EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: TALKING ‘GLEE’ AND ‘ELECTRA HEART’ WITH MARINA AND THE DIAMONDS

marina-and-the-diamondsAt this point, having your song covered by Glee is an undeniable milestone for contemporary musicians.

The musical dramedy, now in its fourth season, has been known to not only have its own songs dominate the iTunes charts, but to also help boost sales for the original material that inspires it. Take, for instance, Rihanna’s single, “Take A Bow,” which saw an astounding 189% sales increase after it was featured on the show.

Tonight’s episode (which airs on FOX at 9/8c), “Feud,” will include the Glee cast’s interpretation of Marina and the Diamonds’ “How To Be A Heartbreaker.” And for the Welsh singer/songwriter who made the song a hit in the first place, this is a major step in the way of securing global pop superstardom.

Originally released last year, “How To Be A Heartbreaker” acted as the lead single off of the American release of Marina and the Diamond’s (a play on her real name, Marina Diamandis) acclaimed sophomore album, Electra Heart. A #1 record in the UK and Ireland, the album served up some of the finest mainstream pop of the year. Full of radio-friendly hooks and laced with sugary dance beats, Electra Heart was a drastic departure from Marina’s indie pop-meets-New Wave debut, 2010’s The Family Jewels. But the album’s thesis is far more mature and complex than a first listen would suggest.

Currently in between headlining tours, Marina chatted with me about having her song performed on tonight’s Glee, reflected about Electra Heart one year later, detailed a horrifying health condition that nearly shattered her career, and more.

(Marina and the Diamonds’ music video for “How To Be A Heartbreaker”)

ALEX: You’re a solo artist but you go by the moniker, “Marina and The Diamonds.” Who are the diamonds and how did they get this name?

MARINA: Well, I don’t know why when I started – which was back in the olden days of 2005 – I made it Marina and Diamonds as opposed to going with like Mari and the Diamonds or Marina Diamandis. To be honest, I didn’t really have any fans then, and I think I really liked the idea of creating my own world. The “diamonds” were like having a sense of community each time I did gigs. Yeah, so I named it that and it seemed to work. And I feel like that kind of togetherness is definitely something that is very present in the live shows now. I just love seeing a lot of people who are like-minded coming together.

ALEX: The tone of “How To Be A Heartbreaker” is much less serious and it’s lyrically more playful than many of the darker songs found on Electra Heart. Were you in a different creative headspace when you wrote that track?

MARINA: Definitely. I had actually already finished the album when I recorded that, so I was able to kind of better understand what I was trying to do and what I was trying to sum up with Electra Heart. So I think that song’s really good in terms that it does sum up the whole concept – you know, the heart-on-the-cheek and the kind of fixation with love and with love’s little games and with how we all try to stop ourselves from getting hurt, basically. So I decided to focus on that and make it into a rule-by-rule song.

ALEX: Is that what made you decide to make it the lead single off of the American release of Electra Heart?

MARINA: Yeah. I mean for me, it’s probably one of the most important songs. I feel so sorry for the UK releases – and this happened with my last album too – because I always manage to get the track listing and everything right on the American one. But it’s because those are always done two months later! So I can always plan the album and do it in hindsight, whereas the UK versions hold up loads of flaws.

ALEX: What are your thoughts on Glee covering “How To Be A Heartbreaker”?

MARINA: It’s very exciting. It’s quite major for me in terms of like, you know, some kind of mainstream recognition, so I’m thrilled about it. And though I don’t watch it – I’ve never actually watched an episode in my life – I’m very excited to see how they are going to re-enact “How To Be A Heartbreaker.”

ALEX: Does that mean you don’t have a favorite Glee cover from the past?

MARINA: Okay, so I must confess, I have watched the Britney [Spears] ones.

ALEX: Who hasn’t watched those?

MARINA: Yeah, but that’s it. I unfortunately can’t really answer that.

ALEX: Who is Electra Heart?

MARINA: Well, she’s a figment of my imagination. But it’s no one really. It’s no one and everyone. It’s something that people can relate to because it’s a character type; it’s not actually a person.

