A Conversation with Theophilus Martins
Artist & Entrepreneur
This article and interview just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t start from the beginning. Back in 2010, I sat in my room scrounging the Internet for new music to listen to. It was on that day that I stumbled upon Theo Martin’s music. The song was “Twenty Two,” a cover of Wakey!Wakey!’s “22.” I listened to the track often, and the wave that I was on was in perfect synchronization with the release of his latest mixtape at the time entitled You Can’t Do That On Television. I listened to that and it instantly became an album I’d play frequently.
At the time, I was been running a free Wordpress blog (terribly named SuperLiwag) that I ran with the best of my ability and which took most of my focus. One day, after spontaneously tweeting Theo telling him that I was a fan… he surprisingly tweeted back.
That wasn’t a normal occurrence for me, so I freaked out that a musician that I liked actually responded. So taking advantage of my opportunity for conversation, I asked if I could interview him for my blog. Truth was, I had never conducted an interview before. But there I was, in the middle of it, asking him questions about his latest project and ended it about what he thought about the Inception.
If it wasn’t for Theo, I’m not sure where I’d be today. My current job wouldn’t exist and neither would my sense of belonging somewhere in music and creative culture.
Thankful for my cup of coffee that morning, the swift jab of putting myself on the line took me somewhere further. It was a tiny risk while looking at the overhead scope of things, but it paid off in a major way.
To take it back full-circle, it’s odd that risk (itself) is exactly what Theo Martins had to do while making his upcoming album. He needed to risk stability, risk financially, and risk living in discomfort.
Hailing from the smallest state in the U.S., Martins is a Rhode Island native who made his way to Los Angeles, California. LA is known as the land of the opportunity to some. The sun and the sand awaited him. He traveled cross-country not knowing what to expect.
For the past few months, he has been living in California, and it has been a quest in finding his way, finding himself and making music he truly cares about… which has led to the creation of his elegantly-titled forthcoming album, Wonderland.
You just moved to Los Angeles. When did you first decide to get out here? Was it a conscious decision or did you act on impulse?
Well, my friend Maryann, she moved out at the end of April. And I was excited for her because upon graduating college I told myself that I wanted to come to California. But it didn’t happen, so for a while, I was trying to make New York work. It was close to home, it was about three hours away. So I could still come home for the holidays. I liked New York… but it was safe.
In my heart, I didn’t really want to be there at the time.
Skip and fast forward… This time, I told MaryAnn that I would visit her. We would just hang out and she would show me the LA lifestyle. So I came to LA in August, and I was supposed to stay about two to three weeks and I ended up just staying for good. I just made it work.
I was trying to dabble like “I’m going to go back home, and work and save some more money.” They were just excuses, you know? So I made the decision to stay out here. And it’s been about three and a half months now. It’s been really good. Really, really helpful.
And moving to Los Angeles has been a big part of the creation of Wonderland?
Yeah, I mean coming to LA is the reason why the album is even coming together. I wasn’t even in the frame of mind. Being from Rhode Island, it’s a smaller state — it’s great. I think culturally, it’s amazing. The art scene is bubbling and underground, but it’s good. It’s fruitful. It bears a lot of fruit.
But I needed more.
You know, I had to do more. And I needed a change and LA was the change I needed. So, it enabled me to think outside of what I normally thought. And rather than just trying to put out a mixtape or so — I just knew it wasn’t going to appease, so I thought you know what, I want to put an album together.
I did You Can’t Do That On Television which was like an EP and the response was really good. But I want to put together a solid body of work. I think I just feared not putting anything out; disappearing from the scene per se. I think doing that made me so much stronger.
The move out here was basically one huge risk. How have risks played a role in your path in life? I remember last October you said you put your foot down, and you told yourself that the “biggest and best things that have come out of our lives have been from taking risks.”
Even coming out here and deciding that I’m going to spend two weeks here, three weeks here. It’s funny, you know it’s like, you kind of already know what’s going to happen but you tell yourself “no.” I knew it was good for me to be out here, but everything —“The Manual Of Life” that I was given by friends and family, you know. Just growing up. You hold this to you. It’s like a manual of life, right? So anything that doesn’t go with the manual you’re like “Uhhh..? What do I do?”
I just had to throw that away.
Of course, I took the biggest risk in coming out here with the money I’ve had from touring and trips and working that summer. I just came out here. I wanted to go back to make sure it was safe and save up a lot of money and get things organized and get the blessings of my family and so on. But it didn’t work that way. And taking that risk enabled me to be in a really, really uncomfortable position. But that is what brought about such great music.
I always wanted to make really passionately driven music like You Can’t Do That On Television and The Birth. I really wanted to make that — but you can’t make music like that from a safe position. There’s a quote that says “it’s always easy to be safe from a far distance.” It’s true. You really have to get close and you really have to jump and be uncomfortable.
