Laura Marling, musician
There isn’t anything different about the way that men and women work in technical fields. When it comes to this work, men and women are just as capable as each other ...
Laura Marling has been making us swoon with her vivid and gorgeous folk-pop melodies since first capturing our eardrums with Alas I Cannot Swim. Nearly ten years on Laura is still making our hearts flutter, as evidenced by her sixth album Semper Femina. Inspired by a line from Virgil’s poem The Aeneid, Semper Femina is an exploration of modern femininity and female relationships. This record blends tenderness with strength, and shows an artist discovering the beauty of femininity in all of its forms. Following on from Semper Femina, Laura Marling also created Reversal of the Muse, a podcast series featuring interviews between Laura and several female members of the music industry. Ahead of her upcoming tour of Australia, we spoke with Laura about the process of creating the album, how it shaped her thinking and the issues facing female-identifying members of the music industry.
Obviously the past six months – perhaps even longer – have been incredibly busy in the lead-up to Semper Femina‘s release. How is life for you now that the album is out and available?
It’s definitely a lot calmer. (laughs) We actually recorded the album a year and a half before it came out, so it was a long process
I’d love go back back to where the album process began conceptually – what kicked everything off?
Well, it’s funny because when you do lots of interviews about an album you start to redevelop its concept and attribute meaning to it in retrospect. When I was writing it began as only a collection of songs at the time. When I look back on the songs now I see that they are all connected and that they are all about a feminine thing – they all have feminine sentiments to them. I wrote it when I was touring Short Movie, which was the album before, and I think I was just on tour with loads of men. The concept of femininity and where that exists in men and women has been really interesting to me – I had been thinking about it a lot.
When you were putting the pieces of this album together did you unearth anything about yourself or about femininity in general that you hadn’t contemplated before?
Yeah, internally it was about finding – this is a very cringe-worthy way of putting it – strength in the vulnerability of the feminine. Femininity has been so traditionally berated and feminine attributes in men are considered weak, and that has discouraged men from exploring this side of themselves. The things that exist in women that are feminine are much more subtle – they aren’t external and you cant attribute them to the aesthetics that people portray. I think in meeting people that are much more liberated than me – I’m English and will always be English – in Los Angeles, there were people who really played with the boundaries of gender or non-gender and identity. I found that very inspiring. Even though it’s not a way that I live my life, I found being around these people very inspiring and beautiful.
Mentioning the complexities of gender and the subtleties of femininity, how did you go about conveying those complex topics and making them resonate?
I don’t really think about how it is going to come across, which I think is a good thing because I might overthink it. Blake Mills – who produced the record – does think about that, all day long. I’ve done six albums now and for the first time we chopped whole bars and verses out of songs. It was quite brutal, but it was for the greater good in his eyes. It was all so things came across more poignantly and less ramble-y.
Do you enjoy the process of having a second set of eyes on your work, or would you be more content to let it be?
I would be content to let it be, but also I am incredibly grateful to Blake. He is like a really good editor – he shapes things really well and I just don’t have the patience to do that. He takes a lot of pride in it – I am very lucky to have people like him.
Short Movie was an album about breaking down the ego, in a sense. Once that record was done, did this album process help you reflect on who you wanted to be or build yourself anew?
It did. As much as I’d like to distance myself from the contents of the record I do think they are relative to my position in life. Short Movie was definitely the beginning of the new stage of life – whatever happens in your mid-twenties, it happened to me. (laughs) When I was touring that record I was sort of piecing together a persona, because I had broken the old one and it was useless. I think in putting together this persona I became interested in the subtleties of my own femininity. Ultimately we all find ourselves quite fascinating and I think that’s where it was coming from. It was trying to forcibly piece together a new feminine identity.
As a songwriter as well, how do you see yourself progressing over the past couple of albums?
Making this record with Blake – who is one of the best living guitarists and is certainly one of the best guitarists I’ve seen – I would play with him in the studio, and when you play with Blake after an hour you are a better guitarist. I obviously wrote the record before I started making the album with him, but I think now I play guitar slightly differently. The more books I read and the more I play guitar the more different a songwriter I am. Hopefully that continues to fuel me and help make decent changes.
In your writing, what is the ratio between storytelling and your songs being a personal reflection?
I think it’s a bit of both. It’s wise for me and for people in general not to identify too much with the stories that we tell. Even in life we tell stories about ourselves that aren’t true – we build these personas and we build these constructions of who we are and what happened to us. It’s a story. It’s an outward expression of an inner, intangible feeling and it’s not entirely true. My songs are not true in that same way, and I do try and paint pictures rather than write diaries.
With this album in particular I am really interested in how it links to Reversal of the Muse, the podcast that you started. Which came first – the new songs or the idea for the podcast?
I started making the podcast after I wrote the record. I realised while making the record that as much as I enjoyed the process of making it I didn’t even see a single woman. There wasn’t a woman working in the studio in any form. I thought it was mental! It’s not the first time that has happened to me. It is a weird experience that I have and it’s an experience that I know a lot of my female friends that are musicians have and that it was time to talk about it.
With the conversations you had throughout the interviews, what was the most enlightening aspect of the project?
That’s a good question – I think in the process of making the podcast we did an all-female run studio for a week. We had female engineers and producers come in and do a few different artists, and I thought at the end of that week that there was going to be this grand discovery or amazing surprise about something that was unique to female engineers. There wasn’t – because there isn’t anything different about the way that men and women work in technical fields. When it comes to this work, men and women are just as capable as each other. When it comes to creativity, I think one predominant internal gender has an effect. Whether you are a man with predominantly feminine sensibilities or the other way around – that has a really interesting effect but when it comes to technical aspects everyone is just as capable. Between that discovery and talking to Amanda Ghost – who used to run a major record label – about the realities of being a woman in an a business field where there are very few women – especially in a higher role – I think that there needs to be a cognitive bias towards getting women into those areas.
Even as recently as this album there is a visible discrepancy in presence of female-identifying members in the industry. What do you feel needs to happen next to make positive change?
There is positive change happening – particularly in engineering and the more technical side of music. Through doing the podcast I have met loads of amazing female engineers, and there is a community of women getting each other jobs. But I think there needs to be more of an appreciation of the feminine in a business sense. There is a value to a feminine sensibility and I don’t think it exists just in women – that internal shift in the mind has to happen first.
Will you be continuing the podcast project, and if so would you like to take it in a different direction?
We are working on season two now, actually! It is a different genre this time – film and television.
What do you find yourself drawing upon these days for motivation and inspiration?
It used to be music. I used to listen to a lot more music than I do now, but I have been in transit for a long time so it’s been hard. These days it’s learning – at the moment I am learning about dream analysis and I am reading a lot about that and that has been fuelling me.
Perhaps that will provide the creative spark for the next album?
It might! (laughs) Actually it almost definitely will, but I haven’t started thinking that far ahead yet.