On the Energetic Piano & Harp Wonderland of Marina Herlop

Foto: © Angelo Guttadauro (PAN)
The Catalan musician was once on track to be a journalist. She has since released her second album »Nekkuja« on the Berlin label PAN. We caught up with her to talk about work ethic, missed parties and recalcitrant printers.

Marina Herlop is nervous. The Catalan musician and singer recently released her second album on the Berlin label PAN—and now she is rocking back and forth in her chair: »It’s the stress, I’m always stressed, my life is stressful and chaotic and I love it,« Herlop gushes, as her mobile suddenly phone rings and she swipes away the call. »People tell me that if I slow down, my body will react to the constant stress and I’ll get sick. But that won’t happen, because I have perfect genes. Plus, I’m never relaxed!«

»Nekkuja«, Herlop’s latest album, is like the musical counterpart to her physical agitation. The songs twist and turn and tear themselves apart, many things are happening at once, and yet birds chirp as Herlop’s voice bounces over the octaves like a hare over a meadow. Some of the words she sings are real. Others are invented. Often, they only serve one purpose: to sound fantas

Her main instrument is the piano, and Marina Herlop spent many hours at the keyboard as a child. »I did what was expected of me for a long time,« she says. »I was expected to get good grades at school, so I studied and got good grades. And then I was expected to learn the piano. So I learnt to play the piano. Later I was expected to study something serious, so I chose journalism. When I left home I realised I didn’t want to be a journalist, I wanted to make music.«

Relentless, but purposeful

At first, Herlop resists. She is afraid of disappointment. When the Catalan decided to swap her notebook for a music stand, it felt like she was defying her parents’ expectations. »I had to prove to them that I wasn’t cut out to be a journalist, but that I could be an artist. So I gave up everything, didn’t have a boyfriend, didn’t go to parties. When my university friends went for a beer after lectures, I went home and practised—to the point where I began to associate free time with guilt«

Marina Herlop says things like: »If you want to go far, you have to work for it«. So she does, and studies obsessively throughout her 20s. Herlop released her first album in 2016: »Nanook« comes straight out of the concert hall, a classical piano etude with vocals and a testament to its time. At the time, Herlop had not yet discovered Ableton and had not yet chosen her voice as an instrument. 2018 sees the release of »Babasha«, a tentative milestone as the first effects creep in between the hammer and the strings. Herlop then went on to compose the album for which she first hammer and the strings. Herlop then went on to compose the album for which she first had to first remove the Bösendorfer out of the studio, only to end up on many a best-of list years later.

»When my university friends went for a beer after lectures, I went home and practised—to the point where I began to associate free time with guilt«

Marina herlop

She had already sent the demo for »Pripyat« to PAN in 2019, Herlop says today, but without success. But a friend of hers knew Bill Kouligas, the label boss at PAN. And her friend sent the album to said label boss. A few months later, with the world in the midst of a pandemic, Herlop’s mobile phone rang, a German number, Bill Kouligas from Berlin. »But it was another two years before the record finally came out,« says Herlop. »By then my life had become a grotesque joke. I worked really hard but got nothing in return. When »Pripyat« finally came out, I thought, forget Lady Gaga, I just want to play a few shows!«

It is best to ensure the excitement alone

Her arms circle wildly around her body as Marina Herlop talks about this phase of her career spent in limbo. And they may well have lent some physical grandeur to the long delay until her breakthrough. But Herlop is also the metaphor-savvy journalist she never became: »My career has been like a printer that at first refuses to print anything and then, after a few unsuccessful attempts, spits out everything at once.« In other words: »After a long wait, I suddenly got so many requests for shows that I’ve been able to play the album live over 100 times to date«.

With »Nekkuja«, Herlop has now released a kind of sister album to »Pripyat«—the piano-harp wonderland is similar to its predecessor, partly because it was created before the release of »Pripyat« in 2021. Her current tour has taken her across Europe and she has also clocked up as many miles in the USA. Soon she will be travelling to South America—»all one big dream«, she says, and continues: »My Instagram has become a house party completely out of control. People I’ve never met write to me all the time. That’s nice, but it’s also a bit of a challenge, because I have to make a new album at some point!«

Then she says something else that only Marina Herlop and career bibles say: »Most people believe that you consume energy when you work. But that is not the case! You can work and still feel full of energy«. So she works on her stamina. And when that doesn’t help, she retreats to her home, the mountains around Barcelona, as she did last spring. »There’s a hut there where I switch off my social media. And the best of all, I’m completely alone with my excitement!«