Marika Hackman: “I’m an incredibly sexual being but technically I’ll die a virgin”

Marika Hackman's new album 'Any Human Friend' is a brazen, unashamed album about sex. And wanking. And more sex. Charlotte Krol goes deep with the singer on her sexy new sound. Photos by Jenn Five.

“‘Fuck’ is a fantastic word. ‘Fuck’ has just got it. ‘Cunt’ is lovely too. It’s the ‘t’ at the ending that really lands.” Marika Hackman is analysing why she loves swear words so much. “I think they’re punchy and bold and they cut to the core – that’s the amazing thing about language.”

How Hackman came to enunciating expletives between bites of a Pret sandwich is all down to ‘Any Human Friend’, the 27-year-old’s third album that dropped earlier this month. It’s a startlingly honest portrait of sex, queer identity, anxiety, and empowerment. Moreover, it’s a celebration of human imperfection. “It explores all the positives and perceived negatives in the hope that people find some sort of comfort,” she says.

That comfort comes in many forms – be it self-acceptance on the title track, emotional unavailability on ‘I’m Not Where You Are’, wanking euphoria on ‘Hand Solo’ or vivid depictions of cunnilingus on ‘All Night’. The lyrics on the latter morph intelligently from “With your kissing, fucking” in one line to, “Kiss it, fuck it” in the next. It’s a far cry from the cloudy lyricism of Hackman’s folk-spun debut album ‘We Slept At Last’ (2015) in which she kept her sexuality “kind of hidden”. And it’s another step up in the sweary candid stakes from 2017’s garage rock and grunge-inspired ‘I’m Not Your Man’.

“I really like wordplay and – for want of a better word – being poetic,” Hackman continues to explain about her love of swearing. “But there’s something about the directness of this record and the bravery of doing that that I find really exciting. Who knows, maybe next time I’ll be even more direct.”

Marika Hackman NME interview

Photo: Jenn Five

The lyrical bluntness has been paired with a broadening of the east London-based artist’s sonic palette. ‘Any Human Friend’ is simultaneously her most accessible and most experimental effort to date: songs ground through a mill of motorik beats, jolting ‘80s synths, bright indie pop licks and ambient soundscapes. Co-producer David Wrench (Frank Ocean, The xx) was on hand to shape the record.

One of the standouts on ‘Any Human Friend’ – the superb wank anthem ‘Hand Solo’ – is interestingly devoid of Hackman’s penchant for profanities. Some may be surprised to learn that her mother helped her get the creative juices (sorry) flowing for it. Hackman recalls having written a few lyrics before hitting a brick wall and asking for advice.

“It was probably the second time I’d rung her that day and I was like, ‘Urgh, I’m just really bored and I’m already struggling and I can’t write the lyrics,’” Hackman says. She was like, ‘Let me help you out. I’m quite good at this.’ And I said, ‘Okay, it’s a song about masturbating.’ She was like, ‘Oh, for god’s sake Marika!’ But she was really helpful, she gave me all of this gold to Google.”

This “gold” inspired lines including: “I gave it all/But under patriarchal law/I’m gonna die a virgin.” It’s just one example of ‘Any Human Heart’s’ darkly comic turns spawned from an oppressive context. “As a queer woman I find the idea that sex is penetration really interesting,” Hackman says. “It’s like, who’s to tell anyone what sex is? It’s so much broader than that. Technically, if that’s the way we’re doing it, then I will die a virgin. I’m an incredibly sexual being so that’s obviously not the case.”

Marika Hackman NME interview

Photo: Jenn Five

Topic turns to the queer pop explosion and whether Hackman is comfortable with being seen as one of its poster girls. “It was something I was conscious of when I first started, hence why a lot of my lyrics early on in my career through my EPs to ‘We Slept At Last’ are shrouded in metaphor. [The lyrics] are pretty opaque and that was a choice as a 19-year-old when I first started releasing music. I didn’t want my sexuality to be what defines me as a songwriter in the same way that I don’t want to be boxed in in terms of genre. So by now, having released 30 songs or so, I kind of feel like, ‘Oh, actually, I can start to talk about my personal life.’ But it should always be the music first.

“On the flip side, yes, to a certain extent I do spend a lot of time talking about my sexuality and being part of a movement in a way. But I see that as a positive now. If that’s becoming a focus point to talk about, it means that something is happening in terms of pushing it in an opposite direction. We can have a happy landing in the middle. So to be part of that collective is a really great thing.”

