She’s Marina, her fans are the diamonds.
Marina and The Diamonds is Marina Dimandis. The 24-year-old Welsh singer-songwriter and I spoke before she was to embark on her massive North American tour, which kicked off last week in Boston. Marina is warm, natural, charming, and frankly, I want to steal her accent.
“I’m obsessed with the mess that is America,” she sings in “Hollywood” off The Family Jewels, her fun and catchy pop debut on Atlantic Records. Tonight, She’s in D.C., playing at the 9:30 Club. Don’t miss the chance to hear her live. [Get tickets ($15); Doors: 7 p.m./Young The Giant: 8:15 p.m./Marina and The Diamonds: 9:30 p.m.]
BYT: Where are you right now?
Marina: I’m in London. It’s really dark and raining. The sky is almost black.
BYT: Oh no.
Marina: I know.
BYT: So, tell me, what’s it been like touring the U.S.?
Marina: I’ve really only done a few dates. I’m about to-
We get disconnect and reconnected.
Marina: Ryma, I can’t believe you put the phone down on me! (Joking)
BYT: Right in the middle of your sentence…
Marina: Yes! (Laughs)
BYT: You were talking about your tour.
Marina: I’ve done a few dates in LA, San Francisco, and New York.
BYT: How were those?
Marina: Amazing. The American audience is my favorite in the world.
Marina: They’re so open and loving. I don’t know if it’s just my fans or American audiences, but I’ve never connected with people so strongly. I’m so thrilled, because I predicted it would be like that, but you never know until you go.
BYT: You moved around quite frequently as a child and attended many schools. What was it like never settling down anywhere for very long?
Marina: It’s been very good for setting me up with skills for this career, because I literally never get homesick, and I really like being on the move.
BYT: As a teenager, who did you look up to, musically?
Marina: I loved Madonna. I hate saying idolize, because I don’t want to idolize anyone, but I was obsessed with her. Musically, I started to discover real musicians like PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Fiona Apple. I was opened to another way of being a female artist and making me feel much less restrictive to fitting in this kind of mold of what it is to be sexy or successful. I really wanted to be a pop artist. I didn’t want to be an experimental, left field act.
BYT: Did you always see you yourself as this solo artist or did you ever consider being in a band?
Marina: No way. I would never be in a band. (Laughs) I’m too fixed on my ideas, and I like to work alone.
BYT: What prompted your move to London? You were 18 years old at the time, right?
Marina: Yes, and I had been planning it since I was 14 [years old]. I was obsessed with moving to London, because I knew I was going to be a singer, and I knew that would be the only place that I would make it happen.
BYT: What was the most difficult part of adjusting to life in London?
Marina: I think the only difficult factor was because I wasn’t going there to go to university or something that had a community of people. I didn’t know anybody. That’s kind of helped me a lot. It was really tough. For two years, I hated it. I was really lost. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing or how I was going to achieve my goal.
BYT: Well, everything seems to have fallen into place.
Marina: (Laughs) Thank God.
BYT: What was the recording process like during the making of The Family Jewels?
Marina: It was very scattered, because at first I wanted to work with one producer. But, in the end, because I write in such a schizophrenic way, I figured that wouldn’t be possible anymore. I ended up working with a lot of other producers. It was written over two years, and it was produced over one year. I’d written almost all of the album before I even got signed, so on the writing side, it was quite a straight forth process.
BYT: Are you involved in the creative aspects of making your videos?
Marina: Yeah, I love videos. I’m a really visual artist. I’m not part of a pop production or package, so it would be weird if I didn’t do that. You don’t know if you’re going to be good at pop videos until you start making them. And then, as soon as I did “I’m Not A Robot,” I was like, “I love this.” I love collaborating with directors. “The Shampain Sleeper,” which I did yesterday, is 100 percent my vision, and everything has been except “Mowgli’s Road.” I just love it. It’s such a pleasure for me.
BYT: Do you have a favorite?
Marina: Oh God…I think it’s “I’m Not A Robot,” because it’s probably the most innocent or pure. It was on such a small budget. It was done out of good feeling and definitely the most grueling, as well. It was really hard work.
BYT: It’s visually striking.
Marina: Yeah, it’s so simple. I really wanted to take it away from the world of pop videos where everything is really in your face and loads of money is being spent on it, but there’s no soul in it.
BYT: I’ve heard some of your covers, like 3Oh!3’s “Starstrukk” and Late of the Pier’s “Space and the Woods.” Is there anything you’d particularly like to cover next? Do you enjoy doing them?
Marina: (Laughs) No, I hate them. I do them, because my label tells me to! Except for 3Oh!3, which we were doing this really big radio thing in the UK called Live Lounge, and I thought it would be good to put a female’s twist on the interpretation of the lyrics, which could be taken as being a little misogynistic…I don’t know. I enjoyed it. But my old covers, they’re a bit shady. (Laughs) I’m not very good at them.
