reparing for an interview rarely involves two members of the WTGR team sending a barrage of texts, leading to a phone call just to confirm the pronunciation of the artist in question – luckily Ed at Dirty Hit Records is a top guy. Then again, we haven’t been this anticipant for a sit down with an act we collectively adore as a website for quite some time, which made a long overdue chat with Marika Hackman (pronounced “Ma-ree-ka”, diction fans) such an exciting prospect.
We were first introduced to the 21-year-old back in May when ‘Bath Is Black’, one of this year’s strongest breakthrough singles questioned what we traditionally expect from Folk music (with an equally evocative video), infusing traditionally winding melodies with leftfield production and a subtly accented vocal, a combination which set Hackman up as a hotly tipped artist in both specialist and pop circles.
After establishing herself with a debut EP That Iron Taste, released around the same time, the last few months have been non-stop for Hackman, touring Australia with Laura Marling and playing an unmentionably long list of festivals over the summer, yet she has still found time to record a follow up, Sugar Blind.
I sit down with Hackman in the chilly hallway of The Haunt in Brighton on the first night of a joint headline tour with Sivu, whose soundcheck provides pleasant backing music to counteract the squeal of the toilet door behind us. It was a very glamorous affair. With preparations for the interview founded in slapstick-confusion, it was only right we tip the balance and clear up Hackman’s backstory and roots, as conversation starts on how any coverage to date has listed a seemingly different location as her hometown.
“Right, let’s get this straight,” she laughs, “My parents live in Devon, but I never really moved out so I spend a lot of time there, as well as in London with friends….I also lived in Brighton for a year though so can understand the confusion”. Geographical semantics aside, it becomes clear from the offset that Hackman has perhaps turned a blind eye to the buzz that has built up so far, seeming almost puzzled when asked how she’s dealing with the steadily rising hype around her, “I’ll have to take your word for it because I try not to pay attention to any of that, I just keep my head down and work all the time”. This strong work ethic is no doubt the reason why a follow up EP has come so quickly, yet Sugar Blind still manages to sound anything but rushed, and is arguably a step up when it comes to emotional depth and instrumental development.
“Yeah I definitely agree, I would say it’s more mature” she says when I explain how I felt this EP was a deeper sounding record, “but that’s probably because there was a naivety to the first one as me and Charlie (Andrew, of Alt J fame) were working together for the first time. The songs on Sugar Blind were considered for a longer time as well”. Marika continues to detail how having extended periods in the studio gave time to this consideration, taking two weeks on this EP rather than the mere days she had on her debut. Despite this, she insists it’s important to embrace an air of spontaneity when it comes to putting material to record, and wants to adopt the same method in the future to stop herself from overthinking things. “I think it’s bad to dwell on songs for too long, because you can just get your head too involved in them, which will only have a negative effect.” She ponders, as it becomes abundant that possessing a clear mindset is also important in all aspects of her process, “I try not to think about people when I’m writing or anything like that either.”
It would be fair to say Marika is somewhat meticulous over her work, a claim further justified by the fact she decides to record every instrument herself when it comes to the studio,”I think part of it is just because that’s how I work at home, and it feels more organic if i’m sitting there and exploring and playing on different instruments that I don’t have a huge grasp of…”. However, rather charmingly, her complete control over the process is actually founded in a tentative personality and the aim to avoid awkward interactions with session musicians. “If i’ve written a song, and it isn’t how I imagined or it doesn’t fit, I wouldn’t be that great at speaking my mind and saying I didn’t like it, so I thought it’s easier to avoid being an arsehole and do it all myself… although that did make me sound like a bit of a knob didn’t it?.”
Talk of studio time naturally leads to questions on the album that everyone wants from her in the future, yet surprisingly Marika’s focus seems drawn on another EP she’s set to record in January beforehand, with a full record scheduled for springtime. I ask if putting out three releases before an album is a risky prospect, as one could leave little surprise when it comes to that all important debut LP by playing their cards too early. Yet it seems that Marika feels she still has room to develop before an album, and wants to display a deeper perspective to her sound so her eventual full length release seems more natural, giving her freedom to experiment whilst pushing people’s expectations.
“I want to be progressing and experimenting with each release, and I want everything I do to sound different, taking it to different places and trying new things, even when it comes to albums”. This constant striving to advance her sound is undeniably evident on Sugar Blind, with it’s darker, more mature undertones, which makes her unconventional plan for an album somewhat admirable, “There’s bits and bobs all over the place, but in terms of tracks I wouldn’t put any of the songs I wrote pre-aged 19 on an album, apart from ‘Bath Is Black’”.
It’s openly apparent Marika simply wants to put out the best material she can, not bound by the trappings of youthful songwriting and the implication to include early material in a debut album, all in the name of providing an ‘introduction’ to the artist. “Exactly!” she rejoices, “I didn’t want the debut album to be full of songs people have heard before, so the album to me is just going to be like a long EP, and I’ll approach it in the same way”.
Even if we can’t expect an album for quite some time, Hackman is no doubt going to stay on our radar over the coming months, with a tour scheduled for February, a support slot with The 1975 at The Royal Albert Hall in April, and as she mentioned, a third EP due in the near future. Of course what we have learnt, both from admiring her work as a listener and speaking in person is that her work is gloriously unpredictable, which adds an air of excitement to what she has in store next, even if she doesn’t quite know what that is yet. “I find it hard to identify what’s changed in my writing style, in a way I guess it’s more focused and maturing as I get older… god that sounds ridiculously cheesy”.
Cheesy sign-offs aside, I think it’s safe to say 2014 is going to be a gouda year for Marika Hackman. Sorry.
The Sugar Blind EP is out now on Dirty Hit Records, listen to it in its entirety below.