Marina and the Diamonds: Back in Control

Music Features

Marina Diamandis just wants to be herself.

With 2012’s Electra Heart, Diamandis—known by her stage name of Marina and the Diamonds—found stateside success. But for that success, she had to give up some of her creativity by working with more than a baker’s dozen producers and then each night take on the personality of the sarcastic, narcissistic female characters from the point-of-view in which the songs were written.

The femme fatale, the diva, the dominatrix, the suburban teen; the Welsh singer/songwriter realized that some were misinterpreting her characterizations for her actual persona. She wore wigs, she changed dresses multiple times per show, and her songs fit the bill of a pop star—a term with which she doesn’t connect. So she ditched them all. Even the jeweled heart she wore on her cheek in public had to go.

Electra Heart was work to maintain,” Diamandis says prior to a concert in San Francisco, beginning a tour in support of her latest effort, Froot. “If you’re [conceptual photographer] Cindy Sherman and you’re kind of reflecting these characters…she takes a picture of it and then she goes home. I had to look like that all the time. So two years doing that, and it is tiring.”

Stopping to reconsider, she can’t help herself: “It was fun, though!”

The one definitive lesson she learned from the experience is that she never wants to work with a team of producers again. It’s not that she feels she didn’t get the proper amount of credit for her songwriting capabilities; in pop, people just assume female performers don’t write their own songs, she believes. Still, she found herself sensitive to such comments, because she wasn’t a new artist. She wrote her debut, 2010’s The Family Jewels, completely on her own. Electra Heart was assisted by the likes of StarGate, Dr. Luke and Diplo.

“Having that ‘Dr. Luke tag’ attached to things was far more influential than I thought it would be,” she says. “As soon as people see that ‘Dr. Luke’ name, they suddenly assume things about you and about your artistry. So, it was a bit frustrating.”

More so, her creativity was stifled. Originally, she decided to collaborate with so many to purposefully overcome a fear of presenting her innermost feelings in front of others with opinions and to challenge herself as an artist.

“Also, it gave me a huge amount of fans,” she says. “You have to take the positive from that.”

The work paid off commercially, but working with producers seeking commercial success repressed her imagination.

“If you’re Luke or StarGate, the reason people go to you is because they want a hit,” she says. “When you go into that session, you’re not thinking, ‘What’s this thing I want to express?’ It’s, ‘How can we make a song a hit.’”

Eventually, she did learn new ways of writing, and that went on to inform the direction of Froot, an album Diamandis wrote solely by herself. She described the process as creative, fun and free from stress.

Needless to say, Diamandis approached songwriting differently with Froot. All of the lyrics were completed by the time she met with David Kosten (Bat For Lashes, Everything Everything, Brooke Fraser), as were the sketch outlines of the music.

“I didn’t necessarily know what direction I wanted them to go in,” she says. “I wasn’t thinking of any genre…The reason I write is for lyrics. It’s not really for an amazing guitar riff.”

She chose Kosten from a list of five potential collaborators because he most closely matched the sonic direction (or lack thereof) she was headed in. It helped that she’s a fan of both Bat For Lashes and Everything Everything. Kosten encouraged her to experiment and purposefully shifted away from commerciality, which she found refreshing.

Diamandis wanted the songs to be produced as a band performance, rather than a solo artist, so Kosten brought in The Cure drummer Jason Cooper, as well as the members of Everything Everything to contribute. This was a result of Kosten’s encouragement of Diamandis to drop drum machines in favor of live instrumentation, something she never considered for her debut or Electra Heart.

She spent 18 months writing the record, beginning around the same time Electra Heart was released with “Gold.” She continued to write throughout that tour, often taking time to walk around in each city, seeking inspiration.

She was seeing someone at the time, and after the tour concluded, she spent most of her time with him. But that relationship did not end well. Diamandis saw the end coming, and it informed two of the most personal songs on Froot. Both “Blue” and “I’m a Ruin” were written before they broke up. The former is a lament, where Diamandis explains that while her lover still means everything to her, she wants to explore her options. The latter is a danceable track that deals with the repercussions of her actions.

“With ‘Ruin,’” she begins, “part of the guilt of the song is because you’re writing it, and that person is still there, present.

“In the chorus, ‘doing things I shouldn’t do,’ is actually more about even having thoughts about breaking up with someone. You know, it’s terrible.”

On “Savages,” a track typical of Marina and the Diamonds that broaches a serious subject matter while disguised with cotton candy pop, Diamandis questions why some people do heinous things, like bomb marathons or rape. The song was inspired by a seemingly unending stream of violence, typically committed by men, on the news. It’s not so much about condemning those actions, but about figuring out why they happen, and separating humans’ civilized and animalistic characteristics.

“Those things have been happening for thousands of years, so it’s actually more about what is innate in human beings and how we…make sense of it,” she says. The song provides “no solutions, just questions.”

Froot’s first track, “Happy,” is the biggest evidence of Diamandis’ new musical direction. The rather solemn song begins with just the songwriter, her voice and a piano, before slowly transforming into a glitz-free empowerment anthem, with Diamandis declaring, “I found what I’d been looking for in myself.” The minimal production highlights her mezzo-soprano range.

So far, Froot has been labeled as Diamandis’ serious album. She just views as it as her most mature. The title rings back to a fruit at its most ripe growth. She made the album she wanted to create at age 29, and Electra Heart is the album she wanted to make at age 26.

It’s not, however, a more personal record, which Diamandis thinks many assume since the album has been critically accepted. Electra Heart covered much of the same territory—acceptance, identity and image—from a different angle.

“I guess when you mask [songs] in humor, and in a visual aesthetic that’s very definite, people get sidetracked,” she says. “It’s only human.”

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