Marina & The Diamonds interview: “Everyone’s vapid to a degree”

Marina & The Diamonds interview: “Everyone’s vapid to a degree”


How are you?
I’m very good. I’m in a coffee shop on [happening East London’s] Curtain Road. You didn’t fall asleep again did you?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Marina is referring to a phone interview mishap during the promotion of her first album when Popjustice fell asleep and was woken by the sound of Marina ringing for her phone interview. No questions had been written, chaos ensued, the interview didn’t run.

No, there are some actual written-down questions this time.
Oh that’s a relief, I can never tell if it’s just a catch up chat or a real interview, so…

Well this is a bit of both. You’re putting a new song online today, so hopefully you can explain what’s going on.

So what’s going on? What’s all this Electra Heart business? What’s ‘Fear & Loathing’?
Well, today I’m releasing a song called ‘Fear & Loathing’. It’s not a single, it’s just an album track. And basically Electra Heart is a story. I don’t even know if it’s going to take the form of an album yet, but it’s a really cinematic 70s Americana-type film and each part of the story comes in Part One, Part Two, Part Three. The song that’s going online today is Part One. It’s quite hard to explain because I think a lot of people will think Electra Heart is an alter ego or something but she’s not, it’s kind of basically a vehicle to portray part of the American dream, with elements of Greek tragedy and that’s all going to be coming out through the visuals. It’s hard to explain but I think you’ll see it when it all comes together.

Okay. So she’s a kind of character through whom you’re telling… Some stories about yourself? Or is it all about her?
Er… Well yeah I suppose it’s my view, as someone who’s not American, of the American dream.

I’m obsessed with it all. I just love the side of it that’s really vapid and hollow. And that’s kind of what I’ve really explored. The whole album is around that.

Do you think that level of vapidity and hol­low­ness is something that you just find in America? You say you’re on Curtain Road now, you wouldn’t have to go far to find something pretty vapid and hollow in East London…
(Guffaws) Well it’s in all of us, isn’t it? Everyone’s vapid to a degree, just like not everyone is 100% pure and innocent or kind.

Er, hello? Speak for yourself!
Oh HA HA HA — shut up! But everyone drifts through different char­ac­ters every single day, based on the context of the situation they’re in.

This might sound a bit combative and it’s not meant to but do you not feel that you made this point in ‘Hollywood’ on your last album?
Yes, but I was more cel­eb­rat­ing the kitsch, glamorous element whereas with this the imagery is totally different. It’s still based on… Actually, have you seen the [UPCOMING TRACK WHOSE TITLE WE HAVE BEEN ASKED TO WITHHOLD FOR THE TIME BEING] video yet?

Okay, well that’s like a really 70s thing, it’s set in the desert… I just think every artist always has something at the core of them that fas­cin­ates them and inspires them. In the beginning I had exactly the same thought — “oh God, I’m still inspired by America, I don’t want to make ‘Hollywood Pt II’”. And it’s not like that. I’m just really inspired by that topic and that culture and I think I always will be. It’s kind of like how every longterm artist always has a thread running through their image, or their lyrics, and that’s mine. America.

But America’s fifty states, there are so many different Americas… The Las Vegas subtext of ‘Fear & Loathing’ feels like a pretty easy target with the whole ‘vapid’ theme, and there are plenty of places in America that aren’t vapid…
No, there are, you’re right. That’s what I want to explore. I want to explore the side that has nothing to do with glamour, and that’s all about loss and failure, and that’s more apparent now with the American economy and stuff like that. But that image, that illusion we have of America really fas­cin­ates me.

You’ve spent a lot of time in America so it’s been around you, but it feels funny that as a UK artist, and you’re sitting in London now, well, there’s a lot happening in the UK that’s inspir­a­tional enough. Economy, riots, Cher Lloyd at Number One… These are turbulent times.
(Laughs) I agree, it’s shocking.

I mean people are going to write amazing songs about what is happening right now. Actually let’s be honest, lots of people are going to write fucking awful songs about what’s happening right now, but…
What, about the looting?

There are just going to be a lot of people who decide that they’re going to try and come up with their attempt at a ‘Ghost Town’ to capture the mood of the nation.
Probably, but lyrically, well, I’m not a political person. I def­in­itely draw inspir­a­tion socially and cul­tur­ally, but I’m not someone who’s like ‘I’m for a revolu­tion’. It’s more about fantasy.

How is the fantasy element present in your new project?
Well for one it’s painted as a modern day tragedy — that’s quite fant­ast­ical. It’s painted as a play, like a film. It’s about living. It’s just my nature, I’m really overly dramatic.

And these songs that are going to be appearing. There’s one today, and then there’s…
The banger.

