Interview: Marina on balancing love + fear.
"I know it's hard to be soft, I know it hurts to be kind, I know that when love is lost it's only fear in disguise, but I still believe the world is beautiful, and I still believe only the weak ones are cruel," empathetically declared Marina earlier this year in March during a video trailer to launch her new album, 'Love + Fear', challenging the status quo of dangerous societal constructs that equate strength with firmness and hard personality traits. Two months later in conversation while running to catch a train to a tour rehearsal, Marina concludes over the phone that, "I think I always learnt growing up that I had to be hard in order to protect myself, but I don’t believe that at all anymore. I think life is much easier if you don’t have that emotional barrier." And taking her own advice, it's on 'Love + Fear' that pure unadulterated Marina shines through, as she embraces every kind of human emotion - unafraid even of the ugly and uncertain sides of humanity.
This week, Marina finds herself contemplating the comedown of an album release, taking to her social platforms to share with fans her thoughts: "I created 'Love + Fear' from a place that was not influenced by ego or validation. It came from a soft space in my spirit. But releasing it is pressing those old buttons and I am trying to figure out why. Maybe it’s natural. Maybe artists need egos? I don’t know. I just often feel in conflict that I am not following my true/spiritual path because I get sidetracked by aspects of this industry that contaminate my thinking and distract me from what’s important. I don’t lack for anything and it’s a blessing to have been given an extraordinary chance to contribute through music, so I don’t know what has got me feeling like I am. If I could ask you all of anything, it would be to stop saying I’m underrated. I know it comes from a good place but it reignites this idea that I’m lacking, when in fact the opposite is true. I think even for those with the thickest skins, it’s almost impossible not to be affected by it all if you’ve created something that is genuine and valuable to you... Every night for a month I have nightmares. I’m usually falling out of the sky or falling out of aeroplanes."
To which, Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson replied via Instagram: "Dearest Marina, I’m a lot older than you so I have gone through this many times before you. I must tell you this: Of course an artist must have an ego. There is not a thing wrong with having an ego. Only a woman would ever question such a thing. We are taught we are arrogant if we have an ego. We are told 'who do you think you are', 'sit down', 'shut up'. We are conditioned into believing that nurturing ourselves is wrong. We are 'caretakers' and mothers and sisters. I am here to tell you that an ego is necessary for ALL human beings, not just artists. We need egos for survival. That is why we have an ego in the first place or we would simply lie down and give up on all pain, all suffering, all anxiety, all the questioning. I’m here to say you are a marvellous artist. You always will be. Regardless of whether you are at the top of the charts or at the bottom of them. You must continue to create art. Create art and not put so much focus on every individual effort nor pay much attention to its performance in the market place. You must simply move forward."
And it's this sharing of thoughts between kindred spirits that is peak Marina - initiating a safe space where people can lighten the load of their emotional baggage by confiding their innermost insecurities and inspiring a relatable discourse that reminds you that you're not alone in the world - that the old idioms ring true; that a problem shared is a problem halved, and that sharing really is caring. And as she says herself in 'To Be Human' from the 'Love' half of her new album, "All the people living in, living in the world today / We're united by our love, we're united by our pain."
Click here to order a CDM x Marina zine (i.e. a mini-magazine featuring photos + quotes from this cover-story).
COUP DE MAIN: How are rehearsals for your new tour going?
MARINA DIAMANDIS: They have been a lot of work! Basically, I have a brand new live show where I don’t have a band anymore like I used to. It’s more like a theatre show now, in terms of the stage design and also the cast that I have. I have people who dance, do backing-vocals and also play instruments - well two of them do, one of them plays cello and piano, and the other plays drums. So it’s been a really nicely challenging rehearsal period. Very different from what I’m used to.
CDM: When did you come up with the idea to change it all up?
MARINA: I wanted to have two dancers on tour with me for a while because it just felt like this very male backing-band set-up I’d had for most of my career, and it just didn’t feel right anymore. So I tested the format out last year in New York - I had two dancers with me, and it just felt really good! The feedback I had was like, "Why didn’t you start doing this ten years ago?” So that gave me the encouragement to follow through with it. Also when I first started my career we were in a completely different cultural backdrop, where if you played anything off-track it was considered to be inauthentic, or anti-music, whereas now, that’s completely changed because people love the creativity of production and dance. And this is really not like a pop show, it’s much more avant-garde. It’s more like a contemporary dance show, so I’m really excited to see how people are gonna receive it because I’ve never done anything like this.
