marika hackman doesn’t like to play it safe
When it comes to songwriting, the i-D favourite prefers the unexpected.
Since we first spoke over a year ago, Marika has moved from the countryside to London and toured extensively, both alone and with friend Laura Marling, while writing music that never fails to move and inspire. Her musical collaboration with producer Charlie Andrews has thankfully continued, the dream team uniting not only for Alt.J's Warm Foothills with Lianne La Havas and Conor Oberst, but also the perfect debut album, We Slept At Last. As she readies herself for another summer of festivals, the blue-haired siren reflects on her musical journey so far.
Why do you make music?
I've always written songs and I started as soon as I could grasp an instrument. I wrote awful, awful songs on the piano when I was like six.
And how do you feel your musical career has developed since then?
I've been really lucky because the people I've worked with have let me do whatever I want - no one's told me to write a song a certain way. It's funny to think of it as a career already, but I suppose I have been doing it properly for two years now. Even when it feels like hard work, I can see why I'm doing it.
Do you write with a strong idea in mind?
I try to write unexpected chord progressions and melodies. It's a deliberate choice and the only choice I make in my songwriting. Everything else is very natural but I never like to write a melody that's safe, I like to shift between keys.
What have you learnt in the past year?
I'm more of a prolific writer than I thought. I used to think that my songs came out of nowhere like a lightning bolt, and that I just had to wait for it to strike. Then I realised that if I worked at stuff and structured my day, I could write a couple of songs in a week. I wrote an album's worth in a month on tour. I never saw myself as that kind of person. Every year with this job I seem to push myself more and more; whether it's working harder or touring more, I'm learning that I can cope, which is good.
What prompted your mermaid hair?
I'd never completely changed an aspect of my image before and was always described as being very natural. At shoots everyone always tried to put me in floaty dresses on a Joni Mitchell vibe and that's not me at all. It makes you realise that the way you look doesn't really matter because you can completely change something but you're still the same and everyone still responds in the same way. It was really liberating in that sense.
Can you talk us through your debut album We Slept At Last?
As per usual it's quite dark, quite melancholy. It's a bit calmer than my EPs and less experimental in a sense. It's not trying to be anything - it is what it is. With the EPs I was pushing for a new sound and trying new things, whereas with this record I had a clear theme in my head. The title is about that sense of relief. The whole process of making the record and pulling all this stuff from inside yourself to finally be able to pull back and let it go.
Your songs are all quite personal. Do you not get emotional performing them?
Sometimes, though it gets to the point where you can detach yourself. Once it exists as a song, it doesn't feel like a personal experience that you have to relive every time. Sometimes the atmosphere in the room can really affect that though, particularly when I'm playing by myself and suddenly I feel really raw and honest about it. They're usually the best performances but it can get quite intense. I like it like that though. Sometimes when I listen back to demos and they're really fresh they can make me feel really shit. But by the time you've been on the road for however long, you just power through.
Which of your own tracks do you think sums you up best?
Animal Fear, cause it's fun but spooky and weird. It's about turning into a werewolf and in a bigger sense battling your demons, in inverted commas. The monster is inside everyone… do we let it out or would that do too much damage?
And do you remember the first record you ever bought?
The one I can remember buying with my pocket money in Woolworths was something by Eminem. My mum was a bit horrified.
What about the first gig you went to?
Destiny's Child.I remember seeing Beyoncé and being so convinced that she looked at me... she definitely didn't look at me.
What song would you want played at your funeral?
I would choose a classical piece played on the violin, The Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams. It would make everyone cry and that's what you want.
And what do you hope to achieve by the end of the year?
I'd love to tour with Warpaint and finish writing the second record.
While you're busy with that, who would you recommend we listen to?
A friend of mine, Japanese House. She's really good and putting out her first EP this year.
Text Francesca Dunn
Photography Matteo Montanari
Styling Max Clark