Yes the banger. So this album, or col­lec­tion of songs or whatever it is, they tell a story…

So are you releasing them in order, with each song as a chapter to tell that story?
For example with ‘Fear & Loathing’ [the video] I didn’t want to just pop up going (cheesy voice) “HEY!!!! I’M BACK EVERYONE WEARING A WHITE BLONDE WIG, I’M A POPSTAR!!!!”. I wanted it to be artistic, and it’s turned out that way. So ‘Fear & Loathing’ has turned out to be the trans­ition into the anti­thesis. Like everything I’m not, that’s what I’m becoming.

The whole idea, the whole notion of pop culture and espe­cially pop music is ALL based on illusion. And por­tray­ing yourself as something more exciting than you are. And my heart is always against that. So that’s why I’m doing it. I’m SO against it that I almost have to play the part. Does that make sense to you?

Sort of, but… Are you not overthink­ing it a bit?
(Laughs) People say that to me every day. Just generally! (Laughs)

Can you explain again, in a short sentence, what’s going on? To make it abso­lutely clear.
Okay. Electra Heart is the anti­thesis of everything that I stand for. And the point of intro­du­cing her and building a whole concept around her is that she stands for the corrupt side of American ideology, and basically that’s the cor­rup­tion of yourself. My worst fear — that’s anyone’s worst fear — is losing myself and becoming a vacuous person. And that happens a lot when you’re very ambitious. Does that make sense a bit more?

And that’s why it’s imper­at­ive that she’s blonde. I wanted it to be really unnatural. Like, I’ve rejected everything of myself.

Is this not just you finding a way to distance yourself from something you’ve made but you’re not happy with?
(Pause) Dunno! Isn’t that what ALL music is about? (Laughs)

But not all popstars come along with their second album and go, ‘do you know what, I don’t like this so I’m going to invent a character to subvert it and turn it in on itself’.
If you pin it on an alter-ego or a character it becomes cliched and it really isn’t that — I want it to be like a film, where you follow this character on a journey.

So the start of the journey that you see with the first ‘Fear & Loathing’ video… You see her cutting her hair. What does this symbolise?

(Roars with laughter) Sorry, you crack me up.

No, it’s fine, carry on. So that rep­res­ents change…

Er… Okay. But nothing more than that?
No, I suppose ques­tion­ing who you are?

But the point is that most popstars come back with a new haircut when they release their new album. Like Example. He’s got a popstar haircut now, but didn’t have one before.

And popstars don’t usually come back going, ‘ooh, here’s a video of me cutting my hair in black and white’.
And that’s because they like to facil­it­ate the illusion. But I’m not inter­ested in main­tain­ing that. I’m inter­ested in decon­struct­ing it. Like with the [UPCOMING TRACK WHOSE TITLE WE HAVE BEEN ASKED TO WITHHOLD FOR THE TIME BEING] video it starts off and it’s very kind of Mulholland Drive / Paris, Texas, that kind of vibe, and I’m actually filming myself putting on the wig, but I don’t care that it’s ‘ruining the illusion’. That’s the whole point — you’re becoming something you’re not.

Can’t you just do a nice pop song?
(Laughs) (Stop laughing) (Laughs again) Am I meant to answer that?

Do you need to make this so com­plic­ated?

Or is it me that’s making it too com­plic­ated by asking too many questions?
I think so. I think you’ll under­stand when you see the second video. I don’t think it’s com­plic­ated at all, actually, but maybe that’s because I’ve heard the rest of the album. Think of your favourite artists who have very specific visions. If you’d listened to just one of their songs then inter­viewed them based on that one song, you might not have under­stood the whole thing.

Fear & Loathing’ starts off with you singing in the first person, then by the chorus you’re singing in the third person. Who’s the ‘I’ and who’s the ‘you’?
(Laughs) Well I’m always talking to myself, in every song, that I’ll ever write, in my life. (Chortles at length) I like to say it’s about rela­tion­ships just to look a bit more normal, but it never is! (Laughs) No, but it’s def­in­itely to myself.

But to clear this up — it’s not you talking to Electra Heart or anything like that.
No. Electra in my head is not like this real person. I don’t want it to be like a cringey alter-ego, because I don’t feel that it is.

So is it more like Plan B and Strickland Banks?
I don’t know. I guess there are parts of it, just like with Strickland Banks… You could relate it to David Bowie I suppose. I think artists have a tendency to have different per­son­al­it­ies, or maybe everyone does I don’t know, but I think artists are maybe more vivid about how they artic­u­late different parts of them­selves. But even if you look at the first album, the way in which I wrote was very much in a storytelling manner. I think this is now a dis­til­la­tion of that, if you know what I mean.

That does make sense. You know the line in ‘Fear & Loathing’ about trying to have it all but ending up with not very much at all? Could you give an example of when that has happened?
Yes. I mean, you know my per­son­al­ity I think. It just seems like people who don’t try in life, it kind of works for them. But because I wanted it so badly on my first album, and also because I’m a bigmouth and I like to say ridicu­lous things, when you don’t meet your own expect­a­tions or you don’t achieve the things you’ve said you want to achieve, you feel like a failure. And quite frankly I still am in my head, because I know where I want to go.

