Straight shoot­ing star

Twoyears af­ter step­ping offthe con­vey­or­belt, Ma­rina Dia­man­dis tells Tony Clay­ton-Lea, she is back to shat­ter some pop­per cep­tions

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

Now and again you have to ask no one in par­tic­u­lar – where on Earth did that pop star go to? From su­per­nova to su­per­an­nu­ated within the space of three years is of­ten the ca­reer tra­jec­tory of too many peo­ple to list but in the case of Welsh-Greek singer Ma­rina Dia­man­dis it’s slightly more com­plex.

Fol­low­ing the sur­prise suc­cess in Amer­ica of her 2012 sec­ond al­bum Elec­tra Heart, Dia­man­dis de­cided she didn’t want her life to be fur­ther com­pli­cated and promptly walked off into the sun­set.

Pok­er­face

The way she tells it now – sit­ting in a swish suite at a five-star Dublin city cen­tre ho­tel, dressed to the nines as she looks ahead to a full day of in­ter­views in the lead-up to the re­lease of her third al­bum Froot – is con­sid­ered and re­flected. Read be­tween the lines (Dia­man­dis doesn’t have a great poker face, ei­ther) and you gather the fame lark for her wasn’t all it was made out to be.

“Up to mid-2013, I toured ex­ten­sively in Amer­ica where the al­bum re­ally took off and then I just . . . ” There’s a pause of least 10 sec­onds. Words are be­ing mulled over. “It was sim­ply that I didn’t want to have any­thing to do with the mu­sic in­dus­try for about a year and I wanted to live a nor­mal life. I’d never had any level of sta­bil­ity since I was 18 and I was 27 when Elec­tra Heart hit big, so al­most 10 years was a long time. Leav­ing things be­hind was what I needed to do and it was a de­ci­sion that was made very qui­etly. So that’s what I was do­ing af­ter the al­bum’s life fin­ished – just living a regular life.”

Which is all well and good but how does a suc­cess­ful and very vis­ually as­tute fe­male pop star do that? Where does one retreat to in or­der to live a quiet life? There are two ways to achieve such low-key sta­tus, ap­par­ently.

“As an artist, or any­one that is recog­nised in public, it’s re­ally you that dic­tates if you want to be recog­nised or not – the places you hang out, how you look. You can be off the grid so eas­ily, if you want. The other thing is that I look so dif­fer­ent from the Elec

tra Heart era com­pared to how I nat­u­rally look, any­way, that peo­ple didn’t re­ally look twice. Plus, I’m not re­ally at­tracted to flashy places or peo­ple. And, you know, if you do get recog­nised, you just say hello.”

Pop­opera

One of the main rea­sons why Dia­man­dis walked was due to a cer­tain lack of con­trol over her cre­ative de­ci­sions. Most of Elec

tra Heart was co-writ­ten and

while the al­bum con­cept fused fall­ing-out-of-love nar­ra­tives with iden­tity is­sues, there was nonethe­less the odd pair­ing (ac­cord­ing to Dia­man­dis) of cer­tain mu­sic styles, some of which were not to her lik­ing.

“I saw that al­bum more as a mu­si­cal,” she ex­plains, “a sort of flam­boy­ant, tongue-in-cheek, dark pop record, a pop opera, and hu­mour was a very big com­po­nent of it. Some peo­ple might lis­ten to it and in­ves­ti­gate the lyrics and see it as some­thing very dif­fer­ent to the peo­ple that don’t. Ei­ther is fair enough.”

This brings us to the oddly spelled third al­bum, Froot, which is far more is cen­tric than ei­ther of her pre­vi­ous two records (her de­but,

Fam­ily Jew­els, was re­leased in 2010). It is the­mat­i­cally sparser than

Elec­tra Heart and mu­si­cally far less lay­ered. The al­bum is more about keep­ing the fo­cus on song­writ­ing – Dia­man­dis em­pha­sises the want as well as the need to write the songs on her own but she also wanted to make a point.

“I find it weirdly ter­ri­fy­ing that I’m pretty much the only artist, male or fe­male, on a ma­jor la­bel who has ac­tu­ally sin­gle-hand­edly writ­ten their own al­bum. You know, like, re­ally on their own.

“Did I want to be taken more se­ri­ously? Of course I would want that. How so­ci­ety works is that – par­tic­u­larly if you’re a woman – if you look a cer­tain way then you are ex­pected to make a cer­tain type of mu­sic. I think that’s re­ally odd, so I sup­pose I’m try­ing to ad­dress if not chal­lenge that per­cep­tion.

“The idea that women can’t write songs on their own; that’s hi­lar­i­ous. And tragic. Per­son­ally, I want to see a cul­ture shift in that per­cep­tion.”

Dia­man­dis raises her eye­brows to­wards the ceil­ing. She isn’t against co-writ­ing, she ex­plains, but more writ­ing-by-com­mit­tee, which more of­ten than not ad­heres to the low-risk/ quick-re­sults strate­gies of most ma­jor record la­bels. This is how, she ex­hales sharply – clearly keep­ing the lid on a bub­bling pot of an­noy­ance – pop pro­duc­ers, pop song­writ­ers and pop song­writ­ing camps work.

“It’s fine to a de­gree but it sti­fles cre­ativ­ity. If you lis­ten to pop ra­dio, no one is talk­ing about things that are im­por­tant and that’s where the word generic en­ters into the con­ver­sa­tion. So much of pop mu­sic is about peo­ple say­ing the same thing, the end re­sult of which means noth­ing, or very, very lit­tle. Peo­ple need to be stim­u­lated and that level of stim­u­la­tion needs to be present in pop cul­ture, sim­ple as that.”

Anom­aly

So the woman who stepped off the con­veyor belt over two years is now find­ing her way back again. What’s dif­fer­ent now?

“I was once am­bi­tious to be liked and I’m not any more. I’m fi­nally ac­cept­ing that as an artist I’m a bit of an anom­aly and that’s okay – I now know that I don’t re­ally have to fit in any­where. I just want to do what I want to do, re­gard­less of con­se­quences. To me, that’s what sym­bol­ises a strong artist, be­cause ul­ti­mately if you’re not ex­press­ing ex­actly what you want then what are do­ing it for?”

Froot is out now through Warner Mu­sic and is re­viewed on page 12

I find it weirdly ter­ri­fy­ing that I’m pretty much the only artist, male or fe­male, on a ma­jor la­bel who has ac­tu­ally sin­gle-hand­edly writ­ten their own al­bum

Froot shoot

‘The idea that women can’t write songs on their own; that’s hi­lar­i­ous. And

tragic’ - Ma­rina Dia­man­dis

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