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February 2021
Cover Story

Marika Hackman vs The Big Moon: I'm Not Your Man

What better way to find out what’s been going down than to set the coolest gang in town loose on their new leader?
Published: 3:59 pm, May 12, 2017
Marika Hackman vs The Big Moon: I'm Not Your Man

Marika Hackman is back with a brand new album and the coolest gang in town, The Big Moon, as her backing band.

Words: Ali Shutler. Photos: Poppy Marriott.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Marika Hackman knows what she wants. From the very beginning and through debut album ‘We Slept At Last’, she’s known exactly what she isn’t - and she’s never been afraid to share that. With ‘I’m Not Your Man’ though, Marika has worked out exactly what she is. And that’s powerful.

“I think a lot of my journey thus far has been a process of elimination. I feel in a very calm and confident place right now, just across the board, which is nice,” she admits. We might be standing on the edge of full-emersion in Marika Hackman’s second chapter, but there’s no fear. No doubts. It’s different, but that was always the plan. “There are people out there who aren’t going to like it, but it’s like that with anything you put out. You just brush it off and focus on the good bits,” she smiles. And right now, there are plenty of good bits to choose from, but that’s new as well.

The years between her first record and this one were strange and choppy. At the beginning of last year, she left her label and her management of five years. “I had a bunch of songs ready to go, and I was getting frustrated because I wanted to start recording the album. That was all a very strange, emotional, turbulent time but I came out the other side of it feeling much stronger in my resolve, and that was then the plans with The Big Moon [who make up her backing band for several of the album’s 13 tracks] were coming together. Suddenly everything felt like it was going in the right directions. I started writing more and more, and I felt more productive because it felt like a good place. It felt like everyone was behind it. Everyone just wanted to do it, and it felt positive. That drove me to have the confidence to make the change. I knew where I wanted it to go before I’d even started writing for this record, it’s just whether I would be able to do it or not.”

‘We Slept At Last’’s ‘Open Wide’ was the nod and the wink to where that destination lay. “It felt like the change was always in me, I was always going to start writing heavier music. Years of touring and playing solo meant I could play on my own with a guitar, standing on my head. It’s my safe space. If you don’t fucking push yourself, then what the hell are you doing?” So rather than follow the path laid out for her, she decided: “’I‘ll challenge myself. I’ll start writing for a full band; I’ll have to get a band together, and start performing live like that.” It was scary, but “it’s a good fear, it pushed you. If you’re out of your comfort zone, you’re going to be making something that’s different and new and feels exciting rather than just getting a bit fed up with it all.”

“Since I was eighteen and started releasing music I said I don’t want any record to sound like the last one. Once you’ve said that, you kinda have to follow it up,” she continues. “I feel the difference on ‘I’m Not Your Man’, but it’s still me; it’s just more confident. I feel like a much more confident performer and artist now. I would never have been able to make this record five years ago. That last record was very introspective. It’s a moment in time that’s been caught, but this one feels like a fun-for-all, a direct hit, an actual physical punch. It’s where I was at that moment in time, but it’s a lot freer.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row_content_no_spaces
[vc_column][vc_single_image image="14134" img_size="full" alignment="center
[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Rather than observation, ‘I’m Not Your Man’ is a record that makes you feel involved. “I started thinking I wanted to play shows that were going to be a shared experience. I wanted to make music that people wouldn’t sit there quietly and get lost in; I wanted people to be there, experience it and experience it with everyone that was around them.” She wanted it to be fun.

Marika admits that she’s not very excitable, but get her talking about her new music and sparks fly off her tongue. It’s the same when she talks about the smart pop of MUNA, the crash course lesson that was bringing ‘I’m Not Your Man’ to the stages of SXSW or when she talks about her friends The Big Moon. When they’re together, the room buzzes. Inside jokes are formed and quickly become part of their foundation, and that spinning web is infectious. It’s why ‘I’m Not Your Man’ crackles with such vibrancy. There’s a gang energy throughout and Marika harnesses that to give the album a deep warmth. She never simply rides it though. She’s in control throughout.

Which is handy, because Marika admits to being a massive control freak. “I think you have to be in music to get that distinctive thing heard, but then what’s so nice about this record is that the control was all early on. The control was before I started rehearsing with the girls, my control is in my arrangements, my writing, the way I do all of that. Everyone learns their parts, then something else happens, and that’s beyond your control, but that’s why I wanted to do this: to release a little bit of that control.”

She never gets lost in The Big Moon’s hurricane urgency though. Yes, the four piece are a solid-as-a-rock group and Marika slots in perfectly, but always in the foreground.

