My first response, when UEFA reached out for me to do the music for the tournament, was disbelief and then when things actually were confirmed, it turned from disbelief into being very nervous, but also very excited and very grateful that they put their trust, for the music and everything, in my hands, which is still very surreal.
How did it feel being able to announce the collaboration in Amsterdam at your show at the RAI in 2019?
Announcing it in Amsterdam was crazy, [more so] because my family was there, my friends were there. I’m from Amsterdam, that’s my home town, so being able to announce it there... and it had already been in the works for so, so long. So, sharing that with an audience was really special.
And then it got pushed back a little bit, but I’m very, very excited now [that], finally, we’re going to share music, we’re going to have the tournament happening, we’re going to see everything that we made it for. So, I’m very excited.
Tell us about the evolution/process of the song and at what point did you know you wanted to work with Bono & The Edge? And have you been able to work together in the studio? How was it working with them?
So, UEFA, when they confirmed, they [said]: "Martin, we want you to do all the audio”. I was very, very excited but also very nervous. And then they were like, "You have carte blanche. Just make sure it’s euphoric and it feels good, and we trust you that you will do something that matches the feel and the vibe of the tournament”, which is an amazing honour but, also, a big leap of faith. A lot of trust and, in the back of my head, some pressure because I was like, "Woah, okay! Great!” Because the expectations were really high. And then I had this demo, and it sounded a little bit like The Edge, the intro guitar, and Bono. And then we were talking about who would be incredible to have part of the song and, for me, Bono, and The Edge, they looked so impossible that they were not even on the list that I was thinking about reaching out to. And then UEFA and the team said, "Well, if you don’t ask, you’ll always have no for an answer”. And then we sent over the demo and then, I think, a few hours later, I was on the phone with Bono, talking about the song. And he was singing along the melody lines. And I had to mute myself: "Aaaaah!” Screaming. [Then] unmuted and played it all cool, but that was crazy. Because the last thing that I expected was for him to be so open-minded and so cool and like, "Sure, let’s try it out”. And he was, from day one, excited, super-involved, really pushed the song. He really pushed me, as well, also production-wise. Like, "No, that can be better. This can improve”. And it was an amazing, amazing collaboration and, also, with The Edge and how he helped the song. They’re both geniuses and I’m very grateful and still cannot believe that I had the chance to work with them on this song.
I flew to Eze to record Bono singing and I’m in the studio next to him and we did the lyrics over the phone and he really lifted a song lyrically to the next level and also his voice, there’s nothing like it. When he starts singing and it's in the studio or at the shoot, we had the music video shoot where he was singing without a microphone, he was just singing a song, and everybody was just looking at each other, like, "What is happening!” It's very special.
Fast forward, I was in Eze with him, recording this song and it’s such an iconic voice; I had goosebumps during the whole session. And after the first take, I was already like, "Cool, we got it, perfect. I can go home now”. But he loves singing and he gave us so many amazing takes to work with. So, I’m very excited. And then, I was stuck on the main part of the song, the main melodic part, and [The] Edge came in and he helped with the hook. So, I feel like this song has the perfect… It’s not a Garrix song with Bono doing the vocals and [The] Edge playing guitar. No, everybody has contributed so much to the final song, which is very exciting. It was a really, really collaborative song.
Where did you find the inspiration for ‘We Are The People’ and in what way did football and the EURO help?
We took a lot of inspiration from how football made us feel and how it unites people, how it brings people together. And we tried to, already in the demo, I tried to capture it, even with the chord progression, but then also with the lyrics that Bono did, with the guitar that [The] Edge added; they really took it to the next level. And we really, really tried to capture that feeling of euphoria, excitement, happiness… Yeah, really excited with how the track has ended [up].
Since the song was first written, the world is a different place: do the lyrics reflect that change?
The crazy thing about this song is that we wrote it before Corona [COVID-19] happened, but I feel like right now, or [at least] I hope, it will resonate with people even more because I feel like, in general, the world needs something hopeful, something exciting, something uplifting again; especially after this crazy last year. And I feel like, not the song, but the tournament itself is already such a big step, such a big, beautiful hopeful thing that is happening again, that is happening to all these different countries. It’s really special and I hope that this song will bring people together just like the tournament will be doing.
It’s an uplifting song – how significant do you think EURO 2020 will be in giving fans across Europe the chance to celebrate and have that festival feeling again?
I'm just excited for this tournament to happen, because it's a victory already, it doesn't matter who will win in the end, I think, because the fact that this tournament is happening through all these different countries, it can bring people happiness, it can bring people together again after a year of so much… you were almost scared for one another. It's not normal for a human to be so distant, and I feel like everybody needs that connection, to unite. I feel like with sports and also, hopefully, with the song, I'm grateful if we can be part of that process.
Unlike Bono and The Edge, your team, The Netherlands, are taking part in the tournament. Describe the feeling of cheering on your nation knowing that your song is the soundtrack to the tournament itself.
It's crazy – I cannot imagine how it will feel hearing the song on TV broadcasted before the game. It's been like, I think the original chord progression got started at the end of 2018. Because in the first meeting with UEFA – the first briefing – I already played them a chord progression. I was like, "Guys, this one feels really good, and it really gives me a very special feeling”. And that's the chord progression, which ended up as "We Are the People”, so to sit on something for so, so long, and went through so many different versions, and even finalising the project because it was for TV, we had to mix everything in surround, we recorded with the orchestra, sitting on something for so long is exciting but you also want to share it with the world and now when that moment is getting so close – because it also got pushed back a[nother] year because of Corona – but now that moment is so close, I'm just very excited. I think for everybody who was involved with the tournament, the music video, everything, everybody involved. I feel like when it gets to the big audience, everybody will have a moment of relief and really realise: "Wow, it's happened”.
