An admirable feminist. A woman of inexplicable guitar skills. A slender, pale goddess with the voice of an angel. Laura Marling is the six-string strumming 27-year-old whose poetic folk has no doubt influenced your life at some point. Starting out at the youthful age of 17, by 21 she had scooped a Brit Award. Now, free from her five-album contract with Virgin Records, she has spawned her own label More Alarming Records for her upcoming release Semper Femina. The phrase semper femina comes from a Virgil poem, the full quotation being “Varium et mutabile semper femina”; “woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing”. Shortening it to simply “semper femina” translates as “always woman” – an intentionally feminist gesture, having written the album in what was said to be a particularly “masculine” exploration of her life. With singles and self-directed music videos, the extensive promo in the run up to next month’s album release has been unprecedented. Amidst all this, she hosted a real one-off event, a student-only press conference at Goldsmith’s University.
As The Gryphon’s representative, I headed to the capital, not quite able to fathom that I was going to be in the same room as the inspirational, mesmeric and adored musician who had been a pinnacle of hope to me through those unsettled, uncomfortable teenage years. Because, let’s face it, being a teenager is the hardest and cruellest thing any individual has to go through. A good friend and I have all too often been at her gigs, necks craned, hands clasped in one another’s, tears rolling down our cheeks, never faltering on any of those masterful lyrics. This was a big deal. Seated in a small venue in the Goldsmith’s student union, about 40 other eager students from all over the country sat poised on their seats, facing the empty stage, save two tall stools, two microphones and two guitars.
And then she appeared: a vision clad in white, her nymph-like frame and features lilting in. She captivated the whole room, a mixture of her iconic and beguiling singing and spoken lyrics complemented expertly by cunning chords. She was hypnotic as she played: lazily strumming complicated rhythms and notes and effortlessly ranging her vocal scale. But there was something dead behind the eyes, despite the life and the otherworldliness of the music.
Often heralded as being wise beyond her years, a young Marling’s lyrics would be inspired by Gothic and Romantic literature until life experiences gave her additional stimuli for her writing. Yet it seems that her youthful career has rendered her immune to the fascination and critique of audiences with her music, her answers becoming much more animated when asked about working with producer Blake Mills, a notorious stickler for perfection. She credits Mills, an “extraordinary musician” and his “unorthodox” methods for her vast improvement on the guitar: “I would go home every night from the studio and practice guitar because I wanted to be as good as him”.
When asked about the ‘meaning’ behind her tracks, she would drift about a proper answer, unwilling to delve further. And I agree: her music is her expression and her song production is likely to have been a cathartic, personal process, so why should she have to explain herself?
Marling speaks with great love and excitement about ‘Reversal of the Muse’, which was a series of podcasts where she interviewed various women in the music industry, including HAIM, Dolly Parton and Shura, highlighting the general lack and inequality thereof. In discussing this further, she makes another hint at moving on from music, wishing to extend the podcast conversations into visual art and film.
“I think the imbalance there needs to be rectified in whatever way it can be… So we can have a more balanced understanding of the world, because these are the mediums by which we understand the world”.
She has unashamedly discussed her views on femininity and feminism. She set out writing Semper Femina to undermine male perception of women – “We’re accustomed to seeing women through men’s eyes” – to then discover that the powerful way to do so would be to “look at women through a woman’s eyes”. Fundamentally, she has been inspired to ask more questions and continue the learning process about femininity. And again, she tackles it with such admirable maturity; she is not a bra burning, man-hating feminist.
So, not only was the conference a chance for me to fan-girl, but I observed what may be the beginning of a hiatus from music for our darling Marling. Having been at it solidly for ten years, perhaps she may just need to take time to add more strings to her bow? Whatever her future holds, she will continue to influence and inspire guitarists, feminists and artists around the world.
(Image: Sonic PR)
Laura Marling will play Leeds O2 Academy on 8th March.