INTERVIEW: Marika Hackman | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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In 2013 folk singer Johnny Flynn suggested a teenage Marika Hackman, a fellow Bedales School mate, to Transgressive Records. Her story unravels further with help of Mercury Prize winning producer Charlie Andrews. With Laura Marling chaperoning Marika on her 2013 European tour and setting out her wing for Marika to settle under, Marika had epiphanies of self-assurance, actualisation and equanimity. Now, in 2015, with a UK and European headline tour, a fresh debut album in the form of We Sleep At Last and numerous festival dates for the summer, she stands confidently alone. Retrospect reveals the rapid augmentation of Marika’s songwriting talent, and her vivacity as a musician. On a busy day in March, which Marika says is filled with “speaking to lovely people” like me on the phone, we chat promotion, artistry and gendered stereotypes.

The album was completed in a very short period of time, from song writing to production. What was this experience like?

It was quite intense. I structured my days so that I would be up early and start writing, have lunch then write more until 6pm. This went on for weeks on end. When you are writing quite personal music you are accessing a certain part of your psyche. It can be very draining.

We had two recording sessions, with a break in the middle. It was straight to the studio to get six songs down, then in the break I wrote a few more songs. When we turned for the second session we just finished it all off. When you’re in the studio you’re there until quite late in the evening; it’s a very long time without sunlight. It was extremely intense but completely enjoyable the whole way through.

You have mentioned before about a body of songs sitting together. Relating this to your omission of the songs from your EPs on the album, how much does this relate to your musical career on timeline?

The way I see it, the EPs I have released so far do fit in their own section on the timeline. Even to start mixing up those EPs would be weird. My songwriting style has changed, the production style has changed and my voice has changed! To suddenly jump around in all these different head spaces would be impossible to listen to and wouldn’t connect at all. I didn’t want to break all that up and start sticking it all together. I wanted to make something new that would gel as one solid record rather than an amalgamation of older things.

Also I don’t wanna sell my music twice. People buy these EPs, I don’t see why I should re-sell those songs just to be packaged as an album [laughs]. I think that is greedy.

Virtually all of your music is free to listen to on either Youtube or Spotify. As an artist, why did you make this decision?

It makes it accessible for everyone and I hope people will like it enough to go ahead and own it. It’s just the way the music industry is going, isn’t it? You need a way of getting exposure and put your stuff out there so people can talk about you, talk about your music and post it about. We don’t live in an age now where people will read a review in a paper and go out and buy your music, that just doesn’t happen anymore. You have to find the publicity where you can.

Do you feel, in any way, that giving your music away like this limits you as an artist?

It’s another form of promotion that is a necessary evil. It gets people talking and listening, then if they do like you they can buy your music, which I absolutely would prefer.

It’s like the whole Spotify debate. It’s difficult because there’s so much rapid change and you have to keep up. In some ways it is fucking over artists, but we just have to do it now. I don’t use Spotify. If I like something, I will buy it on iTunes, and if I really like it I will get it on vinyl.


“When you are writing quite personal music you are accessing a certain part of your psyche. It can be very draining”

How’re you feeling about having your first European headline tour right off the back of your UK tour?

I’ve done runs of nine weeks before, which have been really intense, so I know what I can handle and this should be fine. Also, I’m just so excited because I’ve never done headline shows out there. I can’t wait.

Can you explain what is meant by “Tits & Teeth”?

Tits and Teeth? That’s an oooold expression. It’s what women used to say to each other like [puts on a high-pitched, matronly voice] ‘remember, tits and teeth girls’ – smile, stick your boobs out and look good, which is just awful. It was an ongoing joke between my band, so one is Tits and the other Teeth, but nobody really got it so we changed their names now.

You claim not to write music based on “logic,” this idea of it being psychically “there.” What is it that you write by, if it isn’t logical?

I write in the same way I listen to music really, when something grasps me, when I get that feeling, if I’m writing a song and get the same feeling, I know I’m going in the right direction. I just don’t know where it comes from. Obviously, some thought goes in to it, on a surface level, like when we go in to the studio, but melodies and chords are just feeling. The logic comes in arrangement, but you get the same feeling as a result.

So the creative process is more a product of the imagination?

Yeah, feeling it out and exploring and playing. It’s more spontaneous, you don’t really think about it first.

A quote from Primary Talent back in 2013 stated that you are “more interested in challenging perceptions of what songwriting can or should be in modern times.” How much does this resonate with you now, in 2015?

I definitely agree. So much of what we hear, particularly coming from the mainstream market, is, in my opinion, utter shite. It’s just formulaic, boring crap that knows who it is going to affect and how it will affect them. There’s no intelligence or emotion put in to it, apart from that dark intelligence that knows how to make money. I’m definitely pushing against that, writing music that can’t be put in to a box, which is slightly more challenging but more accessible for a listener. That is what I am aiming for every time I write. It is heartfelt, it is honest and it is real. I don’t think I’m the only one, but I am pushing for it and hopefully that rings true.

You don’t want to be “put in a box,” but many critics choose to label your music as “dark,” something that doesn’t sit well with me and I think is cliché. How do you feel about this?

There is a darkness there, on the surface level, but that’s if you take the lyrics very literally. I get it but I’m like you. There’s a hell of a lot of subverted humour in there, that I’m not sure a lot of people pick up on, as well as a lot of hope in the lyrics. They’re moving and changing. Then there’s the melodies. You can’t just take lyrics for what they are on paper; words change meaning completely when they are sung. I hate it when people read my lyrics without listening to the music too.

It’s probably because, you know, I’m a young girl, with long blonde hair and an acoustic guitar. Suddenly you’re like [patronising tone] “Woah, that’s so dark!” just because it isn’t expected. If I was a guy or a goth or something, it might be like “oh yeah, this isn’t too dark.”

Considering these sorts of stereotypes, what is your view on the way women are seen in music currently? It’s been brought to attention, the lack of female artists, such as this year’s Leeds & Reading controversy, but nothing has really been done about it.

There’s a lot of exciting and strong women releasing music this year, which is great because there was so much chat about it last year, but it can be backed up now, by a strong year for women in music. I think it’s that first stage of breaking through, but we have seen a shift. We have seen more girl bands and a more cliched image associated with boys, you know “girls with electric guitars?!” Fucking shut up.

But it is those initial stages that are tricky for women. There’s this want for women to be safe, to be non-threatening artists, to write nice songs but not to be pushing the boundaries, not to be doing anything new or exciting. Hopefully we will see a significant change this year. It’s all there, with so many incredibly talented women. They shouldn’t be crushed. It’s the industry, it needs to get with the fucking times.

Marika Hackman will play at Think Tank, Newcastle on Thursday 2nd April.

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