A sense of urgency pervades 'Alphabet Block', the lead single from Helen Marnie's second album.

A synthesiser throbs under heightened lyrics about being led to a dead-end. What feels like a claustrophobic way to introduce an album, its chorus comes in and soars like a big inhalation of breath. The steely confidence of the song is the perfect beginning of her second album, Strange Words and Weird Wars, as she goes for the jugular.

After the alternative electronic outfit Ladytron took a hiatus in 2012, lead singer Helen Marnie decided she wanted to continue making music of her own. The songs she wrote, featured on her debut album Crystal World, were more melody focused with softer, atmospheric arrangements as she touched on personal matters and the natural world.

Strange Words and Weird Wars is a decidedly more direct affair. After feeling emotionally drained by what she put into the songs on her debut, she wanted its follow-up to be more fun, brasher and energetic. I spoke to Helen about what it's like creating on her own, drawing a line under her work with Ladytron and embracing her pop sensibilities.


The songs on Crystal World were directly influenced by nature and the elements. Would you say this record is more a combination of your personal life and political thought?

Each record is going to resemble where you are at a certain point. I felt a little bit emotionally drained by Crystal World; it was quite heavy and I put a lot of personal stuff into it. I deliberately wanted Strange Words and Weird Wars to be completely different. Even you saying that you can hear the difference is quite pleasing because I wanted it that way. There's still a lot of personal things, but it's less about the beauty of your surroundings and more about having fun, reflecting on good things or seeing good things in dark situations.

'Alphabet Block' really took me aback when I heard it - it's a total bop that leaves you feeling trapped! There's an ominous, almost claustrophobic, presence in its theme but then it has a big, opulent chorus. Did you want to create that dichotomy?

I must give credit where it's due. I worked with my producer Jonny Scott, and he has quite an influence on this one since it's a co-write. It's a juxtaposition of him and myself. The claustrophobic feeling - you've picked up on something. It's about a situation that you can't escape, and you're not sure what the outcome is going to be, but you have to get through. It's a juxtaposition of the darkness of the lyrics and the upbeatness of the music and the instruments.

Even the way you sing on it, it's like the lines are stacked on top of each other.

Yeah, it's so wordy! When I wrote it, I thought "Oh my god, how am I going to sing this?".

The title, Strange Words and Weird Wars, comes from a line in 'Hearbreak Kid'. Why did it fit the record?

That song was one of the first ones I wrote for the new record. I always saw it as the closing song. It's kind of sad but euphoric at the same time - it builds into a big crescendo, and it's quite hopeful. But then new songs came into the picture and sounded like the closing song too! The title just popped out at me; I didn't have any other contenders in the works because it was the one that made sense.

The instruments and synthesisers you recorded with sound a lot sharper and the beats sounded harder than your debut. Did you bring a lot of new equipment into this record?

That comes from working with an amazing drummer, Jonny Scott, which influenced the beats on the record. I'm a musician, but I'm not necessarily great at writing drum patterns. I think it's also to do with the production. The instrumentation is not that far away from Crystal World but we used the Roland SH-101 and the Moog Sub Phatty which is quite prevalent across the album. That gave the deep bass sounds. We wanted to create a fun vibe that was more danceable and more '80s influenced. Crystal World had more folk-tendencies and was very soft. I wanted this one to be more in your face.

One of the punchiest songs is 'G.I.R.L.S'. Who are the girls you're referring to on that one?

It's an imaginary girl! Or it could be me. It's funny because people who I've done interviews with have picked up on this one too, but it was actually one that I wasn't sure of putting on the record. When I wrote it and took it into the studio, it was quite flippant and throwaway. I thought it could be too cheesy. I think we tamed it with guitars.

It made it as the third song too! I did notice an article which said it sounds like Ladytron but I don't hear that at all...

Well thank you, you're the first person that I don't know who has said that!

Is it frustrating for you as a solo artist when people still expect to hear Ladytron in your work? To me, the only common threads between the band and your own music is that they both use synthesisers and your voice but everything else is completely different.

It's really frustrating. I get it though because people love Ladytron, well, some people love Ladytron! Somehow I think people need to separate my solo stuff from that. There's plenty of other artists who are in bands and they go on to do another thing and it's not compared in the same way. I don't why I seem to get the constant thing where it's compared even it's completely different. My debut was different, and this album is nowhere near Ladytron.

Do you think it's because you were the lead singer?

Well this is it. Do people just hear my voice and think "That's it, she is Ladytron!".

I've seen on your social media and other artists who have gone solo, anytime you announce a new project or single, somebody will write under it asking when the next band album is coming out.

Some people are desperate to hear more and don't understand I'm doing my own thing.

But it also means they like you!

Exactly. I can't be down on it too much. I get it, but at the same time, I think when you've put your own time, effort and money into something it shouldn't be attributed to something else. Often people will ask if Danny (Ladytron band-member) produced this album and I'll be like "No, Jonny Scott produced this". Yes, he did work with me on my last album, but that means nothing. That's the past, and this is now. I think it's hard for women in music and things often get attributed to the men that they're working with unfortunately. Not to say Danny didn't deserve credit for his part, he produced the first album but I wrote the songs, and I should be given credit for that which often isn't the case in reviews.

There's also a sense of nostalgia and references to your youth on this album, like 'Summer Boys' and 'Electric Youth'. Was there anything happening during the writing that made you reflect on your childhood?

I don't think so, I wrote those songs three years ago. I made a change of moving back to Glasgow from London in 2012. When you're writing you sometimes look at important periods of your life. 'Electric Youth' is about a fun time in my life and getting into trouble and being a bit naughty.

Do you feel more settled living back in Glasgow?

Yeah I feel great. I love Scotland. I wanted to move back long before I did but it wasn't the right time. Now I'm here I don't want to be anywhere else.

'A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night' takes its name from the Iranian horror film. What struck you about the film and what did you want to create for the song?

The title is taken from the film but I have never actually seen it. What the song is about is not what the film is. The song is pretty sinister and really nasty. Even when I listen to it now, it gives me shivers. It's about a near-death moment where your life flashes in front of your eyes and you think "right that's a life gone". If you did something a different way what would have been the result. The album is quite full-on so there really needed to be a moment like that to let it breathe. It's important to show a different side. It establishes the first and the second half of the album.

Since you've been making records for over a decade now and this is your second album of your own, do you feel comfortable in your presence as a solo artist?

I think I'm getting there. I feel with this record that I'm more in control and I know what I'm good at. It's all a learning curve. If I make another solo record I'm sure I'll be insecure about that one as well. I think any creative person feels that. I'm more confident in my songwriting. I've proven to myself that I can do this and I'm quite good at some elements of it. I also like to collaborate and I think that can bring out the best in you. I really enjoy creating melodies and toplines, although I do write entire tracks too.

I remember you said before that you always felt like the cheesy one in Ladytron because you really love pop elements. Do you still feel like that?

No I really don't care anymore. I couldn't care less what people think of me. I think for a long time, going back to my days in Ladytron, if you mentioned pop it was like a dirty word. I don't think that's the case now. I think people have opened their minds now. I'm unashamedly pop now. Take it or leave it.

Strange Words and Weird Wars is out on June 2nd. For more info, please visit Marnie's official website.