What are your memories of UEFA EURO championships in the past?
For me, my favourite memories about the EUROs is just how euphoric and happy people are. Whenever the Netherlands would play, or even any game, everybody would watch it, grab a beer, like, it's so festive. Also, because it’s in the summer, there’s good weather, everybody is feeling good, feeling happy. There's always something fun to talk about with your friends. It's a very nice, nice, amazing, euphoric happening.
How do you feel about Amsterdam being one of the host cities and the championship actually being played across 12 different cities/countries in Europe?
I’m so excited that Amsterdam is a host city, because I'm from Amsterdam, but also, I feel like the fact that the tournament is happening in all these different cities, it will bring people even more together and it's so inclusive, it’s what football is about. I think it's genius, it’s really amazing to see how everything plays out and how everything… I think it will make people feel even more involved, more excited because it's in their home country or in their hometown, like Amsterdam, it’s crazy.
What are your hopes for The Netherlands in UEFA EURO 2020, especially after missing out on World Cup 2018?
I just really, really, really hope… No, I’m not going to say "I hope”. I know they’re going to have some really good games, and I’m very excited to have them surprise the world and Europe.
Which team do you think is going to win the tournament?
The Netherlands. [laughter] Holland!
UEFA is asking fans across Europe to get ‘EURO-hyped’ this summer – how do you get hyped before a gig?
How do I get hyped before I perform at a gig? It’s hard not to get hyped. You hear the crowd, the energy, the adrenaline. I kind of miss that feeling because I haven’t done a show in over a year, but before a show, there’s such a… Because there’s no music. It’s like changeover music. And before a Garrix show, you’re just meditative. You’re like, "Mmm…”, and then, the music will go a little bit louder, and the crowd will think the intro will start and be like, "Ahh!”. And before every show, I’m nervous, and I still have goosebumps at every show because it’s such a… Yeah, I still get nervous, but it’s such an exciting moment of the crowd being together, the energy, the tension that’s in the air before the music starts. I think it’s similar to football in a way.
Is there anything else you’re working on at the moment?
What can we expect from you the coming months?
Anything else I’ve been working on… I’ve been working on something super exciting already for five years now with my dear friend, Maejor, and it’s a project… It’s about two aliens that crash on Planet Earth, and upon their arrival, they don’t understand that there’s borders, they don’t understand the division. They basically look at humans and are like, "What are you guys doing?”, but we want to do it in a fun, playful way. We have an amazing animation team behind us who help cartoon-animate the journey of the aliens because we’ve been flying around the universe not paying attention, and we hit a satellite, we crash on Planet Earth, and then the real journey starts.
We were thinking about how people would perceive or, like, how people would look at humans if they weren’t human, if they looked from an outside point of view, because there are a lot of things that people do and think [are] normal which [are] not kind of normal sometimes, and we wanted to just shine a light on it in a fun, playful way. The music is very different from the Garrix stuff. I play guitar, I’m singing background vocals; Maejor is rapping, singing, playing drums. It’s really… It’s fun. This year, I had so much time because there was no touring, so besides the Garrix stuff, we’ve also been working on a full album with this project.
[Talking about AREA21]
How are you getting through Corona? How do you stay creative during these times? Has the situation influenced the music you’re currently making?
This year, for me… Of course, I really miss touring. I miss the fans, I miss the shows, I miss the adrenaline from being on stage, but it was also nice in some ways because I had a lot of time with family, with friends and also in the studio. Because I’ve had so much time in the studio, I’ve been very creative, exploring, trying out new things. I’ve got the Garrix stuff, but I’ve also been working on a lot of other exciting things, so I’m really excited, but I’m also very excited for the shows so that I can play the new stuff.
I wish there was still a lot of art happening this year, and sport and everything. But, for me, [with] there not being live shows, [it] was weird to make festival music because whenever I work on festival songs, and high-energy Garrix songs, it’s weird to – or, at least I felt that this last year, I felt it was weird to make that type of music without knowing myself: "Oh, I can test it out this weekend at this festival”. Get the response, go straight back with the adrenaline and excitement from the show to the studio, polish it, make it better, test it again the day after or the week after. But it’s also exciting because I’ve been exploring a lot, trying out new things. It’s been an interesting year, but very creative in many aspects.
When do you think there’ll be full football stadiums and festival sites/concert venues again? And how do you think that first show will feel?
I think football – well, any sport and music are very similar in some ways because I think you also feed off each other’s energy, off [the] excitement, off [the] adrenaline. I have so much respect for the players, that they can play in an empty stadium because I was doing live streams where I would look at five camera guys and I had to pretend I was playing for an audience, because they would add the audience later in post-production. But it’s such a – even with sport, it’s such a… You rely so much on the energy, on the adrenaline. So, I think this tournament happening with an actual audience is going to be [makes explosion noise]... It’s going to be really good. I think the first shows back for a full crowd are going to be so, so, so crazy. Because everybody’s basically been saving up their energy and I feel like everybody needs a way of letting go. People go to a festival, people go to football to be in the moment, to take the moment in, to forget whatever’s going on in the back of their head. They want to live in the now, and I feel like the last year, people didn’t really have the chance to do that, how they were used to having that before. So, I do think the first shows back, and I think the first games that will happen with a crowd, I think they’re going to be such an explosion of adrenaline, excitement, love, euphoria. I think it’s going to be really, really beautiful.