Main image via Atlantic Records; photos in post by Katie Chow
Few people inspire as much devotion as Marina Diamand is, who makes heartfelt pop music under the name Marina and the Diamonds. As we meet at the headquarters of her label Atlantic Records, there are murmurs about fans camped outside, hoping to meet their queen. Over the past five years, the Welsh-born artist has become one of pop culture’s most charismatic critics and creators, and she’s not about to stop.
On her 2010 debut LP The Family Jewels, she established herself as an outsider’s icon, casting a sharp eye at modern life on early hits like “Oh No!” and “Hollywood.” With her 2012 follow-up
Electra Heart, Marina inhabited the titular character, a timeless bleached-blonde heroine making her way through life and love. While this album cemented her pop princess status around the world, the grueling touring schedule that followed led to her reinvention on Froot, out last week. Entirely self-written and co-produced with David Kosten, it’s Marina’s most personal album yet, a pared-down and organic tribute to love both ripe and rotten. Read on for Marina’s insights on the making of Froot, finding herself, and living an amazing life.
How did your songwriting style change with this record?
After Electra Heart, which was co-written with quite a lot of people, I completely changed the way that I wrote. I used to just write on keyboard and compose lyrics and melody the same time as the chords, but post-Electra, I just started to make instrumentals, so I would build a crude version of the tracks and then put melody and lyrics on top of it. So that really opened up a whole new way of writing for me.
How did working with just one producer change how you made this album?
I was about to say it’s more cohesive, but I don’t know if it is, because the sonics really jump around quite a lot. But I think that’s just how I write, so I feel like it was cohesive in that it was pretty much a live album, like 70% live and 30% electronic stuff, which was good. We used the same band for the whole thing, we had Jason Cooper, who’s the drummer in the Cure, and a guitarist from the British band Everything Everything.
So you had more time to create a little family around the album.
Kind of, yeah. It’s quite tough, recording, not one of my favorite things to do (laughs). The biggest difference was recording it in a three month period, whereas usually, I’d do a track a week as I was traveling. That’s how the other albums were created, so it was really nice.
Now that you’ve been making longer songs as well, do you think that was a result of being able to take your time with things?
Not really, the structure’s very loose, in that I want to have more of a narrative or storytelling-based objective. I think I just wasn’t concerned anymore about the radio, or being pop or being not. After Electra Heart, the second album, I got that out of my system and it was just really enjoyable to write again. For example, with “Froot,” it’s very long, but it was meant to be long.
Conventional radio matters much less now, anyhow.
I’m lucky enough to have a strong fan base, and I think that also made me worry less. I get the feeling that they’re with me for a journey, as opposed to buying singles. The way that I follow artists that I love, I’m with them for the long run because I’m interested in them as a person and what they have to say, as opposed to like, “This is a massive club smash.”
Would you say that the new album feels more spiritual?
Yeah, I think that’s a fair observation. I think I’m just at the point in my life where I was reassessing things and reassessing my priorities and even who I was friends with, who I socialized with, just every corner of my life was put under a magnifying glass after
Electra Heart. To put it truthfully, I was just really depressed, it was a depressing campaign for a few different reasons. You need those moments to reassess everything to get back on the right path. I feel different from how I used to feel.
Are you familiar with the concept of Saturn returns?
No. Is this a 27-year-old thing?
Yeah, it’s about the number of Earth years that Saturn takes to go around the sun causing a disruption in your life, and it kicks in around 27-29. Do you feel like that was true for you?
I mean, who knows, but 27 was the turning
point for me.
It sounds like that change has also allowed you to get more vulnerable as well.
Yeah, and also be truthful with yourself. Also, once you do that, you start to attract other things that weren’t coming to you before. How you feel about determines your whole life, and I never realized that before.
When you’re living in a way when you spend most of your time surrounded by others, it takes a while to start looking at yourself.
For sure. I think just having a break from touring probably helped a bit, I was on the road for like five years.
The last time I saw you was in the summer of 2012, and I loved the production value of the show and the retro theme. What’s the aesthetic going to be like for your upcoming shows?
I’m really excited, that’s when the vision comes to life for me. The theme is neon nature, so a very hyperreal stylized world that the fan walks into. I just want it to feel like another planet, basically, filled with tropical electric flowers, glowing grapevines, I can’t wait. I want it to be surreal, basically.
I liked how in the past you had the Americana theme, which is also hyperrealistic in its own way.
I think I touched on it with the first album, then with Electra Heart,
it really managed to encapsulate that and how that was being represented in our generation at the time. I was obsessed with zeitgeist, so I was always looking for what teenagers on Tumblr and photography sites [were featuring], I was really obsessed with what was coming up and why it was coming up. That very much inspired Electra Heart and then the live show, that kind of sassy, girly, sickly thing really worked. It was interesting to see that come up, then like, two years later…
Do you find that you’re still very concerned with what other people are doing right now?
No, not anymore. I don’t care, I just want to live an amazing life and experience being happy and looking after the people who are around me. That’s all there is to it, that’s the point.
What does living an amazing life mean to you?
Living an amazing life is doing things that inspire you and stimulate you, not imposing any limits on yourself. I think to feel like that, you have to be around the right people. Again, it relates back to being truthful with yourself and asking yourself “Who am I?” or “What do I believe?” rather than “What am I feeling pressured to believe or feeling pressured to be?” That’s a happy life.
Would you say this is your most personal record?
That’s a good question. I definitely think it’s the most transparent, but Electra Heart was personal in its own ways.
In a way that creating a character becomes an outlet?
I think there were character moments on “Primadonna Girl,” “Bubblegum Bitch” that are very playful and they represent one part of your character or part of female identity. But then there were other ones like “Starring Role” and “Lies” that were personal songs about a relationship, but you’re right, actually, this record is definitely the most personal.
Since it’s the most personal, what do you hope other people get out of it?
I don’t know, maybe to feel some kind of relief or solace if there are things that they’re dealing with, things that we all deal with. Very human things. It’s up to them, really, whatever they feel.
I feel with this record, I didn’t write it to write a record or put an album out because I have a contract with a label, it was more that I have something that I want to say and whether anyone hears it or not isn’t of any concern to me. It’s like, I need to write this.
Can you go back to what you were saying about exploring female identity? Do you find yourself still doing that?
No, not really. I think it’s also part of just being a bit younger and you’re still trying to figure out who you are. Maybe that took me a bit longer than other people, or maybe everyone feels the same. I think I’ve found it very satisfying to represent those kinds of archetypes in Electra and the record, to kind of play with them. But that is no more.
With the rise of things like Tumblr, it’s easier for everyone to define themselves by these surface aesthetic things, but obviously that’s not everything a person is.
Sometimes you need to do that because you can’t express it in another way. Maybe that’s what I was doing. (laughs)
So you’ve found that with time, it’s easier to express other things about who you are?
Yeah, and once I’d done Electra Heart, there were many things that I was doing that didn’t feel right. Who wants to play a character? It’s really hard, it’s not like you’re in a play or in a theater and you get to go home at night. You have to look like something else all the time. Even though it was fun on one level, it was kind of a trap in another way. Once I’d done that, I knew what I didn’t want anymore in another sense. It kind of clarifies everything, in terms of how you feel.