Supernovas is a recurring Dancing Astronaut feature dedicated to vocalists in the dance space who, with their own idiosyncratic vocal signatures and unique lyrical perspectives, have played pivotal roles in bringing electronic records to life. Each installment in the monthly series spotlights one vocalist. The serial continues with Supernovas 005: John Martin.
John Martin had his sights set on rockstardom, but dance music had other ideas.
The Swede’s voice is detectable at the drop of a hat. Bearing a monolithic resume from the past decade-plus, there’s the argument to be made that Martin sits at a one-person table of the genre’s singular most-famed vocalist. And while many regard him as the dance music avant-garde that he is today, his career path actually rose on the polar end of the musical playing field.
“If you go back like 10 years now, I had an indie-rock band in Stockholm. I was the lead singer and guitar player, and we were playing every bar in town. We spent a lot of time and worked hard, but I somehow I realized that it was too late for the band, you know? You could almost feel like it was coming to an end and I also started to go out to clubs, listening to electronic music. I felt like the energy when hearing electronic music was something else,” Martin said.
On an ordinary night out at a Swedish club, Martin happened to serendipitously stumble into his eventual VCATION partner-in-crime Michel Zitron, who already had a head start at amassing his own stack of collaborative credits. They instantly hit it off and elected to write music exclusively for Martin’s band.
“We started talking about music and then I confessed, ‘I really love this song that you did for this Swedish artist,’ which I wasn’t allowed to like because I was a rocker dude. We decided to meet up to work and immediately felt the strong connection when writing together. It felt like I found like the missing piece that I’d been looking for my whole life, having someone to work and write with. It was immediately like magic,” Martin said.
“Magic” was an apt description of their dynamic. Three ideas in, and John Martin and Michel Zitron had the makings of what would later be introduced to the electronic world as “Don’t You Worry Child.” But they didn’t exactly see it as the time-honored dance music anthem that it would eventually become.
Martin told Dancing Astronaut, “there was no real plan for that song to end up in dance, it sounded more like indie-electronic. We wrote the melodies, the chords, and the lyrics, and then the vocals that we did for the demo ended up on the recording. But it was a different sound, more like Empire of the Sun. It was a slower, more-chilled indie-electronic song.”
The demo would sit untouched for nearly half a year before an entirely unrelated, unexpected moment came along that would indirectly steer it toward a Grammy nomination in 2013 and Martin’s assistance in the finale to Ultra’s history-making 2013 iteration.
“Sebastian [Ingrosso] was at the same studio complex in December that year. We’re talking 2010 now. Michel just grabbed him into our room and goes ‘hey man, come listen to this song!’ He had just arrived from LA and was jet lagged, but we played him the song and he didn’t say much then. But then later that day as he left, he popped out of his room and said ‘hey guys, I have these piano chords that I was wondering if you could write something on.’ And that was the song that became ‘Save The World,‘” Martin revealed.
Wind the clock forward an entire decade, and “Save The World” is now in double-digit birthday territory, having turned 10 years old on May 13. Though John Martin didn’t receive an official feature credit on it, “Save The World” would be the first dance release that he’d ever been a part of—one that would permanently reroute Martin’s career path.
“Save the World” wasn’t even intended to be as astronomical as it was; it was initially planned to serve as an Ingrosso solo single. But Ingrosso fell so head over heels for Martin and Zitron’s vocal work that he made the executive call to not only take the duo’s version of “Save The World,” but also “Don’t You Worry Child”—which would formally bear Martin’s name—back to Los Angeles to show his Swedish House Mafia counterparts. The rest was history.
“I’ve been reflecting on it the last week since I read [Dancing Astronaut‘s Instagram post] and I used to remember when it was a magical time. There were so many good things happening and the inspiration you know, we were all on such a high from everything. Everything with dance music felt so fresh. I think for me and Michel, since we were not really from the dance music world and were from indie-pop and rock, it felt like for us that we could add something to that world that wasn’t really heard before,” Martin explained.
When John Martin last came in contact with Dancing Astronaut in October of 2018, both he and Michel Zitron had just begun to formally cement their musical tie through VCATION, a conduit for them to reclaim complete creative sovereignty over their studio work. Following a brief interlude in the wake of the alias’ fourth original “Stairway to the Sun” at the top of 2020, Martin says they’ve now finally been able to fully actualize VCATION, with an EP currently in the pipeline that’s comparable to “nothing else right now.”
Martin’s sweeping chronicle of high-level features and behind-the-scenes songwriting speaks for itself, but in 2014, the Swede found himself taking the dive into solo waters on “Anywhere For You,” which was, of course, produced by his collaborative running mate, Michel Zitron. Still an incredibly under-appreciated sliver of his discography, the original currently stands as Martin’s lone solo track under his own name, but he says he’s feeling more inspired than ever to ensure that it’s anything but the first and the last.
“The funny thing is that for a while, I thought that I can only do one thing at a time, like writing songs for other people. Now, we’re super inspired and it almost feels like we haven’t been this inspired in many years. We’re writing for the VCATION project, working with other artists, and we also started to write new songs for the John Martin project,” Martin went on to add.
As “Anywhere For You” single-handedly demonstrated, John Martin is no stranger to progressive house, and he attributes his affinity to it to the organic relationships formed with his creative partners. “It’s so much up to the collaborator—if you vibe and get along, of course.”
It wouldn’t be until the calendar turned to 2020, however, that Martin’s narrative took an unforeseen and refreshing turn. He partnered up with Gryffin for a union that shook Digital Mirage—”Cry“—with the single eventually lending itself to inclusion on Dancing Astronaut‘s Tracks of the Year roll call.
