s become a lot clearer in the past few years. You start to work out what your actual ethics are and what are the things that drive you and for me it’s definitely advocating for people that don’t have voices in spaces - whether it’s women or trans or indigenous people - and the value of creating space or creating dialogue or opening dialogue for other people to exist in and take up space and make art I think is really important because the privilege of performing and taking up space is a pretty huge one. I feel like a lot of people don’t really realise or take into account how impactful it can be and I think realising that has made me very conscious of the things I put back into the world and how much space I’m taking up and what I’m saying. It makes me really want to say something in particular. We have a lot of songs about nothing so going forward if I’m going to continue to make art I want to be saying something that hasn’t been said or speaking up for people who haven’t spoken yet or advocating for my trans brothers and sisters because I feel like that’s the stuff that really has an impact and can be quite helpful for marginalised groups.


What is the biggest obstacle you face when expressing yourself creatively?

I think especially with music more so than other forms of art it’s tied to a real capitalistic industry with bars and alcohol and things like that. I don’t like that I have to exist in a lot of spaces that I don’t feel safe or comfortable in just in order to do the thing I love. I’m happy to do it because I think it’s bigger and more important than me and my comfort but it’s very intrinsically linked to people just wanting to make money and that’s something I’m not really interested in - trying to make art for money. I like that we can all make art for free on our computers and give it away for free. It’s kind of like this beautiful thing that exists now - everyone can start a band and make a record and it’s up to how good it is or whether it connects with people. I don’t like that I sometimes have to enter and exit the gross music industry “bands trying to make it” world where you see a lot of toxicity and a lot of hate and a lot of class tourism essentially. Where quite well off people are pretending to be punk or broke when they’re just not at all. It’s a real sad side of something that I think is essentially quite anarchistic in the sense that all music is free now and we’re all pirates and that’s great. Anyone trying to make money off music in this day and age is a moron.


What is the best piece of advice you could give to young women and queer folk who want to make art or music or just be seen and heard?

Take up space. You’re allowed to exist and you’re allowed to be in places that feel dominated by other people. Your rights and your voice matter and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. This shift that’s happening with politics at the moment in the left and the right, it’s scary because as marginalised people get more power and have more of a voice a reaction to that is hate and people going the other way. It sucks but you’ve just got to ignore it because it’s a really cool and exciting time where I think people are getting a chance to do really cool things. Keep trying. Don’t do drugs. Give art away for free. Expect nothing from it. Make friends. Be nice to people. Be aware of capitalist pigs.


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