Martens' Vintage Soul Sounds on Rêverie - the First Album From Les Imprimés - Come From an Unexpected Locale
No matter where you’re from, there is a strong resonance of the soul and R&B sound from the 1960s and 1970s in our collective human consciousness. The reverberations of those deep grooves can felt all over the world, even as far away as Norway! To be very specific, in Kristiansand, Norway in a studio that Morten Martens owns and operates on an island called Odderøya.
So, how does one get from Detroit to Odderøya? While Kristiansand may not be the first place you'd expect to experience a loving tribute to the genres mentioned above, the fact that Martens has done just that is a testament to the road-worthiness and durability of music from that era. But it’s also a testament to Martens’ ability to lock in on a sound and create a version of his own.
Martens is a multi-instrumentalist who tackled nearly all of the musician duties on the first record from his project, Les Imprimés. The album is titled, Rêverie and finds Martens exploring soul music’s most classic sounds. Though this may be the first time you’re hearing of Martens, it’s not his first rodeo, he’s been producing and creating music for many years. In fact, in 2006, he even won a Spellemann Award (Norway’s version of a Grammy), and has been nominated for three others.
While this album functions as an homage to a certain sound, time and place, Martens still adds his own panache to the project. "It's soul music, but I don't exactly have the soul voice," Morten explains, "But I do it my own way, in a way that's mine." After amassing an impressive arsenal of vintage gear in his homegrown studio (see picture below), he embarked on paying tribute to some of his favorites, but in his own way. You’ll have a chance to learn what some of his favorite records are - both old and new - during the course of this interview; readers may want to check out the ones that are not familiar to you. Morten was kind enough to share some of the details behind Rêverie which is an album that ended up on many folks’ favorite lists in 2023.
Evan Toth: The French Les Imprimés is translated as “the print” in English. How did you come to name this project?
Morten Martens: My main idea was to find a band name that no one but French speakers could pronounce correctly. Just kidding! To me, it means my musical print.
ezt: The album has a corresponding record of instrumental versions of all of the songs on the album. I imagine you’ve done this to make your tracks more accessible to anyone - producers, etc. - who might want to utilize/sample them. What’s the feedback been on those tracks? Has anyone sampled your work yet?
mm: Songwriting for me starts with making instrumentals. I use a lot of time doing it right. When I started making music for this project, the plan was actually to make instrumental songs because I’ve never been or thought of being a lead singer. But I started humming along and it felt pretty good.
I'm happy that my label Big Crown Records shares the same passion for instrumentals by releasing almost all of their albums as instrumental versions as well. I heard a couple of sample-ideas already, and am getting requests, but nothing has been released yet.
ezt: You are from Kristiansand, Norway and even though music is shared globally in the 21st century, the connection between Norway and soul and r&b is still a little unexpected. How did you come to love this style of music, and how has your album been accepted locally?
mm: I guess it started in my teens, listening to and producing hip hop, and discovering the music that was sampled. I instantly connected to that type of music. There is not much of a soul scene here in Norway, but people seem to like what they hear.
ezt: Can you talk a little bit about your influences? Were there any particular albums or artists that you felt inspired by as you created this album?
mm: There was no particular inspiration, I just wanted to make an album that reflects who I am and what type of music I love. Obviously, I have some records that have meant a lot to me throughout, a few here:
The Delfonics - The Delfonics
Curtis Mayfield - Roots
Donny Hathaway - Live
Whitney Houston - Whitney
Outkast - Aquemini
D'angelo - Voodoo
Radiohead - Kid A
J Dilla - Welcome 2 Detroit
The Good The Bad And The Queen - The Good The Bad And The Queen
Nina Kinert - Pets & Friends
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Multi-Love
ezt: The cover art for this album is very cool. Can you tell us about who created it and what you were going for? Where did that concept come from?
mm: I got the idea for the cover art at the same time as the title Rêverie. We passed it on to J Bonner who works closely with BCR, and I was very pleased with the end result.
