New Music: Marika Hackman

  • Photography and Interview  Max Barnett
  • Words  James Ross
  • Set Design  David Curtis-Ring

In anticipation of Marika Hackman’s upcoming album, any human friend – due for release on 9th August – PYLOT’s Editor-in-Chief, Max Barnett, met with Hackman to discuss her musical style, and the background to her witty, intelligent, and emotionally challenging lyrics.

Max Barnett: First off, could you tell me a bit more about the title, any human friend, and where it came from.

Marika Hackman: I actually got the title from a quote from a child. There was a documentary on Channel 4 about sending a load of four- and five-year-olds into care homes for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s. It was really successful and at the end of the week, there are two little girls having a chat. One of them asks the other if she’s made any friends that week and the little girls turns around and says, “Yes, I made loads of friends.” And the other girl goes, “What, even with all of the old people?” and the little girl replies, “Yes, any human friend.”

It kind of really hit a nerve – it was just that thing of that childish innocence and it’s so pure with the way that they look at the world. There are no preconceptions about people and what they should be. You just accept everything at face value for what it is. And that’s kind of the whole point of the record.

MB: Would you say that there are any overarching messages and themes throughout your work, and if so how have they evolved over time?

MH: Lyrically I started off writing in terms of metaphor, a lot more poetic in a way. But actually, when you strip it back there’s an element of romance that runs throughout. I’m kind of obsessed with human relationships, sexual relations, and the idea of desire, lust and longing, how long that lasts for and the breakdown of those relationships. That’s a real driving factor in all of my work. Also, dealing with anxiety and visceral references like blood and water and bodies…

MB: Like the song drown

MH: Yeah exactly. They’re universal topics that unite us all, but there’s also this idea that there’s a mental turmoil going on that’s grounded in the physical self and that translates across to the sexual elements that come in later as well. There’s a lot that carries through. I don’t think I’ve ever changed exactly what I’m talking about, and it has always been personal whether it’s more hidden or not.

MB: I think it’s about being unafraid to approach these topics from your perspective. A lot of the topics you go into, and the explicit nature of it at points, is something that is handled by a certain type of artists and it’s so nice to see you broach those subjects in your own way and with your presentation of it.

MH: That was a big thing for me in terms of a dialogue between me and the listeners – what would they take away from the record and would there be a shock factor, which I think would be really interesting. You hear a lot of these topics flying around all the time, but you don’t really hear them coming from someone like me and it’s an interesting conversation as to why that might be just because it’s coming from my voice.

MB: Making something with a subversive nature is so much more powerful for me because that’s how I like to see things. I like it when people flip things on their head and use these kinds of lyrics and narratives in a way that’s less expected. I watched the video to i’m not where you are, which I’d actually seen before anything else. The album has so many twists and turns, and the way you act in the video, which starts with people slapping you in the face, is very strong and I wanted to know what led you to start with this image?

MH: That’s the initial idea I had for the video which prompted the narrative that came later – just getting slapped throughout the entire video and being bloody and bruised by the end of it. I think it’s because I wanted to show that it’s not some kind of arrogant thing, that I’m not some kind of heart breaker, that’s not the theme. It’s more of this self-deprecating thing where I hate myself and I wish I could be more emotionally invested, but I just feel this sense of detachment. So, this idea of being slapped and slapped and slapped and just not even responding is that cold.

MB: I think it’s about being unafraid to approach these topics from your perspective. A lot of the topics you go into, and the explicit nature of it at points, is something that is handled by a certain type of artists and it’s so nice to see you broach those subjects in your own way and with your presentation of it.

MH: That was a big thing for me in terms of a dialogue between me and the listening – what would they take away from the record and would there be a shock factor, which I think would be really interesting. You hear a lot of these topics flying around all the time, but you don’t really hear them coming from someone like me and it’s an interesting conversation as to why that might be just because it’s coming from my voice.

MB: Making something with a subversive nature is so much more powerful for me because that’s how I like to see things. I like it when people flip things on their head and use these kinds of lyrics and narratives in a way that’s less expected. I watched the video to I’m Not Where You Are, which I’d actually seen before anything else. The album has so many twists and turns, and the way you act in the video, which starts with people slapping you in the face, is very strong and I wanted to know what led you to start with this image?

MH: That’s the initial idea I had for the video which prompted the narrative that came later – just getting slapped throughout the entire video and being bloody and bruised by the end of it. I think it’s because I wanted to show that it’s not some kind of arrogant thing, that I’m not some kind of heart breaker, that’s not the theme. It’s more of this self-deprecating thing where I hate myself and I wish I could be more emotionally invested, but I just feel this sense of detachment. So, this idea of being slapped and slapped and slapped and just not even responding is that cold.

