10 October 2013

WARP Magazine interview (2013)

If something characterizes the musical industry in Great Britain it's its diversity. We can find cases of global success, bands like those that fill stadiums and are supported by the great international record companies. On the other hand, there's also the artists who make their way by the road of independence, focusing the majority of their efforts in making their music known and playing in as many places as they're able to.

In some place between these two points, interestingly, we have Helen Marnie, better known as the composer and vocalist of the electronic band Ladytron, who at the end of 2012 decided it was time to take advantage of the recess of her main project and dedicate herself to creating her first solo album.

Without the support of a record company to reach her goal, the artist decided to reach out to crowd funding, so popular nowadays, specifically, the website PledgeMusic, a way in which fans support the music and obtain directly from the creators.

The result is called Crystal World (2013) produced by her bandmate Daniel Hunt and completely recorded in the studio of Bardi Johannsson (Bang Gang), in Reikjavik, Iceland, which transports us to a very intimate and personal landscape of electronic and pop sounds, with certain airs of organic nostalgia, something that the singer never allowed us to listen on Ladytron.

WARP Magazine had a chat with Marnie, who from Glasgow, Scotland, exclusively shared the experience behind the creation, recording and release of her solo debut.

How did you find out that you wanted to do a solo record?

It was an idea that had been going around in my head since some time ago, something I had always wanted to do. Obviously, I had commitments with Ladytron, so it was a matter of finding the time to do it. That's why, as soon as we had a break from touring, I figured out it was the right time. I told myself... It's now or never!

What made you go all the way to Iceland to record?

Bardi Johannsson, the co-producer of the album, has his own studio in Iceland so it made sense to record there. It was very exciting to do it in a new place for me.

At what point in time did you realize you were going to have to go crowd funding to make this album?

It was when I first went to Reikjavik. Crowd funding got my attention last summer when I was writing the album. I had seen what artists could accomplish. I had heard extraordinary stories, like Amanda Palmer's, and in light that at the time I didn't have any financial backing, I decided it could be the way to go.

Was there a point in the campaign that you thought there was no way you could raise enough money to make the album?

Of course, even during the process of mixing and mastering, I was afraid something was going to happen and the album wouldn't come out. It wasn't until I pressed the button for "upload" on the campaign on PledgeMusic, that I took a deep breath and I felt relieved. When you don't have a record company behind you, all the weight falls on your shoulders and things that would normally be taken care of, now are your responsibility. Sometimes it's very stressful... when something goes wrong, it meant more delays for the campaign and I found it very difficult to explain to the members. However, I tried to maintain a positive attitude all the time, to not lose motivation. The best thing of doing a campaign like this was the support, it was like having this great channel behind you, where everyone wants for you to do well. It was great, especially when other things stressed you out.

Is it hard to give out the packages you promised during the campaign?

It has been very difficult to organize, but nothing I couldn't handle. Up to right now, I have given most of what I promised, although the 12 inch vinyls have still not gone out. I think the most difficult thing has been to go to the post office and have to deal with these long lines behind me. Have to deal with people looking at me ugly 'cause they have to wait, but I'm used to it already. I can even look at them ugly as well, if it's necessary.

In your experience, what are the pros and cons of getting out a record this way?

The pros: The fact that you have a platform that allows you to reach a very wide audience and that you can personalize the campaign as much as you want. To interact with the participants was comforting and they always were positive, which I'm very grateful for, they had a lot of faith in me and that helped me to do the same with them, to treat them almost like friends.

In the cons... on the other hand, I found that the people from Pledge take a good portion of the funding, which they don't give you until you fulfill your promises which can cause a lot of problems, because things have to be paid for and you don't have the money to do it. Another thing is that they ask you to establish a monetary goal before you start the campaign, however, when you have a delay or another problem, obviously it affects the amount of money you need to finish the record.

How was it to compose a complete album without the collaboration of a band?

I enjoyed the process. I wrote the majority of the songs in a period of 6 months, in my guest room in London. And, well, to write a solo album was very different than writing for Ladytron, not so much in the technical side of it, but in how you deal with it mentally. I suppose I felt more comfortable writing about more personal issues. I was a lot more free to say exactly what I wanted. Musically, I already knew what direction I wanted to take.

How was Daniel as a producer instead of a band member?

It wasn't very different, however, it was good to have him as a producer, he was someone who helped me to develop my ideas and take them a little more out there... like having a pair of extra hands. It was great working with him as well as Bardi.

While you were writing the record, did you consciously decide to get away from Ladytron' sound?

Let's say I saw the situation like a double edged sword. I basically did the record I wanted. The result is an album that, musically and lyrically, I don't think it sounds like Ladytron. On the other hand, my voice will always sound like Ladytron, there's no way to avoid it and there's some people who have trouble separating it.

Do you think that in Crystal World we will find more personal lyrics that you have written until now?

Definitely. It would have been really weird to make a solo record that wasn't so personal. I am me on this record. I loved having the freedom to take the lyrics where I wanted and I have received a bunch of messages from people who feel they can really relate, some have made me cry.

What is your perspective of the musical industry in the United Kingdom? Do you think there's a healthy environment for indie artists?

I think the musical scene in the United Kingdom is, right now, particularly vibrant. If you live in Scotland, like me, you will see a lot of bands that are doing well. Glasgow is really very well fortified musically. There's a ton of places in the city where bands play every night. I just hope that these artists choose to stay in the city instead of going to London, like it usually happens.