Laura Mar­ling’s brief hia­tus from mu­sic has reaped cre­ative re­wards, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

Laura Mar­ling is hav­ing break­fast in a Lon­don cafe. The 25-year-old wun­derkind of English folk mu­sic, softly spo­ken and of­ten ret­i­cent about re­veal­ing too much of her­self in in­ter­views, ex­udes warmth and charm in this re­laxed en­vi­ron­ment. She has good rea­son to be cheer­ful. Mar­ling’s latest al­bum, Short Movie, her fifth in seven years, has en­joyed world­wide crit­i­cal ac­claim. She is happy also to be back in Lon­don af­ter a long stint liv­ing in Los An­ge­les.

Re­views of her re­cent Euro­pean con­certs with her band have been pos­i­tive and she is ex­cited about bring­ing that show to Aus­tralia in Oc­to­ber. Joie de vivre, then, helps lift her del­i­cate English tone above the clat­ter of plates and the early morn­ing thrum of the city.

“I like tour­ing,” she says, en­thus­ing about a run of dates through the US that be­gan this week and con­tin­ues un­til Au­gust. “My days of do­ing it in a hard way are over, so it’s re­ally just a fun thing to do.”

One doesn’t as­so­ciate im­me­di­ately the term fun with the au­thor of so many plain­tive mus­ings on the in­tri­ca­cies and mys­tery of love, re­la­tion­ships and wom­an­hood, sub­jects that have in­hab­ited Mar­ling’s oeu­vre since the re­lease of her de­but al­bum Alas, I Can­not Swim in 2008. Yet, while there are som­bre mo­ments also on Short Movie, such as the acous­tic guitar-driven How Can I, Strange and Di­vine, there’s more play­ful­ness too, a new agenda that in­cor­po­rates rock ’n’ roll into her folk brief, in­clud­ing the wield­ing of an elec­tric guitar. The song False Hope, inspired by her ex­pe­ri­ence of Hur­ri­cane Sandy in New York, boasts a stri­dent, post-punk ur­gency in its jan­gly Pre­tenders-like elec­tric­ity.

It’s a re­fresh­ing change of pace for the singer, whose out­put thus far, not least her last out­ing, Once I was an Ea­gle, falls largely into the bas­ket of acous­tic in­tro­spec­tion, bol­stered by her abil­i­ties and orig­i­nal­ity as a gui­tarist. As well as there be­ing more re­liance on elec­tric guitar and on band ac­com­pa­ni­ment this time, Mar­ling dis­pensed with pre­vi­ous pro­ducer Ethan Johns to co-pro­duce Short Movie with ear­lier col­lab­o­ra­tors Matt In­gram and Dan Cox, who own Urchin Stu­dios in Hack­ney, north­east Lon­don, where the al­bum was recorded. Also, for some­one who likes to shy away from con­fes­sion­als, ei­ther in song or in print, Mar­ling has opened her­self up lyri­cally, the new songs inspired pre­dom­i­nantly by the Hamp­shire trou­ba­dour’s move to Los An­ge­les three years ago.

“Ev­ery record I put out is fic­tion to some ex­tent,” she says. “And to some ex­tent this one is more cre­ative non­fic­tion than fic­tion. The rea­son I think the use of ‘I’ is more per­sonal this time is that I had spent the past year liv­ing in LA not do­ing mu­sic, with no abil­ity to ex­press my opin­ion. Mu­sic has been my out­let for the past seven years, and then I didn’t have that and I felt that I was cork­ing my emo­tions. I be­came a bit of an emo­tional voyeur. That was a kind of thrill. It made me feel alive. I think that ap­pears on the record.”

Prior to her last Aus­tralian visit in 2013, Mar­ling told The Aus­tralian she had moved to LA from Lon­don to get out of her com­fort zone. She took time off for the first time in her ca­reer and did other things, such as yoga, cre­ative writ­ing cour­ses, the tarot, im­mersed her­self in the works of film­maker and writer Ale­jan­dro Jodor­owsky. It was a de­lib­er­ate step off the roller­coaster that had been her adult life un­til then.

