Marina and the Diamonds

Marina Diamandis has had a busy summer on the festival circuit. Each weekend brought the Welsh-Greek singer-songwriter (aka Marina and the Diamonds) to a new locale, with little time to herself. She was, however, able to test-drive her newest album, 2014’s FROOT, in front of thousands. The record, her third, is a stark departure from her point-of-view, narcissistic character-driven stories of 2012’s Electra Heart. While that record found commercial success in the United States, it sapped Diamandis’ creativity through the collaboration with 13 different producers.

The album had two effects on Diamandis besides growing her fan base; it created the false illusion that she was the characters she portrayed, and that she was not able of writing quality songs on her own.

FROOT, now critically acclaimed, is a testament to the falsities of those misconceptions. Working with only one producer, David Kosten (Bat For Lashes, Brooke Fraser), she already had the songs and sonic sketches written prior to recording. In fact, many of the songs, such as “Gold,” were written during the Electra Heart tour. Others, such as “Blue” and “I’m a Ruin” were written during the decimation of a relationship in the break that followed the tour. On songs like “Savages,” Diamandis is at her best by disguising serious topics like terrorism and domestic violence in candy pop.

At the beginning of the summer, as Diamandis and her band began ramping up their live show, she performed a sold-out show at the Warfield in San Francisco. She and I met up then to talk about the creation of FROOT and the arc her career was taking. It was another talk in a continuing conversation we’ve had over the last few years. With her return to the Bay Area next week, and her first ever two concerts at Oakland’s Fox Theater, she got in touch early on a day off to catch up and talk about her ambitious plans for the Neon Nature Tour.

What was the most interesting thing you did this summer?

Marina Diamandis: Well, I can tell you the most enjoyable thing because I didn’t really get to have a holiday because of festival season. It happens every single weekend. You can’t go away somewhere for very long. I did go to an incredible country manor (hotel) in England. It was absolutely mind-blowing. It’s this centuries-old manor, and I had a weekend there….I’d heard a lot about it, and so I went with a friend. The rooms are … really stately, very posh. They give out free afternoon tea every 3 p.m. We got a lot of cakes, we got a lot of scones. They have some nice bikes they give you. You go on little bike rides. Apart from that, one of the best things has been going hiking quite a lot.

You’re about to kick off the U.S. leg of your FROOT tour. Can you tell me about the themes you’re demonstrating visually?

Diamandis: It’s called the “Neon Nature Tour.” I think one of the main things I’ve been doing visually for FROOT is…creating this vision, which is based on the most ‘70s references, but fusing them with a lot of modern-day references. It’s putting a futuristic edge to very classic feminine aesthetic. With the Neon Nature Tour, I really like the idea of taking natural things and blending them. I feel like it’s something I’m always interested in anyway, and I feel like it’s also something a lot of people connect to, like, “How can you live a life that’s natural while still progressing and being part of the technological world.” So the themes for Neon Nature involve a lot of flowers, fruit, very surreal elements … but it’s definitely the biggest kind of tour I’ve ever done production-wise. I want to see what people think.

The opposing forces of nature versus industry.

Diamandis: Yeah. Basically, how you blend the two together in an aesthetically pleasing way.

Song selection-wise, you’re splitting the sets up into different albums?

Diamandis: I have three acts in the show. My first act is devoted to my first album (The Family Jewels), the second is my second album, and the third is FROOT. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. Each era has such a defined look that it didn’t make sense for me to mix them. I quite like theatre, and this is a theatrical show. It felt good to put it into three acts. I don’t think that often happens in alternative shows.

Besides having a great time, what do you want your fans taking away from the songs of FROOT, and the tour?

Diamandis: For me it’s a celebration of the work I’ve done to date. I don’t know how it long it will be until I tour again. I’ve gotten taught recently about album cycles and touring cycles and how it’s counter-productive the way that they’re structured. I don’t think I’ll be touring in the same capacities again ever.

You’ve got a very talented band, and the majority of them have been with you for some time. Can you tell me a little about them?

Diamandis: They’re all incredibly talented. We have Ben Fletcher, who’s my musical director and he plays guitar. He helped me find my whole band and put everything together. He was signed when he was 15 in a punk band, and I think he was 25 when he went into touring. We have Seb (Sebastian Sternberg) on the drums. He’s a very lively drummer, and he’s been with us since the beginning in 2009. We have Glenn (Callaghan) on keys, who joined us for this album. He’s done a lot of touring with pop acts. He looks like a real geezer, but he’s an incredibly delicate piano player. Last but not least, we have Andreas (Rukan) from Columbia. He’s on bass guitar. He lives in LA. He’s a total joy. I have found my base with this … band.

You’ve been on the road with Héloïse Letissier – Christine and the Queens – for several months. I was blown away by her performance at the Warfield. Have you built up a strong relationship during that time?

Diamandis: Oh my God. I don’t think that girl needs any advice. I think she’s absolutely incredible… She only did three dates with me. … When she comes back on tour, we’ll be out for a while, so we’ll be able to catch up. But I was totally blown away as well. And that’s what made me want her on the road, and she said “yes.” She’s a very rare artist.

What’s the name of your most interesting playlist on your phone?

Diamandis: I will go to my phone to find out. I did just create a Neon Nature one for my pre-show music, so maybe that’s interesting, but I do have Max Martin’s complete Disco Buffet.

Anything you’d like to accomplish while traveling in the states? A book you’d like to read, some craft project?

Diamandis: The only thing I would like to accomplish is just to enjoy each city a little bit more. So I’m trying to do some hikes along the way, in particular cities. Sometimes you can just get into a little bit of a touring bubble where you get off the bus, go to the hotel, shower, and then you go to your venue. This time, I’d like to enjoy things and be a little more aware.

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Marina and the Diamonds, Christine and the Queens
The Fox Theater
October 20-21, 2015
8pm, $35