The music scene in Britain is amazing,
and it has become particularly clear this last decade that the capital is
harnessing a whole new generation of talent. We’re living in one of the most
creative and artistic times that British music has ever seen; London is crowded
with young artists that refuse convention and are breaking free from the
cyclical churn of mass-produced genre and style. One of them is the English vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and
song-writer, Marika Hackman.
Living and working in London and surrounded by London culture, what does the British music scene mean to you?
I have been living in London for five years now, and I’ve got a very core unit of friends here. A lot of these friends I have worked with before, like The Big Moon. It’s hard to sort of know how I slot into that, but it feels very cosy and safe.
How has the making of this new record, Any Human Friend, been for you?
It was amazing! There was a lot of new territory for me as I’d worked with Charlie Andrews for pretty much my whole career, but I decided for this record to take a co-production role and work with someone knew – David Wrench. We had never worked together, and I have never co-produced, and we recorded it quite sporadically in dribs and drabs, which is very different from what I used to do. I used to write a record and take it to the studio and within six weeks it would be done. I think it was really positive to do things spread out as it gave us some breathing space, and as you go along the influences change for each song. But it also keeps you at this creative level for a sustained amount of time, which starts to get quite tiring as you’re always on the cusp of something, but it takes a while to amount to anything. But finally we finished the record in January, after a whole summer of being on the edge. I think it worked really well and I’m really happy with it; it feels fresh and it’s exciting to have all this new material. It’s quite a mish-mash of stuff, but that makes the process of playing the tracks live super exciting.
How did the making of this record differ from the making of your earlier records?
In terms of when I listen to it, sonically it is much poppier. If we look back to my older EPs, that was me playing all the instruments and layering them up, then with the second album I’m Not Your Man, that was a live recording with The Big Moon. And with that album I learnt a lot about arrangements and the recording of different parts, so when I came to make this record, I wanted to strip it back again and keep it really slick. But I was also thinking so much about what every part would be like, every drum beat, every bassline, and how they all interacted and locked into each other, which is not a way that I had written earlier on in my career. It’s a lot more fun, and I love testing myself and trying out new things.
And I know in the past you have worked a lot with Charlie Andrews (alt-J), but with this new record you have been working with David Wrench (Frank Ocean, The xx). What is the working relationship like between you and David Wrench?
He is such a twat! So horrible!... NO, I’M JOKING. He is amazing; he is such a lovely guy. I feel so lucky that throughout my entire career I have been working with people who are all sonice. They are such sweethearts and are so good at what they do. David is fantastic. I like the way he works; he is very quick, and I wasn’t really used to that, but he has such a confidence and doesn’t waste time lingering on things. And that is really nice because it gives the record a sense of immediacy, and a rawness, yet it is recorded with great quality and it is really slick. It was just very easy working with him, straight away we just clicked and got on.
What is your starting point for making a track?
Lyrics generally are the last thing. Well, they kind of come at the same time as the melodies, but often the last thing I am struggling with is the lyrics. When I am coming to the end of making an album, there will always be three of four songs that I haven’t finished the lyrics for and I’m like shit I need to record the vocals! But usually while I am pulling my hair out over them, they will come to me. Sometimes the starting point is a bassline, and I love it when it’s a bassline. The starting point for “The One” was a bassline, the whole track is centred around that funky little bassline and then I wrote the melodies around that. Generally now, I’ll get a little idea for a bassline or drumbeat of synthy sound, and I’ll build it up from there. I like it that way, it keeps it relaxed and insures all the songs are finetuned and each part has a purpose. I’ve stopped the whole thing of writing a song and then just using instrumentation for colour. Everything now has purpose and is designed.
You’ve talked about how your new music is a lot more ‘poppier’ sounding, compared to your older music. What sort of pop music do you listen to or have listened to over the years?
Amber Bain is a pop star to me! So, she will have definitely influenced a lot of my writing on this record as I’ve just been really exposed to her music and she has a poppier sound. I’m great friends with The Big Moon, and I fucking love them, their first album is amazing, and I cannot wait for the second one. I guess it’s more on the alt-pop side of things. There is a lot of chill, great, pop music out there, and I like that sound and I want to incorporate that more produced sound. I think it makes a song a lot more direct.
You have discussed before how during the song-writing process, when dealing with more taboo or intense subject matters you approach them with a sense of humour. Tell us a bit about how you have done this on your next record?
I don’t sit down and think ‘oh, I’ll put a joke in here’, but a lyric will come through and I’m like yeah I’ll DEFINITELY keep that line in there. The lyrics for “The One” are all sotongue-in-cheek; it is so arrogant and over the top. I’m just totally taking the piss out of myself when I sing about wasting my career writing sad songs. As a concept, that is just completely ridiculous! And then the lyrics on songs like “Hand Solo” which is about masturbation, some of the lyrics are quite direct, but they are also quite important sentiments. I match these things together; I want things to be tongue-in-cheek and humorous but then I also like talking about these things and discussing how sexuality is viewed between women. There are always points being made but it’s also not being angry in an overbearing way, because people won’t listen when it comes through angry. I think humour is a very universal way to connect with people, and a very universal way to deal with issues and stuff like that. Generally, when people feel like others are coming at them with aggression, it’s quite easy to shut down and block that out. So, humour is a much better way to get things across.
What do you think you have learnt about yourself as a creative person, having put yourself out there for a few years now?
I think I am quite resilient, a hard worker, and I care a lot. And these are all really nice things to learn about yourself. I’ve been doing this for eight years. Well, my first gig was at sixteen so you could say I’ve been doing it for eleven years. It is everything I know, and I’ve been doing it at the same time to actually developing into an adult human. I’ve been learning a lot about the industry too, and when I do stuff like go to photoshoots it’s a lot easier for me now, as I’m a lot more confident and I know how I want things done. Yeah, I think a confidence growth has been the main thing for me, and you can hear that in the music as well.
What is the greatest compliment you have ever received over the years?
Whenever I send stuff through and I get my mum telling me its great, that’s the best thing.
Aside from making music and touring, what does your typical day off look like? Talk us through a standard chill day.
I do like to focus on doing nothing, but I’ll usually go for a swim and walk along the canal and read my book for a bit. I’ll come home, watch some shit TV, cook a meal, hang out with my housemates. I like to just do nothing. Sometimes laying on your bed and staring at the ceiling is exactly what you need to do.
You must be surrounded by your own music quite a lot of the time. But, are there any other songs (written by other artists) that you could go back to and listen to all the time, and have never got old for you? Could you name a couple of your Desert Island Discs?
Fatal Fantasies” by Gold Fir, which came out last year, I can still listen to without getting bored. I get obsessed with songs. I can listen to Teen Dream by Beach House forever, and anything by Warpaint. They are the ones I will go to and listen back to time and time again.
Since the start of your music career we have witnessed a lot of changes in the sound and style of your music, it seems to be constantly evolving. But what would you say is next for you? Do you have an idea in mind of where you would want to take your music to next?
I don’t know, we will see. I have ideas about things becoming more orchestral and more into the classical spectrum because I’m really interested in that and have dabbled with that in the past. Or I could strip it all back again and just have me and a guitar. It all really depends on how I am feeling and what is entertaining at the time. I am a bit like a child, and I get bored really easily, so I’ll have all these ideas about what I’ll do next and by the time I actually sit down and make that record I’ll be bored of it.
What does the rest of the year look like for you?
I have Green Man festival, and we have some touring coming up at the end of the year. I am really looking forward to getting back out to America, as I haven’t been there for a couple of years. But the one you always look forward to the most is the big London show because all your mates come, the family come, and it just feels homely. The crowds are great.