Marika Hackman is tired of being labelled. Though her show at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut on 19th November saw her written up as a “folkster”, this description has to be described as inaccurate. Marika descended on the darkened stage with a full band, ready to work through her snarling, rumbling new record, I’m Not Your Man, as well as some souped-up classics. If it is folk, it’s folk on steroids.
Marika has a no-bullshit attitude to performing. There was no big entrance, no fancy staging, just music. Whether singing deadpan into the microphone, or locking heads with her bandmates for shattering solos, she exudes confidence and coolness.
Earlier, in the upstairs dressing room that was down-to-earth as she is, Marika warns me that the show would be very different from previous tours: “It’s very loud.” She explains the transition to this unexpected style:
“I felt confident enough to make that change. I didn’t want to do the same thing again. I’m happy in a relationship, hadn’t just come out of heartbreak. It was a mix of factors. I definitely didn’t just sit down and go, ’I’m going to write a grunge record now’ and force the songs out. I listened to what was going on inside.”
With three EPs and two records to her name at just 25-years-old, it’s clear that this confidence has been hard-earned. Emerging as a female, largely self-taught solo musician didn’t come without challenges.
“Singing is really embarrassing to do – it’s terrifying. When I started doing this, I didn’t even know how to restring a guitar. I didn’t know how to set up an amp, or what a pedal board was, or how it worked in any way. On tour with a bunch of people who’ve got this stuff and someone’s telling you, ‘you need to restring your guitar’, and it’s so embarrassing to say, ‘I don’t know how to do that’.”
Association with nu-folk artists such as Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling meant that Marika and her music were quickly and obviously classified. “It’s because of people’s need to label stuff so much. I wish I could have a fresh slate in that way.” Writing a grunge record apparently wasn’t enough to give Marika the unique identity she craved. She sees this pigeon-holing of artists into genres as lazy, and potentially limiting to the audience they reach.
“I think it’s probably shut me off from a certain audience who just go ‘I don’t listen to folk’. I’m coming up as a suggestion for people who like listening to Laura Marling or Angel Olsen, who are incredible musicians, and with my first record, yeah totally. But with this one, that’s still happening and that’s so frustrating. My label is just Marika Hackman. As soon as you start to label it is makes it hard, because when I make something that’s completely different again, what are they going to call me? Just use my name.”
With just a hint of exasperation Marika denounces the idea that I’m Not Your Man is a reference to Leonard Cohen, admitting “I don’t listen to that much music”. When asked who does influence her, Marika shares an eclectic list, ranging from Laura Veirs to Prince, Pink Floyd and jazz.
Marika credits her success as a musician to a lifelong self-belief and disdain for unnecessary modesty. “As soon as I started writing songs and thinking I was doing something good, I thought, ‘I can be a musician, I can do it’. And then it just happened. I think that was because of that complete self-confidence. Otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered. There’s not really any room for modesty in my life.”
Marika winces at her self-assuredness. “I’m probably coming across as a complete wanker. I have a lot of confidence in terms of what I create, I work very hard to get it to that point, and I do a lot of self-editing as well. It’s not like everything that comes out of me is fantastic. In order for me to feel like a song is finished, that probably takes me writing five shit songs before anyone even hears them. I know what I like, and I like it, I’m not going to be apologetic and coy about it. I’ve got to this point now.”
Watching her perform in this entirely new style, it seems a transformation is complete. Yet returning to the stage for an encore, Marika is alone. The aching, lamenting ‘Cigarette’ is a brief glimpse of the earlier acoustic Marika Hackman. Despite the pleasure of the raw, emotional side of Marika, nothing is missing when the band return. Marika has the power to captivate an audience alone or accompanied. This seems to be her aim: “I’d like people to invest in me as an artist and understand that I have a song-writing style at the root of everything, no matter how I play with it in the studio. I might make it really heavy, or whatever, but there should be an essence there that translates across.”
Marika is looking forward. “I’m writing now. I can’t really say what it’s going to sound like, but it will be different. I think I’m going to combine heavier stuff but with a slicker production style maybe. I want to push myself again.”
Image: Paul Hudson, Wikimedia CC (@pahudson on Twitter)