Marika Hackman is having a good day. “It’s sunny in London and it’s nice and I’m sitting on my bed and I’m feeling lovely,” the singer-songwriter says, brightly. Of course, she also has the additional advantage of a brilliant new record up her sleeve: I’m Not Your Man, her second full-length, is due out this June. A marked change of pace for the artist, it’s a dark yet deeply humane work – as vicious as a bed of crushed coloured glass, and just as vivid.
It’s also a distinctly rockier affair than 2015’s We Slept At Last. Gone are the eerie folk ballads, now replaced by jazzy, harder-to-read headbangers, while lyrically, the empowering gothic tales have been swapped out for a very immediate style of storytelling. It’s less H.P Lovecraft and more Joan Didion, with breakout lead single ‘Boyfriend’ in particular bristling with one-liners. “I’ve got your boyfriend on my mind,” winks the opening line. “I think he knows you stayed with me last night.”
You could say the record is a reinvention, but that would make everything else Hackman has recorded sound expendable; a foundation to be used then abandoned. Instead, the album is the most Marika Hackman record Marika Hackman has ever released, the endpoint of a style she has been fine-tuning for nigh on five years. It could well be her masterpiece. At the very least, it is one of the most exciting, fully formed records of the year.
We chatted to Hackman about swallowing bugs, her fine art background and being a musical sadist.
Music Feeds: How long has it been since you were in Australia? Was it back when you supported Laura Marling?
Marika Hackman: I think so? What was that, four years ago? … That was the show in the beautiful church: the one where I inhaled a fly in the middle of a song.
MF: Does that kind of onstage interruption happen often?
MH: I’ve had a few where I’ve been playing festivals and I get flies and bees and moths coming at me. I did a show in a church in London and a moth went flying at my face. I don’t know why I attract these flying bugs – but they just go for me.
MF: Was playing live something you had to work at hard then? Or did you just take to it?
MH: When I first started playing live, I was so terrified. My voice would be wobbling and my knees would be shaking and I would be nervous for like, two days before a show. I couldn’t even eat before a show. And now, because I’m not nervous anymore, it means I can really enjoy it. I mean, in a different way though – with the nerves it is enjoyable because you get that extreme adrenaline hit afterwards. Whereas now if I do a good show, I just generally feel really happy; I just feel like I’ve had a really nice time onstage. It’s much less stressful. And I can eat more food, which is nice.
MF: You have a fine art background too. Is that what separates the two forms – when you’re making art it’s just you alone, but when you’re making music it’s you and a big crowd?
MH: I hadn’t really thought about it like that. I mean, when I was studying painting the part that I hated most was when they’d come around and have a look at the work before it was really finished. So I guess with music, the difference is people never listen to it until I’m done with it. But either way, there’s always going to be that end product that people are going to either see or hear. Certainly, at the moment, I’m most happy with making music: that’s what I feel most comfortable doing. But who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be a [Rik Mayall voice:] “gweat painter”.
MF: Because of that visual background, does that mean you always have a very specific, concise view of what the album looks like?
MH: I guess with this record, I knew that it was going to be more colourful. The first one [We Slept At Last] is very blue and very still … whereas this one is colourful, it’s playful, it’s a little bit darker. So, like, I knew even before I finished the album that I wanted Tristan [Pigott] to do the artwork for it. Because I am a visual person, these images do come into my head; these colours do even come into my head as I’m writing the music.
MF: With this album, there are songs on there that are not emotionally binary: you wouldn’t point at them and say, “Oh this one’s sad, this one’s happy’’. They’re somewhere in between. Do you think that comes from thinking in colour?
MH: Maybe. I think it’s because when I write something happy, just naturally I tend to offset that with some extra darkness. I don’t know why I do that: I don’t know why I can’t just let people be happy. [Laughs] I’m some sort of musical sadist. But I find that interesting. I actually really like the way you call it a non-binary emotional experience, because I kind of try to create these other worlds that my music fits into, rather than just putting it straight out there. I think it is very much about darkness and lightness and happiness and sadness and all of that stuff kinda thrown in together, which is the complete hue of human experience, I suppose. You can almost read into the songs any way that you feel like.
MF: I guess it’s like the songs give you back what you bring to them. If you’re feeling a certain way, you see the songs in a certain way.
MH: Yeah, exactly. I like the songs to be open for people to mould to their own experience rather than a song being like, “Hey, I’m feeling really great on a summer’s day and you should feel like that too.” I want the music to be at the stage where someone could be like, ‘Oh, that totally resonates what I’m feeling right now’ and someone else could go, ‘Same’, but they’re feeling two totally different things.
MF: It’s interesting you mention the darkness, though: why do you think people get such a kick from the dark and the difficult stuff in music?
MH: I feel like it’s kind of a taboo. Especially in this age, the age of technology, we have to present ourselves as being happy, as having a great time. So I think all that actually almost works to fetishize feeling like shit. In music, it tends to be such a relief to listen to something that you feel connects with you on that dark level. I think people find it hard to talk about feeling bad or feeling strange, dark feelings; it’s kinda embarrassing. Which I guess is why it feeds into other outlets.
MF: Is it necessarily cathartic for you, writing about your life? If you write about something, does it make it feel better for you personally?
MH: I think so. I’m very lucky: I feel very confident talking about feeling sad. I think that might just be something to do with the way that I have grown up. I just kinda think it’s a pile of bullshit when I see people having a great time, all of the time [laughs]. So I think it is cathartic, but also, at the end of it, I create something that I will then have to listen back to and perform again, which might perhaps take me back into that emotional space. But I’m kinda fine with that. It’s kinda self-indulgent, really. [Laughs].
MF: But it’s kinda fun right, being self-indulgent. It kinda reinforces the self, right?
MH: Yeah, exactly. It’s quite fun, being dramatic. Certainly, my life isn’t as dramatic as the records make out. [Laughs.]