ALEX: I see. What is your response to the critics who have suggested that creating Electra Heart was just an excuse to make more mainstream music and …

MARINA: Sell out? I say, boo-hoo. I mean, in all honesty, it kind of was. Electra Heart was many different things. On one hand, it was completely authentic – in my eyes anyway. It was an authentic, creative project, which I felt like I executed really well. And then on the other side, it was an excuse to break off and just be able to kind of go into a genre that I don’t really belong to, in order to open myself up to a much bigger audience. I’ve always been very open about my plans and why I do things, so … it was kind of like … it’s weird to say this, but it was kind of like taking the idea of selling out and making it into a pop concept album. But I don’t want to sell it as that because that sounds terrible.

ALEX: No, I think that’s really interesting!

MARINA: I wanted to use that pop model. I wanted to work with Dr. Luke and Stargate, people who are, you know, masters of the pop industry. And I wanted to see how I could work in that framework and if I could – and I think I did.

ALEX: Absolutely. So which song on Electra Heart do you as Marina – not Electra – relate to and/or enjoy the most?

MARINA: I think the ones that are closest to my real identity are “Teen Idle,” “Fear and Loathing,” and “Bubblegum Bitch.” I think I’m most at home when I’m doing kind of suicidal piano ballads, so “Teen Idle” is probably my favorite.

ALEX: You’ve always released music that aims to deconstruct society’s obsession with fame and the glamour of Hollywood. What is it about this topic that fascinates you so much, and has your perspective on it changed since being in the limelight yourself?

MARINA: I think that after this album, my fascination with it is kind of done. Electra Heart kind of allowed me to explore that and to get it out of my system. And as to why I’m interested in it, I’m not really sure. I suppose because it’s such an important thing to our generation. You know, the idea of being someone or being famous. I think we really relate that with success, but also, I think I just like playing with the idea of obsession as being the reason why we think the way we do about things, and if there are two sides to it.

ALEX: Last year around the time of the album’s release, you suffered from a vocal fold hemorrhage. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience and how/if it’s impacted you as an artist?

MARINA: Genuinely, it was absolutely terrible. It’s weird because I actually wasn’t allowed to talk about it after it happened. If I ever wrote a tweet about it and said like, “Oh, my voice is really hurting,” then it would have really affected my insurance. So for example, on the December tour, I actually thought my vocal cords were going to snap. And I was like, there’s something wrong with them, there’s something really wrong. And you can’t really say stuff like that because then if you do have to cancel a tour, your insurance is going to adjust a bit and stuff. It was a terrible year. I lost a shit load of money personally from the cancelations and stuff. And it’s only been in the past month that it’s actually healed. I went to a doctor here in New York and they were like, “Man, you’ve got an injury that no one picks up on. You’ve got a small tear in your vocal cord but you’ve been singing on it for nine months.” And I was just like, “That makes me feel sick.”

ALEX: Oh wow.

MARINA: It was probably was the worst thing that’s ever happened in my professional life.

ALEX: Well, I’m glad that you’re better now. That sounds like it was horrible.

MARINA: I know. Honestly, me too. I don’t want to moan about it, but like, I couldn’t go out anymore cause it hurt so much. Imagine that you can’t even go out for a drink with a friend? It was just really annoying, so I’m glad now that it’s over.

ALEX: Yikes. Well, I’m glad too for your sake.

MARINA: Thank you.

ALEX: In May, you’ll be embarking on a headlining spring tour across North America. What can fans who both have and haven’t already seen you live before expect from these shows?

MARINA: Well, each show’s kind of like a John Waters film. It’s like value kitsch, right? It’s very theatrical. The show hasn’t changed that much, except the venues might be a bit bigger. And the clothing has got a little bit more plastic. It’s the last tour I’m ever going to do for Electra Heart, so it’s really an important one. And I think I’m playing some of the biggest shows of my career, so it’s very exciting for me.

(Marina and the Diamonds’ music video for “State of Dreaming”)

ALEX: Well congratulations! That sounds great. You also just released your gorgeous music video for “State of Dreaming.” Can you tell me a little bit about your decision to film this in black and white and what you think that added to the song?

MARINA: Well, all of my videos – the ones that aren’t pop videos – I just film in one or two takes. So, that video was shot after a shoot that I had done for something else. Nothing’s ever meant to be or planned. I do what I can with what I’m given because I don’t have anybody for that, so I just … yeah, I just do what I can.

