Interview: Marina and the Diamonds to Make LA Debut at the Troubadour Tonight

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Marina Diamandis is Marina and the Diamonds' sole permanent band member / Photo by Maria Sari

London-based Marina Diamandis of Marina and the Diamonds is a pop artist with presence. The songs on her just-released album, The Family Jewels, are both sonically and lyrically intriguing. From her deft combination of Kipling and cutlery on "Mowgli's Road" to the fun-yet-vulnerable "I Am Not a Robot," 24-year-old Marina has proven she's in it for the long run.

Although she didn't grow up in a musical family, the Welsh/Greek songstress felt she was destined to make music. She once even tried out for a boy band in an effort to get her foot in the door. But it was when she started writing her own music that her career and her agile voice really blossomed. Over the last couple years, she's taken the UK by storm and earned the praise of critics and music fans alike.

Marina and the Diamonds' sold out gig at the Troubadour tonight will mark her first Los Angeles performance. If you weren't able to get tickets for this event, she will also be playing the Lilith Fair LA date this Saturday. LAist caught up with Marina last week to chat about the new album, her devoted fans and Greek mythology.

LAist: Your video for "Oh No!" just made its debut. What was the concept behind it?

Marina: It's very poptastic and 90s. We worked with some amazing designers and I was obsessed with that style and the bright clothes as we were making the video. But you know how when you really love a piece of clothing, you wear it to death for a while? Now that the video's done, I just want to wear black! (laughs)

The style also reminded me a bit of the old Jem TV show, and I noticed you had a still image from that TV series as your Twitter background last month. Did you watch Jem as you were growing up?

I did, as well as stuff like Ren & Stimpy and 90s MTV. So those were definitely in my head during the shoot for "Oh No!" That song is kind of about detaching from your emotions, and for me, that related very much to how I connected with TV when I was younger.


Marina and the Diamonds - "Mowgli's Road"

What was the songwriting process like for "Mowgli's Road"? The references in that song are so vivid.

At the time, I felt very cornered and restricted because I'd just met with a bunch of record labels and was just about to be signed. While getting signed is obviously a very positive thing, at the same time, I think many artists go through a phase of feeling pressure to change themselves when that happens.

That song is really about compromising and being very aware of the two roads you can take—the first is the one that will get you quick success but will most likely be short-lived. The other road is hopefully what I'm on now. Since I'm such an ambitious person, I won't see my goals being achieved for a very long time, and I'm happy with that.

Were you a big fan of Rudyard Kipling as a kid?

I wasn't much of a reader as a kid, though like everyone else, I appreciated his work. Culturally, I'm very much a blank slate. I don't watch a lot of movies, I don't read a lot of books, and the books I do read are usually very intense factual ones about psychology. I just try to create my own world, so that's what I did with "Mowgli's."

Looking back at the songs you wrote before you achieved all this success, has your perspective changed now that you've actually realized some of those dreams?

No, not really, though I think my views on what is important and what I want to do with my life have become more concentrated.


Marina and the Diamonds - "I Am Not a Robot"

Were you at all surprised at how relatable "I Am Not a Robot" turned out to be? It seems like people have really latched onto it, and I loved that video of schoolchildren singing it.

It's strange because sometimes with very special songs, you do get a feeling, and there were two or three times on the album where I got that. "Robot" was one of them, though I didn't know that people would connect that much. It's been amazing!

You've said that you like to treat your voice as an instrument. Which is one moment on the album where you really pushed yourself and felt proud of how it turned out?

I would probably say "Hermit the Frog" because it's definitely the most experimental song. Though to be honest, when I say experimental, I wasn't aware of that fact when I was doing it. I just wanted to put a lot of character and humor into the song, and that's the only way I knew how to do it.

As a rule, I think the voice should really be explored and I think a lot of pop artists don't do that enough.

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Marina and the Diamonds' debut album, "The Family Jewels"
Given that you taught yourself how to write and record music, was creating that first GarageBand song a daunting or scary experience?

No, I loved it. It was so freeing because I didn't know what the hell I was doing! You can't go wrong in that situation.

When you finally heard these songs with the instrumentation on the album, was that a moment of "This finally matches what's in my head"?

Yeah, I love layering up things. Even if a song is simple, the listener can still digest it time and time again because you'll always find something new.

In the past you've said that Enya was one of your musical influences because your mom was listening to her all the time as you were growing up…maybe that's where you got the layering idea!

Probably! I love Enya.

Which of these songs did you actually write first?

The oldest is "Hermit the Frog" followed by "Seventeen," "Obsessions," "Are You Satisfied?" and "Mowgli's Road." Then "I Am Not a Robot," "The Outsider" and the last ones were "Oh No!" and "Numb." The album covers a pretty broad stretch of time.

