The worst part of interviewing Matt Martians is knowing that even with an unlimited amount of time in the world, it’d be impossible to follow, let alone understand, the myriad of creative pathways connecting and computing in his head. The 29-year-old producer and de facto big brother of R&B/jam band/your favorite musician’s favorite collective the Internet wears a lot of hats just for that project — producer, writer, singer, and designer.
These are the same hats he wore for his 2017 album The Drum Chord Theory and that he’s worn in his work for and with other artists. And for the Internet’s new album Hive Mind, which comes a little over three years after their Grammy-nominated Ego Death, he’s kept his eye on his forever prize: The joy and freedom and warmth of making music with people on the exact same wavelength. Though the band’s changed up a bit, its center holds, and Martians (né Martin) clearly wouldn’t have it any other way.
You’re one member on behalf of the group. Do you ever speak with the others ahead of time about what kinds of things you want to convey…?
I just know. We hang around so much that I know what they’re thinking, what they’d say if they were here.
During press cycles, how do you switch between advocating for the Internet versus advocating for yourself, or is there even a switch at all?
It’s not really much of a switch. The difference is, any of us can speak. It’s not just ‘you,’ if the album sucks. You all gotta go in and handle the press if the album sucks. But when it’s just you, it’s like yeah, if the album sucks, that’s all on you. You have to answer all the questions. That’s really the only difference!
In other interviews, you’ve mentioned that you stage your album covers deliberately to showcase what each member brings to the band. In the most prevalent press image for your new album, you’re at the center. You aren’t posing “with” anything, and for you, who comes from a design background too, what’s the significance of that placement; of that orbited position, of that image?
A lot of the pictures we take, it just depends. Sometimes someone will be in the center, sometimes someone else. That one, as far as composition, it was the best photo. But it symbolically shows my role inside the group, as far as me being the middleman between everybody. I’m sort of the older brother to everybody. I have a hand in everything, whether it be the artwork, the production, the writing. It’s not really thought out, but I think we do that naturally.
Are you still designing most of the Internet’s digital and physical output?
Yeah, I design everything.
It’s something I’ve seen in other groups. They’re taking their designs in-house and the visual aesthetic is almost just as important as whatever else the group might be doing. Maybe even having a life of its own — a lot of musicians are basically fashion horses.
As someone who’s always spearheaded the Internet in this particular lane, what are your thoughts about those changes, not just within the industry but within someone who broaches all these different categories and outputs?
In this industry, people can make their own beats but they’re afraid to make them. I’m like, ‘Yo, I feel like we all need to cut out the middleman and become a conglomerate of our own.’ It’s actually moving in the best direction. It makes things become more efficient, and I think we always know what’s best for ourselves, we trust ourselves a lot because you do have too many people who don’t really know you say they know what’s best for yourself.
So I think it’s great that this is happening, because so many people have so many great ideas… I watch TV shows about designers and architects. And a lot of them can’t draw but it’s about that vision, pushing past people who say they can’t do it. I think it’s great that so many people are taking back the power to design because people can actually tell when something’s actually done by the artist. Or it’s personally approved or personally done. You can subconsciously tell.
Especially since the Internet has so many distinct personalities. You have an all-star batting line-up, which I hope sounds even vaguely like baseball. Or a boy band, where you pick your favorite.
We draw inspiration from the Beatles a lot, so I think that that’s where we get a lot of that from. One thing I liked about the Beatles was, everybody had a role. You couldn’t take one out or it wouldn’t be the Beatles. I really wanted us to be… There are certain bands where there are two people in it and they’re always that band. They could switch bass players, keys, but if they had those main two members then it’s this band. I never wanted us to be that type of band. I wanted to be the type of band where you can’t take anybody out or it isn’t the Internet.
Or, any evolution has to be like an actual evolution of the Internet as a whole, not just “the Internet” and you dip in and out of it as it fits you.
That’s exactly what it is.
For your previous albums, you invited in guest vocalists. I don’t know what’s going on with this album, but have you changed your feelings about inviting in outside collaborations?
There aren’t that many guests on this album. The only guest vocalist is Nick Green, one of the co-writers. He just did a few harmonies. Then we have Moonchild do a lot of the horns on the album. So that’s about it; we have no prominent guest vocals. We wanted to make this album really all about us.
A lot of the really good bands, good artists, when they get into the zone, they don’t have a lot of features on the albums.
You can definitely see that on other records, like labels’ brazen attempts to get their artists on the same tracks to boost their profiles. To that point, the combined experience of all of your members now is pretty extensive, even for Steve Lacy, the baby. How has the process been when it comes to establishing your autonomy both as a solo artist and as a member of the Internet? What’s your relationship to the “industry”?
We don’t focus on the industry at all. We do it ourselves; we really are a band that… The only time we deal with the industry is when we turn our album in. All of our solo albums, we released on distribution deals. We understand, the natural process, we’re not aiming to be famous. We’re aiming to be successful. A lot of people get very confused about success because there are so many famous artists. We make just as much money at shows as a lot of artists on the radio. A lot of people don’t know that! Why would we look to change our formula if what we’re doing is perfect?
That’s what we taught Steve early on. I remember one of the first things I told him was, “You don’t need anybody. You don’t need the things, you can do all these yourself.” And that’s why I think everybody in the band is like, “You don’t have to do the fame.” And I notice when, you let people know that they don’t have to wait and make it to be set free, they don’t wanna leave. They respect where they are and they’ll go in and go out, but they’ll never look at it as a prison. Instead of a school where they learned how to fly. Yeah.