Between supporting Ethan Johns on his February tour and headlining her own UK tour in March, Marika Hackman’s debut album That Iron Taste is released today via Dirty Hit.
On the night of the album’s release, Marika gave a haunting and thought-provoking performance at the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room. Marika’s lyrics are richly poetic, vivid with imagery and suggestive narrative, whilst remaining sparse, direct and presented with an unnervingly restrained and self-controlled vocal delivery that makes it hard to believe this artist is only 20. What comes across most strongly from speaking to Marika is her almost childlike sense of playful experimentalism. The quietly surrealist and psychedelic quality of her music sets her apart from an industry saturated with singer-songwriters, providing somewhat of a folk-antidote.
Marika reveals some of the ideas behind her enigmatic music in an interview with Beat below.
The first thing that strikes me about your music is the rich poetic quality of your lyrics. Cannibal in particular reminds me of Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Cut’.
Yeah, I’m a massive fan of Sylvia Plath. In fact, my mum gave me loads of her books for my birthday! Literature has a big influence on my music.
You obviously have an incredible imagination, your lyrics are so vivid… and morbid!
Yeah, it’s weird that that side of me sort of comes out in my lyrics, maybe it’s good that it does through song rather than anything else.
Haha, rather than anything else? Like an axe?
Yeah, like that film Psycho haha. But yeah, we lived in the countryside and my mum was very strict about how much TV we watched, and she’d literally force me and my brother outside and then we’d go off and run around and start inventing things and playing games and spying on people and stuff like that.
I was going to say, I think there’s a quite a childish imagination at play in your lyrics.
I think I must be quite immature!
No! The thing that’s incredible is that your lyrics are so imaginative and vivid and morbid, which is brilliant, but you have this very mature, minimal delivery.
Yeah, I also think that you can use the simplest words to convey meaning, so I don’t use fancy words. It’s about the imagery you can create with basic language.
There’s no point just alienating an audience is there?
Yeah, and also, longer words are harder to fit into a lyric. I definitely think about the sounds of words and the amount of syllables they have. When I write the words have to just ‘fit’ in the line. So for instance, with Cannibal, I came up with the melody, and usually when I come up with the melody I say words randomly that sort of fit, and literally the first thing I said was: ‘have you seen my nose?’
Ah, and then it just comes from there? So it’s a very organic process?
Yeah, and the same with ‘Here I Lie’, coming up with it I just said ‘I have no head’ and it went from there.
That’s interesting. I think your singing has a very luxurious quality, where you let the lyrics almost take over. I think that you really tap into the musicality of language
Well it’s a major compliment that you said that because that’s what I try and do. Even though people always comment on my lyrics, they are there because they are, in effect, the melody. They are the music, it’s the same thing.
Yes, I recognise certain recurring melodies, but really your music is quite paired-down, it’s quite raw.
When I find a melody I like, I stick with it and keep it quite simple. Even though something like Mountain Spines changes key continuously, I set myself the challenge to stick to and end up with this quite strange melody. If I take the guitar out from underneath it, it’s actually quite hard to sing.
Right, because you haven’t got anything to guide you? The guitar is almost like a ladder?
Exactly. Everything has to go together and with the lyrics all coming in at the same time, it just means that you get the layers without having to be really fancy with what you’re doing.
It’s a really interesting quality to be complex and minimal at the same time. So yeah, spot on!
On the topic of setting yourself parameters, I’ve read that you’re quite experimental with some of your songs, like Retina Television, using only sounds made with your body rather than relying on instruments.
It’s just one of those things where you sit down and think ‘let’s try something a bit different, let’s do something fun’. If you put parameters on things, it tends to make you more creative. I was on an art foundation and they would set projects that were so vague and I found that really hard. But if someone had said: ‘Ok, you’re only allowed to use this, and you’ve got to do it like this’, then you have to find a route out of it.
You referred to your art foundation, and we spoke previously about how literature feeds into your lyrics, I wondered if there’s an exchange with art?
I think there probably is. Everything goes into it in some way. I love Egon Schiele, and Klimt obviously, but I prefer Schiele. Bosch, because he’s mad. I love Turner, I love Heemskerck, do you know Heemskerck?
No, I must look him up!
He’s a Dutch painter. There are these rooms with lights and the figures are always from behind. It’s very still, but it’s mysterious and very calm.
That mysteriousness definitely translates in your music. I’ve heard that you’re thinking about getting a band?
Yeah, we’re in the process of doing that. Just a couple of guys who are multi-instrumentalists. We’re not going to try and recreate the records, we’re going to try and do a live show. So many artists have a record out, and then when they do their concerts they basically have a backing track so it makes it sound identical to what you hear on your radio or whatever. But I want the live show to be different. Even if people have bought the record, they should come and see the live show because it’s going to be something different, because the song’s performed in a different way.
Of course, like ‘Retina Televison’ had to be different, I was really interested to see how you would translate that into a live performance.
I think I’m going to keep that stripped down, with me hitting the guitar.
After talking about songs like ‘Mountain Spines’ being quite complex, how do you think that would work with a band coming in? Do you think you’d have to change your sound a bit?
Maybe. We’ll see how it evolves. We’ll maintain quite a natural, organic process and play around with it. I mean, there are obviously things we can recreate from the record. But it would be fun to play around. Again, it’s a case of setting parameters. Having a live band, there’s only so much you can do, there’s only three of us. So that’s where the creativity starts over again, working on top of these songs. So it’s going to be really exciting to see what we come up with.
Yes, your music has such an experimental, and quite psychedelic, quality. I was thinking your music is almost anti-folk. Would you say that?
Yeah, people try and bracket you straight away and label you as ‘the new folk singer-songwriter’, so you’re the next Laura Marling, or the next Lucy Rose or whatever. And it’s kind of like, have you actually listened to my records? I love Laura Marling, but I don’t think our music is the same.
It’s so different. I think it’s almost sexist, because people wouldn’t make those comparisons between two male artists.
Yeah that’s true.
Obviously, it’s really exciting that you’ve got this EP launching today! And your tour. You’ve been on tour for a while haven’t you?
Yeah, since the 1st of February with Ethan.
And you’re headlining your own independent tour? You must be really excited about that.
Yeah, it starts on Thursday the 28th. I love doing supports, especially at a venue like this (Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room) with Ethan Johns, where people actually listen.
Yeah, you’re not competing with a rowdy crowd.
But with the headline tour there’s added pressure because people have actually paid to come and see me. But it’s very interesting to see, at this stage in the game, how many people turn up. And chatting to people afterwards, I really love doing that.
That must be really helpful.
Yeah, just like, ‘inflating my ego’! But yeah, it’s nice to mingle.
Well yes, because you are really quite new on the scene, aren’t you? You’ve only released three songs before this EP, right?
Well, I had released ‘You Come Down’ and ‘Mountain Spine’. ‘You Come Down’ was a single, and ‘Mountain Spine’ was an AA side, and then ‘Cannibal’ has been played as the sort of preview to the album, but it hasn’t actually been released to buy. It’s released today.
So you’ve been active for just a year? And you’ve just rocketed! It’s exciting.
Yeah, it’s exciting. I just take each day as it comes.
Find Marika’s tour dates here: http://www.songkick.com/artists/5015008-marika-hackman