Marika Hackman is a twenty-five-year-old multi-instrumentalist and songwriter from Hampshire. Associated with acts such as Johnny Flynn and The Big Moon, and having supported Laura Marling on tour, her debut album was released in 2015 and since then her success has been constantly building. Recently, on one of her rare days off from touring, I caught up with her to talk about her new album, I’m Not Your Man.
I’m Not Your Man seems to be mostly based around romantic relationships, was that a conscious theme?
I think it’s just that I really like writing about relationships and love. I mean, I think a lot of people do – if you look back historically at most musical output, it’s usually involving relationship stuff. I’m just fascinated by relationships, I’m fascinated by how we can fall in love and how we can fall out of love. It’s such a potent emotion, in how it sweeps you off your feet, that I find it kind of weird. I think I write about it a lot in that way because I love getting swept up in it as well, but I’m also just very curious about why that happens and how we allow that to happen to ourselves. It’s multifaceted.
Lyrically, We Slept At Last is quite abstract as an album, so did you intend to make I’m Not Your Man more grounded and personal?
I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision to be more direct, I think it was just more about where my head was at. In a lot of ways, the stuff I’m talking about on that first record is actually quite similar to what I’m talking about on this one, but it’s just done in a much more subtle, nuanced way. I think this time around, because I’ve been doing it for 6 years now, it’s my second record, and I’ve now released forty of my own songs into the world, it kind of felt like I was in a position where I felt more confident to just let stuff come out. To not over-edit myself, or try and ‘prettify’ everything too much – if that’s even a word – or be too self-conscious about making things sound different and quirky and mysterious. I think this time round I was just like, “yeah, cool”, like, you know what, it’s frank and direct and I like it like that. I think in a way people will hopefully connect to it a lot quicker as well.
It also seems very different musically from We Slept at Last, more upbeat but also rockier – did anything specific inspire that change?
It was again not so much a decision, but just one of those things where I felt more comfortable to just let chord progressions happen that before I might have deemed to be too simple. But now I understand that a simple chord progression doesn’t make it a bad song, like if you look at ‘Dreams’ by Fleetwood Mac, it’s literally two chords across the whole song. I just kind of let it happen and saw what came out, and I felt very relaxed and empowered like I could just do that. I wasn’t trying to prove myself so much, perhaps.
I love that your songs tackle LGBT and gender issues – do you think music is an important platform for making statements and trying to change perspectives?
Yeah, I think it’s a very effective platform. I also never would judge a musician if they weren’t being political in their music, or discussing these things, I don’t think we necessarily have to make art in order to challenge people’s ideas about the world, I think art can also be there to just inspire people or make them feel emotions. But because it is such an effective platform, if you do have something you feel like saying, it’s a really great way of saying it. I think that’s how I was feeling on this record – these are all personal things to me, but I understand that it connects with a lot of people. And it’s kind of an important time right now, there’s a lot of shit happening in the world and it just felt like the right time for me to actually say something with my music, rather than making stuff that I felt had an emotional connection.
I’m fascinated by how we can fall in love and how we can fall out of love
While a lot of your songs are very serious, a lot of them contain sarcastic or funny lines – is humour something you intentionally include in your music?
I think it just kind of comes out, because that’s how I deal with a lot of stuff. I think humour’s a great way of coping with life a lot of the time, so when I’m writing lyrics, the chances are I’ll probably write something that’s quite sarcastic. I mean, the lyrics for ‘Boyfriend’ kind of came out of nowhere and I remember thinking “haha! Cool,” rather than sitting down and thinking “I’m going to try and be funny on this.” But I like it because it’s tackling something that could get quite preachy and nag-y, because those kinds of ideas are really important, but there’s a certain way of talking about things that can make people go “shut up, I don’t want to hear this from you.” I think having a sense of humour and a bit of sarcasm thrown in there means people will actually listen to it and realise they’re enjoying it and maybe not understand quite what’s going on but then be like ”oh shit, that’s what she’s talking about!” That’s kind of funny for me, it’s like a little tongue-in-cheek joke.
