AREA21 is the alter ego of Martin Garrix and Maejor, a joint project of two aliens travelers (known as M&M). Their long awaited first album, Greatest Hits Vol 1 was released on 12 November 2021. This time we interviewed Martin Garrix and Maejor, from the background of AREA21 formation, the meaning of the unit name and the reason they choose the concept of aliens. In addition, they also talked a lot about the differences between individual activities and this unit project, and their future plans.
AREA21 WAS BORN NATURALLY WITH FOCUS ON FUN
— Are both of you in Amsterdam?
Maejor: Yes, we’re in the Netherlands. We’re making music and rehearsing for live performance together.
— I heard the story of how the two of you first met (meeting at a party in LA and shortly thereafter encounter each other again on an airplane). But how you came to make music together and form a unit called AREA21? Can you tell me how it happened?
Martin: From my point of view, I think to be able to play completely different music is very exciting. Up until that time, I focused only on electronic music and appearing in big festivals, the so-called EDM, I was thinking only about that kind of music.
However since I started working with the Maejor, I feel like I’ve opened my eyes in many ways. Experimenting with new sounds or play a guitar that you haven’t touched for a long time. The works that we started together was so much fun and it’s still the same. I think that’s the core of this project. To have fun.
Maejor: I totally agree with you. To enjoy the fun. I think that’s the driving force behind this project. We didn’t start by saying, “Let’s do a crazy project with aliens.” It was born naturally from the two of us. I open my heart and pursue the possibilities. After removing the restrictions, trying new ideas, and having fun, I felt like I was here with something really cool and I think “Isn’t this amazing?”.
— Your debut song “Spaceships” was released in 2016 and several singles have been released since then, but it has taken a long time to complete the debut album. Did you think of it as a long-lasting project from the beginning?
Martin: I wasn’t thinking about things like going on for a long time from the beginning. Anyway, it’s fun to make music together, and I think music is that kind of thing. It makes people happy, it’s also connect people. In fact, that’s why both of us were connected by music. What impressed me was that it was fun to make the songs for this album, but the the fun that we had when making the song also transmitted and can be felt by the people who listened to it. At that time we feel connected with everyone. It gives me warm feeling. I think it’s an important thing.
Maejor: I also totally think like that. The aliens have just arrived on Earth. The story has just begun. More adventures await from now on. For a lifetime (laughs).
THE REASON TO RELEASE AN ALBUM DURING CORONA PANDEMIC AND THE MESSAGE THEY WANT TO CONVEY
— Why did you decide to release an album at this time when it was difficult to tour and promote due to the influence of the Corona pandemic?
Martin: There are two reasons. The first reason is since our name is AREA21 so I wanted to release it in 2021. The second reason is there’s restriction in various ways due to corona pandemic and human interaction has decreased because of it. It’s absolutely necessary for humans to interact with each other, and we thought if we could cheer up everyone even a little.
Also, everyone is staring at smartphones and comparing with others on SNS. So we wanted to be aliens and tell them that it doesn’t matter what you looks like, each one of you is unique and special as it is. For aliens, it’s hard to understand why they’re just looking at their smartphones, and it’s a mystery why borders exist. Sometimes the corona pandemic also further divides everyone’s opinions.
So it’s true that it’s not easy to promote in Corona pandemic, and it seems the music that people want is tend to go back to the nostalgic music pre-Corona. But we thought this was the right time to get it to everyone, in terms of time and message.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ACTIVITIES AS INDIVIDUAL AND UNIT
— Martin Garrix and Maejor have also been active as solos. Can you tell us the difference between your solo music and when you’re working on this unit’s music?
Martin: There are no rules when I’m working together with Maejor. I run around in the room, dance, and jump on the couch. I take out my guitar and have a jam session. I think I made a lot of songs while traveling. I think what makes this project different is that you don’t think too much and you do what you feel right.