ALEX: What was the first album that you ever bought?

MARINA: Do you know a girl band called Alisha’s Attic?

ALEX: No, I’ve never heard of them.

MARINA: Okay, well, I think it was them. You should Google them!

ALEX: I will! So to wrap up, what else do you have planned for 2013?

MARINA: Honestly? Probably just fucking off somewhere and never coming back. Electra Heart is done. I’m looking forward to just living a normal life, and you know, seeing friends, and just being in one place for a while. So I think after this summer, I’ll probably disappear for a while.

ALEX: So you’re going to take a little break before working on a third record?

MARINA: Yeah, definitely.

ALEX: Well that sounds like it’ll be much deserved. Thanks so much, Marina, it was a pleasure speaking with you!

MARINA: Thank you! You too!

Electra_Heart

Originally published on PopBytes

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ICONA POP

Cocaine binges don’t end well for Hannah Horvath.

But in the third episode of the current and second season of HBO’s cultural phenomenon, Girls, Lena Dunham’s lead character goes on one for the sake of the experience. On a new adventure with her ex-boyfriend-turned-gay-roommate, Dunham’s protagonist finds herself in a Brooklyn nightclub snorting lines off of a public toilet and trading her shirt with a stranger’s. Yet before the episode’s inevitable conflict starts to neutralize her high, Hannah has a rare moment where she lets the loud and pulsing music around her take complete control of her typically guarded self. Concluding the blissful part of her maiden coke voyage, she loses herself in the club’s flashing lights while dancing in slow-motion and loudly shouting along to the words of the defiant electropop anthem thumping out of the speakers: Icona Pop’s “I Love It.”

It’s no surprise that shortly after the song’s placement on the hit sitcom, “I Love It” debuted on Billboard’s Hot 100 (last week at #69). Featuring British singer/songwriter Charli XCX, Icona Pop’s American breakout hit has been steadily building momentum since its release last fall. In addition to being featured on Girls, the track also serves as the opening credits song on MTV’s Jersey Shore spinoff show, Snooki and JWoww, and on the soundtrack for the video game, Need For Speed: Most Wanted.

Yet Icona Pop’s plans for global pop domination have only just begun. Comprised of Swedish duo Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt, Icona Pop has crafted an exciting signature sound that combines indie pop with elements of electro house music and hints of punk.

Currently on the road with Passion Pit and Matt & Kim, Icona Pop is slated to release their full-length U.S. debut this spring. I caught up with the charismatic ladies to talk about their tour, upcoming record, aspirations, Girls, and much more.

ALEX: Let me just preface this interview by saying that I really enjoy your album.

CAROLINE: Wow, thank you so much. We like you.

ALEX: How did you two meet?

AINO: Well, we met exactly four years ago. It was like February 2009 and I had just been dumped. After two weeks of lying in bed, one of our mutual friends was like, “you’re coming with me” and took me to a party. And Caroline was the one having the party.

CAROLINE: Oh yes, I was always having the best parties in town.

ALEX: I believe it!

CAROLINE: You know, dancing all my heartache and pain away. No, but … I throw a lot of parties. And Aino came to one of them and we felt that we had something special.  We were both kind of feeling at the bottom. So I think we were not afraid because we didn’t have anything to lose. Something in our bodies just said, “Please don’t let this go … just throw yourself out there!” The day after, Aino came to my place and we wrote our first song.

ALEX: Oh wow.

CAROLINE: Crazy, yeah! But I guess if you feel that it’s right, then you should just go with the flow.

AINO: Yeah, you shouldn’t fight it.

CAROLINE: And after that day, we’ve been hanging out like 24/7 and now it’s been four years! It just gets more fun.

AINO: We should celebrate four years.

ALEX: You totally should! How would you want to celebrate your anniversary?

CAROLINE: We should really do something special.

AINO: We should go on a nice dinner, just the two of us, and drink nice wine.

CAROLINE: Like have a little date.

ALEX: That sounds like a perfect anniversary. So where does the name Icona Pop come from?

