A Chat With: Marika Hackman
There's a point in almost every great artist's career where they reinvent their sound, branching out into unfamiliar territory and pushing past boundaries in the name of creativity. For Marika Hackman, that turning point came early on when she revamped and built up her songs for her sophomore album I'm Not Your Man, released June 2nd on Subpop Records. Teased by the lead single "Boyfriend," Hackman made it clear early on that this new record wouldn't be the same flowing folk tunes from her first record. With the backing of The Big Moon and its honest and direct lyrics, "Boyfriend" boosts a fuller and more candid attitude that set the tone for the whole album. Bolder and braver lyrics cut through on tracks like "My Lover Cindy" and "Violet," where Hackman maintains her direct focus, but the songs still drip with beautiful, metaphoric language.
This past month, Marika Hackman has been on the road in America with The Big Moon, bringing the songs they recorded to life onstage each night. Before the supergroup took the stage at Schubas Tavern on Friday night, Hackman talked about the challenges she faced while creating this record, while also recognizing the joy she got from embracing that fear of the unknown. Also revealing the origin of her budding relationship with The Big Moon, Hackman discusses the tour, other influences, and even The Spice Girls. Get to know this evolving singer-songwriter now, in our chat with Marika Hackman.
ANCHR Magazine: So I first wanted to talk more about your album I’m Not Your Man. It’s quite a departure, and you’ve talked about that a bit before, saying you should be a bit afraid when creating art because otherwise you’re not growing and not challenging yourself. Can you elaborate on that process?
Marika Hackman: Yeah, totally! Well, I knew I wanted to change the genre. It wasn’t that I was bored or fed up by writing kind of more sombre songs, I just felt like I was in a very different place mentally, and also the songs I really enjoyed playing live were the kind of like heavier stuff. So I was thinking a lot of the live show, and my recording process up until that point had always been sort of controlled. Sort of taking each layer and manipulating that each time and doing take after take after take. I thought recording something live and capturing the energy of something rather than trying to control it all the time would be a real challenge for me, personally. Cause I’ve never done that before. That’s kind of where the challenge lay. Being more honest and frank with my lyrics. That was kind of a scary thing to kind of process for me. There was moments of doubt, there was moments of fear during the process. Like you said, I embraced that. I think it’s a healthy thing. It ended up being so much fun. By the time we were actually in the studio recording it, it was so much more fun than being on my own.
AM: I love how it starts off with the laugh in “Boyfriend” and it goes right into that. You can just tell you’re having fun with the recording!
MH: Yeah, all of those 8 tracks with The Big Moon...they’re live tracks that we did. All of us playing at the same time, and adding little bits on that. The rest of it, I’d lost 4 musicians so I had to layer a bit, but stuff like “Round We Go,” me and Charlie still did the bass and the drums live together.
AM: I always like the live albums better. It’s more organic. I know you also said you avoid listening to new music when you’re writing. Do you find anything else that you can specifically pinpoint as inspiration for the album? Whether that be a movie, a friend, or anything else?
MH: I don’t know what I was doing with my time- I think being stressed about recording, but I normally read a lot. I love reading books. I didn’t read any books for the whole of it, for that year. I find it really bad, but my concentration span was awful. There’s a direct influence from a friend on there, I have a friend called Gina, she’s one of my best friends. “Gina’s World” is about her and our friendship, how we’d kind of do anything for each other. So that was a direct influence. And entering into a new relationship, which I’ve now been in for like 2 and a half years, that was the beginning of that. Kind of falling in love, and like lust and exploring all that as well. It was kind of more like people around me and my life...I’ve been living in London now for like four years. I think that kind of fed into it. It was more of a media record, a lot less references to nature.
AM: Cool, and then you obviously just mentioned recording with The Big Moon and they’re on tour with you now. How did that relationship first come around and what’s your favorite part of working with them?
MH: Oh it’s just so great! Me and my girlfriend went to one of their shows. It was November, maybe like a year and a half ago? Coming up on two years now. We watched them play and they had this amazing energy on stage. It was really exciting to watch. Me and my girlfriend were like, I wanna be their friend! We hung out with them that night after the show...went and got drunk and the pub, and kind of just became friends overnight. We saw each other like four times in the next week...it was one of those friend crush little moments. So then cut maybe 6 months later...maybe less even...I was talking with my label and my management about how I had said that I wanted this live sound, but I didn’t have any way to facilitate that because I didn’t have a band. We were throwing some ideas around and they said how do you feel about approaching The Big Moon cause your friends with them? It was one of those things where I wanted that, but I was too scared to kind of say it. When you have a friendship relationship with someone, it’s hard to bring work into that, like maybe they might feel like they have to. Anyways, I was like yeah that’s perfect. So I asked them over a pint one night, and I was really bright red and terrified. I was like don’t answer now, go away, talk about it, and thank god they said yes! We started like a month after that. Rehearsing and recording. It’s just nice, and this tour as well has just been...I don’t know what it is...Just being on the road with your friends. And playing music that you all really enjoy playing. It’s just so nice. This tour could have been horrendous because we haven’t had a day off. Our days off are considered 15 hour drives. So we’ve been in the van, and we’ve been playing shows. We haven’t been able to explore like any cities. That could be so horrendous and draining and shit if you’re on the road with people that you just don’t feel that you connect with. But actually, and I’m speaking for myself, but it feels like we’re having a nice time. We’ve only got like a week left now.
