As she gears up to tour her latest record Any Human Friend, Marika Hackman chats to Sam Pryce about resisting genre, reading Kathy Acker, and why we should all be nicer to pigs.
“I like to feel challenged. I like to feel that I’m pushing and scaring myself, because it feels like I’m moving forward.” The 27-year-old singer-songwriter Marika Hackman is discussing the changes that led to her latest album Any Human Friend, a bold and uncompromising exploration of sex, bodies, queer identity and female empowerment, swapping acoustic guitar for electric and strings for synths. “Across the board, I think genre is dying,” she adds. “People are quite open to the idea of an artist changing, and I’ve always said I never want to make the same record twice. It’s fun to shake it up a bit.”
And she’s done exactly that. Back in 2015, when her plaintive, folk-infused first album We Slept At Last had just been released, a typical Marika show was a quiet, understated, often melancholic affair, usually just her and her guitar. 2017’s I’m Not Your Man saw Hackman open up about her sexuality on tracks like Boyfriend, as well as experiment with arranging her music for a full band. But as she’s been touring this third record – which features amped-up indie-pop anthems about masturbation (Hand Solo) and sex between women (All Night) – her live shows have taken on a dazzling rock-star swagger.
“I’m really enjoying playing the songs off the new album live, ‘cos there’s room for more showing off!” she laughs. “It’s quite an energetic, fun show, which is a stark contrast to when I was first starting out – when it was just me and a guitar, and it was all about the darkness and the silence.” She’s also not bothered by those who might prefer the ‘old Marika’. “To me, that’s still a positive, because I’ve put out some music that someone’s really connected with, and they can listen to that as much as they want.”
Inspired by Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra, the cover art for Any Human Friend depicts a deadpan Marika wearing nothing but white Y-fronts and brown socks as she cradles a piglet in her arms. “When I was studying art at school when I was about 17, I came across a series of her photos of women with their babies just after they’d given birth. They looked so vulnerable yet strong, not sexualised but with a strong female energy. We recreated this shot, with the fact that I’m pretty much naked. I’m exposing my body like that; I’m letting everyone see it and judge, which is really what the record’s about.”
And what about the pig? “Well, we have all these ideas about pigs being disgusting, gross, stupid… But they’re extremely intelligent, very clean creatures. They’re also quite sexual – I think a female pig can orgasm for, like, 90 minutes or something… I’m holding this creature that everyone thinks of in a certain way. But I’m accepting it for what it really is, rather than judging it.”
Though Hackman avoids listening to much music when writing, in case she “accidentally magpies”, she does read voraciously, and Kathy Acker’s novel Blood & Guts In High School – an irreverent mash-up of stories, obscene doodles, dream maps and poetry – emerges as the catalyst for her no-holds-barred approach to lyric writing. “The way she writes with this complete disregard for any sort of form,” says Marika. “It’s so visceral, aggressive, sexual, so full of shame as well as acceptance. We’re all capable of feeling all these different things, and that’s okay.”
Even as far back as her first EP That Iron Taste, Hackman has been known for her gory imagination. “I’ve always been interested in the themes that unite us as humans,” she says. “Blood, water, bones, sick… These are all things that we have to deal with, but we find them kind of embarrassing.” Her preoccupation with the body also calls back to a formative personal experience: an appendix scare in her late teens which required emergency surgery. “As a 17-year-old, you think you’re invincible. You’re not confronted with death at that age. I suddenly had this big shock… And it threw on a switch in my head about how fragile we all really are. But admitting that you’re vulnerable is so scary for people.”
The Gate, Cardiff, Sat 29 Feb. Tickets: £16.50. Info: 029 2048 3344 / www.thegate.org.uk