It’s hard to put a finger on Markus Mann. After growing up in Trinidad and the United States, he now resides in Amsterdam, a mere 4,500 miles from his place of birth, give or take. Mann’s musical journey has lasted his entire life, and his music is a reflection of it. Influences of jazz, soul, rock, and his native Trinidadian soca can be heard in his music, all mixing together to create a strain of sound we haven’t heard before. We sat down with Markus to speak about his influences, as well as his upcoming single ‘On the Inside’, due out December 1st.
After growing up in Trinidad and the United States, what inspired your move to Amsterdam?
A few years ago, I toured though Netherlands for the first time, from France and Belgium. The response to the music was really cool. I think it had something to do with the international vibe. It’s relaxed, engaging, and hospitable, especially in the south of the county. Rotterdam, too. I have a lot of love for that city. Plus, like 80% of the country speaks fluent English. For a European audience, I felt they quickly connected with the music because of the language.
After that I signed a deal with BMG Talpa here in the Netherlands. So, it seemed like the natural next move to be here in Holland. Amsterdam ain’t so bad! The playground of Europe, for sure.
Out of all of the places you have travelled, where was your favorite to perform? Why?
Belgium, hands down. They know how to party over there. The fans over there are like every artist’s dream, or at least mine. Some of my best memories are playing Brussels Summer Festival last year, or my appearances in Ghent, Tournai and Antwerp. There’s just a vibe over there. I can’t explain it, but you feel it the instant you come out onstage.
You have said that you want to change the world someday – what do you want that change to look like? And how do you think it can it be accomplished?
Ah jeez, where to begin…
I think our world has become increasingly distracted, passively-onlooking and angry. As a society, we prefer to stay in our own comfort zones more often than ever before, increasingly afraid of the outside world. We’re addicted to our phones; abusing technology and social media to try and find some sense of satisfaction or pleasure. This, combined with the bourgeoning wave of populist and nationalist politics we’ve seen, has done more to pull the world apart than bring it together. This leads me to believe that people are feeling like they don’t belong in our modern world. They’re having trouble dealing with the progressions of the world while still maintaining their identity, both personal and national. We are more terrified of being alone, or of having our identities stripped by this thing we all call “progress”.
On top of that, we just don’t get a break! We’re bombarded with bad news from all sides, and we get no breather. It’s on our phones, it’s on our tv, it’s all over our social media. This amount of sensory overload makes it so easy for someone to feel overwhelmed, or feel insecure looking at everyone else’s “perfect” lives online.
I think as a global society we need to face the questions: who are we today? And will we still be that tomorrow? despite thee advancements in technology and socially.
Over the course of the last seven to ten years, I think people have forgotten what it means to be human. As a result, to cope, we have to be superhuman. We can’t appear weak, vulnerable, sad or less than perfect. We’ve created around ourselves a series of networks and systems that are based on a false or exaggerated sense of reality.
My dream world will be where we are able to reverse this trend and create a sense of community once again. One wherein emotional exchanges are done in a spirit of sharing and not simply for personal gain or for appearances. It all starts by re-establishing a genuine sense of community and trust.
However, this will never happen if people aren’t open to looking out for one another. People are less inclined to look out for one another if they have their own baggage to deal with. They already feel dehumanized and overwhelmed!
So, I’ve set myself on a mission to make people a bit more selfish again, but also ensure that we remind ourselves regularly of what it really means to be human. The weak can’t help the weak. I hope to inspire people to take control of their emotions, embrace their fears (a very human emotion), and share once again without any ulterior motives, to in effect be raw and imperfect without shame. We need to get back in touch with ourselves. I’m hoping to create awareness of this.
If we can change the individual, we can change the communities. If we can change the communities, then we can change the world.
As a musician, what inspires you most when sitting down to write a new song?
Quite simply, life. All of it. Other people’s lives or my own. But it’s all about the story for me. I’m interested in the process that creates who we become. Not just who we are at face value. So, I find that I dig into how something (or someone) started out. It’s more interesting to write about HOW some person became “a boss/superstar”(for example), than simply writing a song saying that someone IS “a boss/suerstar”. The journey and the story are key.
Your music today is very diverse and plays on a lot of different genres. What did you grow up listening to?