“I’ve always said about the songs that I write; I feel confident to take them wherever, with whoever, because I have a confidence in my abilities as a songwriter and my voice as an artist. When people shy away from collaborations or stepping out of their comfort zones, I see that as a fear in their abilities or their voice getting muddied or lost, whereas I don’t. I’ve never felt like that. That might come across as arrogant, but it’s a strength thing. It’s a confidence thing. I’m not sitting here being like ‘I’m fucking amazing’, but I know I have something vaguely unique.”

Teaming up with The Big Moon meant that everything had to come together quickly. The record is littered with pedals clicking, people laughing, under the breath counting and talking. None of it was planned. There was never a director’s note saying, “Yes Cee, would you please laugh at the beginning of ‘Boyfriend’.” Instead, it’s all accidental and real life - “but that’s what gives it that extra level so that when people listen to it, they hopefully feel part of that world and that experience we went through recording it.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row_content_no_spaces[vc_column][vc_video link="
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Speaking of which, amidst shooting music videos, playing shows in America and West London and generally being Very Busy, we got The Big Moon to sit down with Marika for a chat. We thought it’d be interesting; we didn’t just want a morning off. Promise. So over to you Celia and Jules....

Celia: Okay, so we made an album together.

Marika: Yes.

C: And how was that for you?

M: It was great!

C: When did you first think that you wanted us to do it, how many songs had you written, what stage were you at with it?

M: I’d written a good whack, maybe six of the ones I wanted a live sound on. Then I was in a meeting with Charlie [Andrew, the producer] and my management and we were talking about how we could get a live band sound, they said, “Well you know The Big Moon, ask them!” It was totally one of those things where I’d thought about it but was too scared to be the one to come up with the idea. It made perfect sense in my brain. So then I asked you!

C: I’ve never seen you so nervous.

M: I’m going red thinking about it now. I was so scared.

Jules: And everyone was really up for it!

M: Thank god! And just look at us now.

C: Look at us now! We made a cracking album! I was interested, because you wanted to do something different with this record, and I know you’ve worked with Charlie always, but did you even consider working with anyone else for this?

M: There were chats in that vein, but I felt like because I’m so comfortable working with him, that would give me the confidence to push it musically and sonically. He’d be able to do that with me. I trust him a lot.

C: And you were very comfortable. We’ve said this a lot in interviews, but because we made your album before we made ours, the way that you were in the studio made us so much more relaxed about the whole process.

J: Definitely. I saw the way that you were with Charlie and how collaborative you were with us, and it just made me feel like recording an album doesn’t have to be a big thing where you have control over everything. Everyone has their input, we’re all doing a great job, and everyone contributes.

M: It’s about getting the best out of everyone. And we were in for such short bursts of time as well, so that also took away a lot of that control factor. It was like, “Let’s just do this and see what happens!” and that was exactly what I wanted.

J: It’s amazing how quickly we did it.

M: Yeah the second batch was four songs in two days.

C: But it was five days from you sending us the tracks and all the parts to having everything recorded.

M: And that is a testament to you guys.

C: So you sent them to us on Monday, then we had a rehearsal on Tuesday...

M: ...then went into the studio Thursday and Friday. I remember it was so down to the wire. The backing vocals on Friday afternoon,  Jules you had to go somewhere, and we did one last “Ooo shalala” and hand clap, and you were like “OKAY GOTTA GO!”, threw your headphones off and ran out the door.

C: Recording those backing vocals! We all stood in different rooms and just yelled them all at the same time. We stole that and did it that way for our album as well because before we would do it one by one and you get way more precious about your takes.

M: Oh totally. Actually, in terms of any comping and stuff like that, we didn’t even look at the backing vocals, we just shoved them in. I wanted it to sound group-y and like we were all there just shouting them, and it was fun. Sometimes backing vocals are tricky; they’re high as well aren’t they?

C: Yeah, and I didn’t realise that because we did it all so quickly, and it all just came together because it had to. Then when we were coming back to rehearse them for the live show, I was like fuuuckkk. I don’t know if you felt this as well Jules, it is like a workout playing some of those songs.

J: But it is the most satisfying thing when you’re playing one rhythm and singing a different rhythm.

M: It’s so unnatural some of that stuff. Now I’m doing a live show with one less guitar, and I’m using different parts, so I’ve got one set up with you guys where I get the easy option, and now I’m crossing between all three of our parts a lot of the time. I was really making life hard for you guys.

C: How are you doing it with only two guitars? What are you doing?