Before entering the studio the session as Martin Garrix, the goals you want to achieve has been decided, such as what kind of sound you want to make and the target you want to accomplished. I listen to the music of the person I collaborate with, and I couldn’t help to think too much about what I can add to the sound and song of that person. I analyze in advance and have plans, goals, ideas, etc set by the time I enter the session. But in the AREA21 session, I can make it without thinking, maybe because I’ve been working together for a long time. That’s where it really fun.
Major: I’m the same. Exactly like what Martin said.
WHY THE CONCEPT BECOME ALIENS
— Who came up with the concept of this project, that an alien traveling in space crash-landed on Earth?
Martin: We both thought about it together. I named it AREA21 because my studio I used before was on the 21st floor with a spaceship-like design. And since my debut song was “Spaceships”, I thought, “Then we’ll be aliens,” and I drew a picture of an alien, and that’s the concept ever since.
Major: For me, I feel like I can hear music as something from other planets. That’s why music made by alien feels like something natural.
— The reason why the title of the album is “Greatest Hits Vol. 1” is “because it is the title given to many wonderful albums on the earth”. It’s funny, but it’s confusing. Perhaps that’s what you’re aiming for, but who came up with this title?
Martin: Which one of us (thought of the title)? I don’t remember well (laughs). But we wanted to make it a funny title. When the aliens saw that the albums of their favorite artists always said ” Greatest Hits”, the aliens quickly said, “If so, then we’ll go with this title too.” They didn’t know that in order to release the best album with such a title, they had to release many albums by then (laughs).
Maejor: I found it interesting to try things that other people wouldn’t do, and I’m ignoring the established rules and saying “let’s make the title Greatest Hits” (laughs).
— Did you have any other title ideas?
Martin: Hmm, that’s all.
Major: I don’t think there was anything else.
Martin: I thought it was ridiculous and awesome (laughs).
Major: Anyway, we both laughed a lot about it. I hope it will be communicated to everyone.
— I think it’s the first time for Martin to have a permanent vocalist, but what’s the difference between working with a different vocalist each time and working with just only Maejor?
Martin: Yeah, the approach is very different. I make demos and sometimes Maejor also make demos, but if I think “this isn’t for AREA21”, I can use it as a Martin Garrix song.
In fact, I wrote an upcoming Martin Garrix song with Maejor. It’s a more uplifting type, and I thought it was more for Garrix than for AREA21. Even if you don’t set a goal like “let’s make a song for a festival this time”, you can try it freely and decide later, so it’s really easy. Also, working with the same voice is very interesting to me because I can experiment with how to change his voice depending on the song.
I take out a part of the song, change the chords and pitches, apply distortion, and try using auto tune. It can be difficult, but it takes a lot of ingenuity to make it enjoyable through one album. I try various things to best used Maejor’s voice. To enhance it to the next level.
— Is AREA21’s music production also different for Maejor?
Major: As Martin said, this project is a very close collaboration, so that’s the difference. It feels like the lyrics, melody, and music come down at the same time. It’s nice to have this kind of experience, and it feels like I’m looking at myself from the outside. It seems that the song is born through ourselves, and we feel like a helper.
ARTIST THAT INFLUENCING AREA21
— What kind of artists influenced AREA21?
Martin: Pharrell Williams and Outcast.
Maejor: For me, Bob Marley and there are many other great artists. People who make music that connects people, such as the Rolling Stones and U2. Like the Beatles, we are influenced by all styles of music. I also have an influence from 2Pac.
— Did you have any influence from Gorillaz or Daft Punk when it comes to using anime without showing your true face?
Martin: Of course, 100%. I think the way Gorillaz’s music and anime are fused is very unique and different, and so is Daft Punk. I think it was novel and groundbreaking. Even now, at Garrix shows, I always play their “One More Time.” We want our music to be listened to in such a timeless manner. Not only in terms of sound but also in terms of lyrics, I will be glad to hear AREA21 even after 10 years, 20 years and 30 years, and to be loved over time. From now on, more digital, VR, metaverse, etc will advance.
— Not only a party tunes, “Followers” also cover issues related to modern social media. How do you think you should deal with SNS?
