You may not recognize the name Shy Martin, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know her music. At just 21, the Sweden native landed herself on the radar of an international music scene after writing two hits: Mike Perry’s “The Ocean,” and The Chainsmokers’ “All We Know.” Chances are, you’ve heard of the dance pop anthems, even if you think you haven’t. (If the year 2016 brought you anywhere close to a club or personalized Spotify playlist, you’ve likely crossed her paths).

Martin followed her lyrical debut with everyone from Ellie Goulding to Bebe Rexha, racking up a songwriting catalogue that has earned her 3 billion streams to date. But this year, the 29-year-old pop artist will do something she hasn’t since she was a teenager—step out from behind the curtain. Just one month away from her debut album Late Night Thoughts, she’s ready for you know her name.

Photo by Hampus Hjellström

The first sign of Martin’s talents appeared long before she knew what to do with them. “There was always music playing in my home,” Martin, born Sara Hejellstrom, remembers of her childhood in Southern Sweden. Barely old enough to speak, she’d turn the words from her storybooks to melody, inspired by her choir-singer mother to create songs of her own. By twelve, Shy was spending weekends singing with a local band. Her dad even built them a studio.

But Martin’s performances were defined by more than just raw talent. “I’m an introvert,” she admits over Zoom, flashing a quick smile. In love with music but afraid of the stage, she remembers blacking out while performing as a teenager. She needed an “in” to the industry that was out of the spotlight, and songwriting seemed like the answer.

Photo by Hampus Hjellström

Martin spent years writing songs for other artists, but she could only suppress her own work for so long. “Writing this record was the first time I was in the studio only writing for myself,” she says of Late Night Thoughts. “I really wanted to write about stuff that I hadn’t written about before, like mental health, people close to me getting burned out, and growing older.”

Teasing singles like last year’s “Wish I Didn’t Know You,” a softly sung ballad indistinguishable from her songs of the late 2010s, Martin tested the waters of vulnerability under her own artist’s name. Last week, she released her all-new single, “Glued to the Floor,” ahead of her album that comes out in May.

A sonic blend of the identity she established as a songwriter and the one she’ll embark on as a solo artist next month, Late Night Thoughts medleys the hard-hitting beats of Martin’s veteran hits with the soft-spoken charm of the blonde behind the mic. We sat down with Martin to ask about her journey as an artist, from the cold emails she sent to The Chainsmokers as a songwriting student to the making of Late Night Thoughts seven years later. Keep reading below for more on Martin.

V MAGAZINE: Thanks so much for taking the time to sit and talk with us. With Late Night Thoughts coming out in May, how are you feeling right now?

SHY MARTIN: I’m very nervous. And also feels like I’ve been living with the songs for quite a while. It almost feels like they’re already out because I’ve been listening to them. Some of them were written two years ago, so it feels like a relief to release them. Almost like I need to give birth to this baby before I can write new stuff. I’m very excited to for it to be released.

V: That’s great. So the album has been in the works for two years?

SM: It’s been almost two years. I wrote the first two songs back in 2021, and last year I worked a lot on doing visuals with my brother for the whole album. That’s been taking a while, and also figuring out how to release it. But the writing process was a year. I haven’t released an album yet, only EPs so far. I wanted it to feel like the songs would make sense together.

V: Got it. Before we get into the album a bit more, can you tell us about your background with music?

SM: I started performing for my family when I was two years old. My parents have always listened to music, so there was always music playing in my home. I started singing very early, even before I could read. I was making up songs by looking in books. I don’t know why, but I loved performing when I was little. Now I have stage fright, unfortunately. But I’ve always loved performing, to the point where I think my family got a bit annoyed. I was singing everything I did from a very early age. I grew up in South Sweden, in a small village with like 500 people in between the two big lakes in Sweden, if you look at the map, in the countryside. There were actually a lot of bands playing in the towns around the village where I grew up, so I started playing in a band when I was 12. We were playing shows almost every weekend until I was 17.

V: What did your family think about that?

SM: They’ve always supported me. I think they knew from a very early age that it was something that I loved doing. They sang at home, mostly for fun. My mom was in a choir, and my grandma was in a choir, so I started singing in a choir when I was five. They’ve always supported me, driving me around to all these shows, filming me when I’ve performed. My dad built me my band studio to rehearse. They’ve always been very proud.

Photo by Hampus Hjellström

V: That’s sweet. When did you start going by Shy Martin?

SM: I was studying at a music school in northern Sweden, a songwriting school, back in 2014. And we had a class where we made an imaginary artist so we could practice PR and budgets and all of that. My now-husband came up with the name because he thought that I was shy and wore Dr. Martens. But he didn’t know that my twin brother’s name was Martin, and he was super shy when he was a kid. I thought it was funny, so I kept it.

V: That’s a great story. Can you tell us about your journey with songwriting? Up until now, you’ve mainly been known for these major songwriting credits. How did music school transition into a full-fledged career?

SM: I’ve always loved writing songs and loved writing overall, like poems and stuff. I wanted to become an author or songwriter. When I started studying at that school, me and my husband we were just friends back then, but we were hanging out. The first song we wrote was “The Ocean” with Mike Perry, which was the first song that kicked off our songwriting careers. We were basically joking around writing a dance song, because we didn’t even listen to dance music. The second song we wrote was The Chainsmokers song. We just had fun writing stuff, so we continued.

