'I guess there is quite a dark side to me': Marika Hackman interview

Burberry model-turned-musician Marika Hackman is far happier writing sad songs than she is posing for the camera, she tells Elisa Bray

Most 21-year-olds still don't know what to do with their lives, but Marika Hackman has already been a model for Burberry, and is tipped to be a breakthrough pop artist this year.

It was when she was 14 years old and she played her first gig with school friend Cara Delevingne (Hackman played drums while the supermodel played guitar and sang) that she gained a taste for being a musician. “I was so scared,” she recalls, shuddering at the memory. “And then I played and got this massive buzz afterwards. I thought, 'OK, this is what I want to do from now on'.”

Back then, it was fun, cheesy covers that they favoured, the girls swapping places as Delevingne also played drums. At the same time she started to hone the beguiling, delicate, spectral songwriting that has been championed by DJs Huw Stephens and Zane Lowe, and on Radio 1 and 6Music.

Two of the songs from her debut EP, That Iron Taste, “Bath is Black” and “You Come Down” were written during her last year of school. Those songs captured the attention of Johnny Flynn, the folk singer-songwriter and actor, who knew of Hackman from their days at the arty, liberal school Bedales. Enthused by her talent, he played her music to his record label, Transgressive, and a contract followed. When it came to producing her debut single, Flynn was the obvious choice. “I jumped at that because I'd always been a fan of Johnny,” says Hackman. “I've been really lucky with who I've worked with.”

She has also found her musical match in Alt-J's Charlie Andrew, who produced her EP. But it's Hackman who plays every instrument on her recordings, from bass to piano, guitar to sitar. “Nothing's a particularly high standard,” she says, brushing it off modestly, “but I think that's what gives the record an almost funky feel, because I'm grappling with these instruments, trying to work out how to use them and being creative, not playing them in a traditional way. It's the same with my guitar playing – I'm self-taught and people come up to me after gigs and comment that it's a unique style, which I've never even thought about. I use my thumb and forefinger and I do a lot of plucking, which is quite stupid because it's so much work on the finger and thumb.”

Growing up in Hampshire and Devon, Hackman moved to Brighton aged 18, for an art foundation course and was set on a degree in fine art – until she realised that this was her one chance at music. With a home life as liberal as her schooling, her working life was always going to be creative. Her parents met through their work as animators, and reading, storytelling and a strong imagination were encouraged. “Mum and dad didn't like us watching much TV, so we had to have fun in a different way,” she recalls. It's no surprise then that her older brother took an equally creative path, as a house music producer, under the name of Hackman.

Music was always playing in the family home, but aside from Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon, it was not the kind of artists you might expect. “Led Zeppelin was always on in the car on the way to school, and Steely Dan, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes... It was a good bed of amazing songwriting. I want to make something that grabs someone's attention like that, and I think that's why those acts were so important, even though you probably can't hear them in my music.”

For someone who has been a face for Burberry, Hackman is distinctly un made-up – more young college indie singer than glamorous supermodel. “I'd rather have an extra half an hour in my bed than get up and do my make-up,” she says softly. “I don't know much about fashion. I wear anything that's clean in my room that I find on the floor – much to my mum's dismay.” She winces when I bring up the subject of Burberry; she last did a shoot a year ago, when she saw her old friend Delevingne. You get the feeling that she'd sooner pick up a brush and paint for the rest of her life than succumb to the more lucrative world of fashion. “It's a world that I'm so unfamiliar with. I dipped my toe in and just found it so strange. I felt out of place with the whole thing; it's quite odd posing for cameras. They'd say, 'Give a bit more emotion in your face'. I usually just look a bit depressed or grumpy in photos”.

She is quite pensive, and there's a dark undercurrent to haunting, pared-down songs such as “Mountain Spines”. “I guess there's quite a dark side to me. It always comes out when I'm writing songs. I love Sylvia Plath, and I love listening to songs that have that haunting darkness that really pulls you in, so it's probably something that I want to create in my songs. Laura Veirs has definitely got that going on – that sad feeling in your stomach that keeps you going back for more – I've been a big fan of hers since I was 13. Warpaint have that too.”

While the accolades have been more than positive, female musicians with a folk edge, soft vocals and acoustic guitars tend to come across a slight hurdle – comparisons with Laura Marling. “Yeah”, she sighs, “I've definitely been pigeon-holed very quickly as a folk artist. I want to keep experimenting and exploring sounds, so it's annoying. I think people are making comparisons just because we have untrained voices. We're not belters like Adele, so people are like, 'She's got an acoustic guitar, she sings like that, she sounds like Laura Marling!' If you break down the songs and put them next to each other, there's a big difference that people overlook because they want to see this folky thing in front of them.” She would rather describe her songs as “grungy abstract folk with a playful darkness”, adding “I want to take it somewhere unexpected.”

And unexpected the music is, as on the song “Cannibal”, whose eerie, reverb-heavy sound she created by playing a mini sitar with a bow. Or the still more ambitious a capella “Retina Television”, which uses humming in place of guitar chords, and, for percussion, Hackman jumping up and down, hitting her stomach and tapping her head.

Perched on the edge of a burgeoning music career, there must be all sorts of dreams for the rising star. “I'm not looking for my name to be written out in lights or anything,” she states. “I just want to keep writing.” I, for one, hope she does.

Marika Hackman plays the Green Man festival on 18 August

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests