Interview with Helen Marnie.
In fact I was in Iceland only for about a month, in August last year. Then I went back there for about a week in December to record another track. I was living in London until about September, but I am back in Glasgow now. Apparently I am at home in Glasgow.
But the thing about Iceland seems to be that you thought the atmosphere there may fit in with the mood you wanted for that album. Or what was it like?
I have been there before, but very briefly, with Ladytron, when we did a festival there quite a few years ago. And yes, I thought the mood of the record would fit in quite well with the surroundings of Iceland. But everything except for one or two tracks was written at home, in the UK. So the influence Iceland had on the album is quite limited, almost neglectable. The influences were drawn beforehand. Iceland was more a serene, a relaxing place where I could record the album. The fact that producer Barði Jóhannsson has his studio there, that was the most important part.
Jóhannsson shares the credits of the producer with your bandmate from Ladytron, Daniel Hunt. But both weren't there from the start, when you knew that you would be doing this solo album. In how far was and is it important for you, that "Crystal World" doesn't sound too much like an album by Ladytron?
I think that right from the beginning I knew that I would be working with Daniel. Of course I would always be connected with what I am doing with Ladytron, simply because of my voice and regardless of the music. But even though I knew I was working with Daniel, I knew that my songs were strong enough and different enough from what I was doing previously. Partly the structure of the songs is totally different and much more pop. Bringing Barði in as well surely helped the album being different, too. Also I did have a few songs before I knew that I would be doing this album, but then within eight or nine months I literally sat down to write songs exclusively for what would become the album. I think this is why "Crystal World" flows quite well.
Was this also a chance for you to let other musical influences come through than usually, except for being more pop?
I think it's quite hard to label and pinpoint certain influences. And I know that some people think that "pop" is some kind of dirty word. But I really wanted it all a bit more traditional in its structure and things like that. I wanted to work on hooks and choruses. When I sit down to write, I have to do it at the right time. That's more what my songwriting is about than about certain influences. I have an idea in my head and at the same time I feel what the song should be like. And it's not like "Now I want it to sound like ABBA. And the next one will be like Fleetwood Mac!" I appreciate their records and they surely influence me subconsciously, but you can't pinpoint that – and I have also been listening to a lot of contemporary acts from Glasgow as well.
I don't know how many breaks there were in the career of Ladytron, but now that the band is taking a break, was it never a question for you to do something different than recording a solo album? Are you that involved in making music?
I can hear that I need not fear that you are a total workaholic concerning music.
No, I just thought like the timing was right. Everyone was taking a step back, taking time off from touring, doing their own thing. Even when I was writing the songs I wasn't really thinking of making a solo album. It was still a daydream in my head then.
The album was first released via pledge music, which means that people paid beforehand and that you had to do lots of promotion even before its release. I have heard from people like Chris Corner of IAMX, who used pledge as well, that it can be difficult to make the process of recording an album public – and to ask for money from people before they have listened to a single full track. What was that like for you?
I don't think I really realized what I was taking on. I thought it was a good platform that would raise the money to put out the album. But apparently it is also very time consuming and it is also a very personal affair. I was quite happy to interact with people, but I also felt quite a bit of pressure. Because I was still working on the record, nothing was mixed, and I didn't have any songs I could let people listen to. So I gave them about a minute of an instrumental part, which was easy to do. Then I gave them a snippet from "The Hunter". So there was always this pressure like: What would the people expect? A Ladytron-like sounding record? Or a dance album?
There have also been deliberately interactive albums via web, like Einstürzende Neubauten did it, where the fans directly influenced if not determined what a song would be like. This is one way to deal with expectations, to directly involve the fans. But you are also letting go of your own handwriting then. Was it difficult not to give in too much to the pledgers' expectations and wishes?
I just tried to keep calm and do what I had to do. I concentrated on making clear to the pledgers what was happening, keep them updated, keep it all positive. They had a right to know what stage I was at. And there were a lot of delays. They had paid a lot for the album and other things accompanying it, so I tried to keep them on the level, to keep them happy. (chuckles)
Have you decided yet if you are also going to tour?
I can see that. Quite a lot of people ask me that. (laughs) I would really be into touring, but… (laughs again) But I would have to live up to a lot of expectations, also my own. I would need to find a band, to work it all out technically, etc. So: Yes, I would like to, but I am unsure yet.
It is known that you used to DJ a few years ago. What's up with that now?
I don't think I had much of a DJ career! I shied away from DJing for a while. At first it was fun, but then I think I had a bad experience. But in fact I just DJed with Mira from Ladytron again, in Moscow. The gig before that was last summer in Poland. I hope I will be getting more confident with that again. When I am acting live on stage I am quite confident with that. But when it comes to DJing I am getting nervous. I guess it's because of the expectations of the people about what I am going to play. I guess that's kind of strange, because I shouldn't be nervous!
This surely has to do with the size of the venues and that you have become much better known than in the beginning.
Yes, in the beginning it was more of a party thing, where I more or less played the records I liked. And then I forgot about it for a while and concentrated on live things. Now I can't just go there and play my top tunes anymore. Like in Moscow, where we play as Ladytron-DJs, and this is a really huge festival.
So you don't DJ at smaller venues under a different moniker or at private parties? Don't you miss this?
Apart from one's own output as an artist it is great to simply share what one likes with other people, isn't it?
Jaa. It's true. When I am writing music I try not to listen to other music. But djing of course is totally different, because you get such a lot of stuff and you always think about what you want to play to the people.
I rarely talk about the lyrics of an album. But I think that there is a different perspective on your solo album. "Message" is another dirty word to some people, but is what you want to tell people about life and society presented differently now?
The general idea is more about sentiment and emotions and being quite forward. For example "Sugarland" has a clear message, though. Then some people may listen to certain songs and think that they mean this and that. But they don't. You know? People may think a song is about a relationship breakdown – but it's not! So it's all up to the listeners, but there is also lots of "hidden messages", maybe even less hidden than on albums by Ladytron. (laughs) This is a solo album and it is quite important that people can see me in this.
But if people think "Well, this is a break-up song", but then it's not that easy because you are not simply putting out a diary...
Right. Though... You see: They are not break-up songs!