You could call Theophilus Martins a rapper, designer, model, producer and an artist, but the best way to describe him would be Renaissance Man. He's all in one and always with style. After photographing him for our most recent editorial spread, we quickly labeled Theo our current muse. We sat down with him recently in Los Angeles after a trip to London, to discuss, among other things, his music, style, and what's next.
Labeling Men: During one of our first conversations, you told me that beyond being an artist or musician, you were interested in creating a brand for yourself. Can you tell me more about what that means?
Theophilus Martins: Yeah, I guess as an artist or creative you do a bunch of shit. I grew up doing performance and then went into DJing. I went to art school for a little bit; I even studied textile and design in college for a semester—but it was all under the same confines of creation and design and building something. So for me, it took this year to really realize I want to—building a lifestyle, yes, but I guess it can sound cheesy. But really putting a lot of weight behind my name. When you think of Theophilus Martins, I want you to think of great things—like quality, or art, or progression, any of these things. Rather than trying to put my energy toward one and negate the others, I thought why not just put it toward myself—accentuate each step of the way—whether I’m DJing or touring or knitting sweaters.
L.M: And in a later conversation, we were talking about how particular celebrities or pop culture icons do…not what you’re describing. They’re famous for their name but it’s attached to shallow things—
T.M: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s like a really great trailer and a shitty movie. It’s this big build up and it’s got everyone’s attention, but then the entire movie was in the trailer. And I just realized that it takes a lot of fucking groundwork to build something of substance. So for me, rather than trying to look the part of anything, I just want to be the part. I’m like, “Alright, what does it take—if I have a shoot today, I’m gonna do the shoot. And If I have to get out there, I’m gonna go ahead and handle this and handle this.” Just the sacrifices to do something bigger than myself is what’s getting me bigger, in a sense. It’s just less filler and more honesty.
L.M: Tell us about your music—your influences, goals?
T.M: Well first off, I’m always reminded how much I love rap music—just, really, at the core of it. And at the other end, I really love punk, and I love pop music. I grew up in a very Christian household so I wasn’t allowed to listen to rap—I had to kind of sneak it. And my way of getting to that was this radio station that would play rap music at like 2 a.m and I would stay up so I could listen to that. And then I got into DJing in middle school, and my parents allowed me to do it if I saved up the money on my own. So that’s what gave me the experience to fall into making music. But I came from a very Christian background so just the contrast of very clean, very pristine music, and then like gangster rap - it created this really cool balance. A lot of my influences are like that too—like N.E.R.D, and Lauryn Hill, Andre 3000, and Kanye West. Artists who come from very interesting lifestyles, so their music is very mashed together, but it’s in a really cool, beautiful way. And I think that’s what’s cool about rap music. It’s like, I love rap music, but I also love to sing songs and I like good pop music, you know?
L.M: Yeah, so would you say you’re a rap artist, or how would you describe yourself?
T.M: Yeah, I used to call myself a rapper—I’m good at rapping, I can construct a good 16 bars. But I would look at myself more like a visual artist, or just an artist overall. Because I feel like, rap is really cool but I’ve limited myself a lot of the time, as far as what a rap artist should do or what an artist should do. But it’s like, I can do anything I want, you know, I’m gonna do that. So yeah, I’m just an artist.
L.M: Are there any collaborators you’ve worked with who were particularly cool, or you had fun or creative vibes with?
T.M: Yeah, I like working with other artists and early on in my career I tried to work with people I was friends with. One, because they were around, and I stopped doing that. But also because there’s a great energy in working with people who understand and have the same appreciation as you do. Like you just never want to make it feel like it’s work, or not fun anymore, you know. So I find more interest in working with, maybe designers, or people who work in the visual format.
L.M: Like fashion designers?
