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Marina & the Diamonds on Her Madonna Love and Daniel Johnston

Marina & The Diamonds / Photo by Caspar Balslev

Marina Diamandis, the Welsh-raised singer-songwriter behind Marina & the Diamonds, didn’t start listening to music until her late teens. But you wouldn’t be able to gather that fact from her 2012 sophomore album Electra Heart. Written by Diamandis, and featuring production work from producer A-listers such as Dr. Luke and Diplo, this record ditched her early new wave predilections for straightforward pop maximalism, shimmering keyboards and all. It doesn’t sound like the product of someone who jumped into the game late, and by all indications she’s making up for lost time.

Diamandis, 27, took a moment during a recent radio promo tour (MATD are on tour in May) to talk to SPIN about some of her favorite things.

Daniel Johnston
“It’s really interesting to me in terms of encouraging me to play shows and to start songwriting even though musically I was just on a really basic level. There was about a week between me learning how to play keyboard and doing our first show. I was basically shitting my pants. He’s someone who people who instantly connected to because of this raw mining of human emotion. People don’t care that he’s not a technically great musician and that was really encouraging to me. I actually met him once when I was about 21 or 22. He has a lot of magic in his eyes.”

“Wicked Games” and “Mad World”
“‘Wicked Games’ by Chris Isaak and ‘Mad World’ by Tears for Fears both have this dark kind of emotion or in “Wicked Games” a sad, sad feeling. They have an eerie quality to them, but balanced with that darker emotion. They’re two songs I wish I’d written, but it’s not really something I’m aiming for [in my writing]. When I go to write a song I’m not necessarily aiming for anything, but [the balance] I hear in those is something that shows up in my songwriting sometimes.”

Touring Off the Beaten Path
“I really love Chicago. And I hate to say I love New York and L.A. because everybody says that, but it’s definitely between those three. But to give credit to other camps, Baltimore and Salt Lake City…they’re always quite great because they won’t always get British acts to come see them that often. There’s almost more anticipation in places like those. They’re very excitable. But maybe I’m talking bullshit. I think about San Francisco which is definitely on the traditional touring circuit and those people go fucking crazy. It’s always super special, no matter where I go.”

Athens, Greece
“Well I love my home city which is Athens. It’s a troubled city, very chaotic. But it’s probably my favorite place in the world. The people are very passionate. I love socializing there, it’s a huge difference. You go out at 10 PM, have a coffee, get dinner and then you start drinking at about 1 a.m. That’s a pretty big difference. I’m used to British life because that’s where I grew up, but [Athens] just feels more relaxed, a bit more natural. It’s nice to be able to drink with dinner, as opposed to the U.K. where you start off by taking shots on an empty stomach. It’s not the most civilized way to socialize but that’s all we know.”

“She’s a really diverse artist. I think creatively she’s obviously very talented. She doesn’t have to define herself. Generally she’s pop, but she’s really unlike any other musician out there in that her albums only form a small part of her youthful identity.”

Cindy Sherman and Jenny Holzer
“[Artist] Jenny Holzer does these light installations that try to get at the truth of life in general. Actually one of her installations is called Truisms. It’s huge, like it’s really long. They’re basically these common truths. Whereas [my other favorite visual art], like Cindy Sherman, tends to focus more on human identity. It’s really important, but it’s also got this really kitschy, Americana style. I find it interesting that she was doing more self-portraits, but I really quite like that. Her [Untitled Film Stills] just manage to be so creepy, I’ve bought so many books of hers.”

“I was always very creative. I was always into acting and dancing when I was younger. I got into music in a really casual way. I didn’t really find my own favorite artists until I was 20 or so, basically when I started singing. I hadn’t really engaged in that world at all until that point. I loved writing and I loved writing poetry. I never really thought that I’d make a good songwriter or that I had a particularly good voice, but I was always drawn to that aspect of it. [Music] was another way for me to express what I wanted to say in my writing.”