You wrote these songs, negotiated your own record and publishing deals, and are still involved in just about every aspect of your career. What advice do you have for musicians who are just getting started?

Well, I suppose this is a fairly obvious one, but it's also something that people always say but never follow, and that is to follow your instincts. Every time I haven't followed them, I've always regretted it. Your instincts are there for a reason, because deep down, that's the most rational point of view you can depend on.

In addition to that—and I think I'm very black and white with this and hopefully it doesn't sound too ruthless or cruel—but I think that you're either born to do this or you're not. Some people may be halfway and have a little bit of a career, but the people who will endure the longest really live and breathe this. Ambition is key, and you can't make someone ambitious.

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Marina and the Diamonds / Photo by Rankin
You've talked about how you enjoy being experimental with your songwriting. What's one new thing you'd like to experiment with in the future—maybe an instrument or a music style?

I think I'd like to experiment more with my voice, because the first record is quite full-on and I think I take songs like "Obsessions" and "Numb" for granted. Those are a little more laid back. One thing I've learned over this touring period is that a small voice can be just as powerful as a big one. So that's what I'm working on for the next record.

I know you spent a couple years in Greece when you were younger, and I read one interview where you said you'd like to incorporate some Greek mythology into your next album. Is that still part of the plan?

Not the next one, but maybe the one after that. I really want to learn more about my culture and its mythology. It's such a rich source of inspiration.

I think it would be a wonderful thing to take something so worthy like Greek mythology and bring it into pop culture again, because stuff like that isn't really read as much anymore. We're surrounded by crappy pop songs about dancing in clubs and getting drunk. Surely pop music needs more than that!

Who's your favorite figure in Greek mythology?

Probably Aphrodite.

You seem to have a really close connection with your fans. What are some of the best gifts you've ever received from one of them?

Let's see…there was this massive bra that actually wasn't even my size, and it was covered in balloons that hadn't been blown up yet. And I received a really amazing pair of glasses from a fan in New York. I also got an oil painting of my face, which is really nice but also kind of weird because I can't put it up in my house. It would probably seem a bit vain if I hung up a big painting of me!

My fans are so thoughtful and I think I have a connection with them because they know I'm just like them. I don't believe in the whole fame hierarchy/stardom thing. I think we've gone through a period of time where artists didn't seem to value or connect with fans as much. But it seems to be getting a lot better. I really value fans, and I want to be valued as a fan.

On your website it says that you're now selling a line of pink and orange glowing lip paint

Oh, I love it so much. We haven't got enough to keep up with the demand!

When you look into the audience, do you now see a sea of fans with glowing lips?

(laughs) It hasn't happened yet, but maybe on the next tour once we get more in stock!

Speaking of touring, even though you travel a lot, do you have any pets? I saw a few references to cats in some of your online videos.

I do! I have a cat called Florence and she's a stray. She lives with my mum and she's kind of a cross between a stray and a Persian cat. She's white and fluffy with blue eyes.


Marina and the Diamonds - "Hollywood"

It's great to have you back in LA. Although you've spent some time here in the past, this show will be your first ever LA gig, and it's been sold out for weeks. Have you ever been to the Troubadour?

I've never been there, but I know it has a lot of history—such as the fact that Elton John played his first US show there. I'm excited and can't wait!

You shot an "I Am Not a Robot" reboot video on Hollywood Boulevard a while ago. What was your favorite part of that shoot?

Oh, nothing was my favorite part; it was horrendous. (laughs) We initially didn't plan to do another "Robot" video. At the time, we were in LA creating short films for the live show, so by that point we'd been at it for 12 hours. During the last three minutes, they said, "Marina, go on, do just one take of 'Robot!'" and I agreed. The crew was great to work with, but I was just really tired at the time!

That's understandable, though I rather like the dreamlike quality of it! So now that you're back in LA, have you had a chance to explore the city some more?

Yes, I have. Yesterday I got to visit the Valley. I was in a writing room in Studio City and it was really interesting for me because, up until now, I'd only been around the really stereotypical Hollywood parts. We went to Pasadena as well, which was beautiful.

I'm here for three weeks, so we'll probably do some touristy stuff. And obviously the shopping is great—especially the vintage shops. I've really come to love it here!

Thanks for speaking with LAist, Marina!

Marina and the Diamonds will be playing a sold-out show at the Troubadour tonight, as well as Lilith Fair on July 10. She will appear on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic this Thursday (July 8) at 11:15 a.m., and will make her American television debut on the Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson later this month. Learn more about Marina and the Diamonds at www.marinaandthediamonds.com.


Marina and the Diamonds - "Oh No!"