AINO: Well, we were searching for a name for a long time because we wanted to have a name that could kind of tell what type of music we loved. And then Caroline’s mom went to this Italian dinner and they were talking about our project. And they were like, “Yes, so are they going to be the next pop icon?” And Caroline’s mom was like, “oh, that sounded cool!” So, she actually texted Caroline and then …

CAROLINE: Yes, because Icona Pop means “pop icon” in Italian.

AINO: So, it was all Caroline’s mom.

CAROLINE: Thank you, mom.

AINO: She’s very proud.

CAROLINE: Yes, she’s so proud that she’s taking all the credit for it!

ALEX: Can you each describe what unique qualities the other member brings to the band?

AINO: To be honest, that would have been easier to do four years ago. We’ve been on the road and living together, writing together, doing a lot of, like everything together for four years. So, you kind of grow together and I have a hard time separating that because now everything is so natural. You just do stuff and I just do stuff. It’s just great fun. I really think Icona Pop is a very good mix between our two personalities.

CAROLINE: I think it’s weird that we hang out as much as we do and we never get tired of each other. I think we have to be a little bit weird to be able to do that.

AINO: We have huge respect for each other. We don’t fight. We’re not mean to each other. We just really respect and read each other very well. And I think that’s the key. No one forced us to live together or write together; we just decided we wanted to do it! So, it’s all been very natural.

ALEX: How many of the dangerous things that you sing about in “I Love It” have you actually done? Like have you really crashed your car into a bridge?

AINO: Almost!

CAROLINE: In our heads, we’ve done everything a couple of times.

AINO: Yeah, and now we’ve been singing about it every day for like a year. So I think that the next time someone tries to break our hearts, then that means …

CAROLINE: Fucking … Woo, don’t go there.

AINO: And I think also we’re going to have a lot of people on our side when that happens.

CAROLINE: Maybe it won’t even be us crashing his car. Maybe it’s going to be someone else. Like, “I’m being supportive, you know?”

AINO: Those are hardcore fans.

CAROLINE: Yeah, we should just tell a lot of fans, “Run after him! Hunt him down!”

ALEX: You can put a call to action on Twitter and see what happens.

CAROLINE: Yeah, like a picture of him. Like a “most wanted” picture.

ALEX: Having “I Love It” featured on the soundtrack to the HBO series Girls and as the opening credit song on MTV’s Snooki and JWoww has made the song a massive success for you. Do you personally relate more to the ladies on Girls or the ladies on Snooki and JWoww?

AINO: We’re definitely more Girls girls. But still, I mean, the song says, “I don’t care! I love it!” And I think Snooki and JWOWW don’t care about what anybody thinks about what they’re doing. And so, I think the song fits them as well.

ALEX: I agree. Your critically embraced debut EP, Iconic, was released last fall. Since then, you’ve released a full-length album overseas. Do you have plans to release this record in the US? And if so, how will it be different than the international release?

CAROLINE: We have been doing Icona Pop in Sweden for a long time now. We felt that it was time to release an album there, but we’re constantly writing new stuff. So, we’re gonna have a couple of songs from the Swedish album on the American album. We’re actually finishing that right now – that American one. There’ll be some new tracks because we always want to have our newest tracks on to express what we are going through right now. But something like “Manners” is gonna be on it because that’s a very important song for us.

AINO: And our American full-length will be out very soon.

CAROLINE: Mm-hmm.

AINO: We’re just wrapping it up, and to be honest, it feels crazy. It’s huge! I’m scared and I’m super excited. We’re really ready for it though. It’s our baby. So, it’s going to be interesting to see how it goes.

ALEX: Absolutely. Who are you working with on the new songs?

CAROLINE: We will always be working with Elof – our main producer.

AINO: Yeah, and our best friend.

CAROLINE: But it’s also going to be a lot of collaboration. There are a lot of people involved.

AINO: Yeah, it’s going to be a wide mix. And maybe some … I mean, some stuff we don’t want to jinx yet because you don’t know what’s going to end up on the album. But it will definitely be a great mix.

ALEX: That sounds awesome. I’m really excited for it.

AINO: Yay! We’re getting pretty excited too.

ALEX: You’re currently on tour with Matt & Kim and Passion Pit. And recently, you guys all played the legendary venue, Madison Square Garden, on the same day that snowstorm Nemo hit New York. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience? Were you worried that nobody would come to the show?

