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Marika Hackman


On her fifth studio album, Hampshire-born singer-songwriter Marika Hackman's solidifying her legacy at the patron saint of "pretty gay" anthems. Chatting to Katie Macbeth, she shares all about panic attacks, lino printing and surviving your twenties. 

"I look back on the creation of this record and think that it couldn't have been made any other way," chimes multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Marika Hackman when reflecting on the creative process of her new album, Big Sigh. Her first album in four years, she joins me via Zoom to discuss it on a dark, December morning, introducing herself by apologising if she has to go to the door to collect Christmas present parcels. But with a new year fast approaching, Marika's real gift-to-self is one of renewed clarity. "When listening back on it, I can hear the thought, and the time, that went into the making of it, At first having to take these four years out seemed stressful, but I've grown to realise that it was something that had to happen". 

"I want it to connect with people - whether that's solidarity or it makes them feel miserable." 

Over the years, Hackman has become a symbol of hope for the LGBTQIA+ community, with her fans finding hidden meanings in her songs, attending shows, and showing their support on social media. By being able to create a safe sonic space in which her fans feel free to express themselves clearly, Hackman has become something of an openly queer icon for the community, blushing when I tell her as much. "All of my music has always been pretty gay," she laughs, "but 'Boyfriend' was the first time I was open about my sexuality. I'm grateful for that song for pulling me out and forcing me to be more bold, brave and much more direct with my songwriting. I'm happy that my music does resonate with people."

A beautiful blend of organic instrumentation and distorted synths, Hackman's fifth full-studio album is about creating a unique, experimental sound, its ten-tracks allowing her to delve into stories about romance; the beginnings and endings of relationships, and all the parts in between. A perfect balance of experimentation and familiarity, Big Sigh allows Marika Hackman to be more carefree, moving away from making music that impresses people, and towards tracks that connect with fans old, and new. 

"I want people to listen to Big Sigh and connect with it", she explains. "I want people to feel emotional when listening to it. For my last couple of albums [I'm Not Your Man and Any Human Friend], I feel like I've wanted to impress people, but main concern for this one is for it to connect with people – whether that is a sense of solidarity, or if it makes them feel miserable". 

Big Sigh is also the first time that Marika Hackman has been named lead producer. Tracks such as 'The Lonely House' – an instrumental number which takes away her distinctive vocals, leaving behind her hidden talent for creating a heart-breaking melody — is a perfect example of how Hackman has perfected her craft over her 13-year career. "I've always had a hand in producing my records, I spend a lot of time with Charlie Andrews her long-term collaborator, watching and learning from him, but it still feels stressful" she explains. "Even though I know that I'm doing it, I still have a devil on my shoulder telling me that I'm not as skilled as other producers – so I find it intimidating to inhabit the role of a producer and I'm hoping in time that will fade away." 

Hackman has always been open with her experiences with anxiety. The album's lead single, 'No Caffeine', is a guide on what to do to avoid having a panic attack, from "taking a day off work, calling your mum", to "having a glass of wine, pretending not to care", viewing her anxiety as an "abusive partner". During her four-year break, Hackman took time to figure out which coping mechanisms worked best for her. "I have a really close relationship with my anxiety now, I understand it well and I finally know how to get through it, I was having lots of panic attacks, even on Christmas Day, which lead me to realise that I have to go with my gut and make difficult decisions. I have to trust my instinct and make these big decisions and not let them get on top of me." 

Learning to cope with her anxieties isn't the only thing that kept her occupied over her four-year break, however, Marika found herself being invited to collaborate with Mel C and Self Esteem for the Lionesses' song for the Women's World Cup. "This job is insane," she reflects. "Sometimes these opportunities come along that are completely random. I never thought I would be standing in a room with Mel C singing about football, if you had told me that when I was 7 – I would've lost my mind. It was a crazy e-mail for me to receive. It was out of my lane for me as an artist, but I knew that I couldn't turn it down." 

But that's not all. Across the four year period, Marika found a love for lino-printing, furthering her passion for art after studying the subject. Hackman's love for art can be seen through the album's visuals - Big Sigh arrives with striking artwork, bought to life by Brian McHenry (Lost Control Collective), portraying an abandoned shopping trolley in front of a mountainous landscape. The visual side of Hackman's work has always been important to her; "when I'm writing songs, I have an image in my brain", she explains. "When this album was finished, I knew that I wanted something simple and honest, which is why I went for a pencil drawing." 

"When you see a pencil drawing you often liken it to a first draft, something that spills out of you onto the paper", Hackman describes. "Brian creates such striking landscapes that balance the quieter side of the countryside alongside the hustle of city life and that captured the sonic feelings of the record, the organic pastures and the industrial with the synthetic and I sent him the record and the artwork came to life off the back of that." 

An album that Marika Hackman describes as being about "leaving the carnal days of her 20's behind and reassessing my former life", there"s one final message that she has for her younger self. "Have fun, don't worry about feeling crazy about the world, and life, everything is okay, crack on." In a world where nothing is permanent, Big Sigh allows Marika Hackman to reflect with a big breath of sadness, stress and desire, but ultimately, relief. 

Big Sigh is out now.

Marika Hackman

Words by Katie Macbeth

Photography by Andrew Benge

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