Marika Hackman has already played folky tracks, catchy pop anthems, and crashing rock thunderstorms. The first release back in 2014 was a gentle folk tinged affair. I’m Not Your Man marks a sharp turn in musical style. Freeing herself from the persona she inhabited on the first LP she is not holding back anymore. She sings about her sexuality, stereotypes, and herself in a very direct and tongue-in-cheek way. Her third record Any Human Friend walks in the footsteps of the previous. The playful cockiness and the utter confidence she displays, make her a unique artist and a standout talent in the queer circles.
Putting Stuff Out There
Greasy hair, oversized suit, and guitar riffs that will make your ears burst, Marika Hackman has surely changed skins like few out there. So don’t go to her concert expecting the 2014 acoustic guitar and singer kind of show. Even though she doesn’t feature the acoustic guitar on her record anymore, when I entered the room a blue velvet guitar case sprung right into my view. In it: a nicely shaped, mahogany brown acoustic guitar. ‘I still like playing acoustic guitar’ Marika comments reclining in the semi-comfortable interview chair, ‘but I feel like with the acoustic you are inviting people in. It is literally hollow and resonates. When you’re on stage with the acoustic guitar it is very intimate. Somehow, it appears more feminine, maybe that is because of the way the body is shaped. It is different with the electric guitar. Instead of inviting people in, you are putting stuff out there. It is so noisy and confident that it is impossible to ignore.’
Putting shit out there is what Marika is about in 2019. Unapologetic openness about sex, love, and pain are the main topics of Any Human Friend. Leaving behind her fine art studies to jump headfirst into the music industry, Marika has kept her playful and experimental artistic side alive. The fuzzy-haired blonde is rocking red Chuck Taylor sneakers and an oversized shirt. Radiating laid-back openness, her refreshing down to earth attitude is what makes the interview a pleasure. Wit, passion, and heartfelt laughter she gives me a little insight about the making off her third record.
‘This Is My Life’
‘It is a very sexual record’ she says. And no doubt, anyone who stumbles across All Night or Hand Solo will agree. But as she adds, the record is not displaying only the sexy side of sex but also the raw, funny, and existential bits of it. ‘Kissing and fucking / Kiss it, Fuck it’ Marika gently croons with vocals so sweet, the steamy lyrics might only hit you the second listen. Finally the lines ‘We go down on one another/ You’re my favorite kind of lover’ leave no room for imagination. Marika chuckles when I ask her about the lyrics, ‘Yes, it is very raw and open. But everybody has that side. Why would it be more accepted for a man to express those towards a woman than for another woman?’
Good question. Why is socially more acceptable for male singers to objectify women’s sexuality and bodies? To utilize them for their purposes throughout musical genres but not for other women? Over the last years the music industry has always had a huge lack of queer female artists in the industry. Luckily, now there is a big rise with artists like The Japanese House, Hayley Kiyoko, Mura, and many more. And with the rise in numbers comes power and influence. ‘Gay sex was utilized and fetishized by men in the industry. It is amazing to watch the rise of visibility in the queer community today. We are finally reclaiming our sexuality as women. When I was young’, Marika continues, ‘I didn’t know any openly queer and female singers. I think by putting out our music and speaking about our sexuality, we can open many doors especially for the youth who is struggling with those issues.’
‘This is my life, this is me, and I am comfortable with it and I am going to write about it.’
And Marika means it when she says she is not holding back anymore. Hand Solo’s abstract and metaphorical lyrics speak about masturbation very openly. ‘I dig for life in the eye of my thighs’ she sings over a throbbing bass-line and smooth synth waves. The sassy and brazen verses speak of confidence and a no-fucks-given attitude that fits Marika Hackman very well. But even though her last two albums stand out as the most confident and open works, she admits to always having had the side of her, which wanted to be unapologetically honest. ‘My first record was more of an introverted self-search for the listener to get lost in their own worlds. ‘Any Human Friend’ is more of a shared and fun experience. I’m really diving into myself on the record. It’s quite intense but it means complete freedom and honesty. That is liberating.’
The lyrics might be direct but convey important feelings. The sexuality between women is often times still either not taken seriously or confronted with judging stereotypes. ‘Under patriarchal law I will die a virgin’, Marika’s song Hand Solo questions the common belief that sex between women is somehow worth less than heterosexual intercourse. One would think that in the year 2019 eventually people would stop giving fucks about who kisses who but many queer people still have to face judgment and discrimination. Sex between women is continuously used for some male fetish, as an incident in Camden of an assault on gay women who refused to be performative of their sexuality sadly proves.
