We talk to the rising artist about his new EP, defeating the teenybopper image, and where his music can take him now.
We talk to the rising artist about his new EP, defeating the teenybopper image, and where his music can take him now.
If some record label A&Rs has their way, Marteen would be a completely different beast. As a 16-year-old singer-songwriter, he seems prime for the Tiger Beat treatment, a relatable artist that every young kid could look up to for many reasons. But Marteen Estevez had different ideas, and by the power of Instagram, he got to make them a reality. The Bay Area native turned 15-second covers into a legitimate music career after getting discovered on the platform by lauded producer J.R. Rotem, who immediately started working on music with him. And although his talent was steadily becoming increasingly known, his fate for rising stardom was sealed with just a little Sriracha — both the hot sauce, and the title of his now-viral breakout single.
Now, the star is making good on his promise to stay true to himself with the release of his new EP, No Thank You – a seriously ironic title for a debut release. Debuts are supposed to act as an invitation into an artist’s world, but Marteen is taking a slightly different approach, as evidence by the clever cover art that signals his refusal to play by the rules. "I think it will intrigue people maybe, just because that’s not a normal title,” he remarks about the title. “It’s like, ‘Why’s this kid saying no thank you? What’s he talking about?’” We sat down with the artist to find out.
How did you know that music is what you wanted to do as a career?
Honestly, I didn’t know until I was 12 when I started doing covers and things like that, there was a lot of inspiration around me. Before that, I was just a normal kid; I grew up in seven different cities in the Bay. I played baseball for a minute actually, for five years, and that’s like what I wanted to do, so it’s kind of funny how my interests changed. I actually realized I wanted to sing around 12 and before that, I was just listening to music for fun. I was singing, but I didn’t really take it seriously. In the car, in the house, stuff like that.
Did you have an inkling like, "Oh I’m actually good at this"?
Yeah, there was a couple times. I joined a choir in middle school when I lived in L.A. I did a solo, and after that everyone was like, "Oh my god, you’re good.’" I was like, "Really?" It was surprising. People just started showing me a lot of love at school. My cousin and my family were just like, "You’re a hella good singer. You should try it." I was like, "Alright." So I deleted all the stuff off my Instagram that I didn’t want people to see because my page was private, only like 100 followers. I thought that was a lot at the time, so I was like, "Aw, I’m gonna lose my followers." I deleted everything and started doing covers, pretty much made it a singing page, and I did it like every day pretty much. I learned the guitar. My dad had a guitar he never used, and I learned it on YouTube. Things like that. I started posting them and putting myself out there, and people were showing a lot of love to me. Before I knew it, it just went crazy.
That’s crazy. From Instagram. Just one-minute posts.
It was like 15 seconds back then.
So 15 seconds turned into a whole career. What music did you grow up listening to and how did it inform the music you’re making today?
I grew up listening to a lot of R&B-soul; D’Angelo, Musiq Soulchild, people like that. My dad and my mom always played stuff like that. T-Pain and Akon were some of my favorite ones too when I was little, but yeah, just soul. Period. Pretty much everything I do, I just naturally incorporate that.
I read later on that J.R. Rotem discovered you and brought you on, and that made complete sense to me because that was kind of his sound and now you guys are kind of bringing it back in a contemporary way. How has it been working with him?
It’s been super dope. I met him through a mutual friend from the Bay. After I met, we just started working. We had a bunch of music and just connected. I think over these last two years, I’ve just grown a lot as an artist. Back then, when I first met him, I didn’t fully know what I wanted. Now, I have a clear vision of it. He’s really just helped me with that. I think we’ve just helped each other grow, period.
Let’s talk about the first single, "Sriracha." How did that song come to be?
I had just had the idea one day to do it. I was like, "I don’t feel like anybody has ever done this. Let’s make it fun.’"J.R. was like, "Oh yeah. Let’s do it. We could do something new that nobody’s ever heard. "So, he just started playing piano. It was super fun. I was like, "Whew, that goes crazy." We figured out the melodies. Sometimes, you don’t need to doubt yourself, and you just need to go with an idea whether or not you think it’s amazing because you never know. It might end up great.
Did you just go into it like I want to make a song called "Sriracha"?
[Laughs.] Honestly, I was just eating it and was like, "That’d be kind of fire. Why not make a song about that?"
Tell us about your new EP.
The concept is just everybody wants me to be a certain thing like the normal pop star is, quote-unquote, but I’m super different. It’s basically being like, "Your opinion? Eh, sorry. I don’t really care. I’m just doing me." I made a song called "No Thank You," and I was like, "That’d be a great title for the EP.’"
I’m sure people try to mold you into the teen heartthrob image.
Oh, for sure. Oh yeah.
How did you resist that?
Honestly, I feel like I’m just different from all the other kids my age that I’ve seen. I’m not hating on nobody. I want everybody to do them, but I want to stand out. I want people to be like, "That’s Marteen." You see me, and it’s like, you don’t compare me to anybody else. I used to have my hair up like normal white boys do, but people started comparing me to Jacob Sartorius and a bunch of different people. And I just didn’t want to be in one category. I wanted to be in my own lane, and I feel like since I’ve changed my haircut and upped my style, people have seen that.
