Interview: “Pop is All About Illusion, and I’m really not.” Marina Diamandis Opens Up.
by Michael Menachem
Marina & The Diamonds burst onto the music scene recently with open arms from European audiences and she’s building up a following in the U.S. Growing up in Abergavenny, in rural Wales, Marina Diamandis, who is also of Greek descent had little musical training, though she had eight years of dance lessons and getting accustomed to performance.
At 19, she taught herself to play the piano and later consciously discovered her obsession with American culture and popular music. She even briefly adopted an “American” accent in her song “Hollywood” when singing the witty lyric “Oh my GAWD, you look just like Shakira, no-no, you’re Catherine Zeta. Actually my name’s Marina.” At 24, she already released her major label debut “The Family Jewels” with a host of singles, topping Danish and German charts with “Hollywood,” Belgium’s chart with “I Am Not A Robot,” and she’s been steadily sweeping across Europe with her tunes. Marina headlines New York’s Webster Hall tonight and concertgoers can expect lively pop numbers and a forward-thinking fashion sense from a burgeoning star.
Marina’s rich alto at times comes across as almost operatic, and her live show is full of ambient sounds, theatrical stints and whimsical musical arrangements. Her voice could be compared in one song to that of Regina Spektor and Amy Lee of Evanescence to Fiona Apple to Bjork. Her sound bridges danceable, new wave pop with rhythmic piano songs. Her love for America is apparent and her quirky music videos have got people talking.
The Bloginity.com conversation started with Marina laughing on the phone because I mistakenly took her sheep costume to be a chick the night she performed at Le Poisson Rouge back in March. That was her first U.S. show prior to playing to tastemakers at some high-profile SXSW parties like Perez Hilton’s, Levi’s/Fader, Neon Gold Records and Chop Shop. Marina’s unpredictable fashions and over-the-top music videos are an extension of the escapism that her music offers, though the subject matter in her songs is completely relatable and her attitude is refreshingly charming.
Michael: A lot of your act seems to be about fantasy and capturing one-of-a-kind moments through song and performance. Throughout the years, what has inspired you to write songs and get into the spotlight in the music industry?
Marina: Well, I think for this album in particular, a lot of what I’ve written about is what our vision of success is, because the very mainstream version of success is so central to your culture – making money and ‘making it.’ I wanted to ‘make it’ and I wanted to be a huge success. As I’ve grown up over the past year – even if you’re the world’s biggest superstar and you have a career and you’ve ruled the world for 20 years – in 200 years no one will remember you. I suppose it’s just a thought and I understood that I don’t really care about being a superstar, I just want to make people feel good. I don’t write about being hot and chasing boys, I just want to be honest with people. It’s not about that for me. I just want to make them better. I’m real.
Michael: So what happens if you become a huge star?
Marina: I don’t think being a superstar is that admirable because there’s a lot of vanity to it. For me, I think I‘m in an interesting situation because I’m being considered as a pop artist on stage but for me Marina & The Diamonds is a persona behind my natural one. Pop is all about illusion, and I’m really not. I just don’t really relate to that side of it at all.
Michael: You come across as confident yet relatable and approachable. There are so many pop artists right now who are baring a lot more of their bodies and you don’t necessarily show off your assets, yet you still offer a strong and even alluring presence. Can you speak on this?
Marina: It’s absolutely a conscious decision – it’s not an extension of showing my imagination and you know, it’s a funny world you know where female pop acts – you can have so many different debates about sexuality that are all valid. It’s really hard to be very sexual and then your music gets clouded – yeah, I’m a female, and I like to look beautiful and I have a sexuality but it’s not the one thing I want to be known for. I don’t mind looking like crap and covered in black oil (like in “I Am Not A Robot.”) You don’t actually have to reveal anything to evoke images in people’s heads if you don’t want to.
Michael: “Hollywood” is an infectious song and there are hints of ABBA that come through in Biff Stannard’s production and your syrupy, dramatic vocals. What do you think about this comparison?
Marina: Well, yes I do, and I would say I hardly listened to them growing up but all I said to producers on “Hollywood” is I wanted the chorus to sound like liquid sunshine and rainbows. I wanted it to be like really warm and gorgeous. And like plush.
Michael: In your “Hollywood” video, you are portraying what isn’t necessarily considered a realistic, positive representation of America, was this on purpose?
Marina: No, that was – I was just writing it on a plane back from Miami [Marina laughs.] I wanted to capture that – I wanted to take the piss out of the fact that Hollywood represents America and it doesn’t. Hollywood doesn’t even represent LA. How did the idea come about? It comes from the most boring answer in the world. I’m genuinely obsessed with America. I feel like my future is here. For me, I feel like my personality, um, is very fitting to this culture and I really love American people. I’ve had several American boyfriends. I come here whenever I’m depressed. That was the general origin of the song. I’m certainly against a certain part of the culture that is listening to the cosmetic industry, advertising telling us who we should be, what we should wear, what we should look like and that’s bullshit. For me, it’s about resisting that because I’m going into an industry which – I think you can be really cynical about the subject and I just want to show that there’s an alternative.
Michael: Your new single “Oh No!” was produced by Greg Kurstin and it also reminds me a bit of ABBA, maybe a little Mika. Musically, it’s the piano that especially stands out. Is this one of your favorite songs to perform?
Marina: Not at the moment. I want to take it to another level live. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs on the album.
Michael: “Mowgli’s Road” is perhaps one of the most unusual, clever videos I have seen all year. I’m going to put it up there on record with videos like OK GO’s “This Too Shall Pass,” “Jay-Z’s ‘On To The Next One,” and Rihanna’s “Rude Boy.” How did this idea come about with the extended limbs?
Marina: To be honest, for the treatment for this, I have to give all the credit to director Chris Sweeney – I think it is perfect on its own, like with certain songs on my album, I think “Robot” and “Mowgli’s” – for “Mogli’s” I just wanted to twist this idea of beauty and sexuality and make it a little bit gross.
Michael: I read that you didn’t have much musical schooling. So how did you learn to play the piano and sing?
Marina: I was rubbish. I couldn’t imitate anyone to save my life. I taught myself to play the keyboard because I didn’t have any money to buy anything else. I don’t know, vocal-quality-wise, it was just like not trying to sound like anybody because I couldn’t.
Michael: Your first shows in the U.S. were a special time for you, can you talk about this experience?
Marina: It‘s probably, like to date, one of the most important parts of my career. I have been waiting to come here for so long and it’s kind of the thing that I focus on. No offense to the U.K. or anything but I don’t really feel as connected to the culture. It’s really important to connect with the culture here. I’m so excited because I already feel like the crowds are really friendly so I know I’m going to have normal fans here but it’s really up to the industry whether they like me and want to expose me to other people.
Music fans who are drawn to the new wave of bold, theatrical, unique female artists like La Roux, Florence + The Machine and V.V. Brown are in for a treat. Catch Marina & The Diamonds tonight, September 2 at Webster Hall and throughout September in North America before she heads to Europe and Australia this fall.