Photo Credit – Lisa Devine – http://www.lisadevinephotography.co.uk/
Helen Marnie appears to be a person who’s not one for letting the grass grow under her feet. Despite over a decade’s worth of acclaim and heavy duty touring as front woman with electronic legends Ladytron, rather than taking a well-earned breather during the bands short hiatus Helen utilised the down time to record her first solo album. After an intense period of writing, she turned to the fan-funded music platform Pledgemusic to give the project wings and then relocated to Reykjavik to record the album. Released under her surname – Marnie, the resultant album ‘Crystal World’ is without doubt one of the finest collection of songs you’re likely to hear this year.
‘Crystal World’ once again lays bare the preposterous fallacy that electronic music somehow lacks the emotional resonance that music written on a wooden guitar has. Make no mistake this is a hugely emotive record which sees Helen step out from behind her mysterious sultry Ladytron persona and reveal herself to be a songwriter of enormous emotional depth and honesty, able to produce songs which are poetic, fragile, heartfelt and often downright heart-breakingly beautiful. In doing so she demonstrates just how inspiring, poignant, and engaging pop music can be when it’s produced with such eloquence and sincerity. If this album genuinely doesn’t move you then we can only conclude your sorry excuse for a soul is as withered, empty and indeed as tiny as Jeremy Clarkesons’ emaciated little scrotum. There is nothing for you here.
From the driving electro pop noir of ‘The Hunter,‘ to the elegiac beauty of the epic seven minutes plus ‘Submariner’, the anthemic ‘Hearts Of Fire’ right through to emotionally devastating hammer blow of album closer ‘Gold’ this is an album that delivers on every level. It’s an album that stirs the emotions, lifts the spirits, and engages the heart. Indeed to quote Leonard Lowe, if people have, “…forgotten what it is to be alive. They need to be reminded. They need to be reminded of what they have and what they can lose” then we’d suggest they could do far worse than listen to ‘Crystal World’ by way of a reminder because this is sublime, glorious, majestic, life affirming pop of the highest order. An electro pop map of the human heart with more empathy warmth and spirit than a million contrived indie lad rock ‘anthems.’ In fact, if any album betters this during the remainder of the year they really will have to deliver a masterpiece because this is truly fucking wonderful. Could all pop music sound this good if we barred big labels execs and the shallow A and R meddlers from the artistic process ? Who knows ? But we do know this – we are genuinely so very grateful that this album exists.
We stepped into Marnie’s ‘Crystal World’ for a chat about her début solo album.
VP: Firstly congratulations on Crystal World, which, without sounding ridiculously effusive, it is a truly spectacular album…..So to the questions – rather than ask why you chose to release it via Pledge, I’d be far more interested to find out how you enjoyed the process -updating fans and interacting, getting instant feedback etc. Did it feel rather less like a solitary process knowing you had a fan base out there right behind you, following each stage of the creative process?
MARNIE: I actually really enjoyed the contact that Pledge gave me with people. I’ve always been quite into meeting fans, seeing what they’re about, what they’re into, and Pledge gave me this instantly. It was like a huge support network of friends spurring me on when things weren’t quite going to plan. I felt really bad to have to keep announcing delays. I mean, if a record was released in the usual way this would not be an issue, but I did feel pressure. However, I’d say 99.9% of the pledgers were totally cool and just kept giving me messages of encouragement. For this, I am grateful.
VP: Following on from that question, you say you felt pressure… was that because as a solo project it’s all basically down to you and not a collective effort?
MARNIE: I felt great pressure, but more so because I got Pledge involved. Having people buy my album, along with some very pricey exclusives, without them knowing what the album would sound like scared the hell out of me. They put their trust in me, having only heard one little instrumental snippet. The day I uploaded the album to Pledge was a huge relief. It’s like I didn’t have to worry any more.
VP: Was the writing process hugely different from working on Ladytron songs. Was it difficult without having a group of people to bounce ideas off?
MARNIE: I’d say it wasn’t that much different to the Ladytron process – songs usually start in a solitary way and then may be passed on to someone else. The only difference is that I was working away on my own in my spare bedroom in London and would complete the song-writing alone. I had a pretty clear idea in my mind of the type of songs I wanted to write, the kind of structure I wanted. I knew I wanted it to be more Pop. The majority of the songs were written over the course of about 6-8 months and I feel like it was a time of great change for me personally.
VP: When did you actually start writing the songs for Crystal World? I mean had you been working on them for a while with a view to a possible solo project at some hazy future point, or was it the Ladytron hiatus that gave you the time and space to start seriously writing?