Was the nose ring intentional for that reason?
I just wanted it. Like two years ago, I was just like, "I want a nose ring." So I got it. I think I got mine when I was 15, but my dad was with me.
You already have an impressive repertoire as far as performing goes. You’ve gone on tour with Kehlani, Dua Lipa. How has your touring experience been so far?
It’s been great. It’s been really fun. I’ve been blessed to be on tour with such great people and such good spirits. It’s all love. I feel like a little brother to everybody — [they’re] older than me. The crowds were great. The crowds were super fun. I feel like it was just perfect.
When you step onto that stage, what is your goal? What message or vibe do you want to leave with the audience?
I just want to make sure people notice me. I love confusing people. Just my whole look and how I sound is so different. A lot of people don’t think I’m gonna sound how I sound, you know what I mean? So just surprising people and them being like, "Oh shoot, this kid is different." That’s what I want to do. I just want to prove people wrong.
Have you learned anything from them?
I mean, Kehlani is great. I’ve seen her grow from the beginning. Her confidence is super inspiring, her overall message of positivity. I want to make sure I let people know anything is possible. There’s nothing that you can’t do.
Tell me about your newest single "We Cool."
It’s a song of just me being grateful for what I have. I want to get all these things, I want to achieve all these goals, but even if I don’t, I’m still good. I got my family with me. I’m blessed to be where I am. It could always be worse. I wanted to show people that I have struggled. It’s not like I just came up with money, because a lot of people instantly think that when they see me, just because I’m white or something like that. It’s crazy.
You mentioned goals. What are those goals that you still want to achieve?
I want to get nice cars. I want to be able to get clothes and buy food whenever I want; simple things, you know? I’ve eaten on the dollar menu for years because we didn’t have any money. My dad didn’t have stable financial income, just because I’m trying to chase these dreams. Just to be able to live comfortably.
You’re from California … How has home inspired your music?
The Bay Area has super inspired me. We just have our own culture. It’s just something you can’t describe. I feel like everybody’s just connected. We have this certain edge about us. We can make things out of nothing. I started out making music, putting it on SoundCloud, just with my friends and producers that I knew. I have friends that rap that are 15, just working because they love it. They want to be great, so we just strive for greatness.
Who would be your dream to collaborate with?
I’ve been wanting to work with Pop & Oak for a while. They’re super dope. J.R. was one of those people, honestly. He’s made so many songs from when I was little that were my slaps, so that was cool. I want to work with everybody.
Do you see yourself expanding beyond this R&B sound?
I think it could evolve, but I feel like it’s me. I feel like it’s the most me. I’ll probably do some little different things, I like incorporating a little rap. People are gonna hear it on this EP. I don’t know. It could go anywhere.
You mentioned to me you’re performing on TRL tomorrow. Whenever you do any sort of performing live, how do you prepare for those situations?
This is gonna be my first TV thing. So this is a first for me.
So how are you feeling right now?
I’m excited. I’m just gonna treat it like it’s another performance. Try to kill it as hard as I can. I used to get really nervous, but after doing these last couple tours in 2017, I’ve gained a lot more confidence and seen different crowds, how they move. Just learned how to appeal to them. So, honestly, I’m not too nervous. I’m excited.
To circle back to your fashion, what inspires it?
‘80s, ‘90s, old school clothes. Old brands that aren’t really seen anymore or just thrift shopping. I love thrift shopping and finding things I don’t usually see people wear and that I like. Just everything I like, anything I feel is cool, I’ll just wear it.
Is there one trend or one thing that you can’t imagine yourself ever wearing?
I couldn’t really imagine myself wearing Yeezys.
Yeah. It’s just a lot of people, a little overrated.
Do you see yourself in the future creating albums? What are you envisioning for your debut album?
For sure. I definitely want to make an album soon, but right now, I’ll probably release another EP after this and keep releasing content. I for sure want to do a full-length album though, go a little deeper into my life and a little more introspective, just so people can get me even more.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Ten years from now, I want to be in a fat house with everything I could ask for, and I just want to keep doing what I love. It would be tight to have my own clothing line. It would be super dope because I love fashion. I want to perform in arenas. Just do big things. It’d be tight to have a movie.
Have you done acting?
I haven’t done much acting, actually. I want to. My dad is a director, and he wants to do feature films. So maybe I’ll be in some of his. [Laughs.]
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and what’s the best advice you’d give to someone today?
Ever received? I guess that everything is meant to happen the way it’s supposed to. Don’t stress off the things you can’t fix. Just work hard. Have patience because if it’s meant to happen, it will. If it’s not, then it won’t. Simple as that. But best advice I could give somebody? Just be yourself because you can’t win trying to be something you’re not. I feel like people will respect that, and just work hard. That’s it.