Gigs

Interview / Live Review: Marika Hackman, The Bodega (14/11/14)

Currently undergoing a headline tour of the UK,  22 year-old folk singer-songwriter, Marika Hackman arrived in  Nottingham for her show at the Bodega. She played an enchanting set, with songs from her previous EPs like ‘Bath Is Black’ and ‘You Come Down’ that the audience seemed to know very well (encouragingly so for an emerging artist). Perhaps even more importantly, promising selections from her upcoming debut album  were equally well-received. Choosing to use a backing band allowed her to recreate the rich layers of instrumentation vital to her studio sound. Marika  still returned to her usual solo format for some songs, including a beautiful lullaby called ‘Claude’s Girl’ which she allegedly penned to help fall asleep. Speaking to  Marika before the show it was clear Marika had a  good sense of humour behind the ‘dark side.’

So your tour brings you to Nottingham: is this your first time here?

Marika: Yeah, a couple of times. I’ve never done a headline show so this is my first one… But I’ve played probably about three support shows here over the last couple of years.

I suddenly had a bit of a reality-check and thought about spending all that money and time doing a degree in fine art, when actually I could be forging ahead with a music career

Starting things at the beginning, what got you into music in the first place? And when did you realise that music was what you wanted to do with your life?

M: This sounds really cheesy but I think I always did. I was always writing songs, even when I was little: I learnt the piano from the age of four and tried to write songs … ‘tried’ being the operative word there. But I wanted to go to art college, I wanted to do a degree in art, so I did my foundation in Brighton, and it was after that I suddenly had a bit of a reality-check and thought about spending all that money and time doing a degree in fine art, when actually I could be forging ahead with a music career. I think when I was sixteen/seventeen I started to think about it in the back of my mind, but it only really hit after I’d done my foundation, and decided to take the plunge.

So do you still have an involvement, say, with your album covers then?

M: I get involved with them in the sense that I’m very fussy about them and I pick it all and I come up with the concepts and things. I haven’t ventured into doing it myself yet, but it is something I will do, further down the line. I like doing portraiture and do it in my spare time. At the moment I like my covers to be quite abstract, though.

…being a support act, most of the people just chat the whole way through, and this was the first time I’d really played shows when you could hear a pin drop…

Obviously you’re playing a lot of shows at the moment, but have any, in particular, stood out as especially thrilling?

M: Recently, we supported Alt-J on their UK tour and the venues were just massive, like the Alexandra Palace, and the Arena in Dublin, which is like 12,000 people. So those were the biggest shows we played and I was kind of, you know, blown away. But also the first time I went around Europe with Laura Marling, the crowds were just lovely and it was such a pleasure to play for them. Because being a support act, most of the people just chat the whole way through, and this was the first time I’d really played shows when you could hear a pin drop, but they’d go crazy in-between… They weren’t like the English crowds who, if they’re quiet, will just kind of tap their hands together.

Am I right in saying you’re taking a band out for this tour? That’s a change for you isn’t it?

M: Yeah, we had a band in March, that’s the first time I toured with the band. And we did some of the festivals over the summer as well. But I’ve just finished up doing a month of touring round Europe with a band called The Antlers and I was doing that solo as well, so it’s nice to have the band back on the road with me.

So is it more hectic dynamic touring with a band?

M: No, it’s less hectic. There’s more people doing things for me, I have a whole team there, there’s more people to interact with. It’s not as intense as being in a car with one other person or something. I’ve never had any problems with that, but it’s quite nice to have a bigger team with you. We go out for drinks and stuff, although I’m really boring… but you know, *they* go out for drinks and stuff (laughs)… I just go to sleep.

I’ve always been drawn to darker things:  darker art, music, stuff that moves me and not necessarily in a happy way

In terms of your music, one thing that always strikes me is it’s usually more downtempo and even sometimes melancholic… has this always been an expression of yourself from day one, or more of an artistic development you’ve evolved?

M: It’s always been there, present the whole way through. I’ve always been drawn to darker things:  darker art, music, stuff that moves me and not necessarily in a happy way, so I of course want to emulate that in my own work. And have tried to do that, ever since I first started getting to grips with any instrument I was learning. So I don’t know if it’s expressing any dark side of me, I don’t know if I have a dark side, I guess everyone does, but it’s kind of not a conscious thing: I just like to have that impact in the music.

