Tag Archives: Epigram

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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High Kingsdown Co Op: The Inconvenient Truth

Epigrump is a fortnightly column in Epigram, where writers moan about what has got on their nerves recently. I wrote about the farcical nature of our local convenience store.

HIGH KINGSDOWN SWRG (Clarence Place, High Kingsdown, Bristol  BS2 8DD) Jun11

Cast your minds back to 2004 when chip and pin was introduced to the nation as a safer, faster way to shop on plastic. Over the past eight years, this system has revolutionised our shopping experience, meaning that now fraudsters only need memorise four digits instead of a person’s entire cursive style in order to gain access to the fortunes of others. It has also led to a rise in the number of automated machines, meaning that we no longer have to deal with lowly cashiers and car park attendants. Or so I thought.

Last weekend, an eerie quietness not seen since the Dark Ages fell on the High Kingsdown estate as whispers spread that the card machines in the Co Op convenience store on St Michael’s Hill were broken. Regulars to this shop will be aware of the ongoing drama with payment methods. For those who are less familiar with it, let me take you through the average person’s trip to the Kingsdown Co Op. It starts with a hunger pang. The kind of hunger pang so painful, you know you won’t be able to make it to Sainsbury’s before you’ve started gnawing on furniture. All you need  is a little bit of bacon or some milk to make porridge. ‘No problem’, you think, ‘I’ll just pop to the Co Op’ which is all very well and good until you realise that your rumbling stomach has not synchronised calendars with Co Op’s opening hours. Long-term residents in these parts know that if you haven’t got milk in the fridge on Saturday night, there will be a long wait until the Co Op’s automatic doors finally open at noon the next day, only for you to find that they haven’t yet had their milk delivery. After realising that an overpriced pint of skimmed milk is better than nothing, you traipse around the store, picking up whatever bizarre items happen to be reduced that day (ice cream syrup, anyone?) You are then faced with a dilemma: do you march straight up to the beaming cashier, or avoid their glazed expressions and questionable social skills and wait half your life to use what they have the temerity to call ‘The Fast Lanes’ (also known as self-service machines to the uninitiated). The queue for these machines is often 20-deep, usually due to the fact that one of the terminals has become overwhelmed, trying to add up how much you’ve spent so far, whilst screaming at you that your newspaper costs TWO POUNDS (pause for dramatic effect) TEN PENCE. Once you finally make it to a working terminal, your eyes fall on a hastily printed sheet of A4 declaring that payment is either cash or card only. Needless to say, you won’t have the payment method du jour in your pocket. This involves an embarrassing abandonment of your transaction, casting those in the queue behind you into a confused rage, as you lope off to the cashier you had originally tried to avoid, just so you can pay. As you wait your turn behind a man holding a tube of toothpaste and some bleach, you eye up the potential till talent. Cashier number one is a lady who is far too old to be wearing the neon butterfly clips she proudly displays in her cropped brown hair. Last time you were here, she scolded you for removing your card too quickly from the chip and pin machine, which, as always, was running at a snail’s pace, and you had to repeat the whole sorry affair. Cashier number two shows more promise, until he is called away to deal with the Fast Lane drama you left behind. As you’re busy craning your neck to see how he’s getting on, another machine directs you to cashier number three. From behind his oval spectacles, he beams at you, greeting you with a friendly ‘hello dear! How are you? Would you like a bag?’ He continues grinning as he packs away your Tic Tacs, tomatoes and tampons without battering an eyelid and you hurriedly hand over the cash and run home to satisfy your nutritional needs.

It’s hard to convey just what an odd mix of people the staff in this particular branch are. A budding playwright would do well to take a trip there and observe them in their natural habitat. If Hotel California ran a chain of convenience stores, this would be it. Some of the staff, like cashier number three, never seem to leave. You go in on your way to uni and there he is, smiling over your Danish pastry. He is there again in the evening, when you dash in minutes before closing, standing upright, eyes open, but clearly asleep.

And yet despite the crazy cashiers, the bipolar payment systems and the massive queues, we still go back. Just because it’s… well, convenient.

-from Issue 246 of Epigram.

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Interview: Slow Club

I spoke to Charles Watson, half of Sheffield duo Slow Club, ahead of the band’s October tour for Epigram.

