Exclusive Interview: PopBytes talks ‘Glee’ and ‘Electra Heart’ with Marina and the Diamonds

Marina and the Diamonds

Marina and the Diamonds

At this point, having your song covered by Glee is an undeniable milestone for contemporary musicians.

The musical dramedy, now in its fourth season, has been known to not only have its own songs dominate the iTunes charts, but to also help boost sales for the original material that inspires it. Take, for instance, Rihanna’s single, “Take A Bow,” which saw an astounding 189% sales increase after it was featured on the show.

Tonight’s episode (which airs on FOX at 9/8c), “Feud,” will include the Glee cast’s interpretation of Marina and the Diamonds“How To Be A Heartbreaker.” And for the Welsh singer/songwriter who made the song a hit in the first place, this is a major step in the way of securing global pop superstardom.

Originally released last year, “How To Be A Heartbreaker” acted as the lead single off of the American release of Marina and the Diamond’s (a play on her real name, Marina Diamandis) acclaimed sophomore album, Electra Heart. A #1 record in the UK and Ireland, the album served up some of the finest mainstream pop of the year. Full of radio-friendly hooks and laced with sugary dance beats, Electra Heart was a drastic departure from Marina’s indie pop-meets-New Wave debut, 2010’s The Family Jewels. But the album’s thesis is far more mature and complex than a first listen would suggest.

Currently in between headlining tours, Marina chatted with me about having her song performed on tonight’s Glee, reflected about Electra Heart one year later, detailed a horrifying health condition that nearly shattered her career, and more.

ALEX: You’re a solo artist but you go by the moniker, “Marina and The Diamonds.” Who are the diamonds and how did they get this name?

MARINA: Well, I don’t know why when I started – which was back in the olden days of 2005 – I made it Marina and Diamonds as opposed to going with like Mari and the Diamonds or Marina Diamandis. To be honest, I didn’t really have any fans then, and I think I really liked the idea of creating my own world. The “diamonds” were like having a sense of community each time I did gigs. Yeah, so I named it that and it seemed to work. And I feel like that kind of togetherness is definitely something that is very present in the live shows now. I just love seeing a lot of people who are like-minded coming together.

ALEX: The tone of “How To Be A Heartbreaker” is much less serious and it’s lyrically more playful than many of the darker songs found on Electra Heart. Were you in a different creative headspace when you wrote that track?

MARINA: Definitely. I had actually already finished the album when I recorded that, so I was able to kind of better understand what I was trying to do and what I was trying to sum up with Electra Heart. So I think that song’s really good in terms that it does sum up the whole concept – you know, the heart-on-the-cheek and the kind of fixation with love and with love’s little games and with how we all try to stop ourselves from getting hurt, basically. So I decided to focus on that and make it into a rule-by-rule song.

ALEX: Is that what made you decide to make it the lead single off of the American release of Electra Heart?

MARINA: Yeah. I mean for me, it’s probably one of the most important songs. I feel so sorry for the UK releases – and this happened with my last album too – because I always manage to get the track listing and everything right on the American one. But it’s because those are always done two months later! So I can always plan the album and do it in hindsight, whereas the UK versions hold up loads of flaws.

ALEX: What are your thoughts on Glee covering “How To Be A Heartbreaker”?

MARINA: It’s very exciting. It’s quite major for me in terms of like, you know, some kind of mainstream recognition, so I’m thrilled about it. And though I don’t watch it – I’ve never actually watched an episode in my life – I’m very excited to see how they are going to re-enact “How To Be A Heartbreaker.”

ALEX: Does that mean you don’t have a favorite Glee cover from the past?

MARINA: Okay, so I must confess, I have watched the Britney ones.

ALEX: Who hasn’t watched those?

MARINA: Yeah, but that’s it. I unfortunately can’t really answer that.

ALEX: Who is Electra Heart?

MARINA: Well, she’s a figment of my imagination. But it’s no one really. It’s no one and everyone. It’s something that people can relate to because it’s a character type; it’s not actually a person.

ALEX: I see. What is your response to the critics who have suggested that creating Electra Heart was just an excuse to make more mainstream music and …

MARINA: Sell out? I say, boo-hoo. I mean, in all honesty, it kind of was. Electra Heart was many different things. On one hand, it was completely authentic – in my eyes anyway. It was an authentic, creative project, which I felt like I executed really well. And then on the other side, it was an excuse to break off and just be able to kind of go into a genre that I don’t really belong to, in order to open myself up to a much bigger audience. I’ve always been very open about my plans and why I do things, so … it was kind of like … it’s weird to say this, but it was kind of like taking the idea of selling out and making it into a pop concept album. But I don’t want to sell it as that because that sounds terrible.

ALEX: No, I think that’s really interesting!

MARINA: I wanted to use that pop model. I wanted to work with Dr. Luke and Stargate, people who are, you know, masters of the pop industry. And I wanted to see how I could work in that framework and if I could – and I think I did.

ALEX: Absolutely. So which song on Electra Heart do you as Marina – not Electra – relate to and/or enjoy the most?

MARINA: I think the ones that are closest to my real identity are “Teen Idle,” “Fear and Loathing,” and “Bubblegum Bitch.” I think I’m most at home when I’m doing kind of suicidal piano ballads, so “Teen Idle” is probably my favorite.

ALEX: You’ve always released music that aims to deconstruct society’s obsession with fame and the glamour of Hollywood. What is it about this topic that fascinates you so much, and has your perspective on it changed since being in the limelight yourself?

MARINA: I think that after this album, my fascination with it is kind of done. Electra Heart kind of allowed me to explore that and to get it out of my system. And as to why I’m interested in it, I’m not really sure. I suppose because it’s such an important thing to our generation. You know, the idea of being someone or being famous. I think we really relate that with success, but also, I think I just like playing with the idea of obsession as being the reason why we think the way we do about things, and if there are two sides to it.

ALEX: Last year around the time of the album’s release, you suffered from a vocal fold hemorrhage. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience and how/if it’s impacted you as an artist?

MARINA: Genuinely, it was absolutely terrible. It’s weird because I actually wasn’t allowed to talk about it after it happened. If I ever wrote a tweet about it and said like, “Oh, my voice is really hurting,” then it would have really affected my insurance. So for example, on the December tour, I actually thought my vocal cords were going to snap. And I was like, there’s something wrong with them, there’s something really wrong. And you can’t really say stuff like that because then if you do have to cancel a tour, your insurance is going to adjust a bit and stuff. It was a terrible year. I lost a shit load of money personally from the cancelations and stuff. And it’s only been in the past month that it’s actually healed. I went to a doctor here in New York and they were like, “Man, you’ve got an injury that no one picks up on. You’ve got a small tear in your vocal cord but you’ve been singing on it for nine months.” And I was just like, “That makes me feel sick.”

ALEX: Oh wow.

MARINA: It was probably was the worst thing that’s ever happened in my professional life.

ALEX: Well, I’m glad that you’re better now. That sounds like it was horrible.

MARINA: I know. Honestly, me too. I don’t want to moan about it, but like, I couldn’t go out anymore cause it hurt so much. Imagine that you can’t even go out for a drink with a friend? It was just really annoying, so I’m glad now that it’s over.

ALEX: Yikes. Well, I’m glad too for your sake.

MARINA: Thank you.

ALEX: In May, you’ll be embarking on a headlining spring tour across North America. What can fans who both have and haven’t already seen you live before expect from these shows?

MARINA: Well, each show’s kind of like a John Waters film. It’s like value kitsch, right? It’s very theatrical. The show hasn’t changed that much, except the venues might be a bit bigger. And the clothing has got a little bit more plastic. It’s the last tour I’m ever going to do for Electra Heart, so it’s really an important one. And I think I’m playing some of the biggest shows of my career, so it’s very exciting for me.

ALEX: Well congratulations! That sounds great. You also just released your gorgeous music video for “State of Dreaming.” Can you tell me a little bit about your decision to film this in black and white and what you think that added to the song?

MARINA: Well, all of my videos – the ones that aren’t pop videos – I just film in one or two takes. So, that video was shot after a shoot that I had done for something else. Nothing’s ever meant to be or planned. I do what I can with what I’m given because I don’t have anybody for that, so I just … yeah, I just do what I can.

ALEX: What was the first album that you ever bought?

MARINA: Do you know a girl band called Alisha’s Attic?

ALEX: No, I’ve never heard of them.

MARINA: Okay, well, I think it was them. You should Google them!

ALEX: I will! So to wrap up, what else do you have planned for 2013?

MARINA: Honestly? Probably just fucking off somewhere and never coming back. Electra Heart is done. I’m looking forward to just living a normal life, and you know, seeing friends, and just being in one place for a while. So I think after this summer, I’ll probably disappear for a while.

ALEX: So you’re going to take a little break before working on a third record?

MARINA: Yeah, definitely.

ALEX: Well that sounds like it’ll be much deserved. Thanks so much, Marina, it was a pleasure speaking with you!

MARINA: Thank you! You too!

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. Alex lives in Western Massachusetts and can be found on Twitter at @AlexKNagorski.