“Before we met Gryffin in LA last year, I liked his style of work. We weren’t really used to the tempo and slower pace, but I think for Michel and I as songwriters, we are classical songwriters. Every song we write, you can break it down and should be able to play it on the piano or guitar. The song should stand for itself and then how you decide to dress the song up is based on the sound or the producer’s style,” Martin said.
Martin’s nostalgia-brimmed timeline holds way too many memorable instances to count, but he says there’s no question that certain moments tend to loop their way back into his head from time to time.
“It was amazing, especially during the years when I traveled the most like 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and even 2015. For example, when I got to come to Brazil for the first time in 2012 before ‘Don’t You Worry Child’ was released, I only had like two songs in my set. It was ‘Save the World’ and then I performed ‘Fade Into Darkness,’ even though it wasn’t my song. [Michel and I] wrote that song, but we didn’t want to be on the record. So I had those songs in the set, and it was cool coming there and doing sold-out clubs,” Martin says.
And while he has an opportunity to reflect on those life-altering moments from the early-to-mid 2010’s, Martin also pauses to look back on how far his songwriting methods have advanced since his rock days. He elaborated,
“When Michel and I were getting to know each other, it was like finding your John [Lennon] and Paul [McCartney], and that’s not a comparison to them, but the creative thing was so crazy. And then we got like a hangover after the whole EDM peak in 2014, 2015, and 2016. To be honest, we had like three years we didn’t really enjoy. I mean, we wrote songs and sat in the studio every day, but it was years where we weren’t really happy with what came out. I think we had some kind of writer’s block and we were also a bit tired of the EDM, you know, like what people expected of us as songwriters. Because everybody’s like ‘yeah, we just need a new ‘Don’t You Worry Child.’ So for a while we were like ‘oh okay, we’re going to try it.’ And then we realized it doesn’t work twice. And that’s when we found out that we need to reinvent ourselves. So that’s why we started to write for other artists and that’s how VCATION happened. I think VCATION was one of the reasons of how we got out of our writer’s block because we could be playful with music again. And then after a while, the John Martin project [happened], and [we started] writing songs for DJs again, like Martin Garrix, Gryffin, and David Guetta. That was when we were like ‘okay, we’re really good at this, so let’s do it.’ I think we’ve definitely gotten better as songwriters. I think we’re better where we’re not overthinking things now like we used to do.”
Furthering part of the connection formed in both Supernovas 003: Jonathan Mendelsohn and Supernovas 004: HALIENE, Martin raised the topic of how varied the producer mindset has become in dance music’s current day and age compared to where it was years ago.
“In these times, it’s different. A lot of the younger generation now are amazing producers. And there’s people like our good friend Martin Garrix, who’s becoming such a good songwriter, but there’s a lot of producers that just aren’t songwriters so they need to respect the process of songwriting. If the song doesn’t work as a song, then it’s not going to work. They need to have the [lyrics] first,” Martin explained.
“It’s just interesting times, especially with the format of down-pitched vocals where almost every dance song has that now. For a lot of songwriters it’s become robot voices, but I like it because it takes away whether it’s a man or woman and it’s more like a voice that can appeal to more people. I grew up listening to icons like Jim Morrison, Liam Gallagher, and Bono, who helped me become the artist I am today, so I feel in a way that I’m old-school.”
Encountering a creative partner with the synergy that John Martin and Michel Zitron have isn’t and won’t be the case for everyone, but Martin suggests that rising singer-songwriters should fix their focus on establishing a relationship with someone they can genuinely appreciate working alongside and form a “deeper bond” with them, rather than look to throw hundreds upon hundreds of ideas to the wall with a merry-go-round of artists, simply hoping that one sticks.
“That’s when good art comes, when you can open up and you can be sensitive and fragile. That’s when good music comes. For us, we come to a session and it’s like ‘okay guys, we’re going write a song in four hours.’ One out of 10 can be good, but the best songs are usually the songs when we sit around with a guitar and a piano, reflecting on life,” Martin said.
What’s currently on-deck for John Martin? “Impossible,” slotted for arrival on June 4 via Musical Freedom with future rave comrades David Guetta and MORTEN. But Martin actually wasn’t involved with one of Dancing Astronaut‘s most-anticipated IDs of 2021 until pretty recently. After Guetta introduced his latest masterwork with MORTEN during his Tomorrowland New Year’s Eve appearance, the two felt that the instrumental was missing something, and a lightbulb went off that Martin and Zitron’s touch was just what it needed.
“David texted Michel maybe like two months ago and said ‘hey, we have this idea that MORTEN and I have started, do you want to try to write something over it? So he sent the riff and we took that idea and added the chords that the melodies are written over. I love it, I think it really connects with the people that Michel and I have played it for and seems to be a song that like passes through the brain and people start to dance. It came out pretty quickly, like in one day, and we sent it back to [Guetta] who said ‘I love it.’ It feels special and has that sad but uplifting feel to it.”
Our conversation comes to a curtain close with Martin’s revelation that although he doesn’t have a desire to commit his schedule to touring as live entertainment begins to regain its footing, he says he would still love to make a surprise appearance at a festival or perform in a country that he’s yet to visit.
“I love to come out and perform in front of a big audience. I’ve done it so much and it it connects to the reason why I do this. I can’t wait to do it again.”
Stream John Martin’s hand-picked Supernovas playlist featuring some of his favorite releases below.
This interview has been edited for readability and clarity.
Featured image: Sara Andersson
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