M: I never try and make a live show sound exactly like the record, that’s not my vibe. It’s a challenge to be approached, but I never went into it thinking, “We’ve got to make it sound exactly like how we played it with The Big Moon!” It’s a slightly different show, but I think all the important bits are still there. It’s just trying to get that thickness to the guitar sound. Three guitars is quite an unusual thing for a band to have anyway, that wall of guitars, so it’s just trying to capture that depth.

C: Oh my God, the three of you in that guitar room! One of the main things I remember from recording is the three of you together just SHREDDING and playing around with pedals and making the weirdest noises you could, just so so excited, especially you and Soph, and then me and Fern in the rhythm room being like SHUT UP!

M: It was so FUN!

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row_content_no_spaces[vc_column][vc_single_image image="14323" img_size="full" alignment="center[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

C: But for Fern, because you and Charlie then added a lot of percussion on top of what we did, I think she was quite excited when we decided to do those live shows about trying to find ways of getting all those little extra beats.

M: Sticking shakers onto her drumsticks! She totally nailed it.

C: It’s good having to play slightly different styles. We get quite used to our own thing.

J: Yeah, it’s good knowing that I can just go and play someone else’s music, or stuff that doesn’t really come naturally to me. So many of your riffs move around in strange ways.

M: Because I write riffs in a more visual way, which sounds quite weird, but if you break down what I’m actually playing, a lot of the time they make patterns on the fretboard. When I give them to other people, they often find an easier way to play them whereas I’m like, “This is how I did it, and it looks like this pretty little worm that goes down the fretboard.”

J: That’s so weird! How do you approach writing your songs? What do you do?

M: Umm sit on my bed?

J: Okay, do you drink a cup of tea or anything?

M: I drink a lot of tea, especially when making demos. It’s my procrastination device. What I really enjoyed with this record are the songs that I wrote on the bass. I haven’t done that since I was about 14 so to revisit that was nice.  That’s why songs like ‘So Long’ have a way more in-depth bass line, because it wasn’t an addition to add warmth, it was like, “I’m gonna write the song around this.” Rather than just sitting down and writing a song on an acoustic guitar I’ve gone straight in with a bass line and a drum beat and then built it up from there.

C: And some of them I remember you saying, “I just got kind of drunk and this song came out!”

M: That does happen.

C: Was that because you were doing this new thing, kind of like, “Can I just write a song where the chorus is just A E D? Is that OK?”

M: Yeah I struggled with that a lot, like with ‘My Lover Cindy’ I was scared of it being too simple, but then I realised I should just let go. ‘Violet’ was the first one I wrote for this record where I suddenly felt, “Cool, I can do this. This is where it’s going to go.” And from there I got more and more confident and just let things flow.

J: It’s so strange that you say ‘My Lover Cindy’ is simple, because to me, even when I first heard the demo of it, I thought, “How does she do this?” Especially over the ending, there are about ten different vocal lines all going on at once. There’s the verse and the chorus and the middle eight all carrying on at the same time and it somehow still all sounds like music.

M: I mean, there are happy accidents. I don’t know if I really consciously did that. But with vocals, that’s where I do more. It was mainly the chord progression; the chorus is just three chords.

C: But it doesn’t sound like that, and that is just a real testament to your musical brain. And with the subject matter of the songs, was that also scary for you? Because a lot of your lyrics are open, but these are bolder, and some of them are more...

M: Sexy?

C: Yeah! Explicit.

M: On the last record a lot of it’s ambiguous or shrouded in metaphor, and again,  I think when I simplified that and decided to be more direct that was really scary because I wasn’t hiding behind poetry anymore. I’m just saying things and being a lot more open. There are a lot of very queer songs on there, a lot of very sexy songs, but I guess, like with the chord progressions, I just let everything flow. I also really struggled with writing the lyrics for this record which I didn’t with the last one, so they’re quite last minute, but I think that makes it a much more immediate record.

J: Yeah, sometimes the first thing that comes out of your mouth is just what sticks because that’s the thing. It’s also quite musical to write lyrics like that, finding sounds that just go with the way the melody is.

M: Exactly.

J: I want to know lots of other things. I was thinking on the way here that we’ve been friends for a while, but I don’t know that much about you. I want to know, where you’re from exactly, and what school you went to… no not really, but did you go to uni?

M: No I did an art foundation.

J: Oh me too!

M: Did you? How did I not know that? Where did you do yours?

J: City and Guild in London. Where did you do yours?

M: Brighton. That’s where I decided, “I’m not going to go to uni, I’m gonna give this a shot.” So I was there doing art, but I was playing a few little gigs.

J: Is that where you did your first ever gigs?

M: I think my first ever gig was when I was 16 at St Moritz. What were you specialising in on your foundation?

