Not gonna lie, readers. We have a crush on Marina Diamandis. In fact, if magazine could legally wed popstar, Notion would stoop to a semi-recumbent knee-bend, proposing matrimony and planning a diamond honeymoon, as quick as a shot.
You will have, perhaps, already seen Marina (styled by Hasan Hejazi) gracing the cover of Notion’s 52nd issue last year. At the time, the Greco-Welsh singer was in the midst of working on the follow-up to her 2010 pop marvel, The Family Jewels (to our ears, one of the best debut albums of the past decade). Having subsequently spent several months writing and recording in the U.S., she is now back with that very follow-up, Electra Heart, a concept-album-of-sorts about love, relationships and – sometimes – relationshits. It is helmed by Marina donning four different roles: Su-Barbie-A, the Teen Idle, the Primadonna and the Homewrecker (collectively referred to as The Archetypes).
The good thing about this concept album is that, whether or not you manage to follow its actual underlying idea, the songs at its core stand up in their own right.
Working with producers such as Dr. Luke, Diplo, Swedish House Mafia and Greg Kurstin, the sound on Electra Heart tips Marina further into the mainstream of pop. And it’s so full of hooks that maritime sustainability concerns may well need to be re-classified to emergency status.
With all this talk of concepts, it is fitting that we meet Marina at London’s newest concept club, Apartment 58, in Soho. Her hair is dyed bombshell blonde and she wears a dainty pink vintage dress hugged by a baby pink cardigan with a brooch that reads: “SWEETHEART”. She is, if you will excuse the careworn unoriginality of compliment, much prettier in person than any photograph, however carefully selected by a loyal publicist, may lead you to believe. A charming chatterer, she thoughtfully supplies the requisite As to Notion’s Qs on topics including the new album, bad love karma, fan-favourite song leaks and Madonna’s comeback singles.
PLANET NOTION: When we interviewed you last year, you had completed about 70% of the new album. Was the concept for Electra Heart fully formed by that point or did it continue evolving up to the moment of finishing the record?
MD: I think I had a very clear vision at that point of what vibe I wanted to project with the whole thing. I guess at the time I thought I was almost done but I wasn’t, really. Quite a lot of the songs that really shaped the record were written in the subsequent four months. We did that interview last March, didn’t we? So I still hadn’t written Bubblegum Bitch, Homewrecker or Valley of the Dolls by that point. And I actually thought that the album was almost done! [laughs].
PN: When you actually finished the album, was there a sense of relief that it was finally done or did you feel sad that the musical creative process for this project has ended?
MD: Well, I don’t think it is finished because I am going to New York on Sunday to write another song! [laughs]. Maybe it won’t go on the album, though…
PN: A bonus-track?
MD: I’m not sure, yet. Wherever it will fit, really. Basically, when record labels want to put something on, they find a way of doing it. But at the moment I feel like, in my head, that it’s finished. And I don’t feel sad. I feel relieved.
PN: What was the first song you recorded for the album?
MD: Living Dead.
PN: And how many songs did you end up with altogether?
MD: I would say probably about 22.
PN: There’s no title track on Electra Heart but does such a song exist, in the same vein as The Family Jewels, which was left off the first album?
MD: Yes! It’s weird because I consider Electra Heart to be a multi-media project so there are songs and videos that won’t be to the mainstream liking but they are still part of the overall endeavour. Maybe I’ll do a CD at the end of the project, which will have everything on it. I think the track Electra Heart will probably be an opener for my final live tour.
PN: So out of the 22 songs you wrote for this album, how did you whittle it down to just 12?
MD: It was really tough. I managed to get it down to about 14, I’d say, but my label said that 11 tracks would be much stronger and would review better. And I was, like, “I don’t give a shit”. It has to make sense to the people listening to it. So in the end I got it down to a 12-track album but it was hard.
PN: You were very vocal last year about the online leaks of your demos for songs including Living Dead, Sex Yeah and Scab & Plaster. Were any of these songs originally intended as the first single from the album and, if so, did the leaks necessitate a change of strategy?
MD: No, not at all. I just found it to be a huge invasion of my artistic privacy. They weren’t leaked by a member of my team. They got out there in another way. Artists never want a piece of art to go out unfinished so it’s more about that, really. But, you know, that’s just the nature of the world we live in. Some people are just nasty and that’s that.