V: How did that work? Were you sending songs off to artists you liked?

SM: We were still in school and didn’t have management or anything at that point. With the Mike Perry song, he was actually from the closest city to where I grew up. He was working at the same job as my dad, and he was like, “We should write something together,” so he sent me some chords. It was written on the couch, then recorded in my wardrobe. I did one tape because I had a tonsil removal, so I wasn’t allowed to sing. And I wasn’t an artist at that point, but the song just kicked off. With The Chainsmokers song, it was written two weeks later, also in my living room at my parents house, and recorded in my wardrobe. Then we googled The Chainsmokers email, and that just happened. They replied and wanted the song. We didn’t really know how it worked, and it was at a time where the music industry was changing a bit. We were lucky, basically.

V: That’s awesome. Now you’re pivoting to writing your own stuff. What do you think caused that change?

SM: I think it happened quite naturally. Because I sang on “The Ocean,” and it got so big, I started getting a fan base without really trying. At that time, I didn’t want to be an artist anymore, I think because I’m an introvert. I really enjoy being in the studio behind the scenes and not being in the spotlight, and also because I had stage fright. It just suited me really well being in the studio just writing for others. The first song I released as Shy Martin was a song that I initially wrote for someone else, and then I was like, “Maybe I should release it,” and I did. I didn’t think about needing to follow it up, but it just kept going. I tried to balance both the careers at the same time.

V: How does it feel to finally sing and release your own work?

SM: Writing this record was the first time I was in the studio, only writing for myself and not writing with other people in mind. That’s also why the songs have different subjects than my previous songs because my previous songs could fit someone else. They were about love in general, which was still my experience. But I felt with this record that I really wanted to write about stuff that I hadn’t written about before that has been a big part of my life, like mental health, people close to me getting burned out, and growing older. Stuff that I’ve been thinking about and going through recently. It was quite a challenge, but I really enjoyed that process as well.

Photo by Hampus Hjellström

V: I know Late Night Thoughts is very personal to you. That must be quite a change, a very vulnerable one.

SM: Yes. But also, I feel like it’s a good next step. I’ve been talking to my fan base a lot about mental health, and they’ve been sharing their stories with me about their struggles. It feels pretty natural. They’ve already created this safe and nonjudgmental space where we talk about these things, but it’s the first time I’m sharing what I’ve been going through with them. I’m nervous, definitely. But also, I think everyone is going through these things in some capacity. People are talking more openly about it now. I used to be quiet and kind of ashamed about it. But now I feel like it’s a common thing to go through.

V: What would you say was the hardest song to write on the album?

SM: Hard question. Emotionally, the hardest song to write was “Wait it Out,” the album’s single, because it’s very, very personal. It’s about being burned out, and I’ve had family members being burnt out. Since I grew up, I’ve watched them go through it very closely, but also I’ve had close friends going through the same things. That was something I’ve wanted to write about for such a long time, but it was really hard to find the right words to describe it.

V: What does the writing process look like for you?

SM: Usually, it’s starts with chords. When I travel, in the US or in the UK, I have noticed that people always want to start with like a theme or lyrics, and they want to know what a song is about before even writing it. And for me, I found it so much easier to tap into the frequency in the room with the other creators. I never know what to write before I go to the studio. I think why I start with melodies is because English isn’t my first language, so I grew up listening to those more. I think that’s why that comes first for me, but I’m always singing Swinglish, like Swedish, and English. Then some words, and I build the lyrics from those words. I think the initial sound of the melodies is super important to keep because that’s the feeling of the song.

V: That’s great. How has your family been reacting to what you’ve been working on?

SM: Both my mom and dad are the biggest fans. My dad has a playlist with only my music and my husband’s music, and our friends’ music. He listens to that over and over again. And my mom, since she learned the guitar, is always playing my songs, which is really sweet. I think they both like it. I’m working really closely with my big brother as well with creating all the visuals, so he’s also one of the first people I show the songs. He’s really pushed me into writing more and more personal lyrics and music. He’s really pushed me to challenge myself and start writing by myself, which is really nice. He’s like a life coach. It’s so nice to have him with me.

V: You have a tour coming up with this album too, right?

SM: Yeah, there’s no dates yet.

V: Got it. How are you feeling about it?

SM: I’m super nervous. The tour that I’m going to do now is basically the tour I was supposed to do when Covid hit. And back then I was traveling all the time as a songwriter, the first years of my career. So I almost took it for granted and I didn’t really enjoy it. I remember looking at the tour schedule, and I was just feeling nothing. So when the pandemic hit, I was secretly happy, because I didn’t really want to go. I just wanted to be at home and relax and breathe. So now I’m super excited about getting to meet my listeners again, because that’s the only way you actually get to do that. And because otherwise it’s just numbers you see on streaming sites. It’s so hard, even on social media, to feel that human connection. I think it’s really important for me to go on tour even though I’m terrified.

V: I bet it starts to feel better the more you see people react to the music in person.

SM: I think the two best feelings, working as a songwriter and an artist, two feelings that nothing beats is when you finish writing a song that you love and listening to it walking home from the studio. And singing your songs together with your fans. That’s the two best the feelings, for me at least.

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