J: I was doing fine art, just fucking around with people.

M: As in…

J: I just wasn’t there a lot of the time. I ended up playing guitar for someone in another band, and I went on tour with them halfway through the foundation year, so I did a lot of talking about ideas...

M: Classic.

J: And I managed to pass the course by saying lots of stuff that I wasn’t actually doing, and it was all about just trying to annoy people. So it’s good I didn’t go to uni and down that tunnel. I genuinely thought that irritating people was good art.

C: There’s an argument for that.

M: Yeah! I mean, maybe?

J: What were you doing?

M: Painting.

J: That’s the other thing I want to know! I want to know what the cucumbers [on the album’s artwork] mean?

M: Well the cucumber is one of Tristan [Pigott, who painted the album artwork]’s go-to references. He equates it with middle class white male sexual anxiety, so he does a lot of paintings involving that. He also finds cucumber water a really funny concept, so he plays on that in his work too.

J: There are just so many things. It’s such a world!

M: Yeah there are lots of things in there because I really like artwork when you can come back and look at it again and again and really dive into it. When I was a kid, I’d pour over my mum and dad’s vinyl, and that’s what I enjoyed. And because there are a lot of very direct lyrics that are very obvious references I thought it’d be quite good to put them in. It also references the last record a lot, so there’s a poster on the wall that’s Tracy Emin’s ‘My Bed’, but then the bed is the bed from the last record cover. Then C, you and Fern are sitting on the mattress. There’s a lot of harking back to that as a kind of window to the last world. But it’s all on the interactive website; you should check it out.

J: That was a fun little morning in Tristan’s flat. He’s got a budgie!

M: Called Olive.

C: Is it? That’s so weird! Charlie’s baby is called Olive.

M: You really know you’re on the right track when these things start happening.

C: It’s like all of a sudden the whole universe just goes...

M: Zing!

C: Yes! It’s like, “I was right! Everything makes sense! I’m doing the right things, and I’ve met the right people, and we’ve all got to the same place, and I didn’t do it on purpose, and I got drunk, and this song just came out!”

J: It’s so true! When all those things start happening, and all the arrows start pointing the same way

C: And you feel like Milhouse!

J: You feel like fucking Milhouse!

C: So basically since you met us, everything’s gone really well.

M: Genuinely. You guys changed my life.

C&J: Same!

M: That fateful night in The Dolphin!

C: Who knew? I mean, we knew. Do you have anything you want to ask?

M: I really really want to remember what you were laughing about at the beginning of ‘Boyfriend’!

C: I don’t know! You are all pretty hilarious.

M: Also my favourite easter egg is at the end of ‘So Long’. If you listen very carefully at the end, Fern goes: “Well, that was a rubbish take,” just as the notes are dying. It’s so low, just on one of the little room mic in your room. I only heard it after it was mastered!

C: Really! I thought you’d left it in on purpose.

M: No! And we’ve got the Doritos thing somewhere, from the guitar room when we were eating Chilli Heatwave Doritos, drinking beer and burping into the mic.

C: And why did we have the party blowers?

M: Jules bought them! But why did you get them?

J: I just felt like it. I just saw them in the shop.

C: And that’s in ‘Good Intentions’. Such good times, take me back!

M: I can’t believe it’s been a year. We should do it again.

C&J: Yeah we should.

M: It was a match made in heaven.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row_content_no_spaces[vc_column][vc_video link="
" align="center[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Across ‘I’m Not Your Man’ there’s this feeling of “We’re all in this together.” Marika recruiting The Big Moon feels like a big statement, but it was more heart than head. “That was an accidental thing,” she explains. “The reason we did that is that they’re my friends and they’re fucking great at playing their instruments. They’re a really amazing band, but looking back on it and reflecting on it, there’s a lot of female energy. I like that; it’s got that sense of fun and power.”

From the album cover to the songs within, ‘I’m Not Your Man’ is a record that fights against the expected. “It is a male-dominated industry, but we’re just getting by and doing our thing and the best way to do that, is to write the best music you can and to be strong about it, be open about it and talk about stuff. The reason this record is an empowering female record is just that I am. I feel confident, and I’m a woman, and I’ve made a record that reflects that. It’s just struck at a potent time for that conversation. It’s been swirling around me, you pick up little things that are going around your head, and if you keep talking about these things, it’s going to be in your consciousness.”

It’s not deliberately rebellious, but a big chunk of ‘I’m Not Your Man’’s energy sees Marika “pulling away from what I’ve been perceived as before. It’s fun, toying with people in that way.”

