This morning, I discovered Marina had answered my questions through voice messages. Transcribing can be a challenging task, but listening to her speak made it feel effortless. Her sweet voice and her careful explanations were a gift. Stepping into Marina Herlop’s world is a gift in itself. I’ve come to understand the power of this Catalan musician who has the European avant-garde in awe. Even Björk has declared herself a fan.
Two years after Pripyat and an ongoing extensive tour, Marina Herlop presents Nekkuja, her new album. Where do I start? Well, it’s challenging, much like everything she creates. Breaking free from conventional moulds, her new record leaves us almost speechless, but it’s like a embarking on a journey through a garden where the flowers are replaced by all sorts of emotions. A more illuminated piece but keeping the intriguing essence of her work as if rays of sunlight were falling upon those flowers to make them bloom. Our conversation with Marina has also shed light on the inspiration and philosophy behind her unique artistry and it raises a question: Why haven’t we interviewed her before?
Hello Marina, it’s a delight to speak with you. Congratulations on your new LP, which I’ve clearly loved. I’d like to start this interview by asking the following: If you were a plant, what would you be and why?
Thank you so much for listening to the album and for appreciating it, and also for having me in this interview. I must admit that my knowledge of botanic is not very good, but I’ve given it a thought regardless, and I think I would be a tree. Possibly. Maybe. Yeah, perhaps a weeping willow. I like to think of a tree because they are strong and resistant, and I think those are two qualities that I’ve been training these last years. Also, because my values are quite stable, just like I am as a person. Why that specific three? Because the weeping willow has these little leaves and detail in the upper part of the tree. I also like that. So maybe I’d be that one, but I’m not sure.
I feel there’s always a strong connection between your musical work and nature. Your previous LP had a more nocturnal perspective, while Nekkuja is brighter. You were born in Piera, a small town surrounded by mountains. I wonder what your childhood was like there.
Thank you for seeing this connection between nature and my previous albums. I also see it somehow, but I have to say it’s quite ironic because even though I was raised in this town, I rarely feel the necessity to be surrounded by nature. I’m a homebody. When I make music, I like to isolate myself, usually in little houses in the nature, but I don’t go outside as much. When I’m making music, I’m always in the studio. Even my friends make fun of me because I’m always home and never need to go on a hike or to the forest or whatever.
But I like to think that the principles, proportions or measures in music –or in any other kind of art–, like the rules of aesthetics if you want to call it that way, are the same in art as in nature. So maybe that’s why there’s this connection. However, I do find nature so, so beautiful. I just don’t know why I never go there – probably because I’m too busy. But I like it a lot.
At the beginning of your career, you said in an interview: “We should classify music by the pretension with which it was created.” I’m curious, with what pretension was Nekkuja created?
The pretension with which this album was created is the same as the previous other three. It’s an experimental willing and an aesthetic pretension. In this case, there’s this garden scenario because this album was made for a show that took place in Barcelona in September of 2021. So it has this concept sort of sheltering in, but it’s not the main thing. The main reason for the album is always aesthetic, just a combination of sound and frequencies that I find pleasing or interesting, stable or well-built. That’s my pretension, to build something that is resistant.
Where does the word Nekkuja come from? What does it mean?
I made it up. I was looking for a name for the album for ages and I even asked ChatGPT – I tortured it because I couldn’t come up with any word that I liked. I finally came up with this. I thought it had no meaning, but apparently someone told me that in Finnish it means ‘sweets’ or ‘candies’. I find it very funny that I made up a word that happens to exist already.
When listening to it, there’s an intriguing element present throughout your work. Is this a conscious decision?
It is somehow, but I wouldn’t use that word. It’s conscious because I know about it, but it’s not something I premeditate. I enjoy when the journey is beautiful but not 100% safe. I like a little disturbing element in music (and in art in general). So yeah, that’s the kind of music I come up with I guess, because that’s what I enjoy, but it’s not like I sit down and think, okay, the next album is going to be intriguing or whatever. It happens more naturally.
Upon my first listen, both Busa and Karada stood out to me for their playful, almost childlike quality. The background laughter and the sensations they evoke are captivating. In your creative process, how do you strike a balance between the disciplined aspects of composing and the spontaneous? Is there room for your inner child?
This balance is quite present in my personality as well: I’m very disciplined and straight-forward and hard-working, but at the same time, also a clown and very silly. So that balance isn’t a coincidence. I think that the profound can be expressed through something light or that is not heavy, that is like, I would say, comic or not very sentimental, if you know what I mean. The profound doesn't necessarily need to be expressed through something very serious.
I like to include these little details or cuter or sweeter aspects because they make the journey more casual. They take some seriousness away, some transcendence – in the more sober meaning of the word. Is there room for my inner child? I don’t know; I don’t even know where my inner child is or if she’s still alive and in what way, but I would like to think so, yes.
I sense a certain resemblance between Irene Solà’s book Canto jo i la muntanya balla and your music. Have you read it? And since we’re in the topic of books, could you tell us about what are you currently reading (or have recently read)?
I feel so complimented. Of course I’ve read it – I love it! It’s one of my favourite books, so thank you so much for this. I also have her latest book, it’s in my nightstand and I’ve started reading it already, but I haven’t finished it yet because I’m also reading Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel García Márquez. I’m finding it difficult to focus lately because I’m having a very hectic lifestyle, but yes, I’ll try to finish it soon.
The other day, I read Pitchfork’s review of La Alhambra, where they mentioned the “ancient quality” of your music – an opinion I share. They also commented on the use of a “made-up language.” Does it primarily stem from improvisation over melodies, or is there a semiotic decision behind the phonemes you choose to use?
