Marina Diamandis spent half an hour “speaking into the void” before our interview. The artist, formerly known as Marina and the Diamonds – now simply Marina – answers questions from her die-hard fans in a one-way YouTube chat with topics plucked from a hectic rolling feed.
“It was messy,” she smiles, still talking from her home in LA on her laptop, but now on Zoom. Her background is a beautiful mint green, a color that is instantly soothing to the touch. “This is a 35-year-old-without-children-boujee, but I’m in my yoga room,” she cackles.
All of the entertainment is dedicated to promoting their fifth album, Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land, a bold return to form after the strangely smooth Love + Fear of 2019. Back are the playful eccentricities that spotted them when they first appeared in 2009 (early Single “Mowgli’s Road”, for example opened with a chirping “cuckoo”) as well as the Vaudevillian vocal highs, the contrary over-intellectualization, and the OTT Technicolor presentation, with which they find their own way as a deliciously weird pop outsider with a loyal, cult one Fan base treads.
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Like the 2012 kinky but brilliant semi-concept album Electra Heart (a number 1 in the UK, no less), Diamandis opened up her songwriting on Love + Fear to include a wide variety of staff, but her pervasive lyrical themes – identity, social politics , Misogyny, mental health – seemed diluted.
Marina Diamandis performs in Madrid (Photo: Javier Bragado / Redferns)
All these themes were taken up again on the completely self-written Ancient Dreams, with the ostentatious lyrics of the latest single “Purge the Poison” zigzagging between Britney, #MeToo, climate change, the global pandemic and a fascination with witchcraft.
Another song, the galloping “New America”, insults Diamandis’ adopted home (born in Wales to a Welsh mother and a Greek father, she moved to LA in 2020 for good) and continues a love-hate relationship that began in 2010 with the single “Hollywood . started “.
“I’m still so fascinated by it,” she says. “It really doesn’t make sense.”
She says she has noticed a shift in the country’s self-image in the past year of political and social unrest.
“I think what happened culturally was sane because all the walls feel like they’ve been torn down and these really uncomfortable, dark truths have been revealed.”
Perhaps the best example of Diamandis in Excelsis on the album is “Venus Fly Trap,” in which she reflects on her curvy career spanning more than ten years. “I did it my way, baby, nothing in this world could change me,” she sings before unleashing the delicious. “I know that money is not important and that does not mean that you are the best, but I earn everything myself and I am a millionaire”.
She giggles as I bring up that last line, which apparently came about from tweets she’d seen, sometimes from her own fans, calling her a “flop.” (All of their albums are in the UK’s top 10, while the award-winning Froot climbed to 8th in the US in 2015.)
“I bet I’ll get so much shit for this line,” she says. Overall, however, she is no longer caring. “I’m no longer here to play small or to worry because I’ve lived with it all my life. I’ve been in fear mode for so many years. Of course there will be people who disagree with what I am saying. But what should I do? Just not express an opinion? “
The Diamandis of 2021 have a sense of post-pop rat race calm, and not just because of the mint green cocoon. “I just learned that it’s nice to be proud of things [I’ve done] because until recently I never had this feeling. Writing this album allowed me to think about what my career was like in reality. “
She has always had a complex relationship with fame. As a teenager, she was obsessed and described her desire to become a singer as a disease. When she left her small hometown near Abergavenny for London, her need for success led her to jump on every audition – including one for a reggae boy band.
After the independently released EP Mermaid vs Sailor caught the attention of most major record labels in 2007, she signed her alternative pop debut The Family Jewels Says with Warner in late 2008 and 2010, from an album that ruled like a flash of neon glitter beige British pop scene flitted.
For the 2012 sequel, Electra Heart, she dyed her jet black hair blonde (which she quickly swapped for a wig after the bleach caused her hair to fall out) and embodied the title character as the not-entirely-alter-ego emblem of the broken American dream .
It was part of a move towards becoming the world’s greatest pop star, with the album featuring a host of then-ardent producers – Diplo, Stargate, Greg Kurstin, Dr. Hatch. (Dr. Luke’s post, she says, hasn’t changed her mind about the album in light of the sexual assault allegations Kesha made against him – he denies them and sued Kesha for slander – “because it was part of my creativity. There is definitely one significant thing that happened, but it didn’t change my attitude towards these songs. “)
Electra Heart was both an album and an experiment. “I was curious if I would get certain results if I took certain steps, and the answer was yes, kind of: I was on American radio and my fan base increased enormously – but at what price personally? ”
It is “difficult to maintain and live this role of Electra Heart”. “I just thought, ‘I don’t want it that bad.’” At some point these great aspirations faded. “You didn’t feel right anymore. They translate validation as self worth and I think a lot of artists do that subconsciously. We all want to be seen or heard on a deeper level that heals on a deeper level, but it doesn’t always work that way. “
Marina Diamandis performs in Madrid (Photo: Javier Bragado / Redferns)
According to Froot, she experienced “years of depression and anxiety” caused by this disentanglement of her identity and career. “I saw in myself this desire to slow down and build a healthy lifestyle, but getting away from music meant my anchor was gone. My sense of purpose suddenly evaporated. “
Aside from a recent clean bandit collaboration, Diamandis has avoided chasing hits since Electra Heart. “Not to say that if I tried playing the Charts game it would work, but I haven’t done this often for a reason.”
She says that while making music she only felt “tense” for hits, and that “natural” creativity means not being reluctant to do what you’re doing. “One of the greatest things that has helped me is differentiating exactly how I feel and being brave enough to act on it. You have to trust that. “
That gut feeling led to a pivotal moment in the creation of Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land. Diamandis was keen to work with new female employees, ditching the typical channels available to a major label artist, and calling on Twitter for referrals.
“It was for all sorts of female employees – directors, photographers, producers,” she explains. “I like to do it the DIY way.” She began working with Grammy-nominated producer Jennifer Decilveo on the album’s first single and expression of female utopia, “Man’s World” in July 2019.
“It’s not that I don’t like working with men, but when you’re in a [studio] and there are four guys there, some of whom you don’t know, it has felt intimidating in the past. It shouldn’t, because I’m employing you for a service. “
While “Man’s World” is perhaps the album’s most obvious feminist statement, the entire album explores changes in the perception of femininity. Part of this exploration includes a newfound interest in witchcraft “because it is so ingrained in our perception of the feminine and what it has meant over the centuries.”
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She sees an obvious parallel to the modern persecution of women, first in tabloids and more recently online. “I think it’s great that this Britney [Spears] Documentaries came out because it feels like a culture change, ”she says. “People suddenly had these conversations.”
Perhaps as a further reminder of society’s advances, small as they may be, Diamandis says she sometimes revisits old reviews from the beginning of her career. “Some people hated artists of my era wholeheartedly,” she says. “It’s interesting to see it with different eyes now. What we perceive as authenticity has changed. “
In the past, on the eve of a new album being released, she was always worried about backlash and the “misogynist crap” that was coming her way. And now? “I just feel like I have nothing to lose,” she says, breathing in the calm energy of her yoga room. “This is the work I want to publish.”
“Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land” is available now. A live stream concert, ‘Ancient Dreams Live from the Desert’, will be broadcast in the UK on Sunday at 6pm