Page last updated at 08:45 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Shine on, Marina Diamond

By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Marina And The Diamonds
Marina describes herself as "a real fussy annoying perfectionist"

If there is such a thing as suffering for your art, then Marina Diamandis, frontwoman of Marina and the Diamonds, is the living embodiment of it.

Earlier this year, the singer allowed celebrity photographer Rankin to stick black crystals all over her body for the video to a limited-edition single, I Am Not A Robot.

For her forthcoming release, the charmingly bonkers Mowgli's Road, she had two plastic puppet legs bolted to her waist for 17 hours to create a video she describes as "Jim Henson does Beyonce's Single Ladies".

"Making these things isn't all fun and games," the 23-year-old laughs.

I Am Not a Robot

"After the Robot video, the black stuff was in my ears for the next week. My skin was covered in rashes and swelling up all over.

"But it's alright. It was worth it."

As Perez Hilton and Kanye West, who have both heavily promoted Marina on their blogs, can attest, the videos certainly grab your attention - but it's the songs that make you stick around.

They are pop, but not as you know it. You can dance to them, but there is something bubbling under the playful, piano-led melodies that hints at a darker world view.

This drama is largely due to Marina's peculiarly emotive voice - which swoops and soars like an eagle caught in the jet-stream of a passing Concorde.

I don't think I'm an instantaneous act the whole world will love in one second
Marina and the Diamonds

Critics have struggled to find a reference point, comparing the singer-songwriter to Kate Bush, Siouxsie Sioux, Florence and the Machine and, occasionally, the unearthly squeals of new wave oddball Lene Lovich.

Marina's own description is "alternative pop or left-field pop - but exciting, not like wingo wango weird stuff".

So that's that settled, then.

Lion Queen

Born in Wales to a Welsh mother and Greek father, Marina had a suitably odd musical upbringing.

From her father, she absorbed the influences of Greek rock trio Socrates, who recorded with Vangelis, and traditional singer Haris Alexiou.

But she was also entranced by the manufactured pop of the British charts, and harbours the likes of Britney Spears, Spice Girls, S Club 7 and dayglo pop nightmare Lolly in her record collection.

Marina And The Diamonds
The Welsh-born singer was signed to Warner last October

Following their examples, Marina's first attempts to break into music came via the classified adverts of The Stage magazine. She auditioned for countless girl bands, cruise ships and, on one occasion, the Lion King musical.

But she admits it was all a bit cringe-worthy.

"I didn't have anything to show that I could do this, or that I had any sign of talent. I just wanted to get into the entertainment industry to meet someone who could help me."

Eventually, she started to write her own material, and adopted the stage name Marina and the Diamonds (her surname means diamante in Greek).

"I didn't want to be called Marina Diamond because it sounded too serious," she explains. "I wanted an element of playfulness and myth to it."

Record labels soon began to pay attention - although Marina stresses that reports of a bidding war have been grossly exaggerated.

ON THE RECORD
Marina And The Diamonds
First record I ever bought
Alisha's Attic - Alisha Rules The World
Last record I bought
Shakira - She Wolf
Most embarrassing record
"I never started off as cool, so nothing can be embarrassing. But I have Pretty Fly For A White Guy by The Offspring"

"No-one wanted to sign me," she says. "I met a lot of people, but Warner were the only ones to offer me a deal."

Following the example of pop sensations Duffy, Mika, Adele and Little Boots, the singer is "soft-launching" - putting out a series of low-key releases on Warner subsidiary 679 this year before a major push in the new year.

"I've built up my fanbase slowly," Marina says. "I don't think I'm an instantaneous act the whole world will love in one second - but that's how I've felt about bands I love.

"For example, PJ Harvey. She's not easy work. You have to listen to her work quite a bit to really appreciate it, and I like that kind of artist."

Jogging bottoms

The benefit of the word-of-mouth campaign is that it has given the self-confessed perfectionist extra time to obsess over her album.

"Oh my God, there's one track called The Outsider and I did, I think, 486 vocal takes.

"I think Liam Howe [producer] actually wants to kill me," she cackles. "I've ruined music for him!"

Meanwhile, observing the ups and downs of this year's crop of female popstrels has given Marina the chance to refine her image and stand apart from the pack.

Marina And The Diamonds
Marina has been championed by Huw Stephens on Radio 1

While early shows were full of glitter and outlandish costumes, recent gigs have seen her take to the stage in jogging bottoms.

"I just feel like everyone is so over-stylised," she says. "With this whole 80s regeneration, everyone went all glitzy and mad.

"I'm trying to calm it down. I really do want people to listen to the music more than watch what I wear.

"There's time for that later. I've got the rest of my life to dress up and look nice."

Mowgli's Road is out on 16 November on 679 records. Her next single, Hollywood, and album, The Family Jewels, follow in 2010.



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