Sorry Songs for Lousy Lovers: Marika Hackman interview
We speak to Marika Hackman about leaving her old record label, relationships and sophomore album I'm Not Your Man
The weather in London may be grey today but Marika Hackman is certainly not. When we catch up with the 25-year-old singer-songwriter, she is currently sat in a coffee shop in the East London area of Haggerston, taking a break halfway through her walk home to Dalston after a busy day chatting with Lauren Laverne on BBC 6 Music, a session with which she seems fairly satisfied.
“It’s always really nerve-wracking doing that because I find radio sessions really scary,” Hackman says, fast-talking, her mind clearly whirring. “It was quite a stressful morning but I think it went pretty [well] so I’m happy now.”
Hackman was visiting the 6 Music studio to play a few songs from her upcoming second LP, I’m Not Your Man. It took Hackman eighteen months to write the record, a process which began in 2015 when touring her debut record We Slept at Last. While stressing that she always had ideas, Hackman admits that the writing of new record was quite sporadic as she took time to relax and regain a sense of herself.
“I think I was being quite lazy and I was also going through some career turbulence in a sense making a few big decisions that were very hard and dealing with the fallout from that,” she explains. “It took a while, but I think it was worth it in a way because I had time to really let stuff be still, settle down between each song and look at it quite reflectively, actually, because I was emotionally almost elsewhere for a while which was probably quite a good thing.”
Part of that career turbulence for Hackman was deciding to leave her previous management team and her record label, Transgressive, which she had been with for five years having never worked with anyone else. She is intriguingly hesitant when asked why it wasn’t working for her, saying simply that she was feeling unhappy, but she agrees that the independence helped her write I’m Not Your Man. “It just wasn’t working, I think a clash of personalities,” she says, guardedly. “There was no horrible, nasty stuff going on – we’re all still friends. It’s just I had to make a decision for me and just act for me and my mental state really.
"Luckily throughout my career I’ve never had anyone telling me how I should be writing or anything like that, but I think I actually felt really empowered by the decision that I’d made because it had been one that I’d been thinking about for a very long time. To implement that and see it through, I felt very brave and really bold. It just gave me a new lease of life… In a writing way, anyway.”
Hackman first sensed a bridge between her old and new material when working on the song Violet, which she started writing in the summer of 2015. Nestled at the heart of I’m Not Your Man, while still bearing the purple prose and slow burn sound of her debut, Violet’s mood is strikingly brazen in its sexuality, describing fellatio with a volatile, almost love-hate, dynamic: ‘I’d like to roll around your tongue / Caught like a bicycle spoke / You eat, I’ll grow and grow / Swelling up until you choke’. It’s clear that much has changed from the introspective songs Hackman wrote as a 19-year-old.
“Weirdly, if I look at it now in context of the whole record, it’s one that’s probably more similar to [We Slept at Last] out of the bunch, but at that moment it felt different to me,” Hackman says. “It just felt a little bit more direct, you know? I didn’t feel like I had to keep pushing away from songwriting norms to do something different; I felt like I had room to do something different within a sphere that already exists. That was actually such a liberating thing to begin to understand.”
The boldness of Violet has certainly lent a lot to I’m Not Your Man. While We Slept at Last was an ornate, acoustic record that led to Hackman being unfairly pigeon-holed as a twee folk musician, I’m Not Your Man is a looser affair full of spiky, slinky guitar lines and grungy dynamics, typified by the bratty 1-2-3-4 garage rock of Time’s Been Reckless and the album’s assured opening track Boyfriend, a playfully flippant cut about Hackman seducing an oblivious dude’s girlfriend just because she can.
I’m Not Your Man was the first time Hackman had worked with a full band, helped by her friends in London group The Big Moon, and the fun of the experience is easy to hear from Boyfriend’s laughs and high-pitched screams. Although she knew she wanted to change up her style after We Slept at Last, Hackman says that her more assured songwriting on I’m Not Your Man surprised her initially, but as she went along with it she continued to gain confidence. She now sees I’m Not Your Man as a very organic progression of her sound, and is very happy with the result.
“Nothing about this record feels forced to me; in fact, it almost feels like it’s the least forced thing I’ve ever put out,” she says with conviction. “I wouldn’t say that any of my music ever felt like it’s been pretending to be something I’m not or anything like that, but I feel like it’s the most direct immediate music I’ve put out. That’s a really exciting concept for me because I don’t know where it’s going to go next.”
Despite Boyfriend’s playfulness, the song is most intriguing for its mordant streak, a trait which shows up in other tracks on I’m Not Your Man such as its latest single My Lover Cindy, on which Hackman seeks distance from a throw-away fling. The sunniness of My Lover Cindy’s jangly guitar line is counteracted by the song’s self-deprecating lyrics, as Hackman makes an impressively tender track out of being a ‘lousy lover’ and a ‘greedy pig’ who’s going to suck her lover dry.
I’m Not Your Man’s defining characteristic seems to be this mélange of romantic callousness and regret, hitting hardest with the gut punch of I’d Rather Be With Them, the album’s devastating closing track in which the narrator eviscerates herself as ‘so fucking heartless [she] can’t even cry’. The song’s brutal tone indicates a deep desire for, yet fear of intimacy, a fear that Hackman admits that she has due to failed relationships in the past.
“I think that My Lover Cindy is quite a tender song even though I’m screaming ‘I’m a fucking pig’!” Hackman laughs. “It comes down to that fickleness of love; how easily one can fall out of love really, really terrifies me. There is never just a villain and a goody in the end of any relationship. I’m fascinated by that and I think it stays on my mind quite a lot.”
There is a definite sense of Hackman having grown up: after years of touring more baroque songs, pushing things musically and lyrically in an attempt to seem more unique, she's finally become more comfortable in her 20-something skin, increasingly able to let loose and have more fun as a result. “I think I said this to Lauren Laverne this morning on the radio that I’ve separated my idea of myself as an artist and as a human being, and really, that’s made the music more personal,” she explains. “It makes it easier to make it more personal because it doesn’t feel like it’s coming straight back at me every single time.”
With Hackman now embarking on her tour for I’m Not Your Man, she's excited to play with more simplicity than before, unburdened by having to prop up more elaborate songs live. She certainly hopes that the new album's songs generate more energy in the room, “rather than people going off into their own worlds thinking about death and mountains or whatever.” If people are going to feel like schemers listening to this LP, at least Hackman’s made it a very enjoyable experience.