Marina And The Diamonds Talks About ‘Froot’, Writing Her Own Music And Why She’s Not Quite A Pop Star: Idolator Interview
Month by month, froot by froot, Marina And The Diamonds has slowly but surely teased the succulent contents of her highly anticipated third studio album Froot, from “Froot” to “Happy” to “Immortal” to “I’m A Ruin” to “Forget.”
After releasing the conceptual, character-driven power pop record Electra Heart in 2012, Marina’s since taken an entirely new approach to her music, whittling down the collaborators list to just one lone producer (David Kosten) and leaving the songwriting duties all to herself.
With the album out next week (March 16), bumped up from its original April release after springing a leak (hey, that’s 2015 for you!), we sat down with the singer-songstress to talk about the process of creating Froot, the album campaign, the songwriting process, her experience with the Electra Heart era, an intensely devoted fan base (The Diamonds!), upcoming tour plans and why she’s not too keen on the whole pop star thing.
IDOLATOR: So, let’s go back to the beginning. When did you start to know that this was going to be an album? Was it during Electra Heart?
Marina: Yeah. There’s a song called “Gold,” and that was the first one I wrote. It was like summer of 2012, so Electra Heart had just begun, really. It was quite an intensive working process for the album. The first album [The Family Jewels] I pretty much wrote much of it on my own, and it was kind of…accidentally pop. It was like a left-field pop album. And then I think from that, typically labels see that there’s potential for you to be something bigger, so I was encouraged to try co-writing with people. It was a helpful experience, in that I realized what I didn’t want to do anymore.
When “Primadonna” came out, it was all shits and giggles. [Laughs] But the reality was I felt like people treat you really differently if they think that you’re a pop star, and I don’t really identify with that. I was definitely playing with the idea of it. I did really enjoy parts of it, but if that’s not actually who you are and how you feel inside, it can be really frustrating. So when “Primadonna” came out, I was like, okay, this next album, I’m going to make a completely different thing…which involved writing with nobody. Just creating it on my own, with no pressure and no meddling from external sources.
Speaking of no one meddling, Björk just did an interview with Pitchfork about the new album she just put out [Vulnicura], and she had some interesting things to say about being an artist and getting rightful credit as the songwriter or producer, especially as a woman.
Yeah, I mean, it’s not a kind of artistic or moral opinion. It’s more what’s right for me. I think that the type of art that is produced when one artist is creating is very different to what’s produced when six different writers are on it. It’s not bad or good. It’s more, just…I don’t know. For myself, with my own lyrics, they’re far more thought out and written quite slowly and collected over, maybe, a period of a month.
If you’re in a writing room, the average person wouldn’t realize that you are probably very nervous. You have two producers hovering over your back. It’s fucking terrifying. You’re writing lyrics really quickly, so already, the tone and the feel of the song is completely different to something you may have written on your own, or thought about for a long time. You have to kind of gather those thoughts. For me, I definitely prefer writing alone.
We did a piece last year on some of the pop songs [It Takes A Village: 10 Pop Hits That Took At Least 6 Writers To Cobble Together, From “Drunk In Love” To “Timber”] that have a bunch of co-writers. Kesha and Pitbull‘s “Timber” has 11 co-writers.
No! [Laughs] I’m obsessed with writing credits. It is fascinating how a song is born!
Did you experience that on Electra Heart?
Not really, because I was in an unusual position. Usually people who go into songwriting sessions, like with StarGate and Dr. Luke, they’re either people who are pop stars and they can’t really write and they need someone, or they’re actually writers themselves and they’re not stars…whereas I was something in the middle. And they had known my previous material, like “I Am Not A Robot” and “Hollywood,” so they knew what I was. And so, perhaps my experience would be different to an average experience with them.
It was definitely interesting. Like with StarGate, with “Radioactive,” I got played, like, five different beats. And then you say “I like that one!” And then you grab your computer and you go into a back room and mix it up for four hours, do all the melody and lyrics, come in and play it to them. And if I had questions, like “Do you think this hook is better than this one?”, that’s how they helped out, which was good. The same thing with Luke, really. I did actually enjoy working with Luke. He had a very particular style of writing.
But after a while, I was like “Hmm, so I’m writing these types of songs and I’m writing more freely, so what’s different from how I write alone?” And the fact was that I was just writing to an instrumental. Whereas at home, I used to be writing lyrics, melody and chords simultaneously, so it was quite limiting. So on the third album, I just started making really crap beats — just putting any old drum beat down and then putting chords that I thought were really beautiful and sounded good — and then I would do the lyrics and melody, and that completely changed everything. I started writing, kind of like, band or rock songs. It just felt really exciting to me.
How did David [Kosten, Froot producer] come into the picture?
So, David was recommended to me by my A&R, who was sending me stuff. It was very much new, very young people. I just said “I don’t think what I do is about being groundbreaking sonically. It’s more about a voice and lyrics and an idea. I think that’s what people connect to, and I need to be produced like a band.” So he sent me a few people. And then I met David, and I was like “Yes, you will do!” So I started working with him.
Switching gears, I felt like you were on tour for five million years.
Yes! [Laughs] Oh my god, yeah.
Are you taking a break, or are you starting that all over again?
I’m starting all over! This is why I took a year and a half off. I was just — I wouldn’t say burnt out, but I was just tired. Really tired. And sometimes you just need to gain perspective and do normal things. So, I’ve been living in London for 18 months, and it’s been really nice.
Yeah! Just living a life.
Because you need to write about experiences! A lot of artists say when they’re on tour the whole time, they don’t actually get to live life and write about anything anymore.
