'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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home