BYT: I like listening to different versions of the same song. It’s interesting to hear an artist’s interpretation of someone else’s work.
Marina: Yeah, it is interesting.
BYT: Are there any covers or remixes or your songs that you’ve heard that you enjoyed?
Marina: Remixes…there’s been some really clever ones. There’s one by Clock Opera of “I’m Not A Robot,” and it’s the best remix I’ve ever heard of my stuff. It’s incredible.
BYT: What have you been listening to lately?
Marina: I’m actually really inspired by music at the moment. There’s this girl called YADi. You might really like her. Not that I know your music taste, but she’s so good. She’s got a really distinct vocal. She’s coming on tour with me. Also there’s Janelle Monae, who’s getting really big here at the moment. Hole’s new record, I’ve been listening to nonstop for ages…Also this girl, well actually she’s a really good friend of mine called Clare Maguire, who is just starting in the UK. She’s got an incredible voice.
BYT: Do you usually listen to a lot of new music?
Marina: Actually, I don’t. Recently, I’ve been starting to a lot. It’s a good thing.
BYT: I’ve read some interesting things about you on the Internet, including- and I think this is the best one- you dressed up as a man for a Reggae boy band audition for Virgin?
Marina: (Laughs) Yeah!
BYT: (Laughs) That’s so great.
Marina: You got to do what you got to do. I had nothing to loose in those days. I literally had nothing to loose. Everyone thought I was shit. I was 19, and had been in London for like two weeks, and I saw this audition. I kind of ignored the Reggae boy band part, and focused in on the Virgin Records part. So, I went along. It was a washout, but I did get a meeting with the A&R because of it.
BYT: Well, there you go. Something else I found fascinating- you see music notes in different colors?
Marina: Yeah, but I thought that everyone interpreted certain things like that. For example, days of the week and numbers, I get it with as well, and certain people. I think it’s just like having a heightened sensitivity to something. I don’t think there’s anything crazy weird.
BYT: Do you believe it’s influenced your music?
Marina: Definitely. In terms of production, hugely, because I see each song as a whole world. So, there’s 12 worlds on the record, and each world is made up of different colors, textures, songs, and characters. It’s almost like each song is a little film.
BYT: That’s beautiful!
BYT: You have a really strong sense of style. You collect vintage cheerleading jackets?
Marina: Yeah. Cheerleading jackets, I have eight at the moment, and I’m going to stop buying them, because it’s ridiculous. But, I love them.
BYT: Is one of them in the “Hollywood” video?
Marina: Um Hum.
BYT: Are there particular people who influence your style?
Marina: No, it’s more about how I’m feeling. I don’t really focus on one particular person. Well, I think someone like Gwen Stefani, back in the day of No Doubt, was really cool, because she managed to maintain a really nice, feminine look but also toughed it up and was cool at the same time.
I change so much with fashion. Some days I feel like I want to be like a boy, and other days I want glittering gowns. (Laughs) It’s not something I spend a lot of time on. I very rarely shop, and I pick things out in the morning in about 10 minutes like everyone else. But it’s enjoyable. It’s good. It helps you feel a certain way. Clothes are very important.
BTY: Where is it that you shop?
Marina: Many vintage stores, especially when I go to LA. I picked up about 15 vintage slips recently. So, I’m obsessed with wearing that at the moment with loads of goals chains…some kind of like Italian soap opera star. (Laughs) It really depends.
Marina: Well, I hated it in the beginning, but now, I really like it. I think if you know people, that really changes your experience.
BYT: Right. Like everywhere…
Marina: You’re right. Like everywhere actually…
BYT: You’ve used the term obsessed when describing your infatuation with American culture.
Marina: I think everything that has layers or has an illusionary element to it is infinitely fascinating. That’s why the whole world is obsessed or very influenced by American culture. It’s so contradictory. You know, for example, one of the main messages that I always pick up on is happiness and being happy, and if you’re not happy it’s shameful. People aren’t really allowed to feel sad or to accept it as a normal emotion. But really, it’s fucked up, because a lot of people aren’t happy.
It’s not just Americans, many different countries and cultures. But there’s so much emphasis and value put on things like youth and success, and America really holds up youthful, beautiful, successful people. If you don’t fit in that category, you’re kind of shunned. I find that really interesting. (laughs) It’s just something to think about. It’s inherited in British culture. That’s why I feel I can notice it. Also, songs like Hollywood are kind of a jive at the fact that the whole world thinks that Hollywood is some true representation of America. Hollywood isn’t even like Hollywood.
BYT: True. Do you have a favorite American city?
Marina: I’ve been to Austin, LA, San Francisco, New York, Miami, and so far, New York has been my favorite. So, we’ll see. By the end of this trip, I’m going to reevaluate.
BYT: Have you even been to D.C.?
Marina: No, I haven’t. I’m really excited to come. I’m genuinely excited!