In a few years, a lot can change. Case in point, Marika Hackman, who is officially through with sun-dappled trees, wild country meadows, gently meandering rivers, floaty metaphors, and all of the pastoral floweriness of debut ‘We Slept At Last’. Her second record is a drastic departure from all that, binning off lyrical layers for straight talking, and plucked melodies for muscular riffs. It’s honestly difficult to believe that this same musician was once a darling of the folk scene, lauded for her well-mannered, intricately-crafted first record, and the collection of admittedly gran-suitable Christmas covers that came late last year. To quickly summarise, album number two teases out the darker threads of its predecessor, and charges them with superfuel. Along the way, it covers “abstract, weird sex”, slightly less abstract sex, a reference to lesbian cult telly series The L Word, a ton of innuendo, and a wry take-down of creepy men and their unwanted advances. Extremely grungy, unabashedly gay, a tangle of fun, and blatantly written with a sweat-drenched stage in mind, ‘I’m Not Your Man’ also boasts her pals The Big Moon as a backing band. It’s a swerve in direction in every way possible.
Taking a moment to reflect on it all in a deathly-quiet Deptford boozer - currently playing a dreamy mixture of Natalie Imbruglia and Maroon 5 (“tune,” she remarks in both instances) – Marika Hackman has succeeded in finally shaking off the last traces of that dreaded ‘kooky folk’ label she always loathed anyway.
“Good!” she declares today. “I’m glad about that. I don’t want to be put in any sort of box, really, but certainly not that one. It doesn’t resonate with me in any way at all.”
“There’s no room for modesty.”
These days, Marika Hackman is filled with an easy-detectable confidence. Watching her perform in Austin, Texas, at the city’s SXSW festival earlier this year, she was unrecognisable from her hushed former self, goading the crowds and prowling the stage; visibly deep in her element. Talking through her decision to part ways with old label Dirty Hit (there was “no bad blood or anything, but I had to do what’s right for me,” she says) and navigating musical limbo land alone – before eventually signing to AMF in the UK, and super indie Sub Pop stateside - she’s adamant that she’s made the album she always needed to make. “I think it’s the kind of music I’ve always wanted to play,” she nods.
“Once I got out of the doldrums, as it were, I had a really fresh perspective of myself,” she starts. “I felt very liberated and empowered, and I think that’s when the writing really started to pick up. I felt scared,” she not so much admits, as states gleefully. “Fear is a very good driver. If you’re not scared, it means you’re not pushing yourself. And if you’re not pushing yourself you may as well stop, and do something safe for the rest of your life.
“There’s no room for modesty,” she says of ‘I’m Not Your Man’. “I know I like it.”
“Fear is a very good driver. If you’re not scared, it means you’re not pushing yourself.”
It’s easy to see why. An album that sees Marika Hackman playing the part of a seductive lothario sleeping with an unnamed man’s girlfriend when his back’s turned, and hamming it up as a “greedy pig” who’s gonna get her fill, it’s also a sharply witty dissection of sexuality. On opening gambit ‘Boyfriend’, she takes square aim at an annoyance instantly familiar to almost any LGBT person; the unwanted steaming hot takes of onlooking men. “Even the whooping and stuff like that” she agrees. “It’s really annoying. I think that’s the important thing,” Marika highlights, “it just makes me pissed off, that’s the optimum way to describe it. That’s the vibe of that song, being pissed off, but dealing with it in quite a tongue in cheek, sarcastic way, rather than being really angry and smashing them over the head with it.”
On ‘Violet’, meanwhile – the first song she wrote for ‘I’m Not Your Man’ – Marika Hackman depicts sex in fairly unique terms; elephant trunks and bicycle spokes, to be exact. “It felt like an open door in my brain,” she comments. Lyrically, it’s a plainly lust-charged song, paving the way for the rest of the album. “Very, very sexy,” she grins. “Maybe it’s because [‘Violet’ is] kind of bridging that gap [between the debut album and the follow-up] but it’s still got loads of metaphors in it. But they’re sexy metaphors!”
But does she ever stop herself to worry about what might happen if her parents should hear her new record and raise an eyebrow? “Nah,” she shrugs nonchalantly. “I’m not arsed about that. My parents are a bit like… ‘do what you gotta do, babe.’ Nah it’s fine, my mum says don’t ever think about us when you’re writing songs. Just let it flow!” Marika proclaims. “I love singing that song,” she beams. “It’s mainly a confidence thing,” she ponders. “Feeling quite brave and empowered, which I was last year. I think that’s why those lyrics came out the way they did.”
“Sorry guys, I’m always gonna be changing.”
Despite all of this album’s potential obstacles – being totally fucking bonkers and vastly removed from all she’s done before being the main possible challenges that spring to mind – the whole process felt very easy, Marika says. Her go-to producer Charlie Andrew, while initially surprised, quickly got on board with Marika v2. And in fact, the only dispute revealed itself in the background of ‘My Lover Cindy’ – a stand-out track which takes its name from a minor character named Cindi in The L Word.
“There is only one My Lover Cindi,” Marika starts, paying her respects. “But it was also a little in-joke with me and my girlfriend [Amber Bain, aka The Japanese House]. She’s actually really angry with me about it,” she laughs. ‘We were going to start a side project called My Lover Cindy. We were watching The L Word, and we were like, ‘that’s such a good name for a band!’ I wrote that song for our band, and she had another one that she’d written, and we both got really busy and there was no time to do it. I sent it over to my management, and they were like, this is great, you should put it on the record. Amber was like, ‘what the fuck, now I can’t use that!’” she recounts. “‘You’ve taken it, and it was a joint idea!’ I owe her one for that,” Marika concedes. “Or, she’ll just release a song called ‘My Lover Cindy’ too. Or Dawn Denbo,” she quips, referencing Cindi’s wife in The L Word. “That would be ideal.”
Looking ahead, Marika Hackman’s raring to get back on stage, and though she won’t be linking up with The Big Moon for every show (they’re a busy bunch, too, after all) she’ll be springing the odd surprise reunion. “I want the fun thing to translate from the stage into the crowd,” she says. “My only fear now is that with some of the live shows people might expect something similar to how it used to be…” she says, though you sense she could’ve give a toss about any detractors.
“Sorry guys,” she concludes, not sounding all that apologetic. “I’m always gonna be changing.”
Marika Hackman’s new album ‘I’m Not Your Man’ is out now via AMF.
Photos: Mike Massaro.