ezt: The sound that you are creating is a very specific homage to soul and r&b from the 60s. How did you approach finding this sound in the studio?
mm: I listened to a lot of records, and over the years I think I’ve learned a few things about recording techniques etc. But the most important thing for me was to get that good feeling and vibe when listening back.
ezt: You play almost all of the instruments on the album, arranged the record and also served as its producer. It’s not easy to wear all of those hats, how did you manage so many tasks?
mm: No, it’s not that easy at times. Especially to be the patient producer working with the vocalist or musician who is myself, on take 37. I’m no virtuoso at all, I only know how I want it to sound, so I just need to practice parts over and over again before hitting record.
ezt: I like the reverb that you used on your vocals particularly on “If I.” Was that analog or digital?
mm: Thanks. I can’t remember exactly what I used on that track, but I mainly use the spring reverb in my old space echo and a couple of other outboard devices combined with software. Nothing fancy.
ezt: I understand you’ve got an impressive collection of music and recording gear. Is there anything notable that listeners can hear on the record?
mm: For this record I used mics and preamps from the 50s and 60s such as STC and Reslo ribbons, dynamic mics like Telefunken, AKG and EV. I also used a cassette deck and a 2 track tape machine quite often. The most important thing though are good sounding instruments. I used an old Camco drum set, a Harmony H-22 bass, a custom made Tele bass, an electric sitar (which still smells of incense from the previous owner) and a Harmony Rocket guitar and my moms old classical guitar and upright piano. I also used a Philichorda organ, a Rhodes suitcase, a Hohner Clavinet E7, the Hammond M3 and lots of other stuff. There’s a banjo and a flute there somewhere as well.
ezt: Is there an interesting sound or song or production aspect or composition that you are particularly proud of or that has an interesting backstory that might be of interest to our readers?
mm: When I started recording Rêverie I had just gotten myself an electric sitar. I became completely obsessed with the sound and wanted it on all the songs. Danny (Akalepse) at Big Crown just laughed at me and my new love and asked me gently if there was enough sitar! So, I muted it on several tunes. In retrospect I'm happy I did.
ezt: The album sounds good. There’s a very enjoyable midrange throughout the record, and it’s far from excessively loud. In fact, whoever mastered the album resisted making the digital files too loud. The vinyl record and the digital files sound very similar. Did you think about this as an artist, or did you leave this up to your mixing and mastering team?
mm: Thanks. I mixed most of the album myself with some help from Leon Michels on a couple of tracks. I always mix while recording and producing. Getting the right sound is just as important to me as songwriting. Alex DeTurk mastered it, and I was happy right away. I’m very pleased with his work.
ezt: Can you share some information about where the album was pressed?
mm: The album was pressed at Classic City Vinyl in Athens, Georgia.
ezt: Outside of this project, you’ve had some musical successes. Notably, you won a Spellemann Award (the Norwegian equivalent of the Grammy: (Spellemannprisen) for your production work on El Dia Del Los Puercos by Darkside of the Force. Can you compare working for others versus working on your own project?
mm: Yes, 15 years ago or so we won the Spellemann Award for best rap album. It’s fun working with others and collaborating in the studio, but this freedom of working with my own music is very liberating and satisfying.
ezt: “Still Here” might be my favorite song on the album, I love the vibe of that track. Particularly, I enjoy the textures of the song’s guitar parts, but the whole tune is arranged, and produced really well, very interestingly. Share the backstory of that song.
mm: I was sitting at home one night watching some 60s western movie and had the guitar on my lap playing along. Then I came up with the little riff you hear in the chorus. I brought it to the studio the next day, and I built the whole production around it. The lyrics are probably also one of the most honest and heartfelt things I've written.
ezt: What’s the next project that you’re working on?
mm: Besides touring and planning tours I’m in the studio writing and working on new Les Imprimés tunes. Hope to show you guys in 2024.