Maejor: I think SNS has both good and bad sides. On the positive side, I think it’s great to be able to get in touch with friends and family and to broaden and explore the world. I’m from Detroit, Michigan, but I got into the music industry because of social media. Even if I wasn’t actually there, I think it was possible because there is internet and SNS. But sometimes everyone is having a hard time. Thanks to SNS, everyone …
Martin: Compare with others.
Maejor: Yeah, comparing to others and too much dependent on SNS. It’s easy to forget the reality of what’s really important when you’re just looking online. It’s not healthy to always comparing with others, criticizing yourself and being depressed, and just worrying about what others are doing. So we wanted to sound the alarm about that, but we’re not denying everything. SNS is definitely a great tool.
Martin: Especially in Corona, SNS connected people. It’s important to find a healthy balance. Anyway, I don’t think it’s good to start comparing with others. Whether it’s clothing, artists, art or sound, you can compare which one is the top, or compare the numbers. When that happens, it’s over.
Everyone has their own way and I think everyone has their direction, so if you just compare yourself with others, you will lose sight of yourself. If you think “that is cooler” or “that photo is cooler”, there is no end to it. Because everyone uploads only the best photos taken with the best location. Everyone looks happy on SNS. But in reality, that’s not possible. Everyone has emotional ups and downs, so I think it’s important to know the difference between that reality and SNS.
THE MESSAGE THEY WANT TO CONVEY TO THE PEOPLE OF THE EARTH FROM THE STANDPOINT OF AN ALIEN
— For the two aliens who have nothing to do with nationality, race, gender, etc., Is there anything strange or weird about what people on earth are doing or things that you wish you could change?
Martin: What is the border for aliens? From the alien’s point of view it’s really strange. Even though the earth is a sphere, people draw a line. Any love is love. No matter who you love, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s love. Perhaps I should say it’s a narrow view to distinguish between the form of love. That’s never seen on a planet other than Earth, it’s very strange. No matter who you love, you are free and it is not up to others to decide. Isn’t that the key to everything? It’s strange that the world is so divided. Seen from the outside, it’s very crazy.
Maejor: From that perspective, you can see what people on earth are doing. On the other hand, I think I can learn it as a teacher. What can we do?
— AREA21 made a surprise appearance at the music event “EDC” in which Martin Garrix appeared and became a hot topic. How was that performance?
Martin: Yeah, we did a little surprise performance at EDC. The audience’s reaction should have been good, but I couldn’t see anything at all because I was wearing the headgear that were just made (laughs). My eyes got cloudy with my breath.
Maejor: The lights were also flickering.
Martin: You didn’t see anything after 10 minutes (laughs).
— Isn’t it difficult to wear a mask and sing?
Maejor: But the mask only covered the top of my mouth, so if I put the microphone under the mask properly, singing wouldn’t be a problem (laughs).
PLANNING A TOUR IN THE FUTURE
— Please tell us your plans for future live performances. What kind of stage are you planning?
Martin: I’m just rehearsing the tour. I’m going to be on stage with a full band. There are drums, bass and keyboard players, I play the guitar, and Maejor on rap and vocals. I don’t know the date, but I’m preparing for the tour.
— Not appearing as part of Martin Garrix’s DJ set?
Martin: It’s not like that. Maybe I’ll do that a few times. There may be times when Maejor join me to sing in my DJ set. But we want you to properly see the full band live. A set where everyone is jamming. Because the music of AREA21 is made for that. There is guitar and live drums, no DJ. It’s completely different from the Garrix show.
Maejor: I want it to be the best live band. I’m doing my best to make people who watch the show feel something.
Martin: Just this week I was rehearsing with a full band every day. Anyway, I’m happy to say that it’s a full band (laughs).
— Specifically, when is it likely to be held?
Martin: It depends on the situation of Corona, so I can’t say for sure, but I’m talking about festival-related appearances. Once it’s decided, I’d like to show off the live by streaming first. I want fans all over the world to watch it and after that I want to start the tour.
— Is it difficult to play live in Europe or America right now?