T.M: Yeah, absolutely, like clothing designers, because they’re able to bring me somewhere where I haven’t been yet. Or take my ideas and make them bigger. Or video directors—like there’s a video director who I really enjoy; his name is The White Buffalo. I’ve done two videos with him and we’re working on a third one. He’s so cool; I’ll play him a song and he’ll take the song and he’ll really explain it but in a visual format. It’s so special because it’s like, “Wow you understood what I was saying and you made it into something else,” you know? That’s what really interests me. I’m really fascinated by it, because then it inspires me to make cooler and cooler stuff.
L.M: Alright cool, so moving on—You’re a very stylish individual.
T.M: Thank you, boo-boo.
L.M: Of course. So is there a particular image or impression you want to give people, through your fashion?
T.M: Yeah, man, I’ve been through so many stages, like everyone. I was in this weird-ass, baggy stage that we all go through in high school, and you wanna delete those photos. But then I went through this interesting phase where I was very preppy, like Black Ivy, and that was great. It was a really good movement and I was a part of the movement where this guy’s street etiquette who really pioneered that shit—as far as the new generation.
But for me, I have a problem with commitment, in general, so I don’t like committing to certain things. For me, it’s really the easier, the better. I mean that in the sense that I just wanna feel good. It’s gotta be comfortable. A lot of times I would sacrifice my comfort for a uniform—to kind of blend in — but maybe I feel comfortable in a tighter shirt or some ripped shirt, or something, and I like that. So for me it’s more about comfort. And maybe comfort today means plaid pants with a neon shirt. Maybe the next day it means some tight-ass jeans and some Chelsea boots. But that’s what I like, that feeling. It’s almost like making music. You have an idea and you want to put it out, and it might not make sense immediately but you wanna go with it.
[Conversation pauses while our small plates arrive; after the waiter walks away we address the fact that Outkast’s “I Like the Way You Move” is playing on the restaurant speakers]
L.M: Do you think Plan Check just heard you say that Outkast is inspiring?
T.M: Yeah, I was actually gonna say that. This is so cool—
L.M: They know, man.
T.M: They know where we are; they know we’re here! [Laughs] Yeah, I think Andre 3000 is so cool.
L.M: He’s just so confident in everything he does.
T.M: Yeah, and I feel like when I watch him and talk to him, I feel like I’m talking to a regular person, you know? It’s not like this stage act. He makes great work, and he’s honest—he says when he’s scared, he says when he’s nervous. That’s real.
L.M: Alright, so you just came back from a trip abroad…
L.M: From London; did you find, in terms of your art or your style, a lot of inspiration there?
T.M: Yes, absolutely. Going out there was already at a time when I was fighting the current of going. So going was a big leap of faith, and man, I came back and I started just wearing like, monochrome shit—I started wearing white denim. I would dress down, not dress up.
L.M: That’s a British thing?
T.M: Yeah, I feel like the energy there was just, “live”—and I thought that was so cool. Like people would have a nice coffee, and they’d have a cigarette and they’d chill for a little bit. And the energy there, it reminded me of the city of New York because it was lot of diversity and people. But at the same time the energy was very much like LA, because it was very cool and chill and laid back, and I loved that. I feel like often times here, in the world, you’re born in this society where it’s like, “go go go,” and you go, and it may not feel right but you’re like “Ok, everyone’s going, so I should go too!”
L.M: Yeah I was about to ask if you noticed differences between here and there?
T.M: So much, man. People just — they lived out there. When I went out there, people were like you gotta go to Paris, go to Belgium, go to Ireland, go this. And my heart was like, “just do nothing in London, and that’s it.” And I did nothing, and I journaled and I wrote music when I could. And sometimes, I wasn’t even in a place to write music but I would go to the coffee shop every day, and get an Americano, and watch Dexter. Suck up their Internet and just relax, and then go for a walk, and then have dinner, and do nothing! And it was so beautiful to do nothing. Because often times, people are like, “Ok, what’d you do; did you go see this and that,” and it’s like—
L.M: “Did you fill the day with activities? Have you made the most of your time here?”
