Marina And The Diamonds interview
Marina Diamandis talks to Time Out about her new album ‘Electra Heart’
Lovelorn diva, homewrecker, teen idol, narcissist. It’s all in a day’s work for the voice of Marina And The Diamonds. Kim Taylor Bennett empathises.
Perched on a couch in Bethnal Green’s art deco Town Hall Hotel, the frontwoman of Marina And the Diamonds is a vision in pastel. Hourglass curves poured into a pencil skirt and form-fitting sweater, black roots coiled into bleached curls, a tiny heart drawn in liquid eyeliner on her left cheekbone, a large plastic heart perched on the toe of each Vivienne Westwood shoe. Like her songs, the 26-year-old is playful, forthright, with a healthy sense of humour and flair for the dramatic. Back in 2009, Marina Diamandis made a splash with her debut album ‘The Family Jewels’ – all quavering vocals and confessional tunes with a glossy, alt.pop appeal. Her fascination with the American dream has been well documented on the chiming hit ‘Hollywood’, but now she returns with new experiences under her belt, trading composing in her bedroom on a crappy keyboard for collaborating with songwriting big-hitters like Dr Luke (Katy Perry, Ke$ha) and Rick Nowels (Madonna, Santigold, Lana Del Rey), pulling inspiration as much from Madge as photographer Cindy Sherman and etching the results in the grooves of new album ‘Electra Heart’. It’s a collection that moves to a darker, dancier beat through a line-up of different characters – the diva, the homewrecker, the teen idol – and sees Diamandis deconstructing her broken heart and putting it together again.
What made you want to explore these different personas? ‘I’ve always been interested in how fast-moving our identity is and that I’ve never been able to pin down who I truly am. That inspires me to write, because I feel like that cements me a bit, in that I find my identity in being an artist.’
You were going through a tough time around the summer of 2010… ‘There was definitely a boy involved. My experience with that person was so hurtful that it kind of set the tone for the whole record. When you’re heartbroken, you go through different moods: you’re sad and numb and then really angry, and you want to fuck them over. Then you feel ashamed and embarrassed, and then it’s really funny. This record captures those moods and character shapes. “Electra Heart” is not an alter ego, it’s more using the character as a foil to tell my story. As opposed to, “I’m Marina Diamandis – got fucked over.” It’s not a break-up record; it’s almost like an anti-break-up record. It discusses love in such a brutal way, tongue-in-cheek and with a dollop of black humour because that’s how I see life. You have to laugh, otherwise you cry!’
On this record you worked with some big-shot songwriters. How was that process for you? ‘Really fulfilling.’
It would have scared us…‘Oh, my God, I was so nervous before my first Dr Luke session. I felt like I was going to be sick. Someone asked me the other day, “What was the most fearful moment in your life?” and I said that. He’s so successful. Within ten minutes I was fine, but that’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever done – creatively, anyway. You know, I can’t think of any other indie singer who came from a DIY background in the female world, who has gone down that route. It’s bizarre, but also interesting. So I just went for it and I’m so happy, because if the collaborator is right, they bring out the best in you and you see what your weaknesses and strengths are. My limitation when I’m on my own is that I’m not a particularly talented keyboard player, so they would do the music and I would do the top-line melody and the lyrics. It worked out pretty well.’
How has your opinion on pop changed since your first album? ‘People look down on simple pop critically anyway, and I don’t think I fully understood the genius of it. For example, Dr Luke is kind of at the helm of American pop music and, in the beginning, I felt really excluded from that world. I was like, “Everything sounds the same; I don’t ever want to do that.” Then Katy Perry’s people asked if I wanted to support her in America. I bought her album and I was like, “This is actually really good.” Then I bought Ke$ha’s and obviously I had Britney’s LPs already. Slowly, I changed my perspective. If you’re in a club, you don’t necessarily want to be listening to super-meaningful music, but it doesn’t take the value away from it. I was just negative because I didn’t feel confident myself.’
You’ve cited Madonna as a big influence. What do you think of the flak she’s been getting recently? For dressing too young, dating too young and her collaborating with younger artists being labelled as desperate. ‘I think it is unfair, but people only pick up on what they think is important to you. So, if for Madonna it’s important to be current, people will pick up on that and the fact that she’s still so hungry and really unapologetic about everything she does. “Confessions on the Dancefloor” was really good. The current album is pretty good; it’s not my favourite, but there’s still really good songwriting on there.
‘Madonna must be such a strong woman to just to keep going after always getting knocked down. You must get to a point where your like, “I just want do what I want do; I don’t give a shit.” She’s a fearless woman. It’s weird, though. Do we [criticise her] because she’s a woman? Take Iggy Pop – no one gives a shit if he walks around with his top off, but he’s 65.’
On the new album, your fascination with America continues. When did this interest begin? ‘What clinches it is the feeling I have when I am there: I feel very creative and unrestricted. I can be anyone. I think that’s because in American culture the idea of fantasy is really integral. It seems so to me as an outsider, anyway. And there’s almost a feeling of unreality when I’m staying there. I can’t quite describe it, it’s almost like nothing is real.’
What’s your favourite song on the album? ‘“Starring Role”, because the sentiment is at the core of the record and of the experience I had with that person, which was that I felt I was second-best. It just hadn’t happened before and it was really unfamiliar. I didn’t like it. I was like, “What? I’m not being adored here! What’s going on?!” It was just two people who had an ego. It’s a two-way street. It’s hard to leave a relationship where you love the person, but because they don’t feel the same, you end it. They don’t give you enough to justify being with them, even though you feel strongly about them. It’s actually getting me angry thinking about it!’
Do you agree that people with very strong egos can be a bit vacuous? ‘No, but you have to be quite narcissistic to even put yourself on stage and say, “I deserve to be here singing songs to you.” What I hate is that not many people admit to having a big ego, but you have to – and there’s nothing wrong with it. Lots of narcissistic people have helped lots of other people with their music. That’s such a narcissistic thing to say! Ha ha! I think that creates a certain element of vacuousness. It’s not that they’re empty, but you have to have such a drive to actually make it. You have to be your biggest believer.’
‘Electra Heart’ is out on Atlantic now. Buy it from Amazon.