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Interview: Marina and the Diamonds

I had a chat with Marina Diamandis for Epigram just days before she announced that she’d been wearing a wig for the last 9 months 😦

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In a sea of pop stars stripped down to their bra and knickers, Marina Diamandis stands out, decked in ribbons and prom dresses, a bubblegum brunette living out her teenage fantasies in the twilight years of her twenties. ‘I’m going to be 27 soon,’ says Diamandis, ‘so this is an excuse to be ultra-girly, until I have to really grow up’. It’s not surprising that the singer is trying to hold on to her youth; her teenage years were spent trying to get 10 A* at GCSE to please her father (in the end, she was awarded 5A* and 5A), before embarking on four different university courses in the space of four years.

‘I went to a different one each year, got the student loan, and waitressed and lived off that while I became a better songwriter and started to produce my own stuff. I went to uni mainly just to appease my mum and dad and make them not worry, and not feel totally weird and out of the system.’

Since giving up on university aspirations for good, Diamandis has used her work discipline to claw her way into the music industry, and has at last reached a level of recognition that she is happy with – her second album, Electra Heart, going straight to number one in the UK charts. ‘I feel like I’m playing catch up all the fucking time! In fact it’s only this year that I feel like I don’t have to do it anymore. It’s so stressful because you never enjoy yourself if you’re always playing catch up; you’re always looking ahead, never living in the present.’ It’s hard to avoid comparing Diamandis to other pop stars, and it’s something she does regularly herself. ‘I think “oh how old was she when she made it?” but it doesn’t really matter in the end because some people make it at 27.’ Though Britney Spears, Diamandis’s pop hero, burst onto the scene aged 16, Diamandis is just as likely to look at Katy Perry, who reached international fame at 26, and slightly less obvious idols, such as Shirley Manson who joined Garbage aged 29. ‘I don’t think it’s something you can really control,’ rules Diamandis, ‘it’s either your time or it isn’t, and you’ve either worked hard enough for it, or you haven’t.’

Diamandis is an intriguing character, torn between wanting to be a Hollywood icon and a respected musician. ‘On the first album I felt really bitter that I was writing on my own, and that most pop girls don’t do that, but then at the same time, I didn’t want to go and write with other people, so you can’t really have it both ways’. This quandary led her to creating the character of Electra Heart for her second album. Whereas Diamandis’s debut,The Family Jewels, is a fairly simple display of her songwriting ability, Electra Heart has allowed her to develop her music to sound more stereotypically poppy, which contrasts with some of the darker lyrics on the record. Electra Heart has also enabled her live shows to become more elaborate. After supporting Katy Perry and Coldplay on their arena tours, Diamandis was impressed by the flamboyance of their shows, and plans to bring this to her own tour. The Lonely Hearts Club tour, which rolls into Bristol on October 13th, will see Diamandis’s Electra Heart alter-ego come to life. ‘It’s set in a teen girl’s bedroom slash sleazy motel, and the theme is sort of wedding meets homecoming,’ she giggles. She anticipates that this will be the perfect outing for her fans, who often turn up to gigs in prom dresses. The whole thing sounds so saccharine, it makes your teeth hurt just thinking about it, but it’s intended that you take it in with a pinch of salt. ‘This image is so sweet, it had to be a joke,’ laughs Diamandis.

In a world where rake-thin, half-naked air-brushed women are often heralded as demi-goddesses, Marina Diamandis represents a refreshing change to the status quo. Her Electra Heart persona allows her to have all the fun of dressing up as a quintessential starlet, while being able to laugh at herself. The change from the Marina from Abergavenny to peroxide blonde Electra Heart might suggest that Diamandis was beginning to buckle under peer pressure, but she disagrees: ‘I don’t think that there’s a pressure to use your sexuality to sell songs. If no one was sexual, or if no one pushed the boundaries or posed naked, then I think that would be a bad thing as well, because it would become a total taboo.’ While she supports singers like Rihanna, who she believes is ‘just a really sexual person’, she doesn’t believe it is a pre-requisite for all female singers to take off their clothes, ‘I think we’ve kind of done that in pop and I think that we’re now at a stage where you don’t really need to do that.’ This stance doesn’t seem to be holding Diamandis back – she’s already planning her third album, but is keeping quiet about what it will sound like, saying only, ‘I think every album I do is going to be quite different from the last, sonically speaking’.

