Martin J Haokip on the joy of creation, his upcoming EP and the thousand rupee seven-city tour that changed him
TNT Exclusive | June 21, 2018
By Rachel Syiemlieh
For Martin J Haokip, a music career didn't come easy. It took moving to Shillong, a gigantic amount of email-sending and call-making, dropping out of college, getting a job to finance his music and encounters with depression and suicide to get there. Like a lot of musicians, Martin initially saw appeal in church music, having been brought up in a small town in Manipur that is mostly Christian. Noted for his street-busking appearances and his impromptu performances, Martin is slowly but surely carving his name in Shillong and the rest of India – already with two singles under his belt, having recently done a seven-city India tour and having opened for Eric Martin of Mr. Big. TNT – The Northeast Today chats with Martin to discuss his upcoming EP, his project 'Tuned Sessions' and how he made a seven-city tour with only Rs. 1000 work.
TNT: Tell us how this all started. Have you always had a musical leaning or did you discover it much later?
MJH: Firstly, thanks very much for reaching out to me and my music, this is special.
Music has been a part of me forever now, I always knew I wanted to be somehow involved in the music scene but did not pursue it whole-heartedly until I moved to Shillong for my further studies, here I found my passion grew and with it my goals and determination. It wasn't an easy start. There were many instances where I thought of quitting and even got to it, some incidents almost drove me to suicide, for most of my years in Shillong I was in constant depression due to issues at home and other personal issues, I eventually had to drop out of college this year, 2018. But every time something or everything went wrong I always found myself ending up in the creative bliss of music, hence at one point I decided that this was what I wanted to do for my entire life and started putting my life in order. I started sending out emails and started calling people for most part of 2017 trying to make musical connections and business contacts while also handling the Artiste Management in Living Roof Cafe, Shillong (A beautiful cafe btw), I worked on my music at home at night and worked to finance the same in the cafe at day. By this time I had performed in most of the live venues in the city and was gigging more than once a week, of course it was hard work for little in return but in the end the love you receive and people you connect with is always worth it. Come end of 2017 I had decided to do a 7 city tour in India and get some experience and get my music out there, remember all those emails I sent and calls I made? Well, January 2018, one got back "The Piano Man Jazz Club", Delhi. This was one of my dream performance venue, I was so happy I started my "7 city tour" with one confirmed venue. Haha!
It was a very low budgeted tour and I started out with 1k in hand. En-route, I made more calls and sent some more emails, hoped for the best and rested, next morning woke up to more confirmed venues! Although the tour got the best of my health and pockets, things slowly worked out and the tour was a great success. Things are pretty much moving slowly but surely.
TNT: Are you a member of any music organization or project?
MJH: Well, not necessarily an organization but I started this project called "Tuned Sessions" with a few friends; we like to call ourselves "Tuned Heads". In short, we promote musicians who strife to make the creative world a better place with their music. It's a fully voluntary project and we make no profits, we are always looking out for new and potential musicians, volunteers (media, venue hosts, f&b, sounds, etc.,) to better the intimate music scene in the circuit and we plan on expanding to more cities in the coming months. You can contact us on our email (email@example.com) for registration, and other enquiries to make a better live music scene in the circuit.
TNT: You're a solo artist. Do you have any session musicians who regularly collaborate with you on gigs?
MJH: I started off solo, started collaborating, formed a few bands and now I'm back to playing solo for the time being, so the transition has offered me the privilege to work with really amazing musicians locally and from the bigger circuits, who are all dear friends to me and it's amazing 'cause I love jamming and sessions with buddy musicians. I've played a lot of gig with Lal (Lalchan Bawitlung) he's a wonderful guitarist and a sexy bassist, I've had plenty memories with my on/off duo-gig partners Atom and Sandy (they the bomb, drops each beat like the drum). I love the positive vibes from the "Small Axe Sound", Shillong too.
However, with my focus on my solo project of recent I haven't had the time to really jam or perform with other session musicians or friends, but that phase's done, I'm now looking to find the right people to fit into this picture of a band I have and find new inspirations for my music.
TNT: What makes a good musical session for you?
MJH: Having fun is important, but always remember to learn and inspire, make space for each other and most importantly, create. Sessions have brought me a long way in my live performances and you really do learn a lot if you're paying attention. Also, nothing better than an intimate 4-5 hours of pure expression through music J.
TNT: How would you describe your own musical style? Who are your major influences?
MJH: I have been inspired by various musical styles and genres and so is my music, although I always need that soul in my music. I like experimenting too, so I'm always looking for different approaches. Soul, blues, reggae, rnb, hip hop, jazz, it's a continuous learning curve.
I don't really have a single idol or influence when it comes to music. I've always found my inspirations from any artiste that commits their all, and that could be my neighbour. Although, my playlist at the moment consists of John Mayer, Tom Misch, FKJ, Honne, Jack Garratt, Jacob Collier, Mike Love, The Kooks, to name a few and some classic reggae and rock. I listen to a lot of independent artistes on soundcloud, bandcamp, and Youtube too.
