“Morro Bae” rolls in like a wave of infectious funky nu-disco sunshine, the sonic version of a lo-fi-filtered photo of the California coast. It's got a dope beat and beach-loving lyrics. Really, it's almost impossible not to shake your hips to the tropical dance-pop tune, which should have been blasting out of SoCal radios all summer. Instead, it has about 500 favorites on SoundCloud.
The song comes from Jayson Martinovich, an S.F. transplant who released “Morro Bae” under the name 8th Grader back in January. A few months later, he traded in 8th Grader for Collaj (a stylized version of “collage” that he hopes will allow him the freedom to explore different genres), and ditched San Francisco for L.A.
Martinovich moved just a few weeks ago, but he's already settled in. His favorite songwriting hangout? Republique, where he sees Jane Lynch “all the time.” He lives downtown, where “you can have someone pissing on your car, and then also have all these hip coffee shops,” says Martinovich, who recently penned a song about gentrification in San Francisco's Mission District.
Uninspired by San Francisco's tech obsession and increasing “quaintness,” Martinovich headed south. “There's douchy conversations going on everywhere. But I'd rather overhear a douchy conversation about music than about an app,” says Martinovich, who has been making the back-and-forth between San Francisco and L.A. for the past two years. Martinovich originally got into music, indirectly, through football: “There was a lot of reverberation in the locker rooms, so I would sing while getting ready. Someone said I should try out for choir.” For years, he juggled his job as a social worker with singing in rock bands.
8th Grader began as a side project to write R&B songs for his then-girlfriend — songs that reminded him of “being in 8th grade, holding hands.” The side project took off when his band was stranded on the freeway on the way to a show in Costa Mesa, and Martinovich was forced to perform with just a laptop full of 8th Grader tracks and a microphone. The crowd loved it. “It was 4 a.m. after the show and I was so pumped that I accidentally drove to down to San Diego instead of back up to L.A., just thinking about my plans for this project. I was like, 'Dude, this could be a real thing.'”
Collaj's evolving sound mixes R&B and pop with tropical beats, and pulls from influences ranging from Tom Petty to Drake. “I listen to Drake like, all day,” says Martinovich, who has covered “Hold On, We're Going Home.”
He grew up spending summers in Hawaii with his mom, a hula dancer, and a cast of aunties, uncles and cousins who danced to the likes of Prince, The Pointer Sisters, and Sly and the Family Stone. The trips to Hawaii “nurtured my love of music, especially melodic dance music.” It also nurtured the sex-positivity evident in Martinovich lyrics. “I just want to get to know your body/Get between your legs like a brand-new Bugatti,” goes “Lose Control,” the latest release from Collaj, with an accompanying video that features naked women covered in gold body paint.
Martinovich attributes his blend of sexuality and humor, which comes off as playful rather than sleazy, to the culture that surrounded his childhood. “Hawaiians walk around naked all day. My mom makes the weirdest sexual jokes in the middle of dinner.”
Collaj will perform on Saturday, Sept. 26 at the Satellite with Body Language and Powers as part of the Dance Yourself Clean Tour.