MARNIE: I’d say 8 out of the 10 songs were written specifically for a solo record. The others were a little older but I knew I wanted them used for something. I guess after December 2011, I really started to write a lot, until I went to Iceland in August 2012. So that 7 month period was quite productive for me. 9 songs were taken to Iceland and completed. I then wrote the final track ‘Gold’ at home in Glasgow late last year, flew for one last time to Reykjavik, and recorded it there in December 2012. Having time away from touring really gave me the incentive to write.
VP: You’d said you’d wanted your solo album to be more ‘pop’ than Ladytron. However, how would you define pop, do you mean ‘pop’ in the sense of it not quite being as heavy perhaps as Ladytron- more melody driven?
MARNIE: No, I think more traditional in a song-writing sense, with choruses really taking centre stage. Pop can be dark. Some of the best pop is. If people don’t think Crystal World is dark then I think there must be something wrong with them. I also think Crystal World is perhaps more accessible to a wider audience. I’ve had feedback from friends, family, fans, of all different ages and backgrounds and they all seem to get it. Of course, whether it reaches a wider audience remains to be seen. I’m just proud to have it out there.
VP: The albums production is perfectly judged, the songs sound beautifully polished but are given space to breathe. How did Danny get involved, where you a little worried that having someone from Ladytron would get a sort of, “Ah so it’s Ladytron but without the other two” reaction? Saying that I’d imagine it was very important to have somebody on board who you have total trust in?
MARNIE: Danny’s production really helped bring the album to life. He was really into me doing the solo thing and wanted to be a part of it. I was aware I would probably be judged for the Ladytron connection but I felt like my songs were strong enough to stand-alone. I am one quarter of Ladytron and I wasn’t looking to make an album completely veering away from what we do, however, I think I’ve made an album that is subtly different, perhaps a little softer around the edges. People can say what they will. I will never please everyone. But I am more than happy with the result.
VP: The album seems to have a number of recurring topics, with the sea being dominant. In literature, the water/the Ocean are often used to symbolise change, the ebb and flow of life and of rebirth, new beginnings. Are these kinds of themes you were exploring when referencing the sea ?
MARNIE: Definitely, it was a great period of change for me. I felt positive and excited at the prospect of new things on the horizon. I reference the sea quite a lot for other reasons also though, particularly on Submariner. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this song means to me. That was another thing with this album. I felt like it was vital for people to hear and feel the real me in it. I wanted it to be personal. For people to listen and relate to what I was saying, or just realise the emotion.
VP: The album photoshoot/ publicity shots – again there’s the water theme… you in a swimming pool initially in traditional swimming attire. Then in a swimming pool which is empty looking very rock n roll. Where did the photo shoot take place and what’s the idea behind the imagery?
MARNIE: Well, the Pledge press photo was taken a few years ago by a friend called Amy K. Walker. She wanted to enter a photography competition and asked me to take part. It was shot in this strange, absolutely freezing, pool in the courtyard of her studio flat in Brixton. The album imagery was shot by another friend Lisa Devine, assisted by Mack Photography, in Govanhill Baths in Glasgow. I’m very into keeping things as local as I can and supporting the area around me and I’d been interested in using this as a possible location for a shoot. We got so much good stuff in there. I think the cover really epitomises the pop aspect of the record and that’s exactly what I wanted, it also really works in relation to the title ‘Crystal World’. It’s stark, glacial, clean, and pretty.
VP: Have you considered performing the album live, I’m sure we could sort something out here in Liverpool, Ladytron’s spiritual home? :-D
MARNIE: I have considered it and would love to do live gigs, but that would be the next challenge and at the moment, I’m not quite sure where to start! Right now, I have a huge pledge campaign to fulfil and that it my main objective. Again, I am thankful to pledgers for their patience!
VP: Talking of homes, you’ve recently moved back to Glasgow after a number of years in Hackney- Was it something you’d always planned to do at some stage, was the pull of the homeland too much to resist. Are you up with the music scene in Glasgow?
MARNIE: My heart has always been in Scotland. Always. I did my time in London, around 13 years, and it was great, but I always knew I would move back to the motherland. Right now Glasgow seems to be bursting at the seams with great music. I’m trying to take more of it in.
VP: I read somewhere that you’d said you were a bit of a technophobe. This may come as something of a shock to fans of Ladytron, who probably imagine all band members travel in futuristic “hover-cars” and live in the sort of high-tech hideaways that make the Bat-cave look like an early Neolithic hut. Can it be true, you really aren’t surrounded by state of the art gadgets. ;)
MARNIE: It is true; I am not a huge tech head or gadget fan. Sorry. I get by. I grew up with a piano, and later adapted to a synth. That pretty much says it all.
VP: Finally, “do you believe in love or rock n’ roll”
MARNIE: I believe in rock n roll love.