Melanie Martinez possesses one of the most daring visions in modern pop, not only as a singer-songwriter but as a hands-on visual artist who turns every new project into a visceral multimedia experience. Her second studio album, K-12, was released last year and accompanied by a film of the same name, which Martinez directed; last month, she unveiled After School, a 7-song addendum to K-12 highlighted by the eye-popping music video for “The Bakery.”
It’s no surprise that Martinez has stayed busy while quarantining in 2020, delivering After School to fans while dreaming up the next phase of her career. Martinez answered Billboard’s 20 Questions about the beginnings of her artistry, how she looks back on K-12 one year after its release, and what fans can expect from her in-the-works music.
1. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
When I was 16, I bought a record player and a bunch of vinyl with my own money. Some of those records were by CocoRosie, Neutral Milk Hotel, Patsy Cline and Fleet Foxes.
2. What was the first concert you saw?
I saw Florence + the Machine with a friend who had tickets, but the first two concerts I bought tickets to were for CocoRosie and Lily Allen.
3. How did your parents shape your musical taste?
My mom didn’t really listen to a lot of music growing up but my dad played a wide range of music around the house. He loved R&B, hip-hop, rock, singer-songwriters, as well as pop and Latin artists. I was very inspired by everything he played. Every genre had an element that I loved within it. I think that’s why my music is a melting pot of all different influences from growing up, as well as the music I liked listening to from ages 13-18 like Fiona Apple, Regina Spektor and Bjork.
4. Who made you realize you could be an artist full-time?
My parents were very encouraging from the start. My dad always wanted to learn how to play guitar and never got around to it, so when I showed interest in music he got me a guitar and I taught myself by looking up chord diagrams online & through YouTube tutorials. My mother always encouraged me to write poetry, paint or take photographs. I think that’s why I became so obsessed with art and music, because it was all I did. I was able to play electric guitar all night till 6 in the morning if I wanted to, because my parents understood inspiration strikes at different times for different people.
5. What’s at the top of your professional bucket list?
Finishing writing the script for my next film as well as finishing writing my next album. Then a poetry photography book and designing a line of clothing.
6. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?
Because I was pretty miserable there, it made me more passionate about my purpose in life so I could get out of my small town and go on to fulfill my creative dreams.
7. What’s the last song you listened to?
“I Know,” Fiona Apple.
8. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?
Bjork or Fiona Apple.
9. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your sets?
Someone had an epileptic seizure once toward the end of set. I stopped the show to get them medical attention and told everyone to go home.
10. How has the pandemic affected your creativity in 2020?
I’ve been in a bit of a writing block when it comes to music the past month or so. I am just getting out of it now. But when it comes to visual/film making/music video stuff I feel like my well of creativity has been endless. Something about spending so much time at home and not around people has made me more eager to hone in on my creative endeavors.
11. What compelled you to release the After School EP as an addendum to K-12?
I started writing After School in 2017 with the intention of it being connected to K-12 as a little bonus thing but I kept writing and so the 3 songs I intended on releasing ended up turning into a 7-song EP.
12. How would you describe the seven songs on After School as they relate to your artistic evolution?
The After School EP sonically has elements of K-12 within it, as well as elements of new music that is yet to come. It kind of is a transitional piece that is much more personal and less tied to Crybaby. It’s a marker for my growth in life. It’s like standing on a bridge between my old self and my new self, understanding that what’s on the other side of the bridge is brand new territory.
13. How did the video for “The Bakery” come together?
I made a storyboard drawing first of the whole video, then sent it in to Atlantic [Records]. They approved the budget then me and my producer Seth Josephson started working on all the nitty gritty details we needed to figure out to make sure we could execute it properly. We went back and forth with Kendra Bradanini, the set designer, on details for each room making sure that each room looked right and within budget. I designed the costumes in the video which entails not just drawing it all out but getting the right fabrics that will hold certain pleats or be structural enough to hold the scallop shape I needed, taking some of the fabrics to a dye shop, searching downtown endlessly for the right trim, ribbons, pearls, gold charms and chain I needed to string together and then hand sew onto trim that I then gave to Karina Malkhasyan (the seamstress) to apply.
I sat with Brian Friedman one night and showed him some dance moves I was thinking of doing for the video, and he helped me refine certain moments like the back bend part. Scott Hove came in to make this epic cake sword and to consult on the cake canoe design. I directed on our shoot days, then we quickly had to edit it and lockdown picture. Then I got edits back with more and more of the [visual effects] being applied each time and approving things/changing things around until finally we reached the end result. Lastly, we did a color session through our computers in “real time,” which entails going frame by frame and changing the colors of any little detail that isn’t within the palette. And then we released it three days later!
14. A little over a year removed from K-12, how do you look back on that project?
I am incredibly proud of my baby K-12. The process of two months of pre-production, directing a 31-day shoot in Budapest, no sleep, 3 AM call times, two-hour airbrush tattoo removal every day, dealing with men on set trying to step on my toes and belittle me, building genuine friendships with the cast, gaining confidence as a director, actor, and dancer etc., and just overall learning so much has me determined to do it again but differently. This next time around I can’t wait to apply everything I’ve learned.
15. What can fans expect from your in-the-works music?
A completely new dimension of the world I’ve created thus far.
16. What’s your karaoke go-to?
I don’t really karaoke ever, but If I were to duet with a friend I’d pick “The Boy is Mine” by Brandy & Monica. If I were to do it alone I’d probably pick a Fiona Apple song.
17. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?
Songs that make me cry:
“Lark,” Angel Olsen
“Love Ridden,” Fiona Apple
“Like Someone in Love,” Bjork
Movies that make me cry:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
18. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?
I am the most overly critical person of myself. I peel my cuticles when I’m anxious, I have to hold my nose when swimming underwater, I love psychological thrillers and scary movies but If there’s too much gore I become very nauseous because I’m a highly sensitive person.
19. If you were not a musician, what would you be?
Probably the other things that I also do lol: Designer, Photographer, Film Maker, Tarot card reader.
20. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
Be more eager to learn Spanish or you’ll regret it.
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