In that vein, do you draw lyrical inspiration from your own life and experiences? Or is it more influenced by things you read/watch? Probably a bit of both?

M: Yeah, it’s a complete mix. There’s sometimes stories and things that people will tell and I’ve interpreted in a weird way and written a song around that time. Things I’m reading affect me… stuff in the news: horrible, gory stories and things like that can make me feel really upset, and whether they come out directly, I don’t know. But that feeling definitely pushes me to write because I want to get it out. And then a lot of them are talking about dealing with day-to-day human emotions, I suppose.

The videos are almost saying something and they’re dark, but it’s also me slightly taking the piss.

It seems in your videos, some of the themes are suggestive of some of these things. But at the same time it looks like you’re enjoying yourself in them. Is that a correct assumption?

M: The videos are almost saying something and they’re dark, but it’s also me slightly taking the piss. They shouldn’t be taken extremely literally, particularly for Bath is Black, that’s sort of sticking two fingers up to the industry: where it looks so bizarre to see this girl grinding up on this guy, because you’ve got me there singing a song. But actually you see it every day in so many other videos and it’s completely accepted. So it’s kind of fun to play around with that and have a laugh.

You mention in other interviews the danger for female folk artists to be perceived as ‘twee’…

M: Yeah, my least favourite word

That’s when you start to get pushed into being a twee folk artist, or a slightly dancier, peppy pop artist

Sounds like a horrible thing to be immediately labelled as… do you have any advice for aspiring young musicians to defy that?

M: I don’t know if there’s anything you can do about that, really. They jump on you and do that. But as long you don’t let the people you’re working with musically do that… that’s the big difference. That’s when you start to get pushed into being a twee folk artist, or a slightly dancier, peppy pop artist. If you can just work with people who have the same vision as you, then eventually everyone else will cotton on, but it’s very frustrating earlier on… ‘twee’ is not a nice word to call someone. I find it bizarre that it gets thrown around so much. I hate that word.

Another thing to touch on, you seem to like collaborating with other people. You’ve worked with Sivu, Alt-J, and producer Charlie Andrew… do you have any interesting experiences with them? Or hope to work with anyone else in the future?

M: Working with all those people has been amazing. First off, making a couple of songs with Johnny Flynn as producer, which was incredible, was the first thing I did. And then with Sivu, we both wrote tracks that we sang on, which was really nice. And then we went on tour together: I had a song that he sang on, and he had a song that I sang on. And it was a really nice way of doing it because it felt like we’d both created this little package. And obviously, singing on Alt-J’s album’s been incredible. Charlie’s a long term collaborator, we’ve worked together for a while now, two years or so. And it just works really well, we get on really well and are artistically very similar. In terms of working with other people, that’s just something… I’ll see what comes my way. I never really think about things like that, I’m too focused on what I’m doing at the moment. I don’t look at long-term projections.

It’s their thing for people to bite onto, so it can be slightly frustrating sometimes when it’s like the headline.

I wasn’t sure whether to ask, but I’m going for it: you knew Cara Delevinge at school … sounds like a bit of a strange one. Has that affected things for you?

M: Only in the sense that I get asked about it. It hasn’t had an impact on my actual career. Creatively and artistically I’ve just been kind of getting on with whatever I do. I don’t really talk to her that much anymore: she’s busy, and I’m busy and we were friends when we were like fourteen. But it’s just the way the world works. So yeah, it’s just something that the press and papers pick up on quite a lot. It’s their thing for people to bite onto, so it can be slightly frustrating sometimes when it’s like the headline.

So to ask you one quick last one: are there any surprises on the new album? What can we look forward to?

I don’t know about surprises, but it’s quite stripped back. It’s much more mature. I’m very proud of it, I’m really happy with it and I can’t wait for people to hear it.

Marika Hackman’s debut album ‘We Slept at Last’ is released in February.

James H Elsey

James is listening to: Marika Hackman – ‘Cinnamon’

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