Martin: As for America, I think it’s easier than it was before. But my Europe scheduled for next week has been cancelled (*note: Martijn also talk about new space telescope in this interview, which means the interview was conducted before the launch of James Webb Space Telescope on 25 December 2021). The Omicron strain has a high infection rate, but the bed usage rate seems to have dropped considerably. Yeah, I’m looking forward to this summer, I believe I can go all over the world.
— So you mean you’ll stay on Earth for a while, right?
Both of them: Yeah, we’re going to do that (and smile).
— Do you think you will come to Japan?
Martin: Of course. I’m planning to come to Japan as Martin Garrix, and I’m thinking of coming to Japan as AREA21. Japan and Tokyo are my favorite places in the world. I hope I can perform the band in front of Japanese fans.
Maejor: I feel the same too. If I could perform in front of everyone in Japan, that would be a dream.
— In recent years, there have been many reports that the existence of UFOs seems to be a reality. How do you see it? Maybe you’re an alien companion?
Maejor: That’s right (laughs).
Martin: Really, my family and friends are coming to say “hello” (laughs).
Maejor: We’re always in contact with fellow aliens.
Martin: We all did BBQ in the backyard the other day (laughs).
— Are the other members of the bands also aliens?
Martin: Yeah, I think they’re aliens and they’re really good musicians. The drummer is Bron, the bass is Glen, and the keyboard is Vince. From the people who have work with us before, Vince and I have been together for about 6 years now. Glen also plays the bass on many of Garrix’s songs. Bron is playing for a song that will be released in the future. Right now we’re all having a jam session and adjusting the balance together.
Maejor: I also have other alien friends who are artists on the planet. But I can’t reveal their name yet. There are far more alien companions than you can imagine (laughs).
Martin: Without joking, observations through the new Space Telescope will start soon, and I’m really looking forward to what we can discover there.
PROSPECTS FOR THE SECOND ALBUM
— Are there any plans for 2022 other than live activities? It seems that you are making new music as AREA21, so can we unexpectedly listen to the next album soon?
Martin: I would like to do that, but it takes a lot of time to create an animation. Even if the album is completed in half a year, there are preparations for selecting singles and producing animation after that.
And while the first album didn’t have any guests, We wants to work with everyone we think is cool for the second album. There is preparation for that, and it takes time, including the production of anime. Also, what I learned from the production of this first album is that it takes time to make good things. Don’t rush it.
Making music is fun, but to convey the message we have to spend some time making the animations. The first album took a lot of time. However, we plan to release singles one after another, and we don’t feel like we’ll be away for a long time before we come back again.
— Did the music on the first album finished much earlier than the animation?
Martin: That’s right, but some of the songs were just barely edited. For example, the song “21” was made in the week when we had to complete and deliver the album. The song order of the album was already decided, but I wanted to add “21”, so I removed other songs instead. There is room for improvement until the very end. We tell the anime production team about the composition, timing, etc of the song from the demo stage and ask them to start making sketches and storyboards. We will complete the song in parallel with them.
—Are you planning to use anime at live performances?
Martin: Perhaps not an anime, but a lighting style. I’m thinking of a surprising lighting style like “Wow, I’ve never seen this!” I have a lot of ideas, such as a UFO flying over the audience, but it’s about whether it can actually be realized. We are all thinking about it and devising it.
MESSAGE TO JAPANESE FANS
— Lastly, could you tell us a message to Japanese fans and what to listen to in this album?
Maejor: Of course. I want to tell everyone on the planet, including Japanese fans, that there is only one thing. As everyone harmonizes, the connection will be strengthened. Don’t forget to love.
Martin: What I would like to convey to everyone is thank you very much for your wonderful support so far. I am grateful for their support to AREA21 as well as to Martin Garrix. There is no doubt that my experience in your beautiful country is among the best memory of my life that I will never forget, and I hope that when I come to Japan at AREA21, I will be able to create even more new memories. As for the album, I hope everyone will enjoy listening to this album. I hope everyone will be happy and enjoy themselves, want to start dancing, feel better, and feel something. Thank you very much. (In Japanese with both hands together) Arigatou!
Original interview in TV Groove. Translation from Japanese to English by me (@garrixinterview).