CDM: How have you found the process of putting together this tour?
MARINA: Really detailed! Again, it’s such a theatre tour, so every few songs the actual hardware of the set changes and the dancers shift everything. We haven’t got any crew on-stage, so that means that we have a lot of shifts happening, so it’s a lot more detailed! But we’re on our last few days of rehearsal and we’re finally getting confident and getting to grips with everything.
CDM: Are you looking forward to playing the new songs live to your fans?
MARINA: I am! I am. Particularly with ‘Love’ because it was released a bit earlier, I feel like a lot of people know half of the album really well now, so I think it’s going to be interesting to see how people react with the ‘Fear’ side of the record because it hasn’t been out as long. And I'm going on tour in four days, so we’ll see how the fans fare!
CDM: You made your new album 'Love + Fear' with so many New Zealanders! So when are you finally going to come and visit us in New Zealand?
MARINA: Oh my god! <laughs> I know! You know what, it actually makes me really sad that you might not ever see it! It’s not fair! I need to be booked by a New Zealand promoter, that’s what needs to happen. You need to put that on the cover!
CDM: We’ll make it the title: "Please book Marina!"
MARINA: Yeah! Honestly, it’s really funny because I’ve actually worked with three New Zealand artists - Joel Little, Sam de Jong, and Broods - and they all have the same manager as well hilariously, but they’ve told me a lot about New Zealand. The second day that I was working with Joel, I was looking up photos and I was like, "Oh my god, I absolutely have to come!" So I’m hoping that Joel organises a writing trip for people so that I have an excuse to travel so far! And do a big holiday as well.
CDM: Sounds like the beginnings of a plan to me... we’ll work on it from our end as well.
MARINA: I would love that, thank you! I appreciate that.
CDM: Which do you think is a stronger emotion, love or fear?
MARINA: Ooohhh… For me, it's fear. Maybe it’s not the more dominant one, but it’s the more common one for me, unfortunately.
CDM: Why do you think that is?
MARINA: I think I’ve just been quite overtaken by it in the past - I think I'm probably at a point where it’s more balanced than it ever has been before, but I would have to say fear, yeah.
CDM: "But I'll give my love, I don't care if it hurts," you sing in 'End Of The Earth'. Do you think it’s possible to experience love without any pain? Or is it an inevitability of feeling an emotion so strongly, that there will always be side effects of painful emotions?
MARINA: I think it is inevitable because anything that’s valuable or precious involves some kind of heightened emotion attached to it. Because you want to protect things that you don’t want to lose, so I do think it is inevitable. And also, it gives life or gives those emotions the light and shade that we need. Otherwise, we wouldn’t know what love is if we didn’t know what it was to lose it.
CDM: 'Soft To Be Strong' is such an important statement against the stereotype that strength is equated with firmness and hard personality traits. Is that a dangerous societal construct?
MARINA: Particularly with masculinity, I think men definitely feel disadvantaged by that assumption that to have an external display of strength equates to that. But also for all of us, again particularly in reference to relationships, I think I always learnt growing up that I had to be hard in order to protect myself, but I don’t believe that at all anymore. I think life is much easier if you don’t have that emotional barrier.
CDM: I'm obsessed with 'No More Suckers'. It's so powerful. You ask, "Why can't you help yourself?" Do you think it's impossible to help someone unless they want to help themselves first?
MARINA: Yeah, I have to definitely agree. By the way, can I just ask, when you first heard that song did you think it was bitchy? Or did you process it in a different way? Because I was worried that people would, but I hoped people would know it did not come from that place.
CDM: I love that song, I don’t think it comes across as bitchy - if anything, it’s empowering.
MARINA: Okay that’s good. Because for me it was more like, 'I need to change myself because I’m letting people in who are not very helpful because I have rubbish boundaries.' And I’ve kind of fixed that now. So that song helped me a lot.
CDM: Maybe the most relatable lyrics of your new album are in the bridge of 'Life Is Strange' when you say, "And I thought that I had lost my mind / Scared I was the only one, I didn't realise / Seems like everybody's having the best time of their lives / But we don't know what's going on at any given time." We're starting to see a backlash towards curated social media posts and influencer content, but where do you think the future of online culture is going?
