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TLOBF Interview // Laura Marling

TLOBF Interview // Laura Marling

31 March 2010, 09:22
Words by Ryan Butcher


In a recent interview with a red-top music tabloid, Laura Marling was put across as being brash, abrasive, and secluded in character, unwilling to talk about anything personal, giving short answers, with a history of keeping everyone from friends to journalists to band members at arms length. So you can appreciate why I might be somewhat nervous whilst preparing for this interviewing.

Laura and I are introduced, and with an almost sultry and seductive whisper, she asks, “well, what do you wanna know?” Forget everything you’ve ever read about Laura Marling.

If you’re unfamiliar, perhaps I should give you some perspective. At the age of 17, Marling was plucked from her second-ever solo show by Jamie T, and taken out on the road. At the age of 18, her debut album Alas I Cannot Swim received a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, placing her on the cusp of the mainstream.

Now, at the grand age of 20, Marling is ready to release her highly anticipated sophomore album, I Speak Because I Can, with a third album penciled in for later in the year.

Throughout the last three or four years, she’s also been known for a number of acclaimed collaborations with The Mystery Jets and The Rakes, as well as her work with Noah and the Whale. Bringing us nicely to the white elephant in the room…

It’s common knowledge amongst the indie-folk gossip circles that Marling was in a long term relationship with Noah and the Whale’s songwriter, singer and guitarist Charlie Fink. It’s also common knowledge that Marling is now romantically linked with Marcus Mumford, of Mumford and Sons. The disintegration of her relationship with Fink inspired Noah and the Whale’s latest album, and arguably their best work to date, The First Days of Spring – a complicated record, to say the least, laden with orchestral arrangements and very personal, if not very honest, lyrical references.

In that recent interview with that certain red-top music tabloid, Marling refused outright to speak about anything related to her past with Fink, Noah and the Whale, or even the reports of her latest relationship with Mumford. That certain red-top tabloid would have you believe Marling is still sore and sensitive about this subject, unwilling to open up to anyone. Yet, when Marling talks about Fink with me, however briefly, she seems to do so fondly, admirably, and without regret or contempt.

“Compared to three years ago, I feel a lot more confident in my decisions,” she says. “It’s a nice thing to feel.

“With the first record, I had no confidence, so Charlie produced it all. He very kindly took the reins, produced the album, and did it differently to how I could have imagined.

“This time, I wanted no one else to blame. All the decisions that needed to be made – I wanted to make them.

“Not that Charlie ever did anything to blame, of course…”

It’s with this fleeting mention that Marling pauses for a moment, as if remembering fondly of her times with Charlie, and as a member of Noah and the Whale.

It’s amazing, really, how place the prefix of “nu” in front of a genre can garner such a critical reception. London’s nu-folk scene seemingly sprouted out of nowhere, centred on Marling and Noah and the Whale, and featuring a further cast of characters such as Johnny Flynn, Emmy the Great, and the now-mainstream monster known as Mumford and Sons.

“When I was younger, with the Noah and the Whale situation, it seemed like something that would make me, I don’t know, cooler to be a part of. It was something I wanted to do.

“I think there is a scene surrounding folk at the moment, and I’ve never had a problem with it. Some people do find it annoying, but they’re people I’ve known for a very long time.

“I just think it’s nice to be a part of something, and it’s good to see your friends struggling, or succeeding for that matter, in the same way that you are.”

Anyone expecting I Speak Because I Can to offer a warts-and-all insight into Marling’s personal life, much like The First Days of Spring did for Fink, is going to be disappointed – the bulk of it has been written for a while now, which is why Marling has a third effort due out by the end of the year.

“I’m not keen on that whole heart-on-your sleeve thing,” Marling explains.

“For some songs, it’s necessary, but I couldn’t write a whole album like that. Could you imagine playing it every night? People forget that songwriters and musicians have to go through those feelings that inspired them every time they play their songs.

“I finished writing I Speak Because I Can over a year ago, and since then, I’ve had an awful lot of time doing not very much.

“So I wrote another one. The free time has been a good fortune really, but I’m going to be doing a lot of touring for the rest of the year – Australia, America, England, and then some festivals this summer, including Glastonbury.”

For want of a better word, I Speak Because I Can is a much more mature effort compared to her previous releases. Unsurprising really – Marling was thrown into the thick of it in her teenage years, and the journey since then has been essentially formative. Marling has grown as a musician, a songwriter, and more importantly, a woman.

The twee popular culture references from her earlier work, like listening to Ryan Adams in the early hours of the morning, are long gone, replaced by an outward confidence and new-found sense of sexuality. Take new single ‘Devil’s Spoke’, for example. With an almost primal aggression, she sings “eye to eye, nose to nose, ripping off each other’s clothes in the most peculiar way”. Marling is as much assured in her music as she is her femininity.

“I think now, I know a bit better where songs actually come from,” she says.

“I feel like a woman for the first time in my life, which is something I find very interesting.

“Quite simply, it’s just like everything else – you take in your surroundings, and obviously everything you see, hear or read has a bit of an influence. I certainly see things in a different way now. It’s that feeling of adult responsibility, and there’s no turning back.

“I’m also much more focused on my skill as a guitar player, which is something I’ve worked on a lot between the two albums, which I think makes the writing seem a bit more backed up.

“The style in which I play guitar is the style in which my dad plays. It’s traditional Gaelic folk music passed down from my father, which I like, but it’s not what I listen to, so I’m not all that sure how that happened.”

Laura and I chatted for longer, and it was soon clear to me that the reserved image of her painted by the press was, well, a lie. She jokes about the time she met Neil Young whilst supporting him last year, and is humbled that she’d gotten to that point in her career.

“If someone told me that I would be supporting Neil Young three or four years ago, well, you know. I wouldn’t have believed them.

“It was just amazing, for obvious reasons. It seemed like such an unbelievable thing to happen to anyone. I’d never seen my band so excited, and I really felt that, you know, ‘oh my God’ moment. It was the first time I’d ever met that.

“He always takes his wife and kids on tour with him. We met him back stage, and I just kind of stood behind my band whilst they introduced themselves. I was so nervous. But he was a nice guy, thankfully. I wouldn’t want to believe in a world where Neil Young isn’t a nice guy.”

She talks about how much she loves touring, discusses the music she’s been listening to lately (Middle East and Boy And Bear, if you’re interested) and explains how she misses England whenever she’s away from home. But this is all beside the point really. What’s clear from her demeanour, her politeness, her attitude, and more importantly, her new record, is that Laura Marling has left the twee teenage girl behind, and grown into a woman.

And surely that’s worth talking about more than who she’s sleeping with.

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