CAROLINE: Yeah. We mainly felt sorry for a lot of people, because we got a lot of tweets saying, “oh, we won’t be able to come.” And we felt so bad!

AINO: Still, I was surprised that there were so many people there when we played. We really had such a good vibe with the people in the front and the people who were dancing, you know, in the back. So, we couldn’t be happier. And for us to play there … it’s such an iconic venue.

CAROLINE: Yeah.

AINO: That was really something. For us, that felt huge. But we were worried for the audience because we didn’t know if they were gonna make it home or if they were going to be stuck in some weird place. But I think everything went kind of smoothly anyway.

ALEX: That’s good to hear! You also recently finished opening for Marina and the Diamonds. What were some of the highlights of that tour?

AINO: That was our girl power tour.

CAROLINE: Every night was amazing. All the fans were wearing that little black heart that Marina has on her cheek, and she was painting that on us every night. It was crazy! And there were a lot of heartbreaking stories going on. She’s an amazing artist.

AINO: We met so many great fans on that tour. It was really a very good first tour here in the States. We felt so welcome. And I mean, we love Marina. We played with her in London a long time ago and it really felt like a girl power tour.

ALEX: That sounds like it was really fun! Switching gears a little bit, it seems like a lot of interesting pop music these days is coming out of Sweden (i.e. Robyn, Loreen). Being Swedish yourselves, what do you think it is about your homeland that inspires these various performers, producers, and writers? 

CAROLINE: We always joke that there’s something in the water … but I guess there must be something in the water! It’s also … we have summers three months out of the year and then the rest is just dark. So I don’t know if that maybe affects people’s minds or something like that.

AINO: Maybe it’s that it’s a very small country and people are very sensitive when it comes to different kind of arts and stuff. I think if you’re good at something and if you’re working really hard, people will start noticing. And if that happens in a small place, you will end up having a chance to work with other great people.

ALEX: What other pop albums are you most excited about coming out this year?

CAROLINE: Is the Rihanna album out yet? ‘Cause in Sweden it’s not out.

AINO: Yeah, I’m excited to hear it.

CAROLINE: I’m also excited about Daft Punk. But that’s not pop. I don’t know who’s going to release something new. Beyonce, hopefully?

AINO: Yeah, and I can’t wait for Justin Timberlake’s album. He really is someone iconic.

CAROLINE: I think there are gonna be a lot of good albums this year. 2013 is going to be an amazing pop year.

ALEX: Yeah, I think so too. I mean, everyone from Britney to Justin to Lady Gaga – it’s gonna be big.

AINO: Oh! It’s gonna be fun to hear Gaga’s new stuff!

CAROLINE: That’s gonna be awesome.

AINO: Have you heard anything?

ALEX: No, I haven’t heard anything yet but I think it’ll be interesting. Ok, for these next few questions, just answer with whatever word(s) first comes to mind. Don’t think too hard about it. Ready? Your favorite song of 2012. Go.

AINO: It’s an old song but Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place.”

ALEX: I love Talking Heads! Favorite remix of your own songs?

CAROLINE: Style of Eye’s remix of “I Love It.”

AINO: Yeah, Style of Eye.

ALEX: That’s a good one!

AINO: And also Captain Cuts’ remix of “Manners”. You should listen to it. It’s really, really good.

ALEX: Will do! Cake or carrots?

AINO: Cake and carrots.

CAROLINE: Yeah, carrot cake!

AINO: Oooh!

ALEX:  Good answer!

AINO: Yeah, actually, that’s one of my favorites.

ALEX: Frank Ocean or Chris Brown?

CAROLINE: Definitely Frank Ocean.

AINO: Frank Ocean, big time.

ALEX: I’m so happy to hear that. So to wrap up, where do you ideally see Icona Pop being one year from now?

CAROLINE: We have huge plans for that.

AINO: We’re dreamers and we’re dreaming big.

CAROLINE: I hope we’ll be on our own headlining tour.

AINO: With a full production.

CAROLINE: Yeah and touring the whole world and just doing everything on a bigger scale.

AINO: We have so much strength in our live show so that’s a really important thing for us. We’ve got huge visions. So, I guess that’s the dream: to tour the whole world, headline, and of course that our album goes very well.

ALEX: I’m crossing my fingers for you!

Originally published on PopBytes