Marika Hackman – Interview – 2014

To make it in the highly competitive world of music you have to be super dedicated, work your butt off, and try and close down as many distractions as you can. Joni Mitchell famously did that, working all hours of the day to get a song just right, finding the space and quiet to get ‘in the zone’. Nick Cave has an ‘office’ that he goes to where he just writes, thinks and writes. Paul McCartney used to get in to ‘work’ before anyone else so that he could develop ideas in solitude. It’s a side of the music industry you don’t see very often, and for good reason… artists like to show off their finished works, not some half-finished scrap. It’s all about the mystique, the mysterious ways in which creative types get from A to B.

It sounds like 22 year-old Marika Hackman is one of those. “I always get up at 8am at the latest. I take myself off to bed as soon as I’m done. No partying!” she says when referring to the tours she has been undertaking just recently, first with alt-j and then with The Antlers. It’s the same when writing. “I am very private, I need a space I can go to. When I came to writing for the album, and I thought, ‘shit, I don’t have enough songs’, I started to get a bit panicked. But actually, get up early, sit in your room with your guitar, finish about six o’clock, with a couple of breaks… You do that for a couple of weeks, you can end up with an album’s worth of material. I took that pressure off myself, I can treat it like a job. Not like, ‘I will sit down today and I will write a song’ but just practising and playing, and channelling what you’re doing. The more you do it the more chance you have of writing a song. I sat down and worked my ass off, basically (laughs).

“It’s too distracting otherwise, you become self-conscious when other people are around. I thought it was stupid when I was writing songs, singing gibberish and playing with melodies that aren’t quite fixed. It’s like watching a painter painting in a studio, you might feel quite self-conscious because you’re seeing not what they want to show, you’re seeing the process. But actually at the end of the day you’ve got a song or a painting, and that’s what you’ve chosen to show everyone, a finished piece, rather than a half-finished piece that you’re grappling with.”

Both her parents were animators (her Dad is from Finland, hence the name), and as a child she was encouraged to find creative outlets, along with her brothers. She found a creative outlet at an early age… I started playing the piano when I was three or something, and I remember at nursery, sitting my teacher down to play a song I’d written. Nothing that I would ever want to listen to now,” she laughs. “But, you never know, I could bring it back!

“Then I got a bass, and started to write songs on that, and a few of them I did perform. When I was forteen I got a guitar, and that was when I started properly crafting songs. It’s always something I wanted to do, it felt like a natural thing. Laura Veirs was a big influence at the time,” another artist with a haunting darkness to her music, yet infused with a lightness of touch.

Described as ‘a bohemian idyll with bite’, the liberal independent school Bedales (alumni include Lily Allen, Luke Pritchard of The Kooks, actors George Sanders and Daniel Day-Lewis, Sophie Dahl etc) was where she met model Cara Delevingne, and together they formed a band, Hackman alternating between playing drums and singing, although their set was mainly of cheesy covers. But it gave her a taste for live performance which she wasn’t able to shake off… She then moved to Brighton for a year, studying for an art foundation at City College. At the time it was what she thought she would do, become a painter. “I was in Brighton in 2010-11. I went down there to have a look around, and I loved it, the atmosphere you know. It’s cosier than London, it’s smaller and cheaper, and it felt more homely, and the college and course looked good. That was always what I was going to do, painting. But the music took over… If I was to stop music, I don’t think I would go to university, I think I would get an apprenticeship with an artist. I love to paint, mainly portraiture.”

It was around this time that she met Johnny Flynn, who has carved out a dual career as a theatre actor and musician, and who also happened to be a former pupil of Bedales. “He wasn’t there when I was there,” she explains. “I had some friends who knew him – it was a small school – and I was a big fan. And still am. We would go to his shows, and sometimes after a show we got to meet him. But I only started talking to him on a more professional level when his label Transgressive got interested in doing my publishing. I think that was off the back of him suggesting me. I think…”

Flynn produced her debut single ‘You Come Down’, a song that was also picked up by Burberry, who invited Hackman to participate in an advertising campaign for their new eye wear (shades) “I was very different from a model in the classical sense. It was a one-off thing. I found it bizarre, I’m quite awkward in front of a camera. I didn’t have a deal on the table at that point…”

Transgressive obviously liked what they heard and saw, her haunting, spectral folk-acoustic flavoured songs, matched by her appearance, although there is a playfulness within the music, as there is with her. She soon signed a deal with them, initially releasing an EP of covers before releasing the That Iron Taste mini-album in early 2013. Produced by Charlie Andrews who is also in alt-j), it expanded on the folk-noir sonic template she had first developed with Johnny Flynn. And she gigged relentlessly, touring with Laura Marling, performing at Brighton’s Great Escape and countless other festivals, developing her audience the old fashioned way.

With a couple of other EPs under her belt, she’s now looking forward to the release of her debut album, We Slept At Last, in February next year. “I do feel it was really good for me to have all that experience making records, prior to settling down to making a full-length record. I’m so sure of what I wanted to do, what I was doing, even thought there was experimentation. But I ultimately knew where I wanted to end up,” she says. “In terms of style, it’s more settled; some songs are just an acoustic. It was something I have previously tried to avoid, particularly when I was starting out because you get so pigenonholed quickly when you are just that… but it feels more free, the songwriting feels more free, the guitar parts are more elaborate and loose, the melodies are quite fluid.”  

Featuring 12 brand new tracks, she has continued to work with Charlie Andrews. “Basically, I record demos, sometimes they will be layered up. I do that all at home on Garageband with a crap mic, while running around the house putting the wash on! Then I send it to Charlie, and we’ll decide where we want it to go from there, whether we keep it to the demo, or continue to build it up. The only instruction I had when we sat down to begin recording was that I wanted it to be a little more stripped back than the stuff we have done before.

“We get on really really well – you don’t want to work with someone who you find frustrating or annoying – and I think he’s very clever, I like his ideas. And I trust him. It worked immediately and was meant to be.”

Keeping it all in the family, she sang on Warm Foothills, a track from alt-j’s recent This Is All Yours album, and then asked Marika to tour with them, her first experience of large venues, such as the Brighton Centre. “I did have my band with me for those shows, it felt better, 100%. With The Antlers it’s just back to the acoustic guitar. With my headline shows, it’s perfect; its going to be both, some stuff with the band, and a solo section in the middle of the set. It’s nice to mix it up. Featuring a band that includes Brighton resident George Cook on drums (“it’s his dream to have everything on pedals, all hooked up”), her tour manager/sound engineer/confidante is also Brighton based. “She is amazing at her job, and it’s nice to have a girl on the road. She introduced me to some of my band. We’re all a little gang now.”  

Jeff Hemmings