MB: I noticed in hand solo you use the line, “I dig for life in the eye of my thighs” – and I was shook! What I liked is the move from aloofness or slight innocence to something where it feels like you just went for it and wrote something to shock. Could you explain more about that?

MH: I loved writing the lyrics for this song. It’s always the thing when you’re dealing with a topic like masturbation, I want to be empowering and I want to be filling a space that I haven’t really felt has been adequately filled up to this point – even that sounded quite sexual! I don’t want to be crass and you can very easily slip into that, like, attention-seeking in a way and that’s not what that song is about. So, it’s about keeping it with some surreal imagery and on the poetic side of things but still delivering a message that’s quite intense.

I took into account all of the things that people are told about masturbating and what will happen to them. So there’s one about hairy hands, which is where the lyric “monkey glove” comes from, or that you’d go blind. I was reading The Cement Garden by Ian McEwan at the time and the kid’s mum tells him he’d lose two pints of blood every time he masturbates. There’s this line, “under patriarchal law I’m going to die a virgin”, which is a huge line for me because it feels very much like in the eyes of society, how is my sexuality viewed? Does it even count in terms of the idea of what sex is in a heteronormative relationship? So there’s all this stuff thrown in, but then there’s the idea of having fun.

MB: It only goes to show that you’re making this kind of record and speaking about these topics in a way that is unique to your perspective. You’re almost rejecting the obvious narratives that have been used and the typical sounds that have been used in response to this. You have a way of taking what can be seen as quite explicit content and masking them in very listenable songs. The lyrics can sometimes be camouflaged by the overall sound of the song. Is that a conscious decision for you?

MH: I really enjoy writing lyrics and I think they’re really important as a way of getting a message across, but they’re in the vessel of a song. So, if you make the song musically direct and catchy then you can get it out there a lot more easily. Sense of humour is also a big one for me. You’re much more likely to get someone to listen to you if you’re packaging it in that way.

MB: You even seem to be laughing about yourself as well.

MH: Completely – it makes the whole thing more open like you’re inviting someone in rather than, “THIS IS WHAT I AM TRYING TO SAY!” It’s that thing where the song gets stuck in someone’s head, then they’ll start singing back the lyrics, then they hear themselves singing them and it’s like, “Oh my God” because they didn’t even realise. When I sent all night to my manager he said he was standing on a train platform singing, “We go down on one another”, and he was like, “What is this? You’ve written a crazy catchy song, but you can’t sing it out loud”, which I think is great.

MB: hold on was a really stand out track for me. I’m typically drawn to songs that don’t always get as much airtime or attention. I wish I’d had an album like this when I was first exploring my queer identity. Are there any albums like this that did that for you?

MH: No, that’s why I feel exactly the same about this record. There are shades of it in previous ones, but if I had head this when I was fourteen it would have been really helpful for me. Not that I ever struggled with my own sexual identity. Luckily because of the way I grew and the family I grew up with I never felt any sense of shame, but I would have loved to have had some more representation. It’s that classic thing, I think, especially for queen women, that for so long there is nothing apart from the more butch side of things that doesn’t always resonate with you. Then The L Word comes along and that happened, and that’s like your language, “Who would you be from The L Word?” then they respond like, “Oh, you’re gay.”

MB: The L Word also changed my life! I guess that’s the thing, that today’s youth are luckier because there is so much more information out there. How does it feel to be contributing to that?

MH: It feels amazing. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many artists where it’s not about making queen music, it’s just queer people making music that’s an honest representation of themselves and that’s really nice to see.

MB: It’s understated and it’s very human in that sense. It’s not about being grandiose and over the top, it’s saying “This is me. This is very normal.”

MH: “This is my experience.”

MB: It shows that queer things are commercially viable and people that aren’t in any way queer can obviously still enjoy them. It’s like the show Pose about transwomen in New York and the ballroom scene, and even Drag Race, I know a lot of straight women who love it. It’s just opening up this level of conversation that I really commend you for. What you’re doing is very personal, but by being so personal and nonchalant about it you’re opening up so much opportunity for other people to consider their position.

MH: That’s what I hope for. The whole thing is supposed to be reflective of living and navigating yourself through life’s situations. Nothing is ever set in stone. You never know what is going to happen. No one truly knows themselves well enough to ever know how they are going to respond to every situation, so it’s about working that out and inviting other people in who are doing the same. It’s okay not to be in control all of the time.

To see more from Marika Hackman click here, also listen below to an exclusive release of an acoustic version of her latest song: the one.