Despite what you may be thinking, the moniker Marina and the Diamonds doesn’t refer to a frontwoman and some hard, sparkly backing band; she’s actually a solo act. ‘Diamonds’ is simply the English translation of Diamandis’s last name. ‘I’m quite patriotic. Both Wales and Greece are good countries to come from,’ she says, adding that she ‘probably feels more patriotic about the Greek side’.
When she was a teenager, Diamandis’s parents split; she left her childhood home in the Welsh Marches to live with her father, an academic, in Greece. ‘My dad hammered it into us growing up that Greece was the best,’ the 24-year-old says. ‘It’s a place that’s really magical because it’s so rich in history.’ Following the nation’s economic collapse, Diamandis acknowledges her second homeland is ideal for a holiday, but a different reality for young adults her age who are struggling through daily life. Of her buoyant pop music’s following there, Diamandis says, ‘They know that some Greek girl in the UK is a singer. That’s about it. I’m probably way bigger in America.’
During her two years at St Catherine’s British School in Athens, after which she returned to Wales, Diamandis developed a love for the USA. In the video for ‘Hollywood’, she waves pom-poms, pours popcorn down her throat and wears her signature look: high-school cheerleader outfits. ‘It’s hard not to be seduced by American culture, especially because it seemed worlds away from the way I was growing up,’ she says. ‘I wish
it had more intellect to it, but really I just like the look.’
There are indeed smarts behind her brassy personality and big, big hooks. ‘Hollywood’ is no outright ode to Yankee living; instead it’s a tale of cultural bulimia. Its infectious chorus proclaims, ‘I’m obsessed with the
mess that’s America,’ but only after confessing, ‘I’ve been living in a movie scene, puking American dreams.’
With an affected baritone and flowing brown curls, the singer falls in some uncharted territory between Katy Perry and Kate Bush on her 2010 debut, The Family Jewels. Hard to pigeonhole, her music can be difficult for producers to steer. ‘I can’t write with people,’ Diamandis says. ‘That defeats the purpose of me writing as a solo artist.’ Recent sessions with hipster beatmaker David Sitek and radio hit machine Benny Blanco went bust. Diamandis politely gives only a ‘no comment’ as to why, but the truth is not hard to suss out. ‘I look quite commercial, like another gaudy girl singer,’ she concedes. ‘I could write pop songs like that and talk about the s*** that they do. I don’t have a commercial brain. I’m lingering uncomfortably in the middle.’
Indeed, few other musicians cite Madonna and Daniel Johnston as their key role models. ‘I can’t underplay his influence on me,’ Diamandis says of the manic-depressive songwriter from Texas. As an adolescent, she became enchanted with the haunting, occasionally creepy lo-fi tapes of the American cult icon. ‘I wasn’t very good. I couldn’t play piano well. I didn’t know chords,’ she says. ‘But listening to Daniel was encouraging because I thought, Wow, this sounds terrible, like a child recorded it. And I loved it.’
The Family Jewels is available now online.