PN: So you managed to discover how the leaks happened…
MD: Yeah. [shoots an unequivocal “let’s leave it at that” glance].
PN: Talk us through the process of deciding which song is to be the first single, the one which ribbon-cuts the new album era.
MD: Primadonna sort of picked itself. I mean, I was nervous about it being the first single but I knew it was the right choice. Even the title! I’d thought of the title months before I first sat down to write the song. I had heard a piece of music, just the instrumental, before deciding that I was going to work with Dr. Luke, and I immediately knew that I wanted it and that I wanted it to be called Primadonna. I knew deep down that this song was the one that was going to change the game. Well, I don’t know if it will but my instincts say that it might.
PN: And the video premiered earlier this week…
MD: Yeah! We shot it in Copenhagen. The guy who directed it, Casper Balslev, did all of the visuals for this project, including the videos for Radioactive and Fear and Loathing. He’s done the album cover and the Archetypes shoots too. So I think I am going to work with him all throughout the campaign.
PN: How involved are you in story-boarding and conceptualising the visuals?
MD: Very. For me, it has to come from the artist. I wouldn’t trust anyone else, to be honest. Unless someone came up with an idea that was better than mine, I would always go with my own treatments and ideas. I know what the songs are about because I’ve written them and I know what image I want to project. The only exception to that was the video for “I Am Not A Robot”, which Rankin came up with. I was too shy to even suggest anything at that point.
PN: Where and when did the ideas for the Electra Heart campaign imagery start for you?
MD: It started in July 2010. I went to L.A. for some promo and I was writing my second album at the same time. I was a bit obsessed with death for a while. I think because I was depressed.
PN: The lyrics of Living Dead do intimate that…
MD: [laughs] Yeah. It’s like you just want to sleep forever which is what it feels like when you are depressed. And I was reading books like [Kenneth Anger’s] “Hollywood Babylon”, which focuses on 1930s and 1940s Hollywood and I don’t know why but I was just obsessed with suicidal stars. And, in quite a clichéd way I suppose, Marilyn Monroe. I have always been obsessed with her, like many other women have. So the theme started off based around Hollywood and it then left that. I started watching American movies like Paris, Texas, Valley of the Dolls, Sixteen Candles and Mulholland Drive and I was reading a lot about American writers – Chuck Palahniuk is one of my favourite writers ever. I actually feel sad every time I read one of his books because it’s, like, one less left for me to read.
PN: How many do you have left?
MD: I think I’ve got about four. Apparently, though, I’ve already read the best ones. But I just love them. I like the camp theatrical style of stardom. And that culture. And so the ideas kind of evolved from that. More of an exploration of female archetypes and female identity. So I started doing these self-portraits and adding a dualistic nature to them. A few months after that I was directed towards [American photographer] Cindy Sherman and it all made sense.
PN: How do you think American audiences respond to your take on America and American culture?
MD: I think they sense the irony and I think they also sense the irony of me masquerading as a pop star. So I’ve never felt uncomfortable with that. And also, I would hope they may view it as an outsider’s perspective of their culture.
PN: With the Archetypes you are playing different roles and on the song “The State of Dreaming” you sing, ‘my life is a play’. Would you ever consider doing a play?
MD: I would! I loved acting and loved drama when I was in High-School but I never trained professionally. I think I would really enjoy taking a role in a play. Whether it was dance or drama, I loved being on stage when I was younger, but obviously singing is the main thing for me. I get to incorporate the acting element into videos, I guess.
PN: The Archetypes each have their own fashion sensibility. If Electra Heart was to be embodied in a couture piece, what sort of dress would it be?
MD: Umm… even though there are the four Archetypes, the closest it would be, I think, is the Primadonna. And I think that should be glamorous. Not necessarily in the movie-starry way but, umm… Roberto Cavali would be quite good for her or ‘it’ [laughs]. A nice halter-neck long dress. An evening dress. Something very feminine.
PN: What was your London Fashion Week experience like this year?
MD: I only went to two shows so I didn’t really get into it. Oh, it’s all a bit of a dog and pony show, isn’t it? I love fashion and I really like going to the shows and sitting on the front row but I kind of see it for what it is as well. And, actually, almost everything that I buy now is vintage. But Mark Fast was really good! Now that I’ve been going for a few years, it’s really nice to see designers progress, to see how they grow. Like musicians do.