Where does she think her newfound gutsy attitude has come from? “I think I’ve always been fairly open, actually,” she says, “but in terms of having that in my music, that just came later. It was born out of a confidence in songwriting: confidence that someone listening to your record isn’t going to be judging you. Actually having a dialogue and having a narrative that people can relate to. “‘Boyfriend’ [her queer call-to arms single from ‘I’m Not Your Man’] was a real turning point. The response from that…people telling me how I’d helped them to feel comfortable in themselves. That makes you think, ‘Of course it’s a positive thing.’”

The collective she mentioned earlier name-checks the likes of MUNA, Shura, Clairo, and many more. Hackman, however, feels they’re not writing songs specifically for the LGBT+ community. “With the queer women at the moment who are making music, they’re not singing about being queer. They’re singing about personal experience in a really open and honest way. Whether people want to then talk about that, that’s a separate thing because it’s not like that’s the forefront. It’s just actually feeling comfortable enough to be like, ‘I’m going to talk about my life within music,’ which is what most people are doing, and not feel scared there’s going to be repercussions from that.”

Perhaps the biggest influence from this tacit collective is Amber Bain of The Japanese House. Hackman and Bain’s pair’s four-year relationship came to an end in 2018 after which Hackman began writing the majority of ‘Any Human Friend’. During their relationship Hackman found herself surrounded by more electronic music; an inevitable result of living with a musician who trades in layered electronica.

“There’s definitely a poppier edge to Amber’s music and of course that’s an inspiration when you’re incredibly close to them,” Hackman explains, “but it was also our friends MUNA, who were just writing pop bangers. I think that was the kind of music I was listening to and being like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to have a go.’”

She’s eager to clarify that ‘Any Human Friend’ isn’t an album specifically about her relationship with Bain, though. “People are reading into the album with regards to that relationship a lot more than they should be. I think it’s because they kind of wanted that ‘Fuck you right back’ scenario” (Bain released her debut album ‘Good At Falling’ five months prior to ‘Any Human Friend’). “The only song that I wrote that was a direct reference to our relationship was ‘Send My Love’ and everything else is more an exploration in a very egotistical way into myself over the last year and coming out the other side of that.

Marika Hackman NME interview

Photo: Jenn Five

Hackman says she doesn’t mind the misinterpretation too much. “It was never nasty between me and Amber. We’re still best mates. We hang out a lot. It’s what lesbians do by the way,” she says, chuckling.

‘Any Human Friend’ was written and recorded in the throes of last summer’s heatwave. The stifling, solitary routine of working in her hot bedroom all day was broken up by swimming at her local lido, which she credits with being a “very grounding” form of meditation to ease anxiety. Such unease is “a constant” threat in her life but she doesn’t equate it to life being all doom and gloom. “You can be anxious and you can be happy and find joy in life all at the same time,” she says. “I think I’m actually quite a happy person. It’s funny that those two things exist side by side. As much as I’ve probably painted a picture of myself being sort of nervous wreck, I’m very calm. There’s a quietness to me.”

Being a solo artist can be lonely, which doesn’t exactly boost her wellbeing. “When you’re writing a record, it’s just incredibly solitary and you are really digging into your brain,” she explains. “I could feel maybe about two to three months before I’d finished the album that my anxiety levels were rising, depression levels were rising – just general stress. But then it’s so fucking rewarding once you’ve done it. It’s amazing. It’s just, in terms of the cycle going round and round, I need reassurance that I’m on the right track. I’m so caught up in my own shit, I just need to have that grounding and then I’m kind of fine. At the moment I feel quite focused and really excited. Life’s always up and down.”

Does she see her future always being in music? “No not necessarily…I don’t know. I have no idea. In terms of my career, music is at the forefront of what I’m doing. Music will always be in my life. But it’s a difficult job. I’m not at a level where I’m raking it in. It’s actually very hard to sustain. And the older that I’m getting…I don’t know, I love it so much but you start to feel drained. As far as I’m concerned I just keep my head down, work fucking hard and get on with it. But maybe I’ll want to try something else.”

Marika Hackman 2019 NME

Photo: Jenn Five

In truth, the “I don’t knows” expose what ‘Any Human Friend’ is about. Hackman is still figuring things out. She’s peeled back the layers, accepted her imperfections and displayed them proudly. “It’s so people can not feel as ashamed about the parts that effectively make us human”. She wants people to know they can do the same.

Dissecting Marika’s lyrics

“Did I make her love/Was it just pretend/Was she being kind/Yeah, she was kinder then in Berlin” – ‘Wanderlust’

“I was sort of in love with someone but it never really happened. We went on a trip together. I wrote it way after when stuff had happened and then we weren’t talking for a while and I was pretty heartbroken. It’s a heartbreaking song.”

“I’ve got BDE/I think it’s a venereal disease” – ‘The One’

“It’s that idea of taking something that had been invented by people. It’s a concept that I find really funny, describing oneself as having BDE but then actually not really understanding what that means. And then the idea that it’s something that spreads like an STI.”

