05 June 2017
Herald Scotland interview (2017)
"It's a horrible song, about a nasty and harrowing experience," says Marnie, sitting in the far brighter surroundings of a Glasgow city centre coffee shop.
"It depicts a really dark scene of a girl being alone at night. It was one of those experiences where you think that you could have died, and what would have happened if you'd made a different decision. It's a creepy feeling, where you are lucky enough to be able to tell the story and write these lyrics, but at the same time even thinking about it makes your skin crawl.
"It was something that I think needed to get out there. I thought 'this makes my skin crawl – that's perfect writing material'."
The track is certainly a jarring piece of menacing, noisy synth pop but that isn't to say this is a dark, brooding record. Instead it is filled to the brim with pop music, from the Prince-inspired "Electric Youth" to the surging Bloom and throbbing electro of "Lost Maps". In short, it suggests a woman who has more confidence and a better understanding of what music she is wanting to make.
"Crystal World was quite soft, and I think it felt introspective, very personal and emotional," she says.
"I'd kind of had it with that. I think the album was great but I had to do something different. So it was a case of working with [producer] Jonny Scott on beats. I wanted something harder, that you could feel more, something more uptempo and danceable.
"When you use the word 'pop' people frown, as if 'that's rubbish', but if people have a problem with that then they can get over themselves because there's so much great pop out there – Prince and Bowie were pop at heart."
It is also pop music that has an emotional core. The record has a couple of recurring themes throughout, linked to getting older and reflecting on life, and the changes within it.
"I think the two big themes on there are love and mortality," she says.
"There's love affairs and things that don't work out, and obviously mortality comes into the record on a few occasions. I guess that relates to love as well. It's not just those two themes, there's a bit of harking back to lost friendships, when you don't really know why they were broken.
"You become aware of your own mortality and that of those around you, and that plays a part in what you write about, even if it's morbid."
Perhaps the album's confidence suggests that Marnie herself is more comfortable these days too. Her first solo record came not long after she had moved back to Scotland, following close to two decades in England, first in Liverpool and then London.
After a year or so living in Govanhill, she's now been settled in Pollokshields for the past few years.
"I was in London for a long time but I always knew I didn't want to end up in London. I'd planned to be there for a couple of years, and then suddenly realised I'd been there 11 years, and it was just too much.
"I really like Pollokshields as an area, because there's all these places opening up, bars and cafes and that. It's like a wee hub. I don't really think Glasgow has changed that much over the years to me – even somewhere like the Barras, it's now got things like the BAAD design centre, but that whole area still hasn't really changed in forever."
Things staying the same isn't always a good thing, of course. Despite a growing upsurge in women in the music industry, Marnie is still finding that many tired old attitudes won't shift.
"You still get people, and not just men but women can do this too, where they see a man in the band and automatically go to them, and act like they're in charge. You'll be like 'err, it's me you need to speak to here. Why on earth would you think that the man in the band is in charge – this is my band, so speak to me'.
"I guess people need to change their ways and really think a little outside the box. The more women that get involved in any position in music can encourage others to get involved, and they can relate to them."
That is a depressing state of affairs, considering the length of time Marnie has been making music. It was when she was living in Liverpool that she joined Ladytron, the futuristic synth-pop band ahead of their time, given the dominance of synths in the charts these days.
"Chart music is just full of it, and you can't get away from synths there now. I feel like, on the other hand, guitar music is now having a comeback with all the indie bands – there's a lot of girls with guitars in bands it feels like, and that's what is getting played a lot on 6 Music rather than electronic music.
"Electronic music as alternative music has changed quite a bit in the last few years because the charts have taken it on so much. I guess people's technical abilities to produce music have changed too, so these mass-produced chart records aren't that organic, it's more soft synths."
Despite all the earlier talk of broken friendships and facing up to mortality, Marnie herself seems to have plenty of that pop spirit in her. She's confident about Strange Words and Weird Wars and in an upbeat mood, even when the biscuit she's eating takes an impressive dive into her coffee at one point. Despite the record's lyrical themes, is she still an optimist, a romantic?
"I'm a romantic at heart," she says.
"I'm a Pisces so I'm a total dreamer and I had my head in the clouds when I was younger. I'm more realistic now but I was very carefree in my twenties and didn't think about repercussions. I just took risks.
"Then people start to get a bit more responsible, although I'm still not that realistic in how I think. I'm still a bit silly and that's the dreamer in me."
Let's stick with dreaming to finish things on, then. What does Helen Marnie dream of for Strange Words and Weird Wars?
"World domination is still there," she laughs.
"The whole thing about making music is that you hope people will listen to it. I feel I've made a great album and I want as many people to listen to it as possible. I don't want to be Beyonce or anything like that, but if I can get the music out there to as many people as possible then I'd be happy. Why else would you make music?"
Tag: Marnie interviews