Toronto native Martin Bernie has made a splash in the electronic music scene as Pusher with shiny, colourful music that blends influences from dance,pop, jazz with a “neon” take on music that brings indelicate drum beats and evocative vocals together by way of sunny synths and boisterous bass lines to build albums around new worlds.
With over 55 million catalogue streams and 3.5 million YouTube views, Pusher has amassed a devoted following with his socially conscious, genre defying electronic music that calls out the issues in our capitalist society.
He’s toured with acclaimed artists such as The Chainsmokers, Zeds Dead, and Phantoms while his music has appeared in television shows such as Broad City, Siesta Key, and The Ellen Show.
Teasing the release with a series of singles over the last six months – including the tech indulgent lead track “I Could Give It Up,” millennial housing crisis anthem “I Can’t Believe It,” the indie rock leaning “Advertising“, and most recently, his pop culture multiverse “Back In Time” – Pusher’s debut full-length album is a tongue-in-cheek, optimistic, nihilistic, dissatisfied, apoca-lyptic, electronic album to enjoy the collapse of civilization to. The project consists entirely of, for the first time, Pusher’s own songwriting and vocals plus a feature from Genevieve Artadi of Knower and contributions from several respected and award-winning instrumentalists.
Despite what the title may suggest, Pusher’s album was written before the onset of COVID-19 lockdowns, and originated by his own reflections on the state of his career and the music industry, “Stay-at-Home Popstar is a fun album for the collapse of civilization. The title originally referred to my own lack of touring, and how artists are forced to only see value in their stats – tour dates, streams, followers, playlists. This album is the product of focusing on my own artistic goals and craft rather than on trying to look like a marketable product by focusing on driving up those numbers.”
What’s your story as an artist?
After trying with reasonable success to make pop music, I got tired of the formulaic approach it often demands to writing, and decided to make whatever I feel like. That’s now manifesting as chaotic apocalyptic synth pop.
What do you want your music to communicate?
Meaningful reflections on modern life and our place among the stars in a fun way.
What are some sources of inspiration for your storytelling?
I admire Frank Zappa’s approach to music a lot, especially long form story-oriented orchestral works like The Adventures of Greggery Peccary, but I draw from everything that makes my eyebrows go up.
Who is an artist that you look up to more than others today?
I like to sit with things for months and years and reflect on it. In the past few years I’ve really been into Clarence Clarity, SOPHIE, KNOWER (as well and Louis Cole and Genevieve Artadi’s solo work), Bill Wurtz. I’ve also been blown away by Galen Tipton, Kate Stephenson, and Shohei Amimori (specifically Pata Music and their song ‘anima’ with Daoko). I also really love storytelling – Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow series and It’s Such a Beautiful Day are some of my favourite things ever.
What’s the record or artist that made you realize you wanted to be an artist?
It’s always been the obvious thing to me for whatever reason, so there have been lots of moments that pushed me in certain directions, but no one moment of “music is my thing now”. I used to dance in my crib to Little Richard singing ‘On Top of Spaghetti’, it’s just part of me.
Tell us about your latest release and how it came about
Stay-at-Home Popstar is my debut album that just came out. It’s a no-bullshit approach to writing songs about things I find myself thinking about that I feel like I can muse on in an interesting way and offer some entertaining and thoughtful song about. I got tired of trying to write the same damn love song over and over and following pop industry trends and trying to be just slightly ahead of the curve, and decided to forget all that and do whatever I felt like was interesting. Now it’s done and it’s out in the world. I feel like I succeeded in my goal.
What inspires your sound?
Necessity, practise, and concept. I have all these concepts I want to realize, and they’re constrained only by practical things like budget, and my own level of technical ability to realize them. I just try to say things in a way that I feel is meaningful and interesting, and that gets filtered through reality before anybody can hear it.
What’s your favorite tune of yours?
I usually gravitate towards the outliers on my albums for some reason – the ones that came out of a weird mood or an unusual writing session. On the new album I think “Someday ft. Genevieve Artadi” has a weird kind of magic to it, and I think it has a very impactful delivery that forces people to reflect on the meaning of the entire album. It’s a better ending than I could have planned consciously, it just sort of wrote itself.
Where are some things you really want to accomplish as an artist?
I want to make so much money it destroys the global economy, then fly it all into the sun – forcing capitalism to end. It would be cool to do a headline tour someday and put on a really different show with a bit of budget.
Favorite lyric you ever wrote?
I wrote a lyric in a demo that didn’t make it onto the album. I tried like hell to force it into a song that was making the cut somehow but just couldn’t work it in. The lyric was “The 90s called, they want to see how we fixed things / maybe it’s better off if we just let the phone ring”. I’m annoyed it didn’t get in cause it fits the theme so well and now I may never get to use it. I don’t want my next release to be a bunch of B-sides from this or some weird shadow of this album, so I’ll probably never use it.
Was there ever a moment when you felt like giving up?
Not really. I’ve lived my entire music life with no safety net, so I have no option but to keep going. It’s the best (and most exhausting) gift that teenage me gave to present me, not developing any other marketable skills.
What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Between Steve Martin, Frank Zappa, and Porter Robinson – that you simply have to do your own thing, be so good it’s undeniable, and whoever wants it can have it and whoever doesn’t can pass it by. Don’t worry about anything but making your work great and being uncompromising about that. Everything else follows.
Where do you think the next game changer will be in the music industry and entertainment scene?
Depends what we mean by game changer. The game has been the same for like 60 years since all experimental stuff has been drummed out of pop music. EDM had a little shake up as kids everywhere used laptops to get famous, but it’s just been incorporated into the mainstream machine like any underground movement. I think the biggest three potential shake ups are coming from artificial intelligence generated music supplanting human created music (likely between 2040-2060) which will change music from an art to a utility we use to help us sleep, exercise, study, etc; self driving cars enabling us to not pay attention to driving, eliminating the need for hands-free entertainment (goodbye terrestrial radio); and climate change – which is going to make a lot of things a lot more difficult in the future in ways we don’t even know we don’t know about.