Marina and the Diamonds: "I Conquered a Fear About Who I Was and What I Was Capable of"
We talk music, feminism, rape culture, self-esteem, and going it alone.
Photo by Charlotte Rutherford.
Marina Diamandis might be tired, jet laggy, and a weeny bit talked out from a packed press trip promoting her lately released third album, Froot, but she looks sleek, fresh, and fiercely dressed. When I hug her goodbye I’m sure I’ll leave mucky paw prints on her all-white ensemble. Her hourglass curves are subtly skimmed in wide-legged Stella McCartney pants—very menswear but still silkily feminine—on her wrist is a Larsson & Jennings watch, gold mesh strap, clean white face. Marina looks grown up and she is: This October she’ll turn 30. She’s as bubbly and chatty as when we first spoke back in 2009, ahead of her debut album The Family Jewels, but a once-nascent poise and self-possession beams out of her now. It’s also reflected in the title of her new record, a deliberate misspelling of fruit.
“Froot just symbolizes something really positive: you plant a seed, a tree grows, it bears fruit, that is the cycle of our lives,” she explains, sipping ginger tea in a booth at New York’s Marlton Hotel. “I feel like I’ve got to that point where I feel fully realized as a musician. I’ve never felt like that before.”
In a way it’s funny that she should say that. If you listen to debut single “Obsessions,” which is still one of her finest tracks, there’s a fearlessness in her vulnerability. Those opening lyrics, painting the morning-after picture, over plaintive piano chords, and that line—“We've got our obsessions / I want to wipe out all the sad ideas / That come to me when I am holding you”—really hits, acute and very real.
The London-based singer’s first album delivered an alt-pop platter of tunes that were by turns starkly tender, playful and original (“Mowgli’s Road,” “Are You Satisfied”), with some out-and-out spangly smashes (“Hollywood”). World tours ensued, including a spot opening for Katy Perry on her Teenage Dream jaunt. Electra Heart, her 2012 follow up saw Diamandis plug in with some of pop's most feted producers, including Diplo, Dr. Luke, StarGate, and Benny Blanco. The result were songs like “Primadonna” and “Bubblegum Bitch”— Pro-Tooled bangers designed for high volumes and confetti canons, meanwhile lyrically and visually Diamandis inhabited the character of Electra Heart, a contradictory figure that blended elements of Greek Tragedy, the American Dream, and female archetypes (the homewrecker, the teen queen, the flinty-eyed attention grabber). There was a lot going on.
For Froot the Welsh-Greek singer, with her cut-glass English accent, has taken her music back. Gone are the flashy extras, with producer David Kosten (Bat for Lashes, Everything Everything) bringing together a more organic backing band. For the most part Diamandis shrugged off the helping hands and trusted her gut.
“This record is effortlessly honest, it was easy and a joy to write,” she says. “I think that’s something about being anxious when you’re co-writing with other people because you saying deepest things about you, or things that are painfully true, and that’s hard enough to say to your mum, let alone some random 40-year-old dude.”
Opening song “Happy” (like “Obsessions” all those years ago) sets the tone with just her voice and a piano. She’s still searching—because aren’t we all?—but sonically she sounds far more settled. It’s still a shimmering pop record, but one that’s less strident than her previous collection.
Of course there are moments of turmoil, as relationships remain a central theme, as on the Kate Bush-ian “I’m a Ruin,” which sees her elastic tones telling the classic tale of relationship extrication. You know the situation well: when it’s good, but it’s not quite right, and you know that ultimately you’ll end up being shit to the person who definitely doesn’t deserve it. Then there's “Savages,” where she puts human nature and base desire under the microscope. We talk about this, exorcising demons, feminism, rape culture, self-esteem, and much more below.
Noisey: What happened directly after you came off tour for Electra Heart? Did you lock yourself away?
Marina Diamandis: I was going out with someone at the time, s o he was kind of the only person I saw. I didn’t really want to speak to anyone anymore, for a while. In terms of songwriting and things that inspired a shift, everything came into view that summer of 2013: People who I was socializing with, how I felt about myself, and I did cut quite a lot of people out actually. I think we all kind of go through that moment, of like, what are your priorities? Who are you as a person? Why are you spending time with some people? But my life has changed wildly in the past year and a half, but so much better. A few months of pain is definitely worth going through in order to shift your priorities. So that’s pretty much what I did until about December. I really didn’t do much, I just lived a very normal life.
How do you feel about this record now? Any themes emerging now that you’ve had some space from it?
Yeah, I would say, probably, under half of the record is about a relationship. And half of it is kind of, it sounds so wanky to say it’s reflecting on things that are detail the human condition, like, what we all kind of feel but that is the biggest theme.
Do you ever worry about damaging relationships when people you know bleed into your music? Yes. It’s horrendous, but at the same time you can’t not write honestly. I actually talked to my A&R at the time, I feel so horrendous writing this song and this person’s gonna be so hurt. He was like, “What can you do?”
On this record? Which ones?
“I’m Ruined,” “Blue,” but, I don’t know, you just have to get on with it. That's life!
Well I guess guys know when they get involved with you, right?
I know. [Laughs.] Anyway… God.
You’re such a visual artist. Talk to me about the evolution of how you wanted to present yourself this time around.
It’s a little bit freer than previous albums. When we did our first press shoot, I was like, sci-fi Sofia Loren, sci-fi Liz Taylor. Imagine these 50s feminine portraits with a flick of neon, something that illuminates them in front of them in a futuristic way. But I like a bit of 70s, I’m loving suits at the moment, but I am always drawn to classic 50s. I think that’s one of the things that’s run throughout. You can’t go wrong.
