Marika Hackman is getting a little impatient. Her much-anticipated second album, I’m Not Your Man, isn’t out until June. In between recording and mastering the album towards the end of last year, Hackman wrote and recorded a six-track Christmas EP. When I speak to her in an East London coffee shop, she’s just come back from a lively couple of weeks at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, playing a show a day to crowds singing along to incessantly catchy lead single, ‘Boyfriend’. She only played the new material, and, as the first track released (‘My Lover Cindy’ has since appeared), it’s the only one they would have known. Now she’s itching for her audiences to be able to sing along to all the new stuff.
“I’m waiting for it to be released and I'm starting to get to the point where I'm getting a bit impatient. I'm just really excited to see what people think of the record as a whole. I'm getting frustrated because I want everyone to hear it now!”
I’m Not Your Man may not be what long-term Marika fans are expecting. Of course, if you’ve heard the singles already, you’ll be prepared. Pushed aside is the wistful dreamy voice and withdrawn folk-tinged melodies Hackman played on 2015 debut We Slept At Last. I’m Not Your Man is very much the strong-willed second album of an artist placing her feet firmly back in the game.
The new songs pack a gutsy punch and are backed by a full band sound. With the new material, I imagine Marika Hackman shows will get a fair bit sweatier, and she knows this. Well-prepared for my ‘Why the new change of sound?’ question, Hackman tells me “I've always said, right from the start, that with my music I want to change every record and not just stay safe, or release the same things over and over again. Because if you're not pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, then what are you doing, really? It’s just going to be the same bland shit.”
Compared to most musicians’ usual answers of “it wasn’t a conscious decision”, Hackman’s self-assurance is refreshing. “I knew I wanted a change of sound,” she tells me. The insistence that this change was a conscious decision puts Hackman fully at the reins of her musical output. “I felt like I wanted to go into the grungier side of things, just because that’s music I’ve always really liked. And I actually feel like it resonates with me more as a person than the softer, more melancholy side of things.”
For I’m Not Your Man, Hackman was joined in the studio by producer Charlie Andrew, who also produced her debut and the three preceding EPs. Excitingly, for eight tracks, Hackman was joined by London quartet The Big Moon. Before now, Hackman and Adams have had “playtime” in the studio, they’d “pick up weird instruments” and see what sounds they could come up with – no wonder the instrumentation on We Slept At Last is so beguiling – but this time around Hackman had a four-piece band at her disposal, and she certainly made use of their talents.
“I wanted them to be musicians about it, and put their own flair on it. In rehearsals, we went in and just smashed it.” Hackman describes the “few little guitar lines” Jules added in, that now “really stand out to me in a great way”, or the “kind of echoey, crunching bangs and squeals” added in by guitarist Soph. She glows with warmth as she speaks about her musician friends.
I ask Hackman what it was like to work with a band who are already fully-formed, who make their own music together, and who, if their delightfully raucous shows are anything to go by, work very well as a unit by themselves. She beams and says “Working with them has been like a dream from start to finish.”
“The reason I got The Big Moon involved was because I'd written new songs and arranged them all to sound like a band, but obviously that had just been me at home, on my computer like a nerd. I thought, I have this group of friends who are fucking shit-hot musicians, who I love a lot. So it made sense, if they were up for it, for them to come in and have that feeling, and it totally did work like that when we were recording. I felt really lucky. Obviously, they're an established band, and even though they had that already they came and opened it out and I felt like I could slot in with that. They could have been like ‘You’re not in the band, Marika’, but it wasn’t like that at all. I’m really happy with how we managed to capture that feeling.”
There can’t be anything much better than making a record with your best friends. Hackman is used to collaborations – she has close friendships and musical relationships with Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling, and more recently she played a few shows with Blaenavon front man Ben Gregory.
When Hackman looks back on tours with musicians she had to hire, she speaks of a sense of detachment. “It’s a very different approach to when you see bands who’ve been playing together for years, who grew up together, when there’s a real natural rhythm between them all, you can see the understanding, and you only get that with people who you’re really really close to.” This closeness is crucial for the workings of I’m Not Your Man. Tracks like ‘Good Intentions’ and ‘Time’s Been Reckless’, in much the same vein as ‘Boyfriend’, rely on that fun punked-up band sound. And Hackman is right – you can hear the comradery a mile off.
Old Marika fans certainly don’t have to make themselves scarce quite yet. In amongst the Big Moon-backed tracks are a few which were recorded just by Hackman and Andrew. It’s interesting that Hackman herself talks of a couple of these songs as “harking back” to her older material. With the sharp awareness of a music critic, or as her very own biographer might, she describes ‘Apple Tree’ as having a “wistful, medieval sound”. She wanted ‘Round We Go’ “to sound like it already existed as a massive grunge rock banger, but that had been stripped down for an acoustic live version.” Hackman is good, too, at verbally detailing the specificities that make her music hers and hers alone: “I think my music writing is always going to be the same kind of dissonance, and those harmonies, shifting in major and minor – that’s all still in there. It’s just a different genre.”
Where previous releases have meandered with repeated water imagery or mythological metaphor, June’s offering brings a sense of self-assurance and matter-of-factness to proceedings. Hackman is quick to tell me that “it’s a very sexual record”. She’s right: On ‘Violet’, a song she’ll later painstakingly describe watching her parents listen to for the first time, Hackman sings “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” over slow, woozy guitar.
But that’s not to say that the raunchier side brought out here ignores heartfelt sincerity or thoughtful contemplation. It was only when coming to find an order for the recorded songs that Hackman noticed a “full relationship arc” running through the record. “I guess there’s maybe six songs on there that are about relationships. I hadn’t realised but I literally just put them completely in the order of meeting someone, wanting to get off with them, and being really excited, and then getting scared, and things breaking down, and at the end it being completely over. It completely goes in that order on the track listing, which is really bizarre. I was going more on how they sounded as songs rather than a theme.”
Compared to the conscious effort for a change of sound, this one really does sound like a natural musician’s instinct. When I ask whether she also wrote those songs in that order, Hackman looks worried. “My girlfriend will get really scared if I say I did!”
So how, then, to deal with singing about the most intimate details of your personal life, when not only the public but also your girlfriend, is there, listening, wondering whether that song is about her? “The thing is”, Hackman tells me, “I pull from my personal experiences and my subconscious feelings, but I also fully use artistic license to exaggerate the shit out of stuff. So there are songs on there about cheating and things like that and she’s like ‘what the hell is this about?’ And I’m just like ‘look … it’s not anything!’” Hackman sighs. “She’s a musician as well so we have this unspoken thing that we won’t listen to lyrics because they’re really ramped up. I’ve had it with some of her songs as well. If you’re going to be in a relationship with a musician … as a musician, you don’t want to feel like your relationship is impacting the way you’re creative, so we both don’t do that.”
Away from the complications of who’s singing about whom, we turn our thoughts to the sound of the summer. I’m Not Your Man will hit on 2nd June, just in time for it to take hold as the soundtrack to the summer. Ever the imagist, Hackman considers the temperature of her releases up until now. “I think a lot of my previous music definitely did lend itself to a more wintery sound. But this one’s a bit bouncier. There are some moments of sunshine on there.”
I'm Not Your Man is out on 2 June via Sub Pop Records/AMF Records. For more information, please visit her official website.