18 October 2013

Herald Scotland interview (2013)

That's how it starts. A wail and then a synth wash starts beneath it, martial and, yes, a little bit Knight Ridery, rising to the front of the mix as the voice is pushed back. Then the drums kick in and the vocals jump front and centre. What is this? This is pop. Or Helen Marnie's version of the word anyway.

It's also how Hunter, the opening track on her new solo album Crystal World begins, a first step outside the electronic arms of Liverpool quartet Ladytron, the band she's been a member of throughout the 21st century. And an attempt, she says, to push herself into being "more pop, more pop than Ladytron".

"I would say I am the more pop part of Ladytron, so that was in my head", she tells me over coffee in a Glasgow hotel. "I wanted to write choruses. I'd never worked by hooks and choruses and I wanted to do that".

Marnie has been ringing the changes of late. Towards the end of last year she moved back to Scotland after more than a decade in London (before that she was in Liverpool, where she met the rest of the band). "It was pulling at my heart to come back to Scotland. I got married but he's a southerner and I had to drag him up here".

And before that, and with Ladytron on extended furlough, she had recorded Crystal World, a silvery dream machine of an album on which she sounds a little like Chvrches' Lauren Mayberry's big sister and calls herself by her surname only. "On this I just felt freer to do whatever I wanted. I'm definitely quite open on the record. I think the things I wanted to express are there in the lyrics and the music".

The result is an album with a sci-fi sheen. The cover too. How hard was it to get into those trousers Helen? "A friend of mine in Glasgow, Rebecca Torres, she made these catsuits especially for me. So I owe her big time. I did need help getting into it but the only part I needed help with was getting the leg over my foot. The rest is quite stretchy. It must be my big toes or something".

She looks at the cover lying in front of us. "I think that looks pop. It's quite glossy but also I wanted it to be quite feminine and girly. I'm like a woman who's free". It speaks to the music. "Yes, but without being too clinical".

Crystal World was funded originally by Pledge and is now getting a release on the newly revived Les Disques du Crepuscule label ("Someone said to me the other day 'that was so cool in the eighties' and I was like 'really, I've never heard of it'".)

She's still amazed at the response to her Pledge campaign to help fund the making of her album. It helped that Ladytron's decade as indie electronicists gave her some recognition. "That definitely helped and the reaction was great. It kind of took me offguard. I set a target and we reached the target within a few days, though I have to say the target was quite small.

"I can't say what it was but I have to say it wasn't enough. I think I made over 200% of my target. But it still wasn't quite enough".

That's the pragmatist in her speaking. The dreamer is surprised that anyone would be interested in the first place. "I was quite shocked. I was thinking 'you're going to pay this amount of money for my old bikini? Really'".

Helen Marnie's pop story is the story of an uncool kid who loved Kylie and ABBA and Michael Jackson ("I used to write him letters"), who listened to her brother's Metallica records and studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama (as was). She dropped out of university in Glasgow before going on to study music in Liverpool where she met the rest of Ladytron. The band named themselves after a Roxy Music track and former Roxy member Brian Eno has been effusive in his praises.

But with her bandmate Mira Aroyo having a baby, Daniel Hunt over in Brazil and Reuben Wu currently living in Chicago the band have been taking their first real break this last year. But it's a pause not an ending. "I think hopefully we'll make a record next year", Marnie says.

In the meantime she has her own record to promote. "I would like to do some live gigs but how to do it, I need to work that out".

This is the start then, not an ending.

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