What kind of designers are you pulling from? Do you have a go-to? Vivienne Westwood I know is one.
I haven’t bought any Vivienne Westwood for ages. I don’t really think about it anymore. Like, this is Stella McCartney. I do follow fashion a bit, but it’s more just things that will help you express what you’re trying to put out there. For my live tour I’ll probably get things made. I think I’m calling my tour the Neon Nature tour. Creating this cyber garden on-stage, something exotic, but electrical.
How was working David Kosten? He has produced some incredible records—Bat for Lashes in particular. Was he the first choice?
He wasn’t. I actually worked for months with someone who I had worked with before and it wasn’t right. It was the realization that I wanted to make a live sounding record with real drummer, real guitarist that I could talk to and form a relationship with, which I hadn’t really had before. When you get into the pop world, a lot of it’s synthetic. Or the musicians come and you just don’t know them. Whereas with this, David had a fantastic network of people, so I was able to get Jason who drums for The Cure. And he produced Everything Everything and they played with me. It was a very different process. I wanted to be produced as a band, I made that clear from the start. I was like, how is PJ Harvey or Patti Smith produced? I was trying to find these females who were songwriters in their own right but didn’t necessarily sound ballad-laden.
Are you single at the moment?
I can’t possibly say! [Laughs.] Kim you’re so cheeky! I can say this, whenever I’m making an album, I’m almost always single. It’s almost like you devote yourself so much to writing that you don’t want to be with anybody.
And you’re probably exorcising some things in your music…
Exactly, you’re writing for a reason. [Laughs.]
How are you feeling about approaching 30?
Very excited! I feel really happy at my age. It’s funny how people kind of big up the early 20s. Mine were miserable. I felt so unstable and kind of unsure about everything, whereas the past two years have been infinitely more enjoyable. So I’m really loving it. I’m going to have a big party.
How do you feel now that in the past year to eighteen months feminism has come back on the agenda?
It’s been interesting. Part of me at the beginning felt like, here we go, people hopping onto a trend. But part of me thinks it is for the right reason. The topic is something that needs to be discussed. I definitely feel a shift. As a woman, I think the type of comments that people could make in the past about girls, like jokey, misogynistic comments really don’t fly anymore.
I think a lot of guys are hyper-conscious of being seen as misogynistic now. I’ve definitely noticed that.
Definitely. This next comment isn’t about guys, it’s more about the horrendous explosion of visibility in rape culture in the past few years. It’s a good thing that it’s being exposed. But it’s also grim, because you kind of think, “Is this a part of human nature?” “Savages” is actually about that.
That’s interesting. Was there an incident that sparked this specifically for you?
It was more summing up everything that I’ve been hearing in the news for the past two years. I find it so unnerving, not so much because it was happening, but because it’s natural and that’s what people never talk about.
It’s more about, “How can we solve this problem?” It’s like, how can we discuss that this is an innate human trait? What are you going to do about that? Like, for example, if you’re a pedophile, how about we give them proper support so that they don’t go and rape kids? As opposed to being like, “Oh my God, you’re a pedophile!” What if they were born that way? You know? It’s a really controversial subject. But it’s something that has been going on for thousands of years historically. But that’s just one thing. Rape, again, that has been happening for thousands and thousands of years.
I’ve often thought about that. What is the thing in man that allows them to do that and get off on it? Largely women just don't do that. They don’t have that impulse or trigger.
No, it’s horrific. It’s horrible for men who don’t ever feel those things, or don’t associate themselves with that or relate to that. But in an evolutionary way, you think, OK, if I look at this coldly, it’s like a survival trait. If you’re a caveman you have to spread your DNA. Obviously now we’re civilized people and we’re not to do that anymore. Oh my God, I don’t even know where that span off. I don’t even know what the question was…
We were talking about “Savages” and rape culture…
Oh, feminism! That was it. I’m very proud to get a lot of female artists, and males are talking about feminism and have made it relevant.
Do you feel like you’re as ambitious as you used to be?
No. Well I feel like I still have ambitions but they’re more like creative ambitions. I would love to do the soundtrack to a film—something that I can really challenge myself with. So they’ve definitely shifted. I don’t have that thing where I felt so intense and tangled up about things, which is probably a good thing. It means that you’re not as hung up on world domination. But on the positive side, it means you live quite a peaceful existence. [Laughs.]
What made you want to pursue world domination? I think it’s totally tied into self-esteem. If you look at people like that, are they happy people? Really. There’s an emptiness or some kind of thing in them that they’re trying to create or achieve by doing all of these other things. You know, it’s always nice to have love and have attention from fans and stuff, you’ve got to have the other stuff too.
So its come with you being more content in your personal life?
Exactly. Just feeling better by yourself. Then you don’t need the other stuff any more.
What’s the most personal thing you’re willing to admit in relation to this album?
Oh God! You give me such hard questions. My poor, tiny, jetlagged mind! I think I conquered a fear, about who I was and what I was capable of. I always wanted to write an album completely on my own, partly because it was the right decision for me to make, but partly also for me to make a statement. I feel like with female musicians in particular, people always think that you are not the sole creator, even if you are. Very few people are because everyone co-writes, but I think after many years of trying to tread the path of being pop, I decided to do this album in a certain way and write it alone and I told me A&R manager and I got that support. But they were like, “Well, don’t make your mind up yet. Maybe you will want to do it.” I kind of felt like maybe people maybe didn’t think I could. Then when I’d written it, people were like, “Wow, you’re a fucking good songwriter.” I just thought, “Finally.”
That’s the most important thing about this album, and definitely the most personal thing. It’s kind of something that you wanted to do, but you don’t know if you can do it. Then you finally do it, and you’re like, “I knew I could!”