MARINA: That’s a good observation and such a good question. Gosh, I’m not sure where it’s going, but I think that at the core of it that sentiment is still, or that objective, is still very much present. It’s so tempting, even to myself in the past, like I’ve had to really think about it a lot and work hard to not tag brands just for the sake of it - for reasons that are against creating. Because there is such a commodification element to Instagram, it’s not purely a social platform anymore. I think that’s what makes it hard. So going forward, I’d like to say that it's gonna become more authentic and more real, but I don't know! I think it has to, otherwise, it’s gonna die out because everyone kinda knows that the jig is up. People can tell when things are fake, or especially when people are advertising things. We just know. I think if someone does that all the time then you just don’t want to follow them anymore. But maybe I’m being idealistic, maybe that’s just me. Maybe other people don’t mind! <laughs>
CDM: No, I agree! Do you think the online world is diverging further from the real world? Or do you think it’s replacing the real world?
MARINA: I think it’s diverging - I think it’s very clear that online life is very much a part of our real life nowadays, but it’s definitely a different branch of it. I think in the past it was like, 'Oh no, that’s not real life,' but actually it is now, it’s become a part of our identity. Our online identities are just as valid as real-life ones, particularly for teenagers and young people. So that’s something that’s interesting to me, that it’s not just a frivolous part of ourselves, people are constructing online identities just as they would real-life ones. They’re putting in just as much effort, which is very telling.
CDM: Do you have an answer yet for your 'Life Is Strange' question: "Is it ever gonna be enough / To love another and be loved?"
MARINA: <laughs> Yes, I think it is enough!
CDM: 'Karma' is such an apt song for these times - as you say, "Ain't it funny how it all adds up." What do you think needs to happen next so that one day young and vulnerable women are protected from misogyny, exploitation, and sexual abuse by people in positions of power?
MARINA: Hmmm… I don’t know. I guess with the examples of people like Harvey Weinstein, we still haven’t seen legislation really take place - we haven’t seen what happens to people who abuse power and abuse other people. So I think seeing some kind of punishment for that would help deter people from acting in that way. I don’t see how else things can change, because if you think that you’re gonna get away with things with no comeuppance, there’s no motivation to stop behaving like that. Also, it’s about educating people from really early on in childhood about gender differences and how to treat each other, which I think is happening - we are seeing change, but there’s still a lot to do.
CDM: There's a lot of wisdom in 'True', especially in the first verse: "Let it go and listen to your own instincts." Self-doubt is such a universal feeling, do you think it's a product of nature or nurture?
MARINA: I don’t know! I think I’d like to say nature, but I just think they’re both equally as influential. That's probably not a very satisfying answer!
CDM: "There were riots in America / Just when things were getting better," are some of the most poignant lines on your new album. Having just moved to Los Angeles recently, how do you feel as a non-American to be living there now?
MARINA: Oddly enough, now that the bubble has burst in America, I feel like it’s a very interesting place to be living, especially if you’re lucky to live in a cosmopolitan city where things feel revolutionary at times. I think we’re seeing, all over the world really, in pockets, a time of real change and cultural change. America isn’t what it was because of that, but I feel like it’s an important culture to witness and observe. I love Los Angeles for lots of different reasons - mainly because the nature over there is amazing - but I don’t know if I feel differently about it compared to when I wrote that line. I think things haven’t changed tremendously from last year, let’s say, but it’s an important time for that society for sure.
CDM: 'Enjoy Your Life' is such an anthem of positivity. Does that song feel a little like a letter to your past self?
MARINA: Yeah! And to my current self! And my future self, probably! Even performing it yesterday in rehearsals, there’s such good choreography for this dance and it feels so positive performing it. So it really is an eternal letter.
CDM: How do you feel about the concept of happiness now, when you think back on a song like 'Happy' from your last album 'Froot'?
MARINA: I think I do feel really different about it. I think I see it more like something that comes and goes, as opposed to a destination or a way of being. I think it’s really unnatural to be happy all the time because life happens and none of us has perfect lives no matter where we’re from, or what we do, or what background we have. I think it’s dangerous to aim for it as this state of being because at some point something bad is gonna happen, or something trying or difficult is gonna happen in your life. So my views have changed. At the time of writing ‘Happy’, that was kind of the first time really that I’d experienced not having depression or long-term depression in my adult life, and that felt very enlightening to me. That state didn’t last for that long - I mean it was quite a long time, for me it was almost a year, but then I had circumstances in my personal life with my family that were really difficult and suddenly that bubble was completely burst and I thought, 'Gosh what went wrong? What am I doing wrong?' But I think now, I have a bit of a more mature perspective on it.
Marina's new album 'Love + Fear' is out now - click here to purchase and watch the 'To Be Human' music video below...