Laura Marling | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Laura Marling

Cinéma Vérité

Aug 07, 2015 Laura Marling Bookmark and Share

She left before dawn. Laura Marling checked out of a motel in Mount Shasta, California—a locale she feared was “an axe-murderer town”—and drove alone into the woods. When the road ended, she got out and walked in the dark. The British songwriter was following the directions of a stranger she’d met the night before in a bar. The man, a hippie, had told her about a river whose spring water bestows eternal life. She just wanted to fill her tankard and be on her way.

“I was suddenly like, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ I have basically given this stranger my exact location for the next morning,” says Marling, who was between stops on her 2013 tour. “So I started running back to my car and I took one step and fell right into the stream.”

Don’t worry. Contrary to the title of her 2008 debut, Alas, I Cannot Swim, Marling is quite capable of handling herself in water. She emerged unscathed. But the intense experience epitomizes the wanderlust and soul-searching that inform the lyrics of Marling’s fifth album, Short Movie.

“All the traveling I did was the beginning of my persona breakdown,” says the 25-year-old. “It was a very isolating, but not lonely, experience of driving around the country alone for six months.”

Marling’s plan had been to go straight from touring to a London studio to record a follow-up to 2013’s Once I Was an Eagle. But during the sessions, Marling realized her material was “fairly boring.” The tail-tucked musician returned to Los Angeles, where she’d lived since 2013, and endured “the long death of my ego.” Marling felt as languid as the curl of smoke from her cigarettes. For the first time in her life, she felt desperately lonely.

“As soon as I made the decision to scrap the record, I was faced with an unlimited amount of time. I thrive on structure and order, so I just sort of floated around trying to make sense of my time,” she says. “I was living in a city where there was no real reason for me to be there.”

To reclaim her sense of self—and defibrillate her creative arrhythmia—Marling set a date to return to a London studio. Almost immediately, a dozen new songs poured out of the songwriter during the final month she lived in L.A.

On her best album to date, Marling embroiders minimalist songs with warp-and-weft patterns of acoustic fingerpicking. This time out, she also plugged in an electric guitar for the full-band jolts of “False Hope,” “Don’t Let Me Bring You Down,” and “Short Movie.” Marling’s singing, which ranges from an impish conversational style to an open-valve alto, conveys the struggle between her instinct for independence and her desire for connection.

As a result of her quarter-life crisis, the ebullient songwriter feels reconnected to family, friends, and purpose. Her big lesson: sidelining one’s ego allows songs to emerge easier.

“If I can maintain a sense of me and who I am, which I’ve managed to do because I have a lot of people reminding me to do that, then I can continue stepping out of the way for music to be written.”

[Note: This article first appeared in Under the Radar’s April/May/June 2015 print issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]


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