We had a period of livestream performances last year, to be honest they helped keep a lot of us entertained and were our only fix of live music at the time. LAURA MARLING was right up there and really set the bar for what can be achieved with a superlative performance back in the early Summer of 2020 from London’s Union Chapel.
Laura then brought forward the release of Song For Our Daughter in the midst of lockdown last Easter as the pandemic took hold across the globe. It was received with widespread acclaim, and deservedly picked up Mercury Prize and Grammy Award nominations.
She is no stranger to award nominations having won the Brit Award for Best British Female Solo Artist in 2011, and was nominated for the same award in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018.
The route to Song For Our Daughter began in the wake of touring Semper Femina, when Laura stepped away from both her record label and her management, and for the first time in many years found herself without any firm idea of her future.
Instead she chose the unexpected: she collaborated with the theatre director Robert Icke; she formed a duo called LUMP with Mike Lindsay from Tunng, recording and touring an album of dissonant melodic beauty. Then she enrolled in a masters degree in psychoanalysis.
For a time she distanced herself from the idea of being Laura Marling – all of the connotations and associations her own name conjured, and began to explore something new. She realised that the songs she wrote after Semper Femina “felt too much like similar rewritings of other ones – like a writer who’ll write the same book over and over again,” and pushed herself to write beyond the known edges of herself. “And that was quite painful for me actually,” she says. “It’s the first time I’ve made a concerted effort to not just keep writing the same song again.”
The effect of exploring beyond her familiar world – her collaborative experiments and academic studies particularly, has been to liberate her. The next twelve months will also bring a new album from LUMP, and Laura credits the experience of working with Lindsay for a new perspective on songwriting.
Laura told us….
“Lump gives me a totally different space, it’s just so much easier for me to have a really differentiated persona and the outcome is such a surprise to me.”
Time away has also allowed her to find a new kind of settledness. After many years of touring, and time living in the US and on the south coast, she has returned to London, living one street away from her oldest sister and her niece; her middle sister shares her home; she describes herself as “at a very comfortable place in my life, in a functioning long-term relationship.”
Her first record written away from the road, it is perhaps this contentment that has allowed her to step away from confessional songwriting. “It’s really hard for me to say, but I think that lack of ‘I’ is probably there,” she says.
“I’m aware of being looked at, internally, by the proximity of people around me. There’s a really good Henry Miller quote where towards the end of his life he stopped writing and started painting and said, ‘I found painting to be the only medium by which I couldn’t cause people harm’. I was like ‘I feel you!’”
She has built herself a studio in the basement of her house, where she can spend her time enjoying “a lot of experimenting with sound” in part a result of working with Semper Femina producer Blake Mills, who showed her “how much character you can draw out of sound” and of course her work with LUMP, where her voice is often used as an instrument.
It was inevitable Laura was heading down the music route. Her mother is a music teacher. Her father, Sir Charles William Somerset Marling, ran a recording studio, introduced her to folk music, and shaped her musical taste, an experience that Laura later described as, “a bit of a blessing and a bit of a curse because I couldn’t slot myself into the age-appropriate genre”.
Laura gained considerable confidence from self-producing 2014’s Short Movie, and though she returned to Ethan Johns to co-produce Song For Our Daughter, she was steadfast in her vision for the album.
“I demoed everything really heavily, and re-edited loads of stuff,” she says. “So I did all of the arrangements, I knew all the musicians I wanted to work with. I mixed the record with Dom [Monks – who has engineered several Marling albums]. And all of the backing vocals on this album I did at home because I wanted no one else’s opinion!”
It is a lusher sound than previous Laura Marling records, with broad sweeps and an abundance of strings by Rob Moose (Antony and the Johnsons, Bon Iver, the National)
“I wanted to indulge in that, I just wanted to let him go free.”
She wanted the spaciousness she had found with LUMP
“Where you’re in an aural world rather than sitting watching something; or like a really great Bill Callahan album where it feels as if he’s in the centre of your brain.”
There is an unexpected melodic poppiness too – there on tracks such as Held Down, Blow by Blow and For You.
“So I was introduced to Paul McCartney at the later stage of my life – I was Lennon. And I really only saw a surface level of Paul McCartney — dyed hair and Converses that I found unacceptable. But then I did the full catalogue of solo Paul McCartney stuff and saw I was obviously wrong. You realise the little things that get you, the little sentiments.”
She describes Blow by Blow then as
“my little homage to Paul McCartney … I was just trying to write a bit more simply and it’s so much easier on the piano because I’m so bad at it, I’m forced to really simplify.”
After several years of recalibration, this year will be another shift for Laura Marling: two new albums, headline tours, and, one imagines, many more collaborations, experimentations and solo adventures to come.
LAURA MARLING gets to the Tramshed in Cardiff next week on Wednesday 13th October. It’s 10 years since she’s been in the city so grab this chance to see her. Tickets are £25 and the gig gets underway at 7:30pm. To get yours, go HERE.