You were only nineteen when you started recording songs – were music and song writing areas you always hoped to end up in?
It’s something I’ve always done. I got it in my head that I wanted to do art for a while, I tried lots of different things, but I think at the end of the day whenever I, as a kid, had a little daydream about what I might be doing in the future, it was playing on a stage to a lot of people. But I just didn’t know whether I could do it or not, it was just kind of like “ah, that would be cool.” And then when I got older I thought maybe I should just have a little go.
I don’t think we necessarily have to make art in order to challenge people’s ideas about the world
Are you making the music you thought you would make when you were younger?
It’s definitely the kind of music I thought I would be making. In fact, when I was in bands when I was a kid, the kind of time when Linkin Park were really big, and Avril Lavigne’s Let Go, and I was writing music like that, thinking, “yeah, I’m gonna be a rock star!” And then I was mainly writing for bass, and mainly playing the drums anyway, but because I started teaching myself how to play guitar, it was almost like I had to start again from square one. I couldn’t really play very well so obviously things got simpler, and my songwriting kind of changed, and I went into a more introspective, wistful kind of writing. I think it’s really fun now, because I’m back being like ”woohoo, I’m going to have some fun!” so I’m happy I’ve got to this point now.
The artwork for I’m Not Your Man is extremely intricate and interesting. Did you have a hand in that?
Yeah, I’m a very visually-oriented person anyway and I’m really fascinated by art, and for the last one I chose people I really wanted to work with and hoped they’d want to work with me back and I got very involved in the actual making of the artwork. For this one, Tristan Pigott is a friend of mine, and I approached him and said I wanted to do a five-person portrait of me and The Big Moon, and to try and get loads of references to the album in it. So I was sending him the records, going round to his house and having endless cups of tea while talking about everything we could possibly fit in, and what references he wanted to put in there, and now I think it’s jam-packed with Easter Eggs for you to sit and look at for the duration of the record, trying to find all this weird stuff.
You have close relationships with lots of musicians, for example Laura Marling, Johnny Flynn, The Big Moon – how much has working with them affected your music and the way you write?
I think it’s one of those things where you learn from other people a lot, even if it’s just because you’ve had a really fun time, or they’ve enabled you to achieve something you didn’t know you could before. Certainly, surrounding yourself with musicians is nice because you all understand the industry together, and you can talk about its ups and downs, and it’s nice to all be there supporting each other. It’s quite a natural thing, with any job you work you tend to have friends that are colleagues, it just happens that with musicians there’s a broad spectrum of artists. Obviously having The Big Moon on the record was completely dreamy for me, they’re my friends, and it was just so much fun, They were able to bring that loud live energy that they do so well and that I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own, so it made complete sense to collaborate. I think people sometimes shy away from collaboration because they think it might take some of the limelight away from them. But at the end of the day, if your goal is to make the record you want to make, it shouldn’t really matter how you get there, you should just use everyone to the best of their abilities.
at some point I’ve got to write an album
Do you have any other particular musical influences that you would love to collaborate with?
There’s no one at this point that I’m eyeing up for any of the next records. Once I get all the writing done I’ll start thinking about who I want to bring in. But the thing about being a solo artist is I want to have a band and a live sound and I do enjoy working with other people. And I do need people, because I’m at that point now where I’m recording live and I’m not layering stuff up anymore. So I’m excited to see what kind of songs I write for the next record and then potentially who’s going to help me get there. We’ll see, watch this space.
So what’s coming up for you now?
I’m playing Reading and Leeds, which is going to be really cool. I’m really excited to go back there, because I last played there about three or four years ago, and it was a very different style of music. I always felt kind of bad playing We Slept At Last at festivals because it always got a bit miserable, whereas this time round I’ve got fun-heavy songs, so I can’t wait to hit the circuit. So, festivals in the summer, and then I’m going to America with The Big Moon as well in August, and then touring again all Autumn and the early next year. And then at some point I’ve got to write an album.
I’m Not Your Man was released on the 2nd of June.