Interview: Laura Marling on Touring, Her New Album, and the Creative Process
Laura Marling has long been considered wise beyond her years. At just 22 years old, the British folk singer has already released three acclaimed albums, worked with legends like Jack White and producer Ethan Johns, and toured the globe. She’s performed in venues large and small, from English cathedrals to the Sydney Opera House, and she captures emotion more masterfully than songwriters twice her age.
Fresh from recording her fourth LP (once again with Ethan Johns), the award-winning artist is hitting
the road. The Working Holiday Solo Tour brings Ms. Marling back to the United States, and this time
she’s chosen the path less traveled, stopping at cities like Big Sur, CA and North Adams, MA. Before
she set out, we talked with her about creative inspiration, her evolving musical style, and what we can
expect from the next album.
How do you feel performing live compares to being in the studio?
I used to be quite fearful of the studio because it was an environment I didn’t understand, but now I
really enjoy it, maybe because I understand it a bit better. And I used to be terrified of playing live.
Now I really, really enjoy it and I find it very interesting, but also still a challenge. I have to prepare
myself every time I go on stage, and calm myself down. But it’s very fulfilling, it’s like a pain in your
tooth that you sort of press, and it feels kind of good in a way.
Do you think it’s just because you’ve been performing so much that you’ve become more
comfortable on stage?
Yeah, because I’ve done that much more performing, but I think also because I’m a bit more…when
I started I was very young, and like young people are, I was pretty unsure of myself and what other
people thought about me. And now, as I get a bit older, I don’t worry so much what people think
about me, or I don’t think that people will think about me that much. That takes a huge weight off my
What’s been your favorite touring or performing experience?
I don’t know. All of them are so different, all of the tours. We did a tour of cathedrals in the UK last
year that was pretty amazing, to be in those beautiful buildings. And every night, when they were
packing down the sound system and stuff, to be in those buildings that night, with no one else around,
was pretty extraordinary. But equally I have such fond memories of touring America, in busses and
breaking down on the side of the road, and getting out in the middle of the night and seeing more stars
than I thought ever humanly possible. There’s moments on each tour that are like that.
What’s your creative process like? I’ve read that you move from stream of consciousness, so
how does that become a fully-fleshed song?
I don’t know! I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday who is a songwriter as well. We were
saying that, it’s funny, of all the conversations that you have about what it is to be creative and whether
you can ever actually call yourself a creative, whenever I’ve spoken with anybody about songwriting,
even other songwriters, I’ve never understood their process and they’ve never understood mine. I think
it’s different every time. I think ’stream of consciousness’ is the best way of putting it. All I do is play
guitar every day, because that’s what I enjoy and it’s very therapeutic for me, and some days I’ll write a
song and some days I won’t. And that’s it, really.
Does the guitar element come first?
Yeah, it does. How a guitar resonates triggers something in my brain, I think. And I sort of stew on
ideas, and I’m incredibly neurotic, and I think eventually it has to come out one way or another.
Each album has felt so different in so many ways. How conscious are you of changes in your
sound, and how you bring in different influences?
I think, if you’d asked me when I was in the studio doing the last album, I would have been able to
tell you how conscious I was of it. And I suppose with this new album that we’ve just finished, I was
interested in new sounds. I find the idea of painting a musical picture around a lyrical picture quite
fascinating. And I think, depending on what the lyrics are and what the tone of the song is, you can do
any number of things that could either ruin it or serve it very well. And I think my only ambition is to
serve the song as well is possible.
What sort of new sounds were you exploring with the new album?
We’ve done a lot with resonance. I like low resonance; I think that’s interesting, when you can barely
hear a tone underneath a tone. And also because there’s a lot to do with characters in this new album,
we’ve kind of assigned a sound to each character that reappears throughout the album whenever they’re
relevant. Maybe telling people that will kind of ruin it! Maybe the idea is that it should be much more
subtle than that.
You’ve played around with characters for a long time. From [Alas, I Cannot Swim's]
“Your Only Doll (Dora)” to [A Creature I Don't Know's] “Salinas,” you’ve embodied a lot
of different people. How do you draw inspiration for those characters? How do you blur the line
between fictional inspiration and what’s coming from your own life?
If I was to tell you that, then I would be giving the game away! That makes it sound like it’s a
clever, complicated plan, and it isn’t really. The characters are just personifications of emotion or
action. They’re just a good vessel for telling a story. But I think, in the way that the Greek gods were
personifications of one thing or another, it’s been done for a very long time, that use of character. I find
that a very convenient method to convey something or other.
Do you ever find yourself identifying with particular characters more than others? Do you
ever want to keep any around?
Yeah, yeah, I do. I don’t think it’d be any surprise that the feminine characters in my songs are because
I’m fascinated by women and womanhood. And the women that I meet, the ones that fascinate me the
most, are the ones that have strengths that I kind of envy. Those are things in life that fascinate me, and
I end up personifying, and they are the things I try to identify with, or would like to identify with.
When you’re putting an album together, especially this most recent one, do you have themes
that you try to get across, or is it more what shows up, shows up?
I would say more what shows up, shows up and I don’t have that much control over it. But I do have a
constant fascination with morality, and the human capacity for doing good and bad in equal measure.
And I think that’s carried on from the last album.
What else can we expect from the new album? Is there anything you’d like to preface it with?
I think it’s going to be a challenge. I’m really happy with it, I’m proud of it, but I think I can say that
it will be a challenge to listen to. It’s the longest one I’ve done. It’s a long album, you’d have to be a
committed listener to get through it. But I don’t think it’s bad, it’s just quite long.
What do you think makes it challenging? Just the length?
If I had more control over my songwriting, which I don’t, I would try and make [songs] easier to listen
to, try to focus more on choruses and middle eighths and things like that. But I don’t, I don’t have that
kind of control. Some of them don’t follow a structure that’s easily recognizable, and I would consider
that quite challenging. I would find it quite difficult to listen to, I don’t know…I’m really not selling it
very well! But there’s a story behind it, if you’re willing to sit down and listen long enough.
You’ve grown so much over just the past few years. Do you have any influences—musical,
literary, otherwise—that stick with you no matter what, that you can see threaded through your
Yeah. Pretty obviously, there’s the Joni Mitchell element to everything. And then there’s writers and
books that I’ve read that will stick with me forever, and it’s kind of bittersweet—you don’t want to
recognize yourself as having been influenced by anything, but obviously that’s inevitable.
How do you feel about the Joni Mitchell comparisons?
It’s funny, because obviously I grew up a huge fan of Joni Mitchell, and also I was fascinated by this
idea that she resonated with women in a way that she couldn’t resonate with men, just literally the
sound of her voice. So I don’t know, I’ve never really known what to think about it, other than that it’s
a bit dangerous being so easily comparable to someone you admire that much, because you can never
live up to them. But I take it as a compliment, for sure.
What are you listening to right now?
Well, I bought the new Bob Dylan album, which is epic. And also Blake Mills, whom I’d never come
across before. He’s really excellent. I think the album came out not long ago. He’s phenomenal.
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