Marika Hackman's Covers album is released today (13 November), featuring her versions of songs by Beyoncé, Grimes and more, and while speaking to Best Fit she revealed that she picked the songs "as a music fan, which would give me the biggest advantage when it came to covering them".
Covers is Hackman's first LP since last year's Any Human Friend, and sees the singer/songwriter cover songs by Beyoncé, Grimes, Elliott Smith, Radiohead, Air, Sharon Van Etten, MUNA and more.
The album was recorded and produced by Hackman between her and her parents’ house, and was later mixed by David Wrench.
Ahead of her release day livestream show taking place in an abandoned swimming pool at 8:30 GMT tonight (13 November), Marika Hackman spoke to Best Fit about lockdown, the Covers album and more. Check out the Q+A below the video.
BEST FIT: How have you found the lockdown periods? Have you felt creative?
Marika Hackman: Yeah it’s been difficult, I found it very hard to be inspired. It’s funny because I’ve been looking at this whole year and this lockdown period as a very kind of unsuccessful, unproductive time, and I have to remind myself that I actually did end up making a record, even though it’s covers. I think that part of the impetus behind that was the fact that I was finding it really difficult to write. There’s a lot of stress, a lot of outside stress, and this feeling of everything shutting down - there was also a feeling of like ‘oh my god, a break!’. Like I can have a break, everyone’s having a break, and maybe even though this is what my life is kind of normally like, in the part of this touring and writing cycle and everything, maybe I should just cut myself some slack and do what everyone else is doing and take a bit more time to focus on me.
It’s the longest I’ve been without having played a show or been on a tour, and normally in autumn you’re touring, but I managed to go home and be with my family for 10 weeks. We haven’t been as a unit of four since my brother went to university and that was 12 years ago. So that was really great, and I think `I was kind of enjoying that. It’s not the most inspiring thing to be having a break and feeling comfortable and being back with your family, but it was really nice. I managed to kind of sidestep that writer’s block by making a covers album, so it kind of worked!
Was it quite a nostalgic experience being back at your parents' house? Where did it take you mentally?
It definitely felt regressing. When I was first starting to write music and to even release music - and it’s something a lot of people do - is I used to play a lot of covers. I wasn’t ever one of those cover artist people that started off their career that way, but in order to learn an instrument you have to learn other people’s songs. So I used to play lots of different music and then I released this covers EP when I was like 19, and that was one of the first things I put out. So it was funny that I was regressing in the sense that I was back in the family fold, back in the same house where I made that first EP, and it’s a strange mental space to be in. Although I feel very lucky my parents were very aware of the fact that me and my brother are both adults, and we have our own lives and independence, so they weren’t really telling us to do chores thank God, otherwise it would’ve regressed into teenage land, and that would’ve been so shit.
Did the time you spent at home take you back to the start of your career music-wise?
That’s kind of what doing covers feels like, because it’s like colouring in. It’s a very different process to writing a record, and that to me always feels like a progression because I have a timeline and a career on there that is very much like ‘I want you to want to grow and to change’ and to challenge a new part of myself, so they all feel very linear to me. Whereas when I approach covers, it’s more leisure, it’s an enjoyable activity like colouring in. So it’s like the template is there, and it’s always fresh and playful coming in to do a cover because it’s taking away a lot of that angst that goes into having to actually write music.
There was an awareness when I was doing this one [Covers album], I think from having been in the same space, that you know, a lot has changed since I made that first EP and I’m kind of stepping outside of myself and watching myself using software and plug-ins and different drum machines and stuff like that in a way that I wouldn’t have had a handle on at all when I was 19. It was really nice to have such a clear reminder of the progress that I’ve made over the last 10 years. There’s always a fresh perspective with a cover but it was easy to compare it and see how far I’ve actually come.
The covers album has a huge range of artists, how did you go about selecting the songs?
It was very simple, it was just choosing songs that I really love. I don’t want to pick a song that I don’t have any relationship with because it would make it so difficult. The trick with a cover is to distill the essence of why you love it a song, and it was really important to me to be picking these tracks as a music fan, which would give me the biggest advantage when it came to covering them. If I was already a fan then I would know what about the song makes me tick, and that’s a huge advantage. It was just songs that I love, and I mean there are probably songs out there that I wouldn’t be able to cover, so there’s a certain element of like thinking about ‘how am I gonna do this? Can I do this?’, but generally I’ll always have a go and then if it doesn’t work then it doesn’t work.
When it comes to covering tracks like Grimes’ "Realiti" and Beyonce’s "All Night", which are quite different from your own music sonically, where do you start?
