By Helen Walpole
On Monday the 13th of February, Laura Marling gave a press conference to student journalists from all over the UK at Goldsmiths Student Union, ahead of the release of her new album, ‘Semper Femina’. The nu-folk singer-songwriter performed four of her new tracks and took questions from the audience. The Founder sent two student writers to find out more.
The Interview – An Exploration Into Womanhood
Laura Marling reached womanhood in the public eye, releasing her first album at the age of 18. With her sixth effort, ‘Semper Femina’, Marling muses further on what it means to be female. The title comes from a Latin poem by Virgil, and reads in full as ‘varium et mutabile semper femina’, or ‘fickle and changeable always is woman’ – Marling shortened the quote to its last two words, ‘always a woman’. She used the same phrase for a tattoo when she was 21 – in her own words, ‘a good age for making permanent errors on your body.’
The lead single from the album, ‘Soothing’, was released in late 2016, and the music video marked Marling’s debut as a director. ‘I’m more comfortable talking about the directing than I am the music!’ she remarks. ‘I’ve never been inclined to give visual representation to my music personally, but to give form to my lucid dream was an amazing experience.’ Marling received great critical acclaim for the video, a minimalist and abstract portrayal of female sensuality that manages not to overstep the mark into objectification.
‘Semper Femina’ was written during Marling’s stint in L.A., in Spring 2015. This was a time in her life when she was experiencing doubts about being a musician, which she describes as ‘my own constant inner tussle – is it indulgence or is it compulsion? America gave me a lot of freedom to express myself, without self- criticism that I should be doing something more important or useful.’
The album comes off the back of a series of ten podcasts called ‘Reversal of the Muse’, which explore the relationship between women and creativity, and the lack of female representation in the music industry. ‘I’d like to continue having that conversation with as many people as I can,’ says Marling, ‘but I want to go in next time with less of an agenda. It’s so much more complex than I’d thought – often the answer is, “there is no answer”’. When talking about her process, she admits to a ‘little stumble’ in deciding whether to write about women from a male or female perspective: ‘We’re somewhat accustomed to seeing women through men’s eyes, so naturally it was my inclination to try and take some power over that – but very quickly I realised that the more powerful thing to do was to look at women through a woman’s eyes.’ ‘Semper Femina’ promises to be a thoughtful and detailed album, as fans have come to expect of Marling. Released on the 10th of March this year, Marling will be touring it from March to May.
- What song do you enjoy playing the most?
Rambling Man – it’s satisfying to sing and fun to play.
- What would you be if not a musician?
I think about it constantly! A chef or a writer.
- Who are your literary influences?
Anaïs Nin, Joan Didion, Lou Salomé. Especially the poetry of Rainer Maria Wilker.
- How was it collaborating with producer Blake Mills?
My guitar playing improved a lot – I was inspired to practice to be as good as him!
The Songs – Previewing the New Record
We were lucky enough to preview a couple of songs from Marling’s new record, which acted as a bit of relief from the rapid Q&A taking place. Switching between two guitars, Marling’s voice seeped sweetly into the minds of the audience like caramel, glazing nonchalantly over bitter lyrics– ‘You always say you love me most, but I don’t know I’m being seen, maybe someday when God takes me away, I’ll understand what the f*ck that means.’
It was quite enough to just close your eyes and take in everything she sang about, and yet, I couldn’t help but gaze at the slightly shy (or awkward?) figure onstage. Dressed in a white blouse, white trousers, and brown suede boots, Marling fixed her eyes on a spot right at the back of the room and it stayed there whilst she sang, which meant there was hardly any audience interaction. While in prior interviews she has stated her discomfort with performing onstage, it was still fascinating to watch her as she ‘bared’ all, so to speak. I was struck by one line in ‘Nothing Not Nearly’, a slightly more upbeat song – ‘The only thing I learnt in a year, when I didn’t smile once not really, is nothing matters more than love’. Confessional, if not slightly cheesy, Marling delivered it with as much passion as she could muster. Her voice shifted into a higher octave and it was hard not to be reminded of Joni Mitchell – the comparisons over the years have been endless but there’s no escaping it.
During the folky ‘Noel’, we got to hear the Virgil verse from which her album’s title originates– ‘Fickle and changeable, semper femina’. Quite ironically, the sometimes witty personality we see during the Q&A turned into a reserved character who seemed to go off into her own world whilst performing. It was as intriguing as it was humbling. Although it is too early to gauge what the entire record will sound like, based off of 3 songs, there is no doubt this album will be just as interesting to analyse and listen to as her past records.
The press conference was also livestreamed and can be viewed on Laura Marling’s Facebook page.
Featured image courtesy of Laura Marling publicty