“Remember that day when we’d never met/and you begged me to ruin your life” – ‘All Night’

“It’s rooted in a fear of whenever you get romantically involved with anyone that it comes crashing down in quite a catastrophic way. But also it’s kind of completely giving into that as well at the same time. This song is interesting because there are always little things that don’t end up being the main theme of the track. I was talking to someone who lived in America who I hadn’t actually met yet. ‘Remember that day when we’d never met’ – that was just a thought process in my head – ‘I haven’t ever met you but there’s something romantic going on’, kind of thing. The whole song actually ends up being about something else.”

And the “begged me to ruin your life” part’?

“Well, part of that is that I often see a lot of language being used in stan culture like ‘ruin me’, and ‘run me over, daddy.’ It’s like, ‘Fucking ruin me.’ It’s sexual, but then also in the literal way. You can ruin someone’s life.”

“Running out of the lines/You’re running out of the light /You gave it away/To blow your mind – ‘Blow’

“It’s that situation when people around you are getting really fucked up in quite a self-destructive way. And it’s hard to be the person who points that are. So with biting your tongue it’s like, ‘I don’t really know how to say this,’ but I’ll put it in a song, haha! The whole song is kind of like, ‘I’m here, but maybe I’m engaging in this destructive behaviour because I’m not stepping in, but I will hold your hair back.’ It’s quite a fucked up dynamic and it’s exploring that. It’s a really dark song.”

“I’d rather be asleep/Than interact with me” – ‘I’m Not Where You Are’

“Sometimes I find being in my own head really hard and when I’m feeling anxious I tend to try and go to sleep because it feels like it resets my brain. Also it’s a bit of a self-loathing song: ‘I don’t know why you want to hang out with me and be with me because I just feel numb.’”

Marika Hackman

Photo: Jenn Five

“Take a bow/Is your mother proud/You’re selfish and you’re sore/Are you coming home to play the whore?” – ‘Send My Love’

“Yeah, that’s a bold line. Oh god, this album is so full of self loathing, it’s a joke! I use ‘virgin’ and ‘whore’ quite a lot [on this album] – these tropes about women – that to be sexually liberated and all that kind of stuff makes you a whore. It’s so derisive, that line. It’s like, ‘Oh, you know, is your mum going to look after you? ‘Do you really think like you’re a good person? No, you’re a fucking whore.’ It’s imagining that being said to me while I’m kind of sitting there feeling sorry for myself, wah wah wah. It’s me kicking another part of myself down. It’s a really nasty, horrible sentiment.”

“I gave it all/But under patriarchal law/I’m going to die a virgin” – ‘Hand Solo’

“That about who’s defining what sex is to the individual.”

“XX our sex is best” – ‘Conventional Ride’

“So ‘xx’ is obviously the two chromosomes. It’s also like ‘kiss, kiss’ as well, but it’s also saying women are the best and it’s also saying sex between us is the best.”

“Keep the cradle warm for me /I want to be somebody’s baby” – ‘Come Undone’

“I love that line. I was really happy when I wrote that one. I mean, that whole song is that push and pull between feeling like you want to be fucking around, not feeling like you want to commit, feeling like you love someone, wanting to have sex with someone else because… you know, it’s like that complete turmoil that goes basically with dating and having feelings, which is like actually quite grim. A lot of the time it’s glamorised but it’s actually always quite difficult. Keep a cradle warm for me’ is like, ‘I don’t want to commit, I want to belong to someone and I want to be looked after.”

“Reprise of the child” – ‘Hold On’

“I was in a depressive state at that point and it’s that idea of when you just feel so tired. I find as an adult a lot of the time there’s this weight. And this idea that it would be so nice to just be a child – to have that carefree lack of responsibility and feel looked after. This idea of the reprise of the child is that I want to be reborn and I want to have that clarity and that purity that you have as a kid. And I feel so bogged down by like everything right now.”

“Cause everybody wants to be made of stone/We’re golden” – ‘Any Human Friend’

“So much about life is people wanting to be a part of something and to fit in and that you would go so far as to shave off the edges that make you interesting and unique in order to be accepted. Because to be ‘other’ is really scary. That song is me being like, ‘Come with me, it’s okay, shine, we all shine in a different way. And we are all golden.’ Those lyrics from that song sum up the entire album to me. And that’s why the song is at the end; the lyrics feel optimistic. You get pulled through this whole tormented funny, sexy, weird, disgusting ride and at the end, it’s okay. We can do this, you can be all of this and that’s okay. They actually really move me, those lyrics. When I think about singing that one live, to hear people singing that would be something that would really get me in the chest. I feel like it means a lot. It sums it all up. It gives me comfort.”