‘Pop music is being killed off’ says singer
Marina and the Diamonds’ last record went straight in at number one, but it left her creatively unsatisfied. So she sacked the superstar producers and wrote an album by herself. “Pop should make you feel alive,” she says but warns a glut of “generic” tracks, written by committee, are threatening to kill it off.
Marina Diamandis wants to set the record straight: She did not bankrupt her record label. Mind you, she’s only got herself to blame for the misconception. In 2013, the singer told a Canadian newspaper that 679 Recordings was “bankrupt” and had “no money”, after she insisted on shooting 11 videos for her second album, Electra Heart. “I made a joke because I have a terrible sense of humour,” she explains. “It wasn’t true, but it’s followed me for so long.” In fact, the singer says her balance sheet is “really good”.
“I sold three million singles on Electra Heart so that’s got to be going somewhere,” she laughs. “I’m not that expensive an artist.” The singer wrote her first song about a butterfly when she was seven – it was so bad she didn’t try again until she was 17. Indeed, she’s been buying props for her next tour on eBay (a set of light-up grapes, since you ask) but that’s not to suggest she’s living on reduced means.
Her third album, Froot, has been sitting on top of the iTunes pre-order chart for months, thanks to her tightly-knit and on-the-ball fanbase. Those fans – the “diamonds” of her stage name – have already received six of the tracks, which were released in monthly instalments before the full album is revealed next week. It’s an innovative release strategy – and one that was partly necessary, after the singer realised her subtle, slow-burning new material wasn’t likely to feature on daytime radio.
“I actually said to the label, I don’t want to have to depend on radio support, so I focused completely on the fans.” Originally, the plan was to issue “two songs a month that were polar opposites sonically, like double A-sides,” says Diamandis, “but iTunes wouldn’t let me do that”. “It was probably for the best, because with this strategy you still get half an album that you haven’t heard yet. “And it’s been really creatively liberating,” she says. “I have no commercial pressures any more. So I’m able to survive in a really weird way.”
DissatisfiedHalf Welsh and half Greek, Diamandis was raised in Pandy, Monmouthshire, a tiny village of around 400 people, just over the Welsh-English border. She wanted to be a pop star from the age of nine, but dropped out of stage school and vocal tech college. Undeterred, she worked in a petrol station to save money for a move to London, where she auditioned for girl bands, cruise ships and even the Lion King musical.
It was only belatedly that she realised she should try writing her own material. So she taught herself piano and, fortuitously, discovered an instinct for melody. Oddball pop songs like Mowgli’s Road and I Am Not A Robot won her a record deal and the runner-up position on the BBC’s Sound of 2010 list.
Electra Heart was partly an exploration of archetypal female characters, and partly about a harrowing break-up
Her debut album, The Family Jewels, went gold. The follow-up, Electra Heart, was written with a host of A-list producers, including Dr Luke (Katy Perry) and Shellback (Beyonce, Rihanna). The album topped the UK charts, but Diamandis was discontented.
“Because I was working with such huge people, like Dr Luke, they weren’t going to listen to what I had to say about production. It was more like: ‘What’s the successful sound right now?’ If you listen to lyrics on any radio station, you don’t find anyone talking about anything deep or provocative. And really it’s a shame for me to do that, because I’m not that type of artist. That was the gripe. It was nothing to do with the songs. I love the songs.”
She admits now that the brazenly bubblegum record was a compromise. “When you look a certain way, a commercial way, labels immediately think you should be making commercial music.” She heeded the demands, but promoted the album in character as Electra Heart, “wearing a blonde wig and behaving like a cartoon”. When the campaign wrapped up, she killed off Electra Heart (“with sleeping pills”) and made a startling discovery.
“I stopped touring after being on the road for four years… I wasn’t desperate to succeed any more,” she says. “I genuinely wasn’t bothered. “And I’m glad I feel like that now, because it’s such a torment. People think it’s great to be motivated and have this drive, but I never had a true egotistical side – like, for example, Madonna. She needed to be in everyone’s minds. That’s not something I want. So I was reassessing what I wanted.”
SpiritualityHaving cast off her demons, Diamandis hunkered down in semi-isolation to write her new album. It features no co-writers and a single producer, Dave Kosten, who enlisted members of The Cure and Everything Everything to articulate the singer’s newly minimalist material.