Interview: Embracing Vulnerability with Marika Hackman

Thursday, August 8, 2019
Photo by Joost Vandebrug (supplied)

Marika Hackman explores the inner workings of herself (both literally and figuratively) on her third album Any Human Friend. The LP sees her become more comfortable in her skin and the result is her most candid and honest body of work yet. Embracing vulnerability and baring her inner thoughts in their rawest form has led to a collection of eleven powerful and stirring songs. Before the album is released tomorrow, I chatted with Hackman on the direction she wanted to take with the album, vulnerability and intimacy.

Any Human Friend is set to be released on Friday, how are you currently feeling? 

Excited. It's kind of my favourite part of the whole process of making a record – it's a really sweet spot right now because creatively I've done all the work, it's all finished and I'm still really proud of it and I've kind of been sitting on it for a really long time now and then I know in a couple of days the whole world gets to hear the entirety of this album, so I'm kind of just waiting for them to hear it. So it's kind of like a bit of a Christmas-like kind of excitement, I know that on Thursday night I will be staying up until midnight, just waiting for it to be out in the world, and then being like, "Woohoo!", like Christmas Eve (laughs). So yeah, it's a very exciting, fun time right now.

How long did you spend working on it?

I think I started writing a couple of songs like 'hand solo' and 'the one' maybe around two years ago or so, maybe even slightly longer. And then I broke up with my ex and moved house and had a bit of an upheaval and I kind of had an emotional break in there I suppose, for me to just recalibrate and reset my head. And then spent the most part of a year writing it and also recording it. I'd write a few songs then we'd take them to the studio, then I would write a few more songs and we'd take them to the studio. We mastered it in February this year, so I reckon it took about, maybe just over a year I'd say.

And all three albums that you've done sound quite different from one another, why did you decide to embrace a more pop-influenced sound on this record? 

I felt like it was a side of myself that I wanted to explore more of because I hadn't really tried it yet and I like to have a challenge, I like to push myself and grow. I think it felt quite natural as a step from I'm Not Your Man and I wanted to capture that fun, raucous energy that feels quite poppy on that record. But maybe use more of the production techniques from We Slept at Last which was a bit slicker and kind of bare. I felt like a combination of those two lessons that I'd sort of learnt from my previous work would basically result in a more pop-inspired sound. I guess I wanted that clarity in the music, I felt like I wanted to arrange parts that had a purpose and I wanted to push the drum parts to be as funky and cool as they could be in the basslines. And then allow that all to have the space and the treatment to be incredibly clear and direct to support the lyrics.

Did you have any reservations about experimenting with a more pop-inspired sound and doing something different? 

I try not to really overthink stuff like that because I guess there's a worry that my fan base won’t like it, because they're used to what I’ve done before and that's why they've been buying my records and coming to shows, but for me I always think about it as who I am as a songwriter and who I am as an artist, and change feels very natural between records. I want to evolve, I want to learn and I want to push myself, so I've always vowed to myself that I'd never want to make the same record twice. So I think I just get more excited rather than feeling nervous about this kind of stuff, there's that assuming of maybe I won't be able to achieve what I'm setting out to do, but as much as I go into something saying, "I want it to be more poppy," I know that it's not going to end up sounding like Justin Beiber, it's going to be the Marika Hackman spin of pop, wherever that sits. So it's exciting and it's fun and it's different.

Photo by Joost Vandebrug (supplied)

As an artist, would you say that it's important for you to be more daring and try something outside your comfort zone? Whether that's musically or lyrically? 

Yeah, definitely, I think I'd just get quite bored if I was in my safety zone the whole time. I think it's a really good thing to challenge yourself and I think it's a really good thing if you're challenging yourself and coming out of your comfort zone, that you're putting yourself in a vulnerable position and I think people connect much more readily to vulnerability than they do to someone who's got a wall up around them that's kind of, this is my safe space and I know how to inhabit that, it's much more likely that people are going to want to listen to what you're saying and be on your side if you exploring parts of yourself that you've never really gone into before or techniques and ideas that you're working out. I think it's exciting, and I just I think I would get really bored really quickly, and I'm someone who finds new experiences really intriguing and exciting and that seeps across into my work massively, hence why every record sounds different. And also, even within those records, you can see I'm bouncing around all over the place like a pinball (laughs) , I don't stay in one place.

The lyrics on Any Human Friend are quite bold and raw, and in a way, it feels like your most candid release yet, do you think that it's your most open body of work so far? 

Yeah, absolutely. I think everything I've released is all an exploration of myself. I think it's much harder for people to recognise that in my earlier work because I was hiding behind metaphors, I was being much more experimental with my wordplay and I was hiding behind words and I think you can see that journey coming through, it becomes more and more distilled on Any Human Friend and there's no hiding place, there's nothing on there that's concealing any of the ideas I'm having and feelings I'm having. It's the most direct language that I could find to express all those ideas and I'm really proud of myself for getting to this point, it feels really good that I've done this now. And moving forward, whatever I do I know that I can be crystal clear and really direct about whatever it is that I'm talking about.