Exactly! No, it’s weird. There’s this concept of writing a record because you need to write a next record. Whereas for me, I’m like, no: an album is an opportunity to chronicle a chapter of your life. So, you have to kind of allow yourself to have that time. I hate the idea of people writing a record in two months. It really freaks me out. I guess pop stars can do it, but people who actually have input, it’s like…how can you do that? It’s really weird!
Speaking of, are you ever asked to write songs or contribute for others?
I haven’t really done anything. I’ve done a few sessions recently. We’ll see how it goes. It’s a weird thing though, because again, it goes back to why you write music. For me, it’s always to work out where I stand on a situation or something I’m having trouble with. So to write songs for other people…it’s weird. It’s like giving your message to someone else.
And how personal can it be for that person?
Well, that’s the thing: maybe you just have to let go. If they like the song, they just take it. I don’t know if my lyrics are too specific. [Laughs] But it’s something that I’m interested in! I feel very free creatively at the moment because I’ve finally done what I’ve wanted to do for ages, so I’m quite up for doing different things.
You said that you started thinking of these songs in 2012. How long did it take to the last song that ended up on the album?
My writing stopped in March of last year, and then it took about 3 months to record, so that was around June. And then everyone was on holiday at the label, so…it took until September for everything to start moving, and then “Froot” came out in October.
The roll-out is a new song every month for six months. Was that your idea, and was the label okay with that?
Yes, it was a big thing for them. Basically, my manager inspired the idea. She was like, “I don’t think we should do the orthodox release schedule.” At first, I said “Why don’t we do two songs a month that are polar opposites sonically?” And then, I was like “Actually…the album’s called Froot, why doesn’t each song represent a different fruit?” And then we incorporated the scratch and sniff vinyl, and that kind of thing. So I presented the idea to the label — with emojis — and they really liked it. But it’s hard for labels. They’re such huge companies, and it’s hard to adapt. It’s definitely the one kind of strategy that everyone, no matter what their role, has really gotten involved in. So the label over here are thrilled.
Was the choice of songs intentional? Because it got quite heavy around Christmas time, between “Happy” and “Immortal”…
Right. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel?
It got very dark. Was that an intentional choice to get very personal?
I think it had to do with what I think has not been shown of my identity as an artist yet. “Froot” is the title track, and I wanted to do something that’s fun and positive. And then with “Happy,” I kind of wanted to just bring things back completely. I think when “Froot” came out, a lot of people — as soon as they hear a piece of new music, they want to say what the rest of the album’s going to be. And I was like…you just wait. There’s nothing else like that on the record. I just wanted to show different colors. That’s the nice thing about doing the six Froots. You can actually show people what the record is going to be like, as opposed to going with one big single and then into the album.
In regards to “Happy,” is there a line you draw when it comes to how personal you’ll get on a song?
No, I can’t censor myself. Even though it’s embarrassing afterwards. I’m like, “Oh my God, I don’t want everyone to think I’m some, like, lonely loner.” Even some of my friends were like “Oh my God, I never knew you felt like that!” And I was like “You are being so embarrassing right now! Stop it!” It’s very open. It’s essentially saying what everyone feels at some point — from what I’ve read anyway and from what I’ve garnered online. I don’t think there’s any limit. I don’t ever want to feel like I can’t say something in a song…even if it makes me feel awkward.
Also, why is Froot spelled with two O’s? I didn’t see an explanation!
To be honest, there really isn’t one! The only thing I can kind of say is that I did it without a calculated reason. However, I’m attracted to the spelling because I love blending natural things with artificial things, even visually. Froot looks artificial. If it was Fruit, it might look a bit too serious. You know? That was a way of making it playful.
Speaking of online, any time I interact with you, the surge of fans and the fav-ing…you have an insane stan base. Pop star fans have different levels of insanity. Adam Lambert? The most. Britney…rabid. Passionate. Yours are absolutely on that spectrum, toward that end. Have you noticed it?
Really? [Laughs] Yeah, yeah, I have. It’s something quite special because…it’s not that I have a small fan base, but it’s not absolutely massive, like a Britney fan base. The level of interaction is really high, which means that the people that are following you are actually listening to you. It’s good. It’s like a mutual respect. I wouldn’t spam them with shit all day. Whatever I give them, I want it to be of high quality…or hilarious. That’s like the tweeting rules. In terms of support, I feel lucky. Especially with “Immortal” and “Happy,” just reading YouTube comments. Usually it’s trash, isn’t it? Like even with “Froot,” it was loads of arguments about whether I was going back to ‘Old Marina’ or whatever. Whereas with “Happy” and “Immortal,” they’re very questioning. It’s really satisfying for me as a writer to see how those ideas are affecting people, or giving them relief, or making them feel happy. It’s cool.
You have some festivals coming up in the States, including SXSW and Governors Ball. Will you do the tour right after, and have you thought about how you’ll present this album?
I think I’ll do festivals up until August, and then from October onwards I’ll do American and European touring. It’s going to be really cool! I think we’re going to start some of the stage design for the festivals. We have some specific ideas. It’s going to be great. With Electra Heart, I got to do a bunch of stuff with production…but this is going to be bigger.
That’s great. Any music that’s inspiring you today, or in general?
I love The Cardigans. I love Fleetwood Mac. Music that doesn’t particularly have a genre, but it’s just good. Fleetwood Mac…they’re a band, that’s it. Just amazing songs. Incredible songwriting. I love Shirley Manson. At the moment, new people? I love Broods, I’ve been listening to them a lot. I’ve got some on my phone. [Scrolls through Spotify] Oh, I love Shamir! It’s called “On The Regular.” Tove Styrke. That’s about it for now.
Thank you, Marina!
It’s so nice chatting with you guys. My jet lag is gone!
Froot will be released on March 16.