DARLING MARLING Laura Marling

She can be forgiven
for being a teenager.

BY MICHAEL D. AYERS

 

At just eighteen, London’s
Laura Marling is on the verge of something big. Unlike the British post-punk acts
that have found success in America,
Marling’s a folkie, one who approaches songwriting with the gentleness of Nick
Drake and the soul searching of Leonard Cohen. Alas I Cannot Swim (Astralwerks) is a striking debut of sparse
guitar ballads, lush string arrangements, and a few well-timed moments of
playful indulgences. But once you start to zero in on her word play, you start
to get a glimpse of a woman’s loneliness, her most depressive states, her
confusion. Yet it’s not all buzzkill. There’s always an air of optimism in her
voice, even when she’s confronting her own demons. Over a light lunch, she’s
quite charming, yet as reserved as you’d expect from listening to her work — and
there’s a general feeling of anxiousness when she speaks — but definitely ready
for her career to officially begin here. 

 

Everyone seems to
always focus on your age, and how young you are. When did you start writing? Songs,
lyrics, everything?

Well, I’ve been writing as long as I can remember.

 

Like, since you were
six?

Well, yeah, like writing stories — I always enjoyed that. But
I didn’t start writing music until about three years ago. I’ve been playing guitar
since I was five; my dad was a guitarist. But the first year, it was pretty
abysmal. Pretty terrible songs.

 

Lyrically?

No, just everything. I was fifteen. Forgive me for being a
teenager. All the songs that are on the album are written in sort of the same
six months.

 

The government might
classify you as a teenager, but I guess that’s what is so striking: the songs
don’t seem to get into the typically teenage trite.

I wrote “My Manic and I,” which is the first song I wrote for
the album, and I wanted to keep it in the same theme, you know, keep it
consistent. I wrote around that song basically.

 

Is a lot of the stuff
autobiographical or are you storytelling?

Well, I value honesty. It is sort of autobiographical, but
it’s within a story. I never want to be “this is what I did, this is where I
went, and this is what happened.” One, that would be too hard to do every
night, and two, it’s just lame. Just a bit self-obsessed. So it’s a mix,
really.

 

Are you still living
in Reading?

Well, actually Reading
is the nearest landmark town. I grew up in the country, in Hampshire. But I
live in London
now. Two years.

 

When did you start
thinking that this could be something serious as a career? If you started
writing when you were fifteen, and left for London when you were sixteen, did you just
start playing out and around?

Yeah. And I met a lot of people who were doing the same
thing, and we’re all now releasing an album, which is quite funny. I was living
with a couple of them, and it was right around the time I wrote “My Manic and
I” that I was like, “This is definitely what I want to do.” At least it’s was
an improvement from my old songs, which means I can improve further, hopefully,
one day.

 

With the music that’s
been very popular over here — that’s not what you’re doing. What’s the vibe for what you’re doing, in London?

I think there is somewhat of a revival. You see, I grew up
with it, I mean I grew up with Bert Jansch and Joni Mitchell because my parents
loved it. I think there’s a few us whose parents are at that age, who have had
children, and are going back to it. There’s a really good scene of songwriters
and bands that are a bit chilled out. And I think that it has come from [America] — the
anti-folk thing, has filtered over a bit.

 

I feel like anyone on
the street, if they had enough time, could learn the guitar, but it’s the
lyrical content that is catching people. Do you agree with that?

Yeah, definitely. I also think it’s the style that is
presented to the public, you know what I mean? Like, especially with Devendra
Banhart. It’s like, I really like his music, but I think it’s been brilliantly
presented. I mean, I think he is great, and they’ve made sure that everyone
knows that he’s this weird guy who writes these weird songs. And it’s done
well.

 

Do you think about
how they are going to “brilliantly present” you?

Well, no. Anyone can present themselves in anyway. That’s
the great and terrible thing about what we do.

 

I remember watching
you play, and one of the things that was really captivating, was that you
seemed a bit terrified. And I couldn’t tell if you were weirded out by people
sitting there watching you, or, if it was the actual songs that lent themselves
to that presentation.

Well, I’m easily startled. I’m very nervous before I go on
stage. I have found that the best way of playing my songs, is being where I
was, when I wrote them. So, I just concentrate really hard.

 

And where you were
you when you wrote them? It’s very introspective sounding.

Well, yeah, I have to be alone. And it’s usually when I’m
tired, in an extreme of some emotion.

 

Do you ever listen
back to the record?

When we got the masters we did. I was in Ireland, touring with Noah &
the Whale, driving around in a car, and we listened to it front to back a
couple of times. I can’t listen to it too much — I don’t want to ruin it.

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