Marika Hackman – Interview 2017

Marika HackmanStill only in her mid-20s, former Brighton resident Marika Hackman has been making spellbindingly personal music since the Johnny Flynn-produced debut single ‘You Come Down’ was released in 2012. Both Flynn and Hackman are former pupils of the esteemed Bedales School (Hackman was there after winning a scholarship), where she met model Cara Delevingne, and subsequently formed a short-lived band with her. A self-taught guitarist, her recent album I’m Not Your Man introduced a bigger, more guitar-orientated sound, enabled by the recruitment of her buddies The Big Moon on most of the album.

You were based here in Brighton, for a year or so, weren’t you?
Yes, I did my art foundation there, and I even spent one New Year’s Eve in The Haunt. I haven’t been to Brighton for a while, and it always feels like a bit of a homecoming. It was the first place that I lived in, away from home. I grew up a little bit whilst I was there. It’s been so long since I played there, like three or four years. And playing The Haunt is great. I spent so many nights there dancing to 80s music!

Which college were you studying at?
I was at City College (now clunkily known as Brighton Metropolitan College, or MET for short), and I used to live on Tidy Street, just a two minute walk away from the college itself. It was really nice. It was a pretty shit house, but in a good spot.

It doesn’t really matter how shitty it is when you’re just 18.
Exactly. You don’t need your creature comforts. It was a disgusting kitchen.

But, you didn’t end up doing a degree.
No, I didn’t. Brighton put me off. Not! I did my foundation, and over that summer I decided I didn’t want to do a degree in fine art, and that maybe it would be better to save money and pursue a career in music. Meet people, and play gigs, and get out there as quick as possible So, that’s what I did. My parents were very supportive with my music, ‘Yeah do that’. I didn’t really want to go to university. So fucking expensive. They were like, ‘You might as well go and have a shot’. I was 19 at the time. If in a year’s time I was stressing out and struggling I could do a degree later on.

Were you performing while in Brighton?
Yeah, but I hadn’t done open mics. My first gig was when I was 16 and I was up in London. Then, when I was in Brighton I started playing at a few random spots, some festivals, and pub band nights. I really started doing the whole gig thing while I was in Brighton. And then I moved away – my parents had moved to Devon – and I made this decision I would be a musician, and I started to get more frequent gigs up in London. There started to be some interest in me, and a few labels came and watched. And then it became my job! I had a pretty smooth ride. You hear about a lot of people who have this horrible struggle, sending tapes and CDs off to people. I was very lucky and fortunate to come straight out of college and play the odd gig here and there and have a few things online, and that generated enough interest, and I managed to start funding myself shortly afterwards.

Johnny Flynn helped to get you a record deal, didn’t he?
Yeah, he told Transgressive Records that they should come and check me out. They came, and liked me, and signed me for my publishing when I was 19. That was very nice of him. We went to the same school, but he wasn’t at school with me. I’d seen him play a couple of times, and said hello, but we didn’t really know each other. But, I think he had seen me at a show in London. That was a nice, handy little contact.

Your first album, We Slept At Last, was quite sparse and melancholic, while I’m Not Your Man has a much bigger sound. How did that transformation take place?
It was quite organic. I never like to overthink things too much, when it comes to writing. It’s a personal thing, it’s always related to how I am, and what mood I’m in. I was in a very different place when I wrote that first record. I’d come out of my first ever big relationship, I had moved to London. It’s quite a solitary record, it’s quite isolated in its sound. Coming into this next one I was a lot more settled, and feeling excited. Also, I had been playing shows on my own for a very long time, and I felt I liked to have company on the road. I had always dreamed of playing a more heavier sound, being able to play my guitar a little more on stage. So I thought I would challenge myself, and see if I could pull it off. And, I think I did!

The Big Moon feature heavily on the album. How did you hook up with them?
I went to one of their gigs, about two years ago, and we all just hit it off. I watched them from the crowd and thought they looked fucking great, and I wanted to be their friend. Afterwards I went up to say hello and we went to the pub together, and had a pretty wild, fun night, and swapped numbers, stayed in touch. When it came to sitting down with the management and label, discussing how I was going to pull off this band sound, when I didn’t have a band, and I’d written all these songs and arranged all these parts, for a band, it was kind of the obvious choice really. You’ve got mates who are all really good friends of yours, and they are in a band, and you’ve all got an energy that works really well together. You’re all friends, you could probably all slot in there, and create something amazing together. So, I asked them if they wanted to do it, and they said ‘yes’, thank God! I was so terrified.

They could have been busy!?
They could have been busy, or not wanted to do it, and felt obliged to say ‘yes’, which would have fucking sucked, right?

How involved are they with the record?
There’s the whole band on eight of the tracks. There’s the five of us, three guitars, bass, drums, and four vocals.

How did you approach playing with them, were the songs ready-to-go?
It was like, ‘Here’s your part. Learn it, and let’s play it together’. There was room, particularly with the guitars. All the riffs and stuff, they were already written. Soph is so good at incidental sounds, getting these squeaky noises out of her pedal board. There was a lot of that going on. Jules (Jackson) added some flourishes here and there. With the drums, either I had written out a very basic part that Fern (Ford) would play on top of. Or Charlie (Andrew, producer) – he’s a drummer, so when we got into the studio he was adding a lot of shaker, and stuff afterwards. Generally, it was pretty fully formed, and it was just about getting the groove going together, and making sure it was slotting in, and building up the dynamics in certain areas. That was the main focus once we got into the room together.

Charlie Andrew has been your producer pretty much since day one?
I’ve been making records with Charlie since I was 19. Out of the 40 or so songs I have released, he produced 38 of them.

How did Jules adapt to being in a band with no say on the songwriting?
She was very good at that. She’d had experience before of playing guitar with other bands. I was really worried. I didn’t want to go in and feel like I was stepping on their toes. I had to be very aware of the fact I was creating something that was mine, but that they were a part of. Obviously, that is a really fine balance. But, luckily there seems to be a distinct lack of ego amongst us all, because we’re all friends. It felt very easy. Easier than I anticipated. Jules kept saying she was enjoying not having to have that pressure of being a songwriter and having to make decisions, and just take a back seat and play the guitar and sing. To me, it felt she viewed it as a completely separate thing, which was great, and meant she could enjoy it in a different way.

As far as you are concerned is there any difference between playing with boys and girls?
I’ve played with just purely guys before in bands. I can’t really tell what the difference is – if there is one – mainly because we were friends before we started working together. I think it’s quite rare in the music industry. it’s not often you have to look for people, work together and get through that, and then become friends. Because we were friends before we made the music that is what made it so enjoyable. I couldn’t really specify any gender differences. The band I have now, to play my shows, my guitarist is a guy, and then I’ve got a female drummer and bassist. I love having a balance. That’s always been my favourite way of touring. Everyone becomes their best, and you’ve got a bit of both sides going on.

Why did you call the album, I’m Not Your Man?
It’s from a lyric in ‘Good Intentions’, the second track. I find naming stuff incredibly hard, and stressful. Naming tracks and records, I always leave it to the last minute before we have to transfer the music to masters, basically! I go through all the lyrics, and look for inspiration there. I chopped out a bunch of different phrases and words that summed it up. And ‘I’m Not Your Man’ was the one that stuck out, as a punchy sentiment. And, it’s a punchy record. It kind of sums up a lot of the different themes that are on there. It was bold and it was perfect. For me, this record felt like a very bold step. It’s quite a big departure from the first one.

Jeff Hemmings