TNT: Were you influenced by old records & tapes? Do you remember the first few that had a lasting impression on you?
MJH: The first old vinyl record I heard was my Grandpa's Gospel Choir album and it was beautiful, he also inspired me to a great deal. Then came the cassettes and walkmans, those were memorable days and I was just a kid. I remember listening to Westlife on my player day in and out because that was the only cassette dad bought me then. We have easy internet access now, easier. I love listening to old records and vinyls now and will probably start collecting them.
TNT: Do you follow a routine formula when you write? Tell us about your song-writing process.
MJH: I don't really have a certain formula but I do have certain ways of approach when it comes to song-writing.
Sometimes it comes naturally and I'm done with a whole song before I even realize, but there are a lot of times when I get stuck in a certain part and I either take forever and sometimes even forget or just dump the page. You will get good ideas and bad ones, just keep writing.
Sometimes I go on a writing marathon where I finish three to four songs in a day, of course most of those are not studio ready but it helps build your experience and skills.
Some parts of my recent originals were written 1 minute before recording.
TNT: How many songs/singles have you released so far?
MJH: Well, I have two singles up on Soundcloud as 'Acoustic Pre-Releases', they will be part of my upcoming E.P. I have other releases online but meant mostly for promotional or demo purposes. Good news is that I have two music videos in the works.
TNT: In what ways has your most recent music changed from when you first started?
MJH: Friends always helped me out and I owe a lot to them, I learnt to receive critics, worked on them and kept my pride last place because I knew that I had a lot to learn and do, and quick because I felt an early start was necessary to make it in the thriving music scene. My first gigs had a lot of pop covers and classics, people loved it but I didn't. I wanted to find my sound and originality, so I started writing and laying more originals, and when I ran out of originals I improvised and free-styled and guess what? People loved it. Now, as much as I love listening to music, and playing some pop tunes, I feel originality is very important for you to be discovered and to stick around long enough. I do belief my music has matured since I began but there really is no stopping, I'm really excited to what the future holds for my career and where my music is going.
TNT: What do you think is the best or most memorable song you have released yet? Why?
MJH: That would be "For Now".
It was written for a soulmate that wasn't such a soulmate after all, it was also the song that got me through my first national tour and also amassing more than 30k plays on Soundcloud (I don't know how this happened btw, big thanks, hope you all loved it) also the song marks the beginning of my lifelong relationship with music.
TNT: How do you feel about the internet in the music business?
MJH: I say if you learn to use the internet and understand it and the music business, that alone will take you a long way in marketing your music. The way music is being distributed has changed drastically and I feel if you want to make it, you have to catch up on the world. Understanding online music marketing is especially important if one decides to reach out to the global or even national market. However, I'm sure there are downsides too and I would love to record and distribute vinyl records at this age, so I'm sure one can go both ways, with and without. I still recommend having basic knowledge of how the online music market works.
TNT: Shillong is a hot-pot of musicians, with the young getting more and more interested in creating music. Any collaboration you'd love to do?
MJH: Yes! I've had some on my mind for a long time now.
I'm not sure I have the liberty to name all of them, but something is definetly cooking with rapper Banrap Lyngdoh. I'm also collaborating on a few tracks of my E.P with some crazy talented peeps from Shillong and around. 2019 is going to be crazy.
TNT: What's the ultimate goal for your music?
MJH: I don't really know, except for the fact that I want to be doing this my entire life and be able to provide for my family while at the same time I work towards fulfilling constant new goals. The Grammy's are on my list too haha! In short, I want to keep growing.
TNT: Tell us about your current projects. We know there is an E.P in the works in addition to a number of gigs.
MJH: My upcoming E.P is on the works, the two pre-releases on Soundcloud are basically demos to the E.P. I'm taking my time with it and making sure it comes out just right, expect it early 2019.
Apart from that, I'm working on a new band project for which I'm still recruiting, also working on a separate hip hop project with some talented individuals and few other underground projects, all these projects will probably be launched by next year too. Otherwise, I'm spending my current days writing, forming ideas and preparing for a big bang come next year. There are some upcoming gigs and shows towards autumn however.
TNT: How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have an online platform with sample songs or a demo CD?
MJH: Hi fans-to-be!!!! I don't have CDs yet but you may check my music out on Soundcloud, I have my two recent releases there. Youtube has most of my live videos, with many more coming up, including my Sofar set and two music videos. You can find me on most social media platform @martinjhaokip . If you'd like it personally mailed to you, let me know.
Optionally here are links –
Thank you for giving us your time. We look forward to more talks with you. Good luck!
Thank you! This has been really nice. I appreciate every effort of the team from TNT. Best wishes and sending positive vibes to all reading this. Bless!