Laura Marling: Coffee Shop Folk

Lyricism is somewhat of a lost art in the modern age. The music industry is enveloped with a legion of major recording labels and manufactured artists shoveling vapid lyrics to the public. Alas, there is a shining beacon of hope. Laura Marling’s complex use of mythology and folklore communicates innocuous subjects such as young love and heartbreak brilliantly. This English singer-songwriter’s silky vocals combined with her clever lyricism has made for a lasting career in Britain’s modish nu-folk scene.

Marling has been compared to music legends like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, a feat that some believe is well-deserved. The songstress has released five albums beginning at age 17. The three time Mercury Prize nominee and Brit Award winner has shed the stigma surrounding folk music often played in coffee shops to create cultivated music for an audience that has grown up alongside her.

The daughter of ex-hippies, Marling describes her childhood in the English countryside village of Eversley (home of Jane Austen) as peaceful and quiet. Her storybook childhood was filled with the whimsical sounds of nature and music. Her father, Sir William Somerset Marling (5th Baronet) owned a now defunct recording studio during her childhood. This studio housed some of the most prolific musical artists such as Black Sabbath and The La’s. The La’s even recorded their hit There She Goes at the Marling’s studio. Unfortunately, her father’s studio fell behind the tides of time once he decided that it would not use high-tech recording gear. A sentiment that his daughter identifies with, in an interview with UK newspaper Telegraph she stated her preference towards acoustic instruments, “There is an elegance in the sound of a fiddle and a banjo and a guitar, a whole tone shaped by history and the physical way they are played. And, if I might juxtapose that with the internet, there’s nothing, in my opinion, that’s elegant or romantic.” Marling’s father also taught her how to play the guitar at three years old. This is where she gained her unorthodox finger-plucking guitar playing, which can be heard throughout her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim.

The singer-songwriter left school after completing her General Certificate of Secondary Education at 16. In an unprecedented move, she relocated to London where she met soon-to-be boyfriend and lead singer of indie-folk band Noah and the Whale Charlie Fink. Her time spent singing back-up for Fink’s band inspired her to upload her songs onto MySpace in 2006. She was met with a positive feedback which led to a spot at music festival City Showcase: Spotlight London opening for alternative hip-hop/rock artist Jamie T. Her first and only EP, My Manic and I was released a year later in 2007. The following year, after signing to Virgin Records, she released Alas. A 38-minute quirky rendition produced by Charlie Fink. Alas, I Cannot Swim debuted and garnered her first Mercury Music Prize nomination. Marling was praised for her fusion of weary yet youthful perspective on young love. Although, many were critical of the lack of differentiation between songs. Many songs featured her customary finger-plucking guitar sounds, gentle vocals and her delicate piano playing. Pitchfork contributor, Joshua Love expertly deduced “Alas is a sober document, but it’s best songs don’t demand an abundance of explication or poetics to work their sad-eyed magic.”

While her debut was intelligent and extremely comprehensible considering her age, there was still room tremendous room for growth.

The end of Marling’s teenaged years marked the release of her sophomore album I Speak Because I Can in 2010. This album introduced an even more melancholic tone than Alas. Lyrics similar to the chorus from What He Wrote, “He wrote/I am broke/please send for me/but I am broken too,” graced the album. The 20-year old was disillusioned with the ideas of death, love, and sex. Her haunting voice