God, everything and everyone. I was always super curious about music. I grew up on oldies, hip hop, reggae, soul, classical music, Raga and classical Indian music, Afro-beat (real afrobeat), punk, grunge, go-go, heavy metal, Frank Zappa, to Calypso and Soca, the official music of my place of birth, Trinidad. When it comes down to it though, I’m an oldies freak! As a teen I didn’t really listen to a lot of the popular music at the time. My head was always stuck in the past. I sometimes felt like I was the reincarnated body of someone who died during the 70’s.
Which artists have had the biggest influence on your music style?
Everyone and everyone, pretty much. From Outkast to Tchaikovsky, Nirvana to Curtis Mayfield, System of a Down to Bob Marley, I’ve been inspired and influenced by artists all over the globe.
So yeah, I can go on and on about what artists influenced me, but I think it’d take more than a few pages
Can you give us any details about your upcoming album?
The album has very modern production techniques used in a lot of the alternative R&B/Trip-Hop/Soul sounds of today, fused with tons of synth sounds reminiscent of the 80’s and early 90’s pop and old school hip-hop. A kind of old-school and contemporary fusion combined with natural live guitar and piano elements, which serve as a binding element creating the overall vibe.
The subject matter of the album is mainly about lifestyles associated with our modern era, and some songs are personal epitaphs on my own reaction to change, which isn’t really change at all…ala… “the back-story on the new age| same old shit with a new name | that girl ain’t calling back again | because she’s sleeping with your best friend…”. On the Inside.
The song focuses on how disconnected we can get from our world and how our worldview can be refined to perfection, instantaneously, through technology. This creates a disparity in our perception of reality, reinforcing a misguided understanding of the effort or time it takes to create excellence. We therefore feel to need to have two lives, a real life and an online life to reconcile this cultural paradox.
The combination of imagery and musical elements all speaks to time, and our lens in which we experience the passage of time.
What inspires you to have such an optimistic outlook on your life and career?
I try to accept myself. That simple.
Each day I tell myself: “I will be me; nothing more, nothing less”.
When I manage to get that right it keeps me motivated and energized to want to reach out and share, or have an exchange with others (which even for positive exchanges, takes emotional energy). It’s amazing how many people I meet who don’t work on accepting themselves. So often, we aspire to be something outside of what we are, or conversely don’t believe in our own potential.
Granted, it’s a constant struggle, but keeping that in check is the key element to any of my “positivity” or “can-do spirit”. Doing and being who you are. You can’t help but smile to yourself at night on those days when you get it right.
What inspired you to get into the music industry in the first place?
I was 4 or 5 years old watching TV in Trinidad. I remember I was mad comfy in my favorite ninja turtle tighty-whities, with an enormous salad bowl full of Frosted Flakes on my lap, parked on the floor in front of my parents’ TV in their bedroom. I must have been looking for the usual cartoons or Sesame Street. Out of nowhere, Ziggy Stardust the documentary comes up on the screen. I was instantly mesmerized. I couldn’t figure out this David Bowie character and his outlandish look, superb stage presence, and dead-eyed confidence. He was Mack truck disguised in a mini-skirt and 4-inch stilettos. It was by far better than any cartoon I’d ever seen. That day, Trevor Bolder’s bass and Mick Ronson’s face-melting guitar work talked to me a bit more than yet another round of singing my ABC’s with Elmo. The songs weren’t bad either!!! Moonage Daydream, Suffragate City, Space Oddity (Whaaat!)?!?! I mean I was eating that shit up with a spoon.
Then I had this clear moment where I remember thinking, “I think I can do that! In fact, I wanna do that!”.
Little did I know a seed was planted that afternoon that would one day turn into a music career. It lit a fire in me that day. Funny, I haven’t thought about that story in years!
Next year, you have plans to release an album and go on tour. What’s up next?
Well this year it’s been a great pleasure working with Sven Hammond and Roland Dirkse on Fake News. The collaboration has already inspired me to start writing a new body of work. The ideas have really been churning these past months. So, I think that more than likely, I’ll be right back in the studio once all the 2018 touring and release madness is over cranking out these new sounds that I’ve been recently eager to explore.
Don’t miss Markus Mann’s upcoming single ‘On The Inside’ which comes out on December 1st, and his upcoming album Fake News which is set to drop in early 2018.
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