Before her headline show at The Rainbow, turquoise-maned singer-songwriter Marika Hackman spent 10 minutes talking to us about underwater miming, her latest album and the creative process behind it.
How are you doing, and how’s the tour been going?
How did you find the album release?
Amazing! It was a really hectic week with all the promo and the launch, but the reaction from the press has been really really lovely.
Apparently you’re a multi-instrumentalist, you play drums, bass, piano and guitar. Do you write all the parts for your songs?
Yeah, so in the studio I play everything. Apart from strings and brass, obviously, and Charlie does a bit of drumming as well.
That’s pretty cool. How long have you been playing?
Well I first started playing the piano when I was about 4, but I gave it up when I was 14 because I hate reading music. I started learning the drums when I was about 10, and the guitar around 14. They’ve all kind of been rolling along for at least 10 years now… Oh god that’s weird.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I wish! I think any talent that I have goes into my music if it’s there. I do crosswords quite a lot, is that a talent? And I cook quite a lot, I like cooking and my friends tell me they like my food, maybe that’s a hidden talent…
Do you have time to do that on tour?
Not on tour, no. That’s what I look forward to when I’m on tour, going home and making food.
What do you do on tour in your spare time?
Shopping… which is really bad! Or sit and drink coffee. I’ve already smashed the Bullring a few hours ago.
Your album is really lyrically honest. Did it feel natural to put it out there and have people listening to it?
There’s always a slight element of fear when you are being that honest. But I do think it’s covered up enough that people can’t read exactly what’s going on, but I hope it’s still relatable. That’s my idea when I’m writing lyrics, but it was just exciting to finally get it out, after such a long time coming – 8 months of working on it, and living with it when no one else had heard it so it was amazing to finally put it out there.
Did you find that it was helpful to be on an independent label? Were you able to release it when you felt it was ready?
Oh yeah, definitely. I’m part of that decision making, which is great. And it was my decision to have all new material and they were totally up for that, which I don’t think a major label would ever do. Also, on a creative level I was allowed to do exactly what I wanted. No one came in at any point and said ‘No, you need to change this, it needs to be more commercial’ or anything like that. I could just make the music that I wanted.
What about the album artwork and videos, were you able to have input with that too?
Yes, 100%. So all of the ideas for the videos are originally mine, then we put them to directors and I work with them to come up with a final concept. And with the artwork, I found the image of the girl in the bed because I’ve been a huge fan of the photographer, Glenn Erler for a while. It’s so impactful, and immediately recognisable it’s amazing. We worked together as a team to do all the artwork inside, working very closely and getting to know each other very quickly to create that body of work.
For the Drown video, I think you had someone pushing your head down for about a minute?
I think the longest take we did was 40 seconds, but I mean 40 seconds of holding your breath whilst miming, whilst someone is literally holding your hair and pulling it! It got painful pretty quickly.
Who did you trust enough to do that?
Oh, just a friend of mine! That was really nice, if it had been a random person I would’ve freaked out actually. It was a very intimidating situation, all these people around.
Do you have a songwriting process?
I guess sitting around playing my guitar is my process! When I hear something I like that I’m doing, I’ll stick with it and work around it. I don’t have any rituals when it comes to songwriting, I don’t have a special room that I go to or anything. Some people do funny things like opening a book and picking a word to start from, or pick a song title first, but I find it very natural.
Music first, or lyrics?
I have to be singing something to come up with a melody. I don’t think melodies, I have to hear them, so sometimes those lyrics that come out of nowhere will actually fit perfectly and I’ll just go with them. But obviously melodies repeat and chord progressions can repeat, but you don’t want to endlessly repeat lyrics throughout the song so then I sit down and actually work on the rest of the lyrics.
Do you ever scrap songs?
There are songs still floating around that are half-finished, like guitar parts I’ve never found a melody for, but eventually they usually find their way back in to a new song later on. Or I merge them together, and suddenly it’ll strike, ‘Oh I should’ve done this ages ago.’ So I never drop them and say I’m never gonna touch them again, they kind of whizz around the top of my head and one might dive in at some point.
Your album came out on vinyl as well as iTunes etc. How do you listen to music?
I don’t have a Spotify account. If I’ve heard something and I like it I’ll buy the album on iTunes, and then if I really like it I’ll go out and get the vinyl and listen to it on that. I love building up a collection, it’s so much nicer.
I’ve found that your songs have a lot of choral melodies, did you grow up in a religious household?
We’re not a religious household in any way, I guess we’re quite spiritual. My parents are not atheist, they’re more agnostic, not into religion at all but we listened to a lot of choral music when I was growing up. I studied music A-Level as well and I’ve always particularly loved the choral pieces we study. Purcell, particularly. He does these crazy shifts of key every two bars but it still works, genius.
I saw you supporting The 1975 at Royal Albert Hall, is that somewhere you’d like to headline?
Oh god, yeah! That’s the dream. I would absolutely love to headline the Royal Albert Hall, that’s the one for me. That space is so amazing, it’s so beautiful.
Do you have any other favourite venues?
I love playing in churches and cathedrals, that’s amazing because the sound is just beautiful if I’m playing solo.
Do you still play solo?
Yeah, this tour’s solo. I’ll probably have the band back on for the autumn run, but it’s nice to do both. They’re very different shows. It’s me and 4 guitars, 2 electric and 2 acoustic tonight.