AM: So are they backing your set too?
MH: Yeah they’re doing a double shift every night! They’re playing their set and then we all play together. The fact that they’re playing two shows every night blows my mind. They’ve got stamina.
AM: So what have been some highlights overall of the tour? Any favorite cities, even though you haven’t seen much of the outside world?
MH: Last night in Milwaukee we had a really funny show. We all lost our minds onstage. Jules had a giggling fit, and we were all just going completely mad. It was really strange, but hilarious. Even just the views from the van. Seeing the landscape change. We’ve driven across the whole of America. That’s been incredible, and I think something not a lot of people actually get to do. Which is really cool. I just love hanging out, playing xbox, watching The OC in the back of the van. It’s kind of just felt like a sleepover during the day and then just hanging out and playing shows.
AM: What have been some favorite songs to translate into the live sense? I know it was tracked live so that must have been easier to carry over.
MH: We’ve got the 8 that they played on in the record. Then we’ve got “BlahBlahBlah” which is one where I did everything myself cause they’d all gone off by that point. That’s been really fun playing that with them and the big wigout rock section at the end is really fun. Then we’ve also got “Ophelia” and “Cinnamon,” the two much older tracks we’ve rejigged to fit the set, and they’re kind of a lot heavier.
AM: Speaking of “BlahBlahBlah,” that’s the song you’ve mentioned kind of has an ode to The Spice Girls, right? So which Spice Girl do you identify with the most?
MH: Oh, that’s interesting! When I was a kid, I had bright blonde hair and everyone used to say I’d be Baby Spice, but I think I was a bit of a Sporty. I always just wanted to wear the tracksuit!
AM: What are your thoughts on a Spice Girls reunion?
MH: I think it’s maybe better if they just left it. It’s such a fond memory...at the time in my life, it was so iconic. I think if they tried to do it again, it might ruin that.
AM: Tracking back to The Big Moon and the album, I interviewed Alex Lahey a little while ago, and she recommended “Boyfriend” when I asked what new songs she was listening to. She brought up the Pitchfork article that said something like "Marika Hackman is Out to Steal Your Boyfriend." So what’s another crazy interpretation you’ve heard of one of your songs?
MH: Oh, I’m trying to think... That was one that really pissed me off. That’s quite fresh, so that’s right at the front of my mind. With such a big publication as well! It really feels like there should be stuff with this record. My stuff before was so open to interpretation that I just didn’t mind. I kind of let that happen... It’s always funny seeing what people think the lyrics are. Particularly for older stuff, it’s so wrong. My mum always sends me stuff.
AM: On this record then, were you aiming to have a more specific interpretation of each song?
MH: Yeah! I don’t know if I felt that beforehand, but certainly when I was writing I was aware that I was being a bit more frank and a bit more direct. Sort of speaking normal language a bit more rather than like pushing the more poetic side, and doing metaphors and all that. I didn’t sit down and say I’m gonna be like this, but I think it started happening, and I thought it suits this music a lot more. If you’ve got like guitar lines that are punching, and heavy drums, you need to have lyrics that are gonna cut through that and just hit. Rather than floating above.
AM: So last month you released a video for your song with Toothless, and you've collaborated with The Big Moon a lot. Anybody else you’d love to work with?
MH: Yeah, I’d love to work with Kevin Parker. I’d love to work with Stella [Mozgawa] from Warpaint. Or any of Warpaint, but particularly Stella because her drumming style...everyone I know thinks she’s like the best drummer ever. And I think it’d be really interesting what would happen with that.
AM: Yeah I’d love to see that! Any other songs or bands that you’re really into at the moment that you’d recommend to your listeners?
MH: Yeah, there’s MUNA from LA which I love. I’ve been smashing that album since it came out. Constantly on!
AM: You had said you’re an avid reader, so any books you would recommend?
MH: I’m a huge Donna Tartt fan, and The Secret History and The Goldfinch are like two of favorite books. For this tour, I just bought The Little Friend. I finished it two days ago, and it’s fucking awesome. I just think she’s such an incredible novelist, and the way she writes-- the way she describes things is really beautiful and inspiring and dark.
AM: Nice, I’ll check that out! Anything else you’re looking forward to this year?
MH: I’m looking forward to getting the first batch of songs done for the new record. And feeling like I’m making headway with it.
Keep up with all of the updates from Marika Hackman by liking her Facebook page, and listening to I'm Not Your Man in full below.
Can't get enough Marika? Read our review of her show at Schuba's Tavern here.