Slow Club are a difficult band to define. Labelled by some as ‘twee’, ‘rockabilly’ and ‘shout-folk’, they have also been compared to other famous duos such as The White Stripes, Summer Camp and, most bizarrely, Same Difference. It was a conscious decision, then, to go in a different direction for their second album, Paradise. ‘We didn’t want to do the same record twice’, says Charles Watson, one half of the Sheffield duo, who are about to embark on a rescheduled UK tour. ‘We’ve seen so many of our favourite bands do that. I suppose we’ve been lucky in the sense that we’ve never been ‘hyped’ in any way, so it’s not like we’re in anyone’s pockets. I think that can happen if you’re plugged by a magazine or something, like NME, I think a lot of people feel obliged to make indie-rock for that reason’. To avoid being pigeonholed as ‘twee’ for another album, the band worked with producer Luke Smith, former guitarist of electro-punk band Clor, to create music that people could dance to. ‘We spent a lot of time on drums, and making sure that the groove was really fun before we put anything else on it,’ Watson tells me, ‘[Smith]’s just got an amazing sense of rhythm and his history is in dance music so he’s very orientated around the beat, but in a really weird shambolic way, where it’s not regimented or Kraftwerk or anything. He’s just got this really strong understanding of how it relates to how you feel. Totally natural.’

I speak to Watson as he nurses his lacerated thumb days after a freak salsa accident, so he is eager to get out on the road and out of the kitchen. ‘We’ve spent so much time in London compared to the year before when we were hardly here, so we just want to get out and travel.’ Watching Slow Club live, they have certainly achieved their aim of making people want to move. Their jangly, punky guitars on songs such as ‘Where I’m Waking’ have an integral infectious rhythm, while Watson and bandmate Rebecca Taylor’s wailing vocals make audience members want to go home and start a band with their best friend.

Building on the two part harmonies that characterised their debut album Yeah, So?, Watson and Taylor recruited Steve Black and Avvon Chambers of their support act, Sweet Baboo, to join them on stage to bring a fuller sound to their live shows. While it could be said that it is the simplicity of a two-part band that define who they are, the pair have always been on the look out for more members. ‘It just got to the point where we were writing songs together, playing them live and it worked really well and we were like, “fuck it”. Watson believes that the first two years on the road were extremely formative, cementing the pair as a band, and if they had had more members at that time, he doubts the band would still be together. ‘It’s so nice to think that now we have four people in the band, there are so many more things we can do that we’ve always wanted to do, like vocal harmonies.’ However the addition of Black and Chambers won’t change the Slow Club writing process, ‘if we ever get more members it will still just be me and Becky writing, so everyone who plays live will probably just be there for the shows, while we’ll still do everything in the studio.’

Watson and Taylor are both very hands on in all aspects of the band. When I speak to Watson, he is in the middle of designing another T-shirt to sell on tour. ‘I find [art] an escape from music, it just numbs your brain a bit. I’ve got a projector and I like projecting stuff and colouring. I find it quite therapeutic, just colouring in really – crayons and that.’ Taylor and Watson also run their own blogs on the band’s website, Taylor’s featuring a ‘woof of the week’, profiling a new hot man every seven days, while Watson uses his blog to show off some of his ‘colouring in.’

Despite the energetic style of Slow Club’s music, the band are unashamedly un-rock ‘n’ roll. ‘We did Secret Garden Party this summer and it was really druggy, everyone was off their faces on K and stuff. I was driving, so I wasn’t drinking, and then we found out that Amy Winehouse had died – there was a really strange atmosphere there.’ Watson also finds it hard to relax after a gig, ‘it’s like going on a night out with your laptop, and getting really pissed and just leaving it on the side. I fucking hate it. My total worst fear on tour is someone nicking all the gear.’ It’s not just equipment that Slow Club worry about being stolen; just days before the release of Paradise, the album was leaked on the internet, with links circulated through Twitter. ‘I had to try really hard not to send some really horrible abusive messages on Twitter to that guy,’ admits Watson. ‘It’s just a shame that that’s part of releasing albums now, you have to anticipate losing a certain percentage of people to illegal downloading.’ Watson’s no stranger to illegal downloading, admitting that he briefly pirated music as a teenager, ‘but I wasn’t making music for a living then. It’s not until you’re relying on people buying records when it’s like ‘shit’. I realised quite quickly that people’s livelihoods are at stake, but it’s good to support the people that you love, the music, otherwise they probably won’t make another record’.