La Alhambra is in Catalan, actually, it’s not made-up language. But about the rest, yeah, it’s sort of improvisation over melodies. If I don’t like how it sounds, I change it. There isn’t a big statement behind this decision, it isn’t something that I want to be known for. I just don’t want to talk about personal stuff in lyrics; I don’t want to talk about anything, really, so I just put the sounds. I’m not particularly proud of this, but I just don’t have the time to make interesting lyrics. I don’t find it appealing.
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This issue was brought up when Rosalía faced criticism for her lyrics being hard to understand even for Spanish-speakers. And she defended that she prioritises the sound over the easy understanding of the words and what she says. What’s your take on that?
About Rosalía, I agree. This is my take, but music is more important unless it’s a song that has really beautiful lyrics and they’re the main thing. But I rarely listen to the lyrics of the songs. I was raised listening to foreign music, so I was never interested in them. I just don’t pay attention to them. Who cares? I don’t care about whether someone’s lyrics are easy to understand or not. I don’t even care about my own, really. When I sing songs that do have lyrics, I don’t think about them. I don’t care.
How do you navigate the line between the abstract and the figurative in your music?
I don’t use figurative at all. I don’t think about any images or story or line that helps me make the music in the abstract field. To me, it’s more about a psychological game or mathematics or something like that. It’s a game of proportions, purely. It doesn’t have to do with a river or a breakup or a story or something like that. It’s just sounds.
The press release mentions that the creative process resembles devotion and perseverance more than isolated genius. Could you share how this perspective has influenced your approach to musical creation and how it has evolved throughout your career?"
This is quite a extensive topic, and my response will be equally extensive. Let’s start by saying that I believe when you gain an in-depth understanding of any craft, whether it’s music, sports, or any other discipline, and become a bit obsessed with it, you come to realise that your ego is rather insignificant and ridiculous compared to the superhuman level achieved in any artistic dimension, or even in nature. That’s what music (or any other craft) can teach you.
The irony lies in the fact that in the music business, there’s often a strong emphasis on ego, personality, image, and self-promotion. This is something you have to deal with, and you need to strike a balance. Even when you’re promoting an album, having just completed the creative journey, you might find yourself not caring about how the album will be received or how people will judge you based on it – if they’re gonna like you or dislike you. Your focus is primarily on making music, and your ego is sort of put to sleep.
The irony continues when it’s time to promote the album, and you must pretend that you care. As you gradually move away from the intense state of creation, you start to genuinely care about the feedback and reception. It's a delicate and somewhat paradoxical balance. I’ve always found it quite extreme how it can swing from one side to the other.
How do you feel about Björk recommending your music?
I feel very flattered; it's like a goal that I didn’t even have because I never thought it was possible. I’m very honoured, and it's still hard for me to believe it. I am very happy about that.
Speaking of other artists… I couldn’t find any collabs or features in your discography, at least in the public releases. Do you envision the possibility of collaborating with other artists in the future? If so, who would you like to collaborate with?
I’d love to, but I mean, I have some collaborations already. I don't have many because, unless it happens naturally—like when you're with friends and music-making unfolds organically—it can be a somewhat odd or weird process. You exchange stems back and forth, and sometimes it can feel a bit detached or cold. Nevertheless, I’ve worked on some collaborations, but only those I genuinely felt compelled to do.
I do hope to collaborate with more artists in the future. It's just that I haven't had much time for music lately, and when I do, I tend to prioritise my own work. I'm really eager to be on my own, creating my music. There are a few artists I'd like to collaborate with, especially Meitei, a Japanese producer whom I admire. Perhaps, one day, even though I don't think it's likely, I could collaborate with Cristobal Tapia de Veer, who's known for composing soundtracks for movies and series. I don't think he typically makes music outside of soundtracks, but that would be a dream come true for me.
European critics have been enthralled by your concerts; we had the pleasure of seeing you at Sónar Barcelona this year, and you've been touring from Mexico to Portugal, to Hungary, Poland or the Czech Republic. The audience always falls into an eerie silence, almost entranced by what they are witnessing. What do you think makes your live shows so special?
I’m not sure, I don’t know what makes the shows special. Perhaps it’s the fact that there’s no interruption from start to finish. I strive for it to be a continuous performance, akin to a theatrical play. Not that we're acting like performers, but rather, we don't pause because it's a cohesive experience. It’s a whole thing.
I think it's valuable to immerse oneself in a particular state—once we start performing, we don't exit that state until we're done. Otherwise, it's like performing a song, then abruptly stopping to say, ‘Hi, good night,’ which disrupts that state continuously. Maybe it's that, I don't know. But I must say, people at the shows tend to be exceptionally respectful, and I genuinely appreciate that. I'm extremely grateful for it and feel fortunate that this is the case.
With a futuristic aesthetic, you often switch between the piano and the microphone, almost like an orchestra conductor, accompanied by your two backing vocalists and musicians. The shift from the concerts of your first album, which were much more traditional, is quite conspicuous. What was the inspiration behind this scenic transformation?
The inspiration behind this stage transformation stemmed from the fact that my previous albums were created on a computer, and I couldn’t spend the entire time at the piano. Additionally, I prefer standing because it changes my attitude, unlike when I’m sitting on a piano stool. So, I like that change.
At one point, I contemplated removing the piano from my stage setup because, in the past, I had to transport it every time I performed in Barcelona or Spain, which was quite annoying. So, I thought, okay, I’ll make electronic music, among other reasons, so I won't have to lug the piano around.
However, this album still includes the piano, so I still need it on stage. The dynamic has changed now because when we perform abroad, a piano is provided in the backline. The thing is, the music is created using synthesizers and other equipment. I can’t perform it all on the same keyboard. That’s why we have two distinct little stations.
Thank you so much, Marina. I send you all my support and positive energy for the tour ahead!
Thank you so, so much for your time and for this interview. Ciao!
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