Mar­ling had been ac­tive since she be­gan her mu­sic jour­ney in the lat­ter half of the noughties as part of the English nu-folk elite, com­ing up through the ranks of the Bri­tish tour­ing cir­cuit flanked by the likes of Noah and the Whale and Mum­ford and Sons. LA, af­ter a long tour with Once I was an Ea­gle, was a chance to kick back.

“I didn’t go there with any ex­pec­ta­tions re­ally,” she says. “It was more for per­sonal rea­sons. It was one long sur­real un­fold­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that led me to stay for 2½ years.

“It was an ex­pe­ri­ence. It wasn’t re­ally Los An­ge­les that was the dif­fi­cult part … there were other things go­ing on. It was pretty far out, though.”

Dur­ing her down time Mar­ling ex­plored the US with more free­dom than she had been af­forded from the tour bus. “I read a lot and hung out with friends,” she says.

As she has done through­out her ca­reer, she also wrote con­sis­tently. The cre­ative writ­ing cour­ses had an in­flu­ence on her song­writ­ing. Push­ing her­self into un­known ter­ri­tory proved pro­duc­tive, but not al­ways in a pos­i­tive way. Hav­ing writ­ten a batch of songs as the ba­sis for Short Movie, she promptly scrapped them and started again. She isn’t shy about ad­mit­ting the early songs “just weren’t very good”.

“I mean they weren’t that good,” she clar­i­fies. “Mu­si­cally they were good, struc­turally they were pass­able, but lyri­cally they were very dull.”

She blames a strong work ethic for not be­ing able to see the er­ror of her ways ini­tially.

“I think I had be­come ac­cus­tomed to work­ing to a cer­tain rou­tine of tour­ing and then mak­ing a record and then tour­ing again,” she says. “At that point it felt like I should have been mak­ing an al­bum. I’m so stub­born that I can con­vince my­self to do some­thing, so I was able to do a whole record while ig­nor­ing the fact that the songs were no good.”

Once that hur­dle had been over­come, Mar­ling re­lo­cated to Lon­don early last year to be­gin work on her new al­bum. To­day Mar­ling flits be­tween the English cap­i­tal and Cal­i­for­nia (“I like them both so I’ve de­cided to stay in both”) — that is, when she’s not on the road or record­ing — but both these bustling cities are a long way, cul­tur­ally at least, from the ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment in which Mar­ling grew up. One of three daugh­ters of Charles Wil­liam Som­er­set Mar­ling, a baronet, the singer spent her child­hood in the vil­lage of Ever­s­ley, a rel­a­tively af­flu­ent part of Hamp­shire, com­plet­ing her high school ed­u­ca­tion at the pri­vate Leighton Park School in neigh­bour­ing Berk­shire. She left school at the age of 16 and set­tled with her older sis­ters on the out­skirts of Lon­don, which be­came the base for her ten­ta­tive steps into the mu­sic busi­ness.

She has de­scribed her teenage years as “weird”, but they were also ful­fill­ing. Armed with her acous­tic guitar, Mar­ling be­gan play­ing solo spots around Lon­don wher­ever she could get them. She had brief re­la­tion­ships with Mar­cus Mum­ford and Noah and the Whale singer Char­lie Fink and sup­ported both of their bands on tour, a pe­riod she re­flects on as be­ing “ex­cit­ing and in­valu­able”.

Since then Mar­ling’s ca­reer has been a whirl­wind of ac­claim and pro­duc­tiv­ity. Alas, I Can­not Swim was fol­lowed by I Speak Be­cause I Can (2010), A Crea­ture I Don’t Know (2011), Once I was an Ea­gle (2013) and Short Movie, which was re­leased in March. This makes her one of the most pro­lific English singer-song­writ­ers of her genre and her gen­er­a­tion. She says she feels

Laura Mar­ling has in­cor­po­rated rock ‘n’ roll into her folk brief

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