What’s funny is that Beyoncé, and Grimes actually - I had started those two tracks like two years ago but not finished them, but then I was busy making my third record and putting that out, so I had those two slightly in the bank. With Beyoncé, it’s a case of being really highly aware of the fact that you don’t want to emulate, like that’s not the purpose of this, it’s about extraction rather than emulation. It would be a foolish thing to try and recreate that in a karaoke-esque style with me singing over the top of it because it would just not work, so you’ve got to adapt stuff to your own style, especially vocally - me and Beyoncé are incredibly different [laughs]. It’s important to not kid yourself I think, and it’s just fun, it’s always about stripping it back. With most of the tracks I approached it by just mapping it out with piano chords and a tracking vocal, and then just intuiting what felt right, and with that Beyoncé track, those guitar chord swells that I did just kind of set the vibe so as soon as I did that and had the drum machine on it, it just gave it this new life. Then it was just tinkering here and there and fiddling with bits.
Did you feel any pressure/anxiety when covering songs quite different from your own?
Not whilst I’m doing it, I would say more around the release of I start to be like ‘oooh I hope I haven’t ruined this for anyone (or everyone)’. A song is a song at the end of the day, you take the context away and you remove the level of fame or power and mystique an artist has around them, you take that away and it’s a song, and that’s just very unintimidating. It’s like looking at nuts and bolts sitting in a tray and just putting them back together, it’s not this huge heavy weight.
But also, like with any music, in the same way that I’ve changed with each record and changed my sound, it’s very much the attitude of all I’m doing is putting something else into the ether, I’m not taking anything away from you. So if I change my sound and someone says ‘Fuck you Marika Hackman your first album was way better and you suck now’, it’s like well ok that’s your opinion and you can still listen to the first record that’s absolutely fine, I haven’t taken away from you by releasing another one, and it’s the same with a cover. It’s like ok so I’ve put out "Realiti" by Grimes, my version of it, and this doesn’t mean that I have kidnapped Grimes and burned all of the masters to all of her records and you’ll never be able to listen to them again. I do care about criticism and I read it and it can affect me in many different ways, but I think I fundamentally don’t - it sounds really hard - but I don’t really care so much about that because I’m not removing something from someone.
You discovered the story behind "Phantom Limb" after you had listened to it in your teens, do you feel like you would’ve connected with it more if you knew what the lyrics meant when you were younger?
I would’ve I think. What’s really special to me about that whole process that’s happened where I did connect so heavily with the song and never really clocked what the lyrics were about, and then obviously in covering it and reading the lyrics online and looking up more information about it, finding out that it was about a lesbian romance at a high school - which is the age I was listening to it - I’m gonna say that yes, if I’d known that I probably would’ve stanned it harder, but it still hit me, and I think that’s something that’s quite interesting. It still gave me that teenage, longing, romantic feeling in it, and that melancholy, and it connected with me on a level that didn’t need me to understand what the lyrics were actually saying, and I think that’s testament to James Mercer’s writing. It hit me and it did the purpose, and it’s like I understood it before I actually knew that I did. When I found out about the lyrics I was just like ‘that’s perfect, that makes so much sense’. It doesn’t feel like an accident or anything, it feels very much like ‘wow, what a great songwriter’. You read the lyrics and they’re still quite hard to understand, but the feeling still comes through, and it still really connected so that’s amazing. You can throw around language and play with it and be poetic and use metaphors and push it to its absolute limit, and if you have a song behind that that is really pushing a sentiment that connects with people on the level that you want it to, that it like the art of songwriting, that’s the complete aim.
I feel like I have a deeper relationship with it now, which is really nice. That song really transports me back to being 14/15. There’s another level to it that I’ve realised at the age of 28, and it’s an ongoing relationship that is changing and deepening which is unusual to have with a song that isn’t like…a person [laughs].
Aside from music, what have you been occupying your time with during lockdown? Have you found any new hobbies?
I did do the whole Duolingo thing but it didn’t go very far. I played a lot of Boggle with my mum and my brother. Just lots of board games, and lots of jigsaw puzzles actually.
Now we’re in lockdown two, I actually am writing for the next record, so that’s good, onto the next chapter. With this one [lockdown] I feel a lot more productive and even just knowing that there’s potentially (and hopefully) an end point to it, I’m seeing it as more of an opportunity to knuckle down and get stuff going.
There were no crazy hobbies, I was focusing on the covers record so I was actually kind of working a 9-5 everyday and then playing Boggle with mum and probably drinking a bit too much, which I think everyone’s been doing. I watched loads of TV, it’s kind of been like a really long holiday, but a really grim one [laughs]. One where it’s raining outside and there’s the threat of death - that kind of holiday [laughs].