Like, what’s the worst that’s going to happen?
I’d rather — it sounds so cliche—but I’d rather die in a position of trying something than to never try it and sit here and be like “Ah, it may happen… it may not happen.” You really have got to go for it. You really got to do it.
And in doing that, I’ve grown so much. Through all of the small stuff, the stupid stuff. It doesn’t matter anymore. Because once you know that it doesn’t matter what happens now, I’m going to keep going.
That’s important. I don’t care if it ends today, I’m going to keep going.
While listening to all of this, I feel as if some people make decisions like these based on… a mid-life crisis of sorts. But then again, the life of an artist is exponentially more self-evaluative than the next person. Would you say that you just matured up to this point and it felt natural?
I think it’s not about age, it’s about stage. You can get really, really twisted in being 17 and really a great emcee. Or you can be 35 and be a great emcee. It’s really not about age, it’s about stage. If you’re not at a level of developing or growing or realizing these things, then you’ll forever be at the same place.
It’s the reason why we laugh at people who are supposed to be too much mature but who do immature things. It’s really not about age, it’s about stage.
For me, that was the time it was supposed to happen. I can’t really say that for anyone else. It was time for me to realize it, at the time I did. I may have felt something… it’s like an itch in your leg. It’s like you have a bump coming up. And you don’t see it yet, but you feel it and you don’t know where it is. It was like that. I felt something for a while and it finally came.
It was my time for me realize it and that was the shift. I felt like that always, but everything I felt and taught and saw, it just went against everything I knew as fact. Then you break that stuff and there’s no such thing as real. Just do your thing. No one cares about that stuff. It’s super important just to be trill.
When was the moment when you were like “Okay, I made the right choice”?
It was probably the third week in. I wasn’t hearing from anybody. That sense of comfort was lost and it could’ve been exaggerated a bit because I’m in a vulnerable position, I needed that to grow. I needed that to open my frame of mind.
I was reading Tribes by Seth Godin, and he was saying so many things that were speaking to my soul. I was so inspired by it. You know, what? Just by throwing the rule book away, I think that’s what enabled me to feel like I made the best decision. Even now I’m so happy about the decisions I made and it’s open up so many doors. All the dreams I wanted, my personal goals, they’ve happened in less than three to four months.
Just because I made that move. If I had never made that move, then I would have never seen that. I would’ve been wishing or hoping for it.
It’s like insanity, it’s weird. You bang your head on this forever, waiting for the tree to come down and it’s like “Why?” We do the same things all the time, just waiting for someone to take us up. Or waiting for our time to come. Your time could be today. So, make it. Make the movement. And in making that movement, is what changed everything for me.
On your blog, I’ve seen you mention “insanity.” It was something about insanity is if you keep doing the same while expecting different results.
Yeah, yeah! Why do that? I was watching Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. I was on the flight back to Amsterdam from Malaysia. I was watching it and I was so moved by that. It’s so true.
You do the same things all the time, every day: get up, go to work, come back, go to sleep, get up, go to work… You wait for something to change. And it’s vital for your survival for you to change life and not let life change you.
You want to be the one that’s breaking. You’re going to be told things that are not good for you. Things that you need to change or things that you hold as fact that is not fact. Then you come into positions where people challenge you or test you. Or say “Hey man, I think you should look at yourself when you do that. That’s not a good way of doing that” rather than being stubborn and letting life break you.
That’s like a kid being lazy. And you tell him every day, “Yo man! Get up! Do something.” And he’s just like “whatever, whatever, whatever.” So he wants to make progress but he cannot do that because he’s so invested in procrastinating and being lazy that it’s hard. It’s what you found yourself on. That’s your characteristic.
Insanity, in itself, you could really slip into that without noticing if you continue to do the same things. You want something else but you’re not changing.
If I walk this way, I’m going to go in a different direction if I go this way. So, why walk this way if I want to go this way? Just walk this way.
While making Wonderland—have you run into any creative walls? Or was the process freeing: this is exactly what I want to express right now, it’s all new, and I want to get it out right this now?
It’s weird, it just all fell into the place it was. It was like it was happening the way it was supposed to happen whether or not I obliged or agreed; it was going to go this way. So putting this album together, it’s like, “man this record goes so perfectly for what I’m doing here and here and here.” I didn’t think that two years ago that I’d put Jam out on Halloween and get such a great response, right? It just served as something great. I recorded it about a year and a half ago and it just so much like what we’re trying to do with new things.
It was perfect, though. The creative process with Wonderland has been easy, very easy. There have been a lot of topics and things that I had been wanting to express for some time now. I think it was a lot of me digging into those repressed areas and getting them out and fleshing them out. But other than that, it’s been perfect.
For more on Theophilus Martins:
Interview by John Liwag
Photographs by Andy J. Scott
Interview conducted January 2012