Other times sexuality is utilized for marketing reasons. With the increase of queer female artists in the industry, many see an opportunity for making money off the sexuality of the artists. ‘Especially during pride month’ Marika says in our interview back in June, ‘it is a good deal to make money with. But this is not what it should be. It should be treated in a serious matter and not used and twisted for any other purposes.’
All About The Bass
Aside from Marika Hackman’s obvious lyrical skill, the instrumentation on Any Human Friend stands out as well. ‘As a kid I started out playing the piano, but we never really connected. The bass and the drums were what kept me going.’ Of course, also the guitar snuck its way into the singer’s heart eventually, but didn’t manage to jeopardize the position of the other two. This explains why Marika’s approach at songwriting is different from what you might expect. Instead of using the guitar as a main tool for composing, her songs most of the time, start off with a bass line. ‘This might not be a common way, but it gives me a lot of space to write. By laying down only a bass line first, I give the song a backbone without filling the entire room yet. Like this, the ceiling is high and I have a lot of space to create melodies on top of the basic structure.’ No wonder Any Human Friend melts from one groovy bass line into the next one.
‘I always think about the way the instruments interact. But I also love to experiment with new elements.’ Marika explains the play of synth-driven ballads like Hold On, earthy minimalistic Wanderlust, and groovy confident riffs of The One. Listening to her third studio album is almost like a little tour through the singer’s mind – musically and lyrically. The well-placed details of the record seem to be shrugged off with the incredibly easy-going vibe it resonates – like this is something Marika writes every afternoon just for fun.
On The One Marika Hackman assembles an overly confident rock n roll persona on the abysses of her career. With Conventional Ride she lets out steam for straight girls looking for some excitement. Come Undone sees her in a sexual relationship while being in love with someone else. I’m Not Where You Are is an intimate insight into a one-sided relationship featuring a powerful video clip. There is probably no role that the singer would not take on.
The well-orchestrated clip displays the feeling of alienation with the analogy of the apathy of an aquarium. ‘Filming the clip was fun and luckily none of the girls hit me really hard’ she laughs about the opening scene. ‘But I think people who watched us filming where really wondering what was going on.’ No wonder, the sight of a tree hanging full of clothes or a woman walking down the street covered in tomato juice is probably not their regular Monday morning business.
The first thing that will probably spring into sight, is the album cover. Marika Hackman standing in front of a white wall wearing nothing but wool socks, panties and holding a little piglet. Marika laughs when I mention the shoot. ‘I was actually quite anxious about the cover shoot. It is really revealing but not in a sexy way. That’s what I wanted. Even though I am almost naked there is nothing sexual about it.’ Patchy floors, piggy, no make up and a look in her blue eyes of pained nostalgia certainly does not fit the bizarre image of a sexy women in the music industry we sadly have today. The six-week-old piglet is an analogy to the Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra who shoots mothers and their children right after birth. Mirroring the intimate insight into the person’s life is what Marika’s cover is doing as well.
‘It was such a hassle getting the pig. We had to get an official permit and give exact information of the times we were going to need her and what we wanted to do. You can’t just drive by a farm and snatch one.’ Well, the struggles paid off. Using a little pig was especially in Marika’s interest as they are very misunderstood animals. They are treated really badly and even used as an insult when they are clean and clever beings.
Take it or leave it
Displaying herself without any filter, lyrically and physically, Marika Hackman delivers an album, this time truly for herself. Not trying to please anyone just doing her thing Any Human Friend, resonates a take it or leave it vibe. For us it is definitely the first. The singer charms not only with her charismatic persona but with the confident vulnerability she displays. Hold On she calls the most intense song on the record. Speaking about rebirth, wanting to start over, and human connection she sings ‘I want to be a newborn’. The touching and relatable lyrics show the human in the singer.
For the next record Marika Hackman already has some visions. ‘I want to do something different. Maybe something orchestral.’ she hints. But we got more than enough to enjoy for now with Any Human Friend. To end on the same note as the record, the last track and also title track is a nice fade out. ‘Everybody wants to be made of stone / but we are golden’ Marika sings mournfully. ‘The song is about being pushed to fit a stereotype, something that you are not. We should not be put into categories that don’t fit. We are all different and that is beautiful.’
Marika Hackman’s new album Any Human Friend arrives on August 9 via AMF Records / Caroline International.
All Photos by Liv Toerkell for NBHAP