Big Sigh

Big Sigh

While Marika Hackman was making her fifth album Big Sigh, she kept thinking about, well, big sighs. “It’s quite cringingly something that me and my partner say to our dogs quite a lot when they do a big sigh,” the British singer-songwriter tells Apple Music. “Which then was being said at me quite a lot. [The title] was actually born out of there being a lot of sighing happening during the making of the record.” Because creating this album, says Hackman, was anything but easy. After 2019’s Any Human Friend, a “cocktail of different factors”—including the pandemic, a lack of inspiration, and “a constant hum of stress”—stunted her creativity. “It was like crawling through mud,” she says of trying to claw it back. “It was the biggest struggle I’ve had with that aspect of my career since I started.” Yet she found an upside, eventually. “Once you’ve got that far down the rabbit hole, it was like, ‘I’m here now and I’m going to make this record exactly how I want to make it. Even if that takes more time, money, stressful situations, I can’t be half-arsed about this,’” she says. Listen to the opening moments of Big Sigh, and it quickly feels like this is going to be a different kind of Marika Hackman record. After the largely guitar-led indie of Any Human Friend and 2017’s I’m Not Your Man, Big Sigh features swirling strings, piano, instrumental interludes, and horns, but also distorted vocals, industrial sounds, and electronic music. Plus, plenty of dark, arresting lyricism, and the minor-chord melodies that Hackman has always excelled in (“I feel like I have resting bitch face and I have resting sad voice,” she deadpans). It’s raw, immersive, and cinematic—both a leap forward and a culmination of everything Hackman has done before. “It feels like a bit of a turning point for me as an artist,” she says. “It feels very honest. I’m not trying to hide behind anything on this record at all. It’s exploratory, but in the way that a child explores—a really pure, honest exploration.” It also feels like another big sigh. “Once the record was done, the sense of relief, the whole process that it had taken to go through, it felt like a big sigh,” she says. “The song subjects, the themes, the sonics of it—it’s like this big, big release.” Read on as Hackman takes us inside the making of her fifth album, one song at a time. “The Ground” “I always like the first song to be the door opening. It sets the tone and gets you in the right mood. I wanted it to sound almost like a Vaughan Williams composition and then break down into something that felt really industrial. I’d written ‘The Ground’ long before [starting the album], but I just never thought it would end up on anything. Once I’d accepted that it wasn’t going to be a song and that I could just have it as an instrumental, that was a really exciting prospect. It takes guts for someone like me to do that, because it’s really flexing arrangement and composition as opposed to hiding behind my voice or lyrics. Then I was like, ‘I want to bring aspects of all of this throughout the record.’” “No Caffeine” “[The piano] is relentless in quite a light way. A little bit like a broken child’s toy or something that could start to make you feel quite uneasy. I had the music written for ages but it took a really long time to write the lyrics. At some point along the way, it occurred to me that it should be a song about the relentlessness of anxiety and how it’s inescapable. What about a big to-do list of all the stuff that I do? Then it became really fun to write—you can kind of be really playful and cheeky with it. And then it was the idea that, ‘This was only supposed to happen one time, a one-night stand, and now you’ve moved in with me and you’re my wife and you’re giving me hell every single day.’ I’ve always written quite gnarly lyrics alongside quite playful melodies. I’ve always found that a really fun collision.” “Big Sigh” “Flipping between the major and minor has always really got me. But this one was just one of those lightning-bolt songs, so I wasn’t thinking about it much. I was just messing around on my guitar at home and that initial riff came out. I listened to a lot of Alex G around that time and you can hear that. It’s that thing again of pushing the chords into quite weird places but then having quite a catchy chorus on top of that, which was fun. I think any song that comes to you that you don’t have to try for always feels like a really big release. This one came so naturally, you can kind of hear the relief in it, I think. When it came to being in the studio, it was like, ‘This has got to be big slamming guitars. Let’s just lean into it.’ I will always take my direction from the song itself, and it was just screaming for it. So I was like, ‘Yeah, here we go.’” “Blood” “Those lyrics are pretty brutal. It’s obviously all about ex-relationships and that idea of being held to a certain standard that you didn’t even set for yourself so that you’re basically constantly disappointing people. Or that people will create an image of you in their head and they’ll be in love with that image, but it’s not real. And when that mask starts to slip, it gets very painful and stressful. I kept it pretty simple. I didn’t want to overdevelop it. Then it just releases rather than giving you a big sing-along moment, which suits it great. That’s all it needs.” “Hanging” “Whether it’s a song or a poem or whatever, I’m all for a bit of candid, sort of domestic, lyricism. But it’s also the point to really take it somewhere even deeper and darker—the furthest you can go. That’s what I was doing on this one. It was a relationship I’d been in that had gone on for a while—you kind of lose yourself a little bit and you don’t even realize that it’s happening. It’s the pain of that stifling feeling. With the huge release at the end, it’s like, ‘Yeah, you were part of me. I’m so relieved it hurts.’ And it hurts because it’s ended, and that’s a relief as well. There’s a lot to unpack, but at the core of it, it’s a pretty classic reflection on a relationship that didn’t work with just some hella strong dark imagery to really bring home the gnarlier aspects of that. I’m very, very proud of it as a song. The structure of it, the way that it flows, to me, is a top level of my capabilities as a songwriter.” “The Lonely House” “I was just plinking around on the piano and came up with a little motif and decided to expand into it. Having written ‘The Ground,’ I wasn’t too scared of having a moment without any vocals. I think the record is cinematic, and it was a nicer moment to reflect and have a little bit of space to breathe amongst all this quite devastating stuff. I’m quite a basic pianist, but it’s now opened up another part of my brain going forward that I’m excited to flex a little bit more.” “Vitamins” “My mum has never actually said any of the stuff [in the lyrics] to me. She’d be absolutely devastated, I think, if she thought that anyone thought that! But it’s supposed to be a reflection on how one sees themselves through the lens of the mother, the father, the partner—the people closest to you—and how that reflects back onto you. It’s about self-doubt: ‘I’m not going to be who I thought I was going to be. I’m not going to be this kind of successful or that kind of successful.’ I knew I wanted this big, growing outro that was kind of dark and menacing after this quite meditative track. I’m almost loathe to call it a track—it doesn’t feel like a song to me in the way that I write songs. It was just really, really instinctive.” “Slime” “Something a bit more uplifting and a little bit funner—and much more aligned with my last record. I was quite open at this point. I’d cracked myself open and it was like everything was coming pretty quickly, so it was a very easy song to write. I love writing music like that. You don’t have to deep dive in a way that makes you feel like you’re on the cusp of tears. It’s like you get to just be quite poetic and a bit risqué and kind of cheeky with it. It feels more like playing with your craft as opposed to skinning yourself.” “Please Don’t Be So Kind” “This is sort of a partner to ‘Blood.’ I love how simple and repetitive it is, then you’ve got all these horns coming in. It feels funereal and that’s the concept. The idea of this is, ‘If you were just being a massive asshole, it would make life so much easier rather than actually being someone that I like.’ Not a fun situation to be in. It had the potential to be a releasing-doves-into-the-air, boy-band single if you treated it the wrong way. We found that taking it away from being on the guitar and piano and putting most of it onto a horn section was the perfect curveball, because it saps anything cheesy from it.” “The Yellow Mile” “I felt like I was just chatting. I wanted it to feel really raw and honest, but not at the cost of beauty. You listen to that first verse, it’s like you can’t help but see every single one of those images in your head. The trick is kind of making it feel like I haven’t actually said any of that, that you’ve just thought it for yourself. I’m talking about the sadness, again, of a relationship that doesn’t work. This was the last song I wrote for the record—it’s the end of a journey. I felt like I needed a song that needed to feel quiet and intimate and not produced and just raw.”

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