A new in­ti­macy bears ‘Froot’

Fed up with rote pop pro­duc­tion, Ma­rina and the Di­a­monds go deep on new al­bum.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Mikael Wood

The idea was sim­ple, if am­bi­tious, said Ma­rina Dia­man­dis.

For her sec­ond al­bum un­der the name Ma­rina and the Di­a­monds, this Welsh singer set out to cri­tique the ho­mog­e­niz­ing ef­fects of the com­mer­cial pop sys­tem — with its pro­fes­sional song­writ­ers and pro­duc­ers hired to make sin­gles for a ro­tat­ing cast of stars — while us­ing that very sys­tem to widen her fan base.

The re­sult, 2012’s “Elec­tra

Heart,” worked as planned. Fea­tur­ing col­lab­o­ra­tions with hit­mak­ers such as Dr. Luke, Diplo and Greg Kurstin, the al­bum made a big­ger splash than the first Ma­rina and the Di­a­monds record, en­ter­ing the Bri­tish chart at No. 1 and earn­ing a then-cov­eted place­ment on Fox’s “Glee” for the song “How to Be a Heart­breaker.” What’s more, Dia­man­dis was grab­bing ears with mu­sic pok­ing fun at pop’s de­pen­dence on cer­tain fe­male archetypes — see also “Pri­madonna” and “Bub­blegum Bitch.”

Yet that un­der­cover work took a toll, the singer said re­cently. She grew tired of be­ing mis­un­der­stood by peo­ple who didn’t re­al­ize she was in on the joke. And she burned out on work­ing piece­meal with other song­writ­ers — a process that led to the cre­ation of one track, “Lies,” by a crew of four peo­ple who never met in real life.

“Within a few weeks, I just re­al­ized, ’This isn’t for me,’ ” she said.

Three years later, Dia­man­dis has taken a dif­fer­ent ap­proach for the new Ma­rina and the Di­a­monds al­bum, “Froot.” Writ­ten en­tirely by the singer and co­pro­duced by her and David Kosten, the record trades the know­ing char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of “Elec­tra Heart” for more per­sonal ma­te­rial about re­la­tion­ships and self­ful­fill­ment. Son­i­cally too, it’s more in­ti­mate, with lots of tolling pi­ano and dreamy gui­tar. (Think Kate Bush, not Katy Perry.)

Not that she’s dis­ap­peared from view: “Froot” de­buted last month in­side the top 10 of Bill­board’s al­bum chart, and Ma­rina and the Di­a­monds are on the bill for the high-pro­file Coachella Val­ley Mu­sic and Arts Fes­ti­val, hap­pen­ing the next two week­ends in In­dio. But her goal this time, she in­sisted, wasn’t to keep up with the com­pe­ti­tion. In­stead, she was try­ing to re­claim some space for the in­di­vid­ual.

At first, that meant work­ing by her­self. Dia­man­dis wrote the bulk of the al­bum at home in Lon­don, a will­ful shift from the song­writ­ing-by-com­mit­tee she’d done for “Elec­tra Heart.”

“I’m not against co-writ­ing,” she said in an in­ter­view last month at the South by South­west mu­sic con­fer­ence in Austin, Texas, where Ma­rina and the Di­a­monds played sev­eral gigs. “I’m just against that kind of cor­po­rate co-writ­ing.” Big songs to­day, she went on, seem de­signed ex­pressly to get on Amer­i­can ra­dio, with in­put from re­li­able spe­cial­ists brought on for their rhyth­mic abil­ity or their flair for melody.

“It’s grim. Pop should be un­pre­dictable and ex­per­i­men­tal and thought-pro­vok­ing,” she said. “But our in­dus­try isn’t en­cour­ag­ing that at all.”

With 14 songs com­pleted, Dia­man­dis booked three months of stu­dio time with David Kosten, a Bri­tish pro­ducer she ad­mired for his work with the cere­bral art­pop act Bat for Lashes. Her idea, she told him, was to have him record the songs “as though I were a band.”

“If you’re a girl and you look a cer­tain way, the world just as­sumes you should have lots of elec­tronic, syn­thetic stuff in your pro­duc­tion,” she said. For “Froot,” though, she was af­ter some­thing closer to the sound of her live show. So Kosten re­cruited his friend Ja­son Cooper from the Cure to play drums along with two mem­bers of Manch­ester’s Ev­ery­thing Ev­ery­thing to play gui­tar and bass.

In the stu­dio they fol­lowed the mu­sic wher­ever it led, Kosten said. “I re­mem­ber once be­ing like, ‘This is a great pop song, but hang on, it’s 6 1⁄2 min­utes long,’ ” he re­called. Yet the pro­ducer added that Dia­man­dis’ singing en­sured that the mu­sic was al­ways clearly com­mu­ni­cat­ing each song’s emo­tion — a pri­or­ity, he sensed, given the con­fu­sion some lis­ten­ers ex­pe­ri­enced with “Elec­tra Heart.”

For “Happy,” the stripped-down bal­lad that opens “Froot,” Kosten con­vinced her to sing with­out any ef­fects on her voice. “At first I was like, ‘Oh, God no — we need some re­verb!’ ” Dia­man­dis re­mem­bered. But the de­ci­sion was a good one; the song draws you in im­me­di­ately to the singer’s world.

“It’s very, very real,” she said. “It could be your friend singing right next to you.”

If that con­fes­sional qual­ity puts Ma­rina and the Di­a­monds in slightly dif­fer­ent com­pany than last time around, don’t as­sume that Dia­man­dis has lost her in­ter­est in the the­atri­cal side of show busi­ness. In Austin, she ex­cit­edly showed off pic­tures of a new stage setup she’ll per­form with for the first time at Coachella.

The con­cept, she said, is “neon na­ture — fus­ing ar­ti­fice with nat­u­ral el­e­ments.” Look out for pink AstroTurf cov­er­ing the stage and a num­ber of mas­sive prop fruit “in in­verted colors with lights in­side them so they’ll glow.”

Her new al­bum may foster the idea that Dia­man­dis is “this singer-song­writer scrawl­ing away in my room at night,” she said with a laugh. “But I can’t walk around in a white T-shirt and some jeans just to be taken se­ri­ously.”

Char­lotte Ruther­ford

“I’M JUST against that kind of cor­po­rate co-writ­ing,” said Ma­rina Dia­man­dis.

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