Speaking to Diamandis, you get the sense that she has worked hard to get where she is today, and is enjoying every minute of it. Her transformation to becoming a teen idol is nearing completion, with an appearance on the cover of her favourite magazine in the pipeline, as well as the occasional pinch-yourself moments. ‘I’ve met Elton John a few times, and I went to his house. And then last year I met the Queen.’ Who was better? ‘Of the two queens?’ Diamandis laughs again, ‘I’d say Elton was more entertaining’.

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Tinker, tailor…

Child your life is just beginning;

You must look ahead.

Life, alas! consists of winning

Little bits of bread;

Pause and ask yourself a minute:

‘How do I propose to win it?

How shall I be fed?’

~from The Problem by A.P. Herbert

I hate job-hunting. Unfortunately I am beginning to realise that I cannot survive on my student loan alone, and trying to stretch out the remaining £100 of my overdraft over the 3-4 months of the summer holidays is looking nigh-on impossible. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that I have no clue what I want to do, but have very strong ideas about what I don’t want to do.

Crumbolina’s jobs from hell:

1) Anything to do with cleaning. Toilets, dishes, cars. Just no.

2) Handing out leaflets and/or going door-to-door. You don’t want me here, I don’t want to be here. Save the trees. And my face from being slammed in the door.

3) Anything that involves being up before dawn. Newspaper delivery, post-sorting, rubbish disposal. For many years, I toyed with the idea of being a ‘lady’ farmer, until someone informed me that this would involve milking the cows in the wee small hours, and slaughtering my livestock.

Currently I’m contemplating working in one of the many museums in London, whilst doing a bit of writing/other media-related work experience on the side. It is the latter that has led me to start a blog. I doubt that there are many people, possibly including my lecturers, who want to read my essays on the development of Roman towns, or reviews of books about gypsies, so I’m trying to generate some slightly more varied literature. Also several friends have asked several times for me to start one, and I can only ignore them for so long.

I suppose I ought to get back to writing the aforementioned essay on Roman towns. In the meantime, I leave you with a short piece I wrote about a trip I took back in September last year.

In the hallowed halls of London’s Royal Festival Hall, Ed and Will are starting a Communist uprising. Lenin and Trotsky they are not. Instead, they have just launched into a 400 year old folk song, The Diggers, composed to rally up disaffected farmer youths to fight against Old England’s bent aristocracy. This is no Bolshevik meeting though. Rather, it is a gathering of middle class yuppies being treated to the folklore of Old England and Ireland, in honour of Topic Record’s 70th birthday.

I didn’t mean to come. Jay Z, Girls Aloud and Coldplay are playing across town at Wembley, but funds are low, and, at a fraction of the cost, this landmark event by folk club the Magpie’s Nest will have to do. The line up is strange yet not sparse; a banjo and harmonica player – recent graduates in Folklore Studies from Newcastle University, two lads walking around Britain, singing for their supper, an Irish traveller, and a couple of old folkies thrown in for good measure, form tonight’s line up.

I’ve brought my dad along. At 18, it’s hard to persuade your friends that a night spent drinking Real Ale and listening to songs about the corn harvest is better than an evening spent dancing with minor-league footballers in an overpriced West London night club.

A folk enthusiast could tell you about the fantastic arrangements, the careful recital of these ancient songs. I am not this person. What I took from this gig was that no matter how old the tune, a song about a woman marrying a man with no balls is still funny, and even if you are a hip, cool, East London folky, side burns are never a good look. What my dad took away was that he has a more extensive folk collection than Vaughan Williams himself, and that, pushing 60, his side burns (which threaten even Wolverine’s in length and silvery slickness) are more on-trend than they were when he started growing them in 1968.

Together we get the tube home, quietly humming the songs of our ancestors, and singing the ballads our descendents are yet to hum.

http://www.themagpiesnest.co.uk/ ~The Magpie’s Nest

http://www.awalkaroundbritain.com/ ~Ed and Will’s website. Check out the choons.

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