Her music is sometimes still called folk and “that blows my mind.” There’s a want to shake off “a lot of those tags that were stuck on me early on, very wrongly. In my mind, that first record isn’t a folk record. At all. I really wanted to step out of that box. I want to step out of being a singer-songwriter and just be viewed as an artist, and that be it.” And as for calling her a songstress, “that’s a real kicker. It creates this mysterious, elf-like vision of a woman playing guitar in the woods and it’s just bollocks.

“Everything is so way off in the way people view things. I hate the idea of me being this meek female character, or this disturbed, dark woman. It’s fucking bullshit. All of it. I was just writing about love. I was just writing about fancying people, but because I was putting it under metaphor, suddenly I was this strange, dark, otherworldy princess. It’s such bullshit. Going leftfield with it, stepping away from that first record, it now leaves it wide open for the next one which is a really exciting concept.”

‘I’m Not Your Man’ is a record about love. Every shade of a relationship is uncovered, picked apart and lamented, or celebrated. “I went through and did the tracklisting based on the music, not the lyrics, then realised after I’d done that it runs through in a perfect sequence of a relationship arc. It was a complete accident, but somehow, musically, it matched. You’ve got ‘Boyfriend’, there’s a love interest there, it’s a bit naughty; then it goes through ‘My Lover Cindy’ where there are doubts: ‘Can I do this, do I want to commit?’ ‘Violet’ is just full on sex; ‘Cigarette’ is where things start to get shaky; ‘So Long’ where it starts to break down; ‘East Bound Train’ where you’re saying goodbye; and ‘I’d Rather Be With Them’ which is the total end of it and the acceptance of that.”

The different shades just happen. “Obviously, I exaggerate a lot of stuff, these aren’t all necessarily things that have happened to me, but I do work from past relationships. I’m fascinated with the idea of love being so fickle. You can have such strong emotions and then fall out of love, it’s heartbreaking on both sides, but a lot of people don’t focus on the baddy side. I’ve been the baddy, and it was a horrible situation to be in. I come back to it quite a lot as an idea.”

There’s a lot of self-deprecation on ‘I’m Not Your Man’, but Marika is never defeated. There’s acceptance to the bad; she wants to show off every side. “I’m beating myself up for a lot of stuff. You have to when you’re creating something that you want people to connect with. The last record is very sad, and it’s very wistful. You can have those feelings, but you can still get on with it. You push through. Life still goes on, and that’s very empowering when you get through those moments. So there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be an empowering record even if it does have shades of that on it and shades of romance alongside my very dim world view.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width="stretch_row_content_no_spaces[vc_column][vc_single_image image="14325" img_size="full" alignment="center[/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]That said, there’s laughter. There’s vibrancy. There’s a glittering thirst for more.

“I love a bit of sarcasm; I remember when we were recording ‘Boyfriend’ and Charlie asking, “Do you think people are going to understand that everything you’ve said in the chorus is sarcastic?” I really hope so because otherwise, it’s an awful song. Humour is always a good thing. Humour is a good way to deal with a lot of stuff, and get a lot of points across. It’s how I interact with people a lot so it feels right that it should be on there.”

There’s a never-wavering respect for the audience that they’ll get the sarcasm, the tongue-in-cheek, the eye-rolling and the sideways glances. “I would never, ever, ever, ever want to write a record where I underestimate my audience and pander to an idea of a listener that is a dim view of them. I assume that everyone, of course, will understand where I’m coming from. Hopefully, because I’ve made it clear enough but also, I’m not going to pussy foot around. Everyone knows what’s going on. People aren’t dumb.”

Marika Hackman unashamedly wants. She doesn’t want to burn out and disappear from the world; she wants “to make a change in an industry and inspire people. In thirty years time, kids will be going to school, and they’ll have heard my music, and their parents will have heard my music. I want it to span generations and not just be a moment pandering to something fashionable. I want a sense of fun. That’s a big thing for me, especially after the last record where I probably depressed quite a few people. I wouldn’t mind people listening to this one and feeling empowered and feeling that strength and fun. That’s how I felt when I was making it. It’s a confidence thing, and I felt really confident. There are fears in there, as there always is. It encapsulates all human emotion. Coming out of making the record though, I just felt really good about it.”

It’s been a long time coming, but Marika Hackman is finally at a point where she knows how to get what she wants. “I want to be one of those artists who stands the test of time, but in the meantime, I just want to make records I like. I never want to feel like I’ve been put into a position where I’ve got to change it up to fit someone else’s idea of what I should be doing ‘cause that just fucks me off,” she grins. “I don’t respond well to people telling me what to do.”


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