The first album felt a bit like a second album. There was a self-con­scious­ness to it. Or maybe a self-awareness to it, but there was a quality that you rarely get on a debut album. It’s usually album two before people start respond­ing to the world’s response to them. And the first album is usually unaware of the reality of what’s to come. Like, you know how an element of self awareness is one of the things that separates us from the animals? It feels like debut albums have a more anim­al­istic feel, and you never had that.
Er… Yeah.

That didn’t make very much sense did it.
I don’t know if it’s a com­pli­ment or not but I’m going to go with ‘not’.

It wasn’t meant as a criticism, but it just feels as if we have missed your innocent phase because even while you were recording your debut album you were straight into music industry hell.
There was no innocence! Actually, quite frankly, there WAS. Because I wrote, for example, ‘Hollywood’ a year and a half before I was signed. And it’s funny actually because people will always try and pick holes in things like that. When it was a single ‘bloggers’ were going “oh she’s sold out”, and I was like, “what are you going on about? I wrote that on a £200 keyboard two years ago”. So I think I had an innocent phase but maybe I’m just the sort of person who feels like people are watching.

Well people ARE watching.
Yes. Good!

The idea of trying to have it all seems relevant to [UPCOMING TRACK WHOSE TITLE WE HAVE BEEN ASKED TO WITHHOLD FOR THE TIME BEING], because it’s very much a Marina song in lots of ways but in other ways it sounds a lot like a 2011-era hit single.
Yes I think it does and it’s not something I’ve done before. If this was a year ago I don’t mind saying now that I would have been, like, “no way am I doing this”. I was not even up for working with anyone. This is why these two songs fit really well together actually, because ‘Fear & Loathing’ is about genuinely not feeling bitter or crazy or jealous any more (nervous laugh) and actually feeling a lot better off for it. And so I’ve been working with a lot of other people. I’ve been working with Dr Luke, Stargate, and I’ve learned SO much. And I’ve done an album — well, it’s nearly done — that’s so exciting and feels like a real album. I just think, if I’d sat in my bedroom and carried on as I was because I thought that equalled cred­ib­il­ity, I don’t think I would have produced a good album. With Stargate the pro­duc­tion is the anti­thesis of everything I’ve done so far, but I think you have to try [line breaks up]. And I really like the song now. I’ve really grown into it!

So you didn’t like it to start with?
No, I did… But we ori­gin­ally composed it to this sort of guitar dance track. Then on the last night of working with them someone from Amsterdam sent in an instru­mental to a different girl that didn’t work. And then Tor [from Stargate] was like, ‘oh my God, what if we turn put it under­neath that track’, and I was like, ‘hm…’, and then we did it and it sounded amazing. And I really wanted to go with it. This is like the only time I would have released that song, I think. End of the summer… Before I have an album out. It’s not the sort of song that would be the lead single for an album.

What do you think your fans are going to make of it?
I think some people will hate it and some people are going to love it.

Some of your moaning fans are going to go fucking mental!
Probs! But writing to your fanbase is the worst thing you can do, so I’m never going to do that.

But in terms of your vocals, and the melodies, and the lyrics, it’s com­pletely Marina.

Yes! Of course it is.

But it’s not like you’ve just gone in, idiot-style, and gone ‘oh I’ll just sing any old rubbish over a generic Dr Luke backing track’.
(Laughs) No. And also, my stuff gets remixed to oblivion, so I was like, why DON’T I do a dance song? (Laughs) And ALSO, with ‘Fear & Loathing’ , the song­writ­ing structure is so up and down and all over the place that it’s really nice to just write a nice stream­lined song for a change.

Well that’s the good thing, it’s just a love song…
(Laughs) It might sound like that but really I’m just talking to myself, ha ha ha! No, not really.

Is there anything else you’d like to explain today?
No, I don’t think so. Except ‘Fear & Loathing Part Two’ is coming next Monday.

Yes, with the video. It’s going to be the two videos together that are going to be on iTunes, and [UPCOMING TRACK WHOSE TITLE WE HAVE BEEN ASKED TO WITHHOLD FOR THE TIME BEING] you can buy on September 26.

Yeah alright ‘plugging’, do you want to read out the iTunes URL while you’re at it?
(Guffaws) Okay. So I don’t think there’s anything else. I don’t know when Part Three will come. A while later. Maybe at the end of the year.

So it’s not leading into an album? How modern.
No. But it might be, you never know.

Well this certainly clears things up, and in some ways makes them more com­plic­ated.
I wonder if this interview will get shelved like the last one?

Hopefully it’ll go up this afternoon.
What a bitch though, I was so upset that the last one was shelved. I thought it was my moment to shine. No — in the bin.

Didn’t it go up in the end?
No! Unless you put it on, like,

We should use as a repos­it­ory for all our rubbish we don’t use. Crap Popjustice inter­views and crap Marina demos.
OH YES THAT’S AMAZING. Okay, well, that’s it.

Nice to have you back.

You can keep track of Electra Heart here and Marina here. Right? Right.
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