Having performed at the front of Liverpool's iconic electro-pop outfit Ladytron, lead vocalist Helen Marnie has inevitably become a master of alt-pop synthscapes—the type of mesmerizing music you could wade in for days, folding endlessly into the dizzying sounds like an inescapable dream. Though Marnie's entire career could ride on the cultural impact of Ladytron's cult classic, "Seventeen," she's been busy embarking on a solo pursuit, now following her 2013 debut, Crystal World, with a long-awaited sophomore album.
Scheduled for release June 2, Marnie's Strange Words and Weird Wars capitalizes on the Glasglow artist's strengths, delivering stadium-sized melodies through lush, hazy-pop production. The album's introduction, "Lost Maps," swims in crunchy beats and swirling synths, as Marnie ominously warns, "Don't believe what they tell you." Marnie's newest release, "Electric Youth," offers a much brighter, '80s-leaning sound, now heightened with an equally nostalgic visual.
The "Electric Youth" video, out today, is directed by Dawn Elrick and welcomes rising performers from the UK's Urbaniks Dance School. Echoing the track's mall-pop attitute—think M83 meets Pat Benatar—Marnie's shown with crimped hair and technicolor makeup, as teenagers move through campy choreography in an abandoned building. Despite its retro, neon-lit edge, Marnie's latest effort is decidedly contemporary—a forward-thinking ode to the past.
Watch the OUT premiere of "Electric Youth," and read more about Marnie's Strange Words and Weird Wars, below.
OUT: What elements of Ladytron carry into your solo work and what have you abandoned?
Marnie: I think instrumentation is key to creating a warm full sound. Being in Ladytron has taught me the importance of that. The importance of using "real" instruments as opposed to soft synths. On Strange Words And Weird Wars, we had a whole wall of synths to experiment with, along with guitars and tape loops. I was strategic in the fact that I wanted to create a warm, openly pop record, but at the same time it was just a natural progression for me. My vocals are far more up front on my solo records—something that doesn't happen that often with Ladytron.
How do you view Strange Words And Weird Wars in comparison to your debut solo album?
Crystal World was an emotional affair and was light on its feet, and this time around I wanted a more bad ass sound, big beats and dirt. I think people may be a little surprised with the direction i've taken, but it really makes me happy. I've been listening to these songs for a year or so now, and I'm still not bored of them. I have learned that it is important to trust my instincts, because they are usually right. If something isn't working, then make sure it's worked on till I'm happy with it, because only I will be judged on the end result.
Lyrically, what did you reflect on while writing this album?
There's quite a lot going on across the album if you really listen hard to the lyrics. I think the main themes touched on are love and mortality. Not to sound morbid, but I am often aware of my own mortality and that of my loved ones around me. On "A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night," I recall what I can only describe as a near death experience—a kind of Sliding Doors, parallel universe moment, where what you do changes your path. It actually creeps me out every time I think of that night. The album traces love affairs, love that never was and reflects on relationships with friends long gone.
Sonically, who do you look to for inspiration?
Vocally, I'm really interested with how Lana Del Rey sings, and how it's manipulated and layered to create such a full, beautiful vocal. I'm always trying to layer up as much as possible, however, that obviously can create challenges when it comes to the live setting. I sit somewhere in the middle—not too little, not overload. This album was definitely influenced by '80s acts, [like] The Cure and Prince, which I think can be heard in "Electric Youth." However, the guitar is quite prevalent across the record, which gives it that shoe gaze element at times harking back to The Cure's Disintegration and bands, such as My Bloody Valentine.
What's the story behind "Electric Youth"?
"Electric Youth" is actually inspired by my university years in Liverpool, England. It's about doing things that you know you probably shouldn't be doing, but doing them anyway. It's about being carefree and young, and not knowing what's good or bad for you.
How does this narrative carry into the video?
My friend Dawn Elrick directed the video. We met and I told her my inspiration for the video, which she then took and molded into a brilliant, fun idea. Ultimately, I wanted a video that reflected the fun element of the song, and Dawn managed to get Urbaniks Dance School on board, which was just the best move ever. I had the location for the video shoot in my mind for over a year, and luckily we were given access by the owner who was so accommodating. It was literally a derelict site, which was in the process of being cleared. There are enormous empty sheds of buildings filled with glorious graffiti, perfect for creating that DIY dance scene, and for the kids to get up to no good.
Do you find you're a nostalgic person?
I'd say I am a nostalgic person. I often think what may have happened if I took a different path, however, I'm quite happy with where I'm at. Life is a learning curve.