Have you become less nervous about being more open about your thoughts and your experiences in your music? 

Oh yeah, completely, and I think that's, in a way, a real testament to the people that have listened to my music previously and have come back and said that it's helped them in some way, I think that was a really big eye-opening moment for me. On the last album when I would have kids coming up to me and saying, "Your music helped me to come out to my parents," or "I didn't know who I was or what my sexuality was before I started listening to your music, and it's really helped me to work out who I am."

I kind of feel like oh shit, I didn't go into this as a career because I was actively trying to help people, if I'm honest, that's not why I started writing music, I started because it's something I've always done and I thought it would give me an enjoyable career, and then that kind of thing happens, and it changes your... not my priorities, my priority was always to try and make the best music that I can, but it puts a different spin on it, it puts it in a different light and hearing people saying that I was like you know what, it's me just being honest about my experiences, which is something that I didn't have when I was growing up. I was like, well I should use this opportunity to do that, and that's what informed those decisions coming into Any Human Friend.

All three albums have been released at different points in your twenties, and through that, there's different changes and experiences that happen. How did you want to capture that growth on the album? 

I's hard to pinpoint, I mean I don't sit down think I'm going to write about this and I'm going to write about that, or I'm going to think about the fact that I'm now a 27-year-old or when I was writing a 26-year-old and what that means to me, but obviously life experience is life experience and you can only get that from living and existing. I think over the last seven or eight years of releasing music and from when the first album came out when I was 23 or whatever, I've learnt a lot about myself and I've learnt a lot about the industry. I've learnt a lot about myself as a songwriter as well and I think that's why this record feels perhaps more assertive, it's more sure of itself and it feels more accomplished to me, because I think I know what I'm dealing with now, I know more about myself just from living and kind of getting through stuff, breakups, moving house, and grief, as well as everything you have to go through as a human. I know that about myself but I also know as a songwriter, what I'm capable of and how to push myself. If I keep challenging myself it reaps good rewards.

The album reflects on intimacy – what did you want to capture about intimacy, especially when there's so much music out there by males who get the female experience so wrong?

Well I think that's it isn't it, it's kind of like I'm wanting to share my version of intimacy in a way that's as true as possible. For myself, it's about intimacy between two women and that's not something that you hear that much in music, and certainly a lot of the time when you hear it through a male lens, it's kind of fetishized to a certain extent and I wanted to write the kind of songs that I would have liked to have been hearing growing up about female sexuality and owning that power. So as with everything on the record, it is just an honest delving into myself, but certainly yes, I chose to push sexuality to the forefront and yeah, that ownership of your own sexual identity. I think it's really important for young queer women to have that around, to hear that and to feel like they're hearing a voice that they understand, that feels like it represents them for once, rather than that male idea that's damaging.

I read that the album's title came after watching a documentary – outside of music, what else inspired the record? 

I think I was reading quite a lot, because I tend to not listen to too much music while I'm writing, I get worried about accidentally poaching things and also it's quite distracting, a lot of the time I don't want to be listening to music if I've been listening to it all day, so I like silence.

But reading Kathy Acker was a big influence on this album. I read a lot of Kathy Acker's work when I was at school. I think the way she writes is so brash, and it's quite gruesome, a lot of the way she talks about sex and her insecurities about herself as a sexual entity was really inspirational. It felt like she was being so vulnerable, even if it was aggressive, and that was a really amazing thing to learn, that being vulnerable isn't about having a quiet voice sometimes being vulnerable is about being the loudest person in the room, and that was definitely something that pushed how I was writing the lyrics even further. I was definitely going down that route, reading it I was like, this should be the loudest, the most candid, the most sexiest stuff that I've ever written. You know, flex that arm as much as possible. So yeah, I'd say that she was probably the biggest inspiration for it.

Are you looking forward to touring the album? 

I can't wait. I love playing shows, writing music is a really solitary process, and I'm in my bedroom for a year or a year and a half writing the songs. That's the complete flip side of it, playing those songs to a room full of people who are giving you basically energetic feedback whilst you're standing there, that's kind of representative of the other side of the conversation. So I love playing shows, and playing new music is always really exciting, it's really fun to start getting to grip with how you're going to translate a whole bunch of new songs live. It's the kind of challenge that I really, really enjoy and I like being on the road, having a sense of a routine as well is always good.

Any Human Friend will be released tomorrow, Friday, August 9th. Click here to pre-order the album. 

Written by Amy Smolcic (@amysmolcic)

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