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A West London afternoon with Martin Luke Brown

I’m going to start this piece by being slightly self-indulgent.

I came across MLB’s music in 2014, after just coming out of a long-term relationship. I had never been one for sad songs, in fact, I proactively avoided them.

One evening, a friend sent me MLB’s current single at the time, ‘Nostalgia’. It really resonated with me, so I downloaded (legally) all of his music that I could find.

Along with Joel Baker’s Every Vessel, Every Vein EP, MLB’s music was where I’d go to find those moments of solace. His music diverged between uplifting, reflective, and touching. It’d be where I went on late nights to remind myself that everything would be okay.

Fast forward three years, and I’m sat in a gloomy West London waiting for MLB. He appears from nowhere, with a smile bright enough to make the classic British weather disappear for a bit. We head inside, joke about the ‘avocado menu’ we’ve found ourselves looking at, grab ourselves some caffeine, and head to a just sheltered bench outside to chat.

“I’m definitely more comfortable just singing,” Martin responds to my observation that there aren’t many interviews with him online. “When I’m at home, and hanging out with other musicians, all you ever do is talk about music. When it comes to an interview situation, I get a bit nervous. The most entertaining interviews I’ve seen are from really opinionated people, and my opinions are changing all the time.”

In an effort to build some familiarity between us, we talk about mutual musicians who we know. Martin shares his love of Amber Run, and a story of how they (him and front-man Joe Keogh) initially met via Facebook messenger back in the day. He draws a similarity between their musical journey, and his, and then goes on to explain the sad reality of major labels.

Now on respected indie label Lab Records, MLB seems a lot happier with his musical freedom. In fact, you can see that in the musical differences post leaving his major. ‘Shadow and Light’ is arguably more delicate and raw, but with a sense of newfound hope. ‘65 Roses’, MLB’s tribute to his ex-girlfriend, who had recently passed away after battling cystic fibrosis, is one of the truest, most touching pieces of music of the decade. I ask Martin if he’s seen the effect of his music and what it’s meant to other people, “I think I’ve had glimpses of it, but I don’t think it’s correlated with what people see on the surface in terms of numbers of streams etc. People tend to feel more precious about songs that aren’t big singles. I’ve definitely had more sincere and meaningful feedback from the quieter, more personal stuff. I mean most of my favourite songs are the track 12s on albums cos they tend to be more raw/less dabbled with. But I like bangers too.” he laughs.

Over the years I’ve seen Martin play live many times, and each time been blown away by his stage presence and command over the crowd. The second I mention live, I see a glint in his eye, and can tell that this is what it’s all about for him. “I don’t get anything till I see it live. You can’t fully absorb someone’s vibe/ethos until you see them on stage being it. Even if you don’t like it, you form a truer opinion. It’s easy to hide behind a million different filters online. And autotune! The last year I’ve been co-writing and collaborating with loads of different artists on multiple projects; you meet people, get a feel for what they’re about, and create a song that you think represents them best. But it doesn’t mean anything if they can’t authentically replicate that in a live environment.”

Continuing the theme of live, one of the things that makes MLB so unique is his range of live performance setups. Which only continue to grow… “I recently bought an AKAI loop station that runs through ableton. It’s a massive setup – but it’s all me and it’s self-sufficient. It’s a bigger sound, but doesn’t limit me to playing to track. And there’s a freakin’ vocoder involved now too. I’ve gigged quite a bit – big support tours with Jack Garratt and Jess Glynne, festivals, headline shows here and there. But in the grand scheme of things, in three years of being a full time musician I haven’t done anywhere near as many as I would have hoped. Next year I’m gonna smash it as much as I can, do all those toilet gigs, all the shit ones that I have to. I’ve been too selective in the past. I just want performing to become second nature.”

I ask him what’s next, “Well I’ve got 4 tunes that I’m definitely putting out, ‘Into Yellow’ is the first. They’re getting progressively bigger. The soundscapes are bigger, it’s all gonna be bigger. And I’m continuing to write and collaborate with as many other projects as I can. I’ve been involved in all sorts of things the last year or so – Country records to Hip-hop to band stuff, and I love that variation. It keeps me fresh.”

New single ‘Into Yellow’ is again, different to what you’d expect from Martin. It borders on James Blake-esque electronica with hints of Bon Iver, all whilst having a trademark MLB stamp. “I always look back at my Spotify profile and think I’m not really a cohesive artist. ‘Nostalgia’ is a million miles away from ‘Scars on Scars’. I get a bit annoyed at myself for that I think, cos all my favourite artists have such a certain thing about them.” I challenge him on that point, arguing that his diversity is a good thing, “The last couple of years I’ve worked out I’m not a one-genre kind of guy, I just really like writing songs. Honest ones. I feel I’m the opposite of escapism – kinda reali-tism. Life’s a bit shitty, I’m gonna sing about it. And I think there’s a lot of people that don’t want to engage with that.

“I’d love to have a massive global smash song, of course I would. Even if it’s just to turn around and say “Look – I can do that”. But I’m not ever going to consider that the parameter for success I’d love more to just exist comfortably in my own world – like a Laura Marling / Bon Iver type character.”

From my hour with Martin I sense that he doesn’t quite believe just how incredible of a musician, and human that he is. Something that I’m sure will come as he continues to perform live, resonate with audiences, and release more music. But for now, like many others, his music will continue to hold fond memories. And, keep us very excited for the next release.

Photos and words by Sam Nahirny

Words by Sam Nahirny

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