 

You can read the rest of Epigram issue 240 here.

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Album Review: Robyn-Body Talk

Five years is a long time in the shiny merry-go-round of pop music. X Factor winners come and go, and those who sat at the top of the charts one week are quickly usurped by someone more cool and sparkly the next. It’s been half a decade since Robyn’s self-titled album climbed to number 13 in the UK album charts, and it looks like she’s been making up for lost time. Frustrated by the normal write/record/promote/tour cycle, the Swedish pixie pop star has released three albums in less than six months, which has allowed her to tour and write whilst fans continue to enjoy new material. The final album in Robyn’s Body Talk trilogy is a compilation of sorts, including 10 tracks from Body Talk parts 1 and 2, along with four new tracks and a re-recording of ‘Indestructible’ from Body Talk Part 2. If you can persevere through the second track, ‘Don’t Fucking Tell Me What To Do’, which, as my flatmate put it, sounds like a government health warning – “my drinking’s killing me/my smoking is killing me/my diet’s killing me”- without the song or your Wednesday morning hangover actually killing you, Body Talk unfolds into a well crafted pop gem. Whilst the new material on this album could so easily be filler between previously released singles, the new songs are amongst the best on the album. Readers should be warned that listening to ‘Get Myself Together’ may lead to dancing round the house like a loon. ‘Stars 4-Ever’ is similarly catchy, although at 31, Robyn should be old and wise enough to realise that she shouldn’t try to sound so ‘down wid da kidz’, as she also attempts on ‘None of Dem’ and ‘U Should Know Better’. The latter features her friend from the ‘hood, Snoop Dogg, who quips with his usual chauvinism, ‘take her to my hotel room and then bone her’, and the two converge to attack the Man in a haze of synths and expletives. Earlier releases ‘Dancing On My Own’ and ‘Hang With Me’ set the tone for the rest of the album-catchy, frank and fun, laced with Robyn’s unique brand of angsty pop. For best results, team with a pair of noise-reducing earphones and a large hairbrush.

-from Issue 232 (6/12/10) of Epigram. You can read the rest of the Music section here.

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Album Review: I Blame Coco-The Constant

 

 

“I’m not in this for money or fame, I’m purely in it cos I love making music,” Coco Sumner told the Telegraph earlier this year. Of course she is. As the daughter of Sting and Trudie Styler, Sumner had a life of luxury and celebrity presented to her on a silver platter. But don’t let that, or the fact that she’s a 20 year old who models for Burberry and regularly sits in the front row at London Fashion Week, cloud your judgment of her band, I Blame Coco’s, debut album The Constant. Sumner wants you to forget everything you know about her upbringing. All you need to know is that she was discovered by an Island Records A&R man at an intimate gig in a North London barbershop. Which is all very well and good, until you press ‘play’. Closing your eyes, you could be listening to a pubescent Sting, voice-mid-breaking, still toying with song writing and coming out with absurd lyrics such as ‘he’s going to a land where mice grow on trees’. In fact, Coco Sumner has been honing her composition skills since she was ‘about 13’, and has been playing various instruments since she progressed from SMA to cow’s milk. Sumner’s genetic make-up is particularly evident on ‘No Smile’ where she declares she ‘promised I would constantly love you/until the day I die’ to a syncopated, Police-inspired beat. After an eye-opening pilgrimage to Sweden (Abba is Coco’s guilty pleasure), the band travelled to Jamaica to record the album, despite Sumner claiming to have abandoned her early ska-influenced style. The outcome is certainly less Kingston, Jamaica and more Kingston-upon-Thames. That’s not to say it’s completely dire. Regular Radio 1 listeners have probably already found themselves humming along to ‘Caesar’, featuring Swedish pop princess Robyn, which is far removed from the tedious beats that Greg James et al play 24/7. After all, you wouldn’t hear JLS chanting ‘It’s the Lord of the Flies all over again’. ‘Quicker’ seems set to follow in this success, with its ‘80s influenced keyboard and synths, whilst ‘Please Rewind’ will doubtlessly appear on the next 90210 soundtrack, and before you know it, Sumner will be the most successful Coco in America since Hershey bars, and teens across the world will be emulating her greasy, Patti Smith-esque locks.


From Issue 230 (8/11/10) of Epigram, Bristol Uni’s student newspaper. To read the rest of the Music section, click here.

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