PN: The album, particularly on songs like Power & Control, Lies and Starring Role, has a feel of triumph over hurtful love. A kind of “yeah, love’s been rubbish but I’m above all that” defiance. Is love still shit or are you just a bit more cautious about it now?
MD: [laughs] Well, it’s funny because the way you feel about love is only as good as how you feel about your last relationship. So it’s always coloured by that. At the time of writing some of the songs, I had had an experience that I didn’t really like. This was when I was doing The Family Jewels. Well, I was writing the new album a month after Family Jewels came out. But anyway- he wasn’t a bad guy. We were just not right for each other. And it was like a really toxic relationship. It was the first time in my life where I was not loved back. And that’s so horrible. It’s unrequited love, basically. That puts a really sour taste in your mouth. A lot of the songs on the album are flipping the situation around. You’ve got Primadonna, who doesn’t need anyone, she just wants to be adored. Homewrecker does to others what was done to me and then there’s Bubblegum Bitch – it’s quite a defiant song. Well, they all are. Maybe there’s a part of my personality that is like that but I don’t stick to one particular character type. The album is mainly about love because at the beginning of writing it I had this experience and it kind of set the tone for the whole thing, as I didn’t find anyone else after that, to change my perspective on it.
PN: And it often takes that next person to put the previous relationship in perspective, doesn’t it?
MD: Absolutely! There are a lot of issues about the nature of love and karma. Did that happen because I did the same to other people? Love is so cyclical. You start out with two people who are innocent and not jaded. Then one fucks the other over, then the other goes out into the world jaded and then they fuck someone else over. It’s just so weird. Until you finally grow up and find someone you don’t have to play games with and it’s balanced.
PN: Another song that touches on dysfunctional relationships is Scab & Plaster, which we mentioned earlier. It leaked online last year but didn’t make it onto Electra Heart. With it being stupendously brilliant and boasting about 2.6 different choruses, can we do something about exposing it to a wider audience?
MD: Hahaha. 2.6 choruses? !
PN: Well, there are two different choruses and then the “aha aha aha” bits, which sort of qualify. Let’s face it – this amounts to 1.6 more choruses than the average pop song!
MD: [laughs] I really don’t know. I actually don’t feel like it was part of the concept at all. It seemed like a throw-back from The Family Jewels… We’ll see what we can do with it.
PN: Another song, Jealousy, was supposed to be on The Family Jewels and then, performing it live on tour last year you talked about it being on the new album -
MD: Yeah, and then I just scrapped it. Poor old Jealousy! [laughs]. I hope another artist picks it up. I would like that. It’s a really good song.
PN: Then there’s Radioactive. When you announced the Electra Heart track-list on Twitter, you caused an uproar by leaving it off the album…
MD: I know! The main reason is that, sonically, I felt that it didn’t fit. Lyrically, actually, I think it does. So it’s gone on to the Deluxe version. But I felt that there were more important songs to put on the album. Songs that were more significant in relation to the concept.
PN: In the last Notion interview you did, you talked about Madonna and the influence she has had on you. What do you think about Give Me All Your Luvin’ and Girl Gone Wild?
MD: I’m not the biggest fan of those songs but I genuinely think that the record will have some fantastic stuff on it. I have heard “Love Spent” and that sounds really good. I really can’t wait. I do think she will have a good album.
PN: Finally, you’re gigging quite extensively again in 2012. Apart from your own headline tours, you have already had a major support slot on the Katy Perry tour and you are supporting Coldplay on their forthcoming stadium jaunt. Presumably, performing to audiences who may not specifically come to watch you (as opposed to the headliner) is much more difficult than singing to your fan-base. Do you enjoy it anyway?
MD: The reason I do the tour support shows is because I want to challenge myself as a performer. Coldplay are doing stadiums so it’s one leap up from Katy’s tour and, yeah – it’s a challenge. But I never expect to gain fans from these things. I don’t know if anyone ever does. It’s more of a training period. If you can do stadiums, you can pretty much do anything. With Katy, I was playing to audiences that really didn’t know me and who were quite young. Whereas with Coldplay, I did one gig up in Manchester and people knew me and it made a bit more sense.
Marina & the Diamonds’ new single, PRIMADONNA, is out on 679 Records on 16 April. The album, ELECTRA HEART, comes out a fortnight later.