T.M: Yeah! It’s so much, “What did you do?” because time is this essence of trying to get something. But at the same time, it’s like man, you’re not really living if you’re just trying to get to the goal.
L.M: Yeah, I feel like that’s like having to fill up your social media with pictures of your day.
T.M: Goddamn! That shit is so annoying.
L.M: And you try play up the very mundane things.
T.M: Yeah, like, “I did nothing but yo, it was so cool doing it.” But yeah, London was a magical time.
L.M: Cool, yeah, it sounds like it. So you have a new project coming up in the new year; tell us a little about that. [Editor’s note: the interview was done at the end of 2014]
T.M: So, I designed two hats with this company, Flex Fit. And they’ve allowed me a platform to show my designer hand, so I’ll be flying out to New York in January to premiere them. Then I’m gonna accompany it with the second half to this EP I’ve been working on, a lot of which I worked on while I was in London.
L.M: Do you have people in NY that you’re working on it with?
T.M: I have people I’m working on it with in NY, yes. And some of the songs I already had—like there were a bunch of demos I recorded and now I’m back with the ones that I recorded out there—and I’m just looking over the songs to see if I really like them, if they stick. It’s very melody-driven, because of where I was. I’m excited about it because it’s new and it’s forcing me to try something new.
L.M: So you’re gonna return to LA with it completed?
T.M: Yeah, we’ll have a nice little party, play the album for some people. We’ll get to hang out. Yeah, it’s gonna be fun. I’m excited.
L.M: How long will you be out there?
T.M: Less than a month—Back in February to bring it back to LA. I wanna do a lot of stuff out here. I feel like it’s my new home.
L.M: Alright, so I’m not actually sure how to word this, but I feel like there’s this sense of duality that you kind of embody. At once I feel like you’re a very conceptual person, you’re very much like light. And on the other and, you’re very into the physicality of things, like you’re very sensory-oriented. So would you say you’re more like the abstract-light, or physical-sensory—does that make sense?
T.M: Absolutely— it’s ironic that you say that because the EP that I’m putting out, in fact it’s a duality. So the first EP was one area, where it was very rap-driven and it was very 90s. It was just me really having fun on a rap scale, making music that I really admired growing up and that I like. This new EP is a bit more - it’s new territory for me. It’s very melody-driven, it’s very hip-hop-driven. And that’s very reflective of where I am. The colors on these EPs are yellow and the other one is blue. And the first one was yellow because it represented that abstract, that very colorful way, right?
T.M: And the navy blue is this very interesting place that I’m at—that I’m still getting out of, or still discovering myself in. So that you say that is a really great observation, honestly.
L.M: Well, thank you.
T.M: Yeah, it was really fucking great. That’s so strange that you say that.
L.M: I don’t know, you have a very—like even the way you carry yourself—there’s almost a layer of air between your feet and the ground, you move very lightly. But then you’re also very tactile.
T.M: Yeah, there’s definitely a difference. I don’t know if there’s really—it’s almost like this night-and-day thing, like it’s always on or it’s off - I don’t know. I’m constantly going through ups and downs. For a while I thought I had to just silence it and be someone else. But now I’ve really accepted, this is who I am. Most people do that stupid Gemini thing, because I’m a Gemini, but I’m like, I’m just a human. [Laughs] You’re just like, “Yeah, you know that’s all made up.” [Laughs] “You know a person made that up, right?”
L.M: Actually, yeah, you said it right. I’m presenting it as asking you to pick a side, but there’s really no reason to.
T.M: Yeah, yeah. For sure. Had you asked me this maybe six months or a year ago, I would’ve picked a side. But now I’m like, nah…I’m kinda both, all day.
Find out more about Theophilus Martins at theophilusmartins.com and follow him on Instagram @theophilusmartins
Interview by Derya Kadipasaoglu [@turkalurkin]
Photographs by Logan HIll