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After being otherwise occupied for a few years – the small matter of a doctorate and a baby – Laura Marling has been teasing the announcement of new material and, yes, maybe even a new album (but no touring for the foreseeable future).

As anyone who has spent any time on this site would know, this news is very well received.

Wind Back Wednesday, in a hurry to hear the new stuff and needing something to fill that LM space, today excavates this interview from 2011 when Marling was three albums and about four years into her solo career and looking for logic as the guiding rule of life. Mostly.

Oh yes, and when she was a newly crowned monarch of British music.



AT THE BRIT AWARDS in February this year, London’s giant Millennium Dome packed high and wide for the British music industry’s glamour night, there was no shortage of famous names and pop splash.

Take That, with Robbie Williams, opened the show spectacularly in a taste of what would fill eight consecutive, 80,000-strong shows at Wembley Stadium mid-year. The big man of hip hop/pop Cee-Lo Green had what looked like a cast of hundreds singing and dancing around him, and Adele, who would go on to be the highest selling female artist of this year – on both sides of the Atlantic and all over Australia – stopped the night with her voice.

When the award for best female artist arrived, everyone expected someone like chart queen and TV judge Cheryl Cole or previous winner of the rising star award, bouncy pop singer Ellie Goulding, to step up. Instead the winner was the pale, slim and gobsmacked Laura Marling, just turned 21 and then only two albums into a career based on a blend of English folk traditions and the singer/songwriters of the 1970s.

As good as it is, and Laura Marling has earned comparisons with Joni Mitchell that for once seem justified, it’s the kind of music that sells about as many copies in a year as Cole moves in a Saturday afternoon. It’s music nurtured not in a board room or TV studio but in a self-sustaining little community of folk-loving acts in London which included Mumford & Sons, Noah and the Whale and Jamie T.

If the audience was surprised – I was sitting with music industry people, most of whom had no idea who she was, and the next day one paper carried a headline asking “who is Laura Marling?” - it was nothing on what Marling was feeling. Her expression flickered between bemusement, bewilderment and a splash or two of fear as she began her acceptance speech to the perplexed audience, “Thankyou, my name is Laura.”

Several months later, sitting out on the terrace of a Soho bistro, having a breakfast of porridge and berries, Marling remembers that Brit award moment vividly, only half joking that the experience was “horrible" and so unexpected that “of course I had my gracious loser face on” as the winner was announced.

"I've been around people for whom [winning a Brit] has changed things and it is uncomfortable to watch. I'm not built for that,” she says, possibly a reference to her ex-boyfriend Marcus Mumford, whose banjo-and-bustle band, Mumford & Sons, has been the breakout stars of the inner London folk scene. “It is out of my hands to a certain extent and at the Brits I was terrified. I don't think I'll ever be that person."

Actually, her main complaint now is that not one pithy literary quote came to mind up on stage despite spending a lot of her time writing down ideas and passages from her favourite books.

A voracious reader, on her last visit to Australia Marling was reading Portnoy’s Complaint, on her mother’s urging; she regularly recommends the work of the philosopher and writer Robertson Davies; and at least one song on her new album, A Creature I Don't Know, is directly influenced by the life and writing of John Steinbeck and his wife Elaine.

In one such song, Salinas, Marling turns both slightly surreal and direct, beginning "I am from Salinas where the women go forever, and they never ever stop to ask why/ my mother was a saviour of six foot of bad behaviour, with long blond curly hair down to her thighs". But harshness soon intrudes: "Late into the evening they would take each other screaming, looking darkly to the back of her eye/a careless beast was bleating that the air behind was breathing, that they mustn’t ever look up to the sky".

With her insight and musical maturity, not to mention intricate guitar playing and a coloured, intimate voice, it's easy to forget that Marling, the youngest of three daughters of a music teacher and a recording studio owner from a small town near Reading outside London, is still forming her emotional and intellectual base. It's worth noting that she signs off her album with the note, "here’s to love and logic, two creatures of unceasing cruelty and endless joy".

Whereas her highly impressive first album, Alas I Cannot Swim, recorded when she was 17, had a classic teenager's perspective of knowing everything about what the world has to offer and a concurrent cynicism about love - "teenage arrogance," as Marling puts it - her even better second album, I Speak Because I Can, had a greater sense of optimism about the possibility of human relationships.

"I listened to the first album after I finished the second and it was quite painful really, like listening to a little sister," she says. "I was going through something maybe wilfully tough."

This year's rather wonderful album however, treads a more complex path, one which eschews personal revelation for character studies which ponder whether we are more inclined to be good or not and is it head or heart which should rule us.

And nothing about the situations or the individuals is slight or easy. Take the song Night After Night where “He longs for the answers as all of us must, he longs for the woman who’ll conquer his lust/he screams in the night, I scream in the day, we weep in the evening, and lie naked and pray”.

For Marling, who describes the record as "quite stern ... it does have a fierceness to it”, the choice between sense and sensibility already has been made.

"I think I'm undecided [about people and love], that's what this album is all about. I'm not religious, I'm not romantic and I live purely by logic. I make every decision by logic and sometimes that leads me to the right and sometimes to the wrong decision," Marling explains with characteristic calm and firmness. "But if I don't think about things logically I can't do it, things will stress me out."

I put it to her that if you live by logic and the absence of logic makes you uncomfortable, then human relationships are going to be fraught because there is little logic in the way humans react emotionally. But Marling disagrees.

"I know how ridiculous this sounds because of the job I do, but I don't believe in romanticism and make-believe,” she says. “It’s make-believe like religious faith, which is not a bad thing – people falling wildly in love with each other is a wonderful thing – but to me it's evidence only of their preceding lack of [love].

“That's my logical way of looking at it. And I could do that, I could let myself go and be like that but I would always know that that rush of adrenaline is only that feeling that you didn't have before."

Does she leave open the possibility that she may be wrong and be thrown by a wholly illogical change in her life?

"Well, the first rule of logic is that it is indisputable," she says, smiling. "So I guess my only way of being thrown off that is to consciously allow myself to live [without logic]. Which I might for the purposes of creativity. But it would always be with the knowledge, and the slightly smug feeling, that this isn't right."

Indulging in matters such as love for the sake of experience and subject matter, while always knowing that it is temporary? It may sound calculating but you have to admit it also makes sense for an artist.

"The romanticised life, where all the great poetry and music and art of the world comes from, is great but it requires a lot of self-indulgence. Is that good?" Marling asks rhetorically. "I don't know."

There is one chink in Marling’s rule of logic however. Though a very fine guitarist, she says "I don't know what I'm playing on the guitar” technically, which can be frustrating for those working with her but is deliberate on her part "because it means you explore more".

However, is that not an illogical way to approach songwriting, effectively leaving things to fate or mysterious interventions? Wouldn't it be more sensible to understand the mechanics and the structures of her songwriting?

"That is an interesting question because I don't think about songwriting because it's not logical and I can't deal with it,” she says. "I don't know how I write, I don't know why and I don't know what side of me does it. That chaos [in making music] resulted in me wanting to completely understand everything else going on around me."

There is still a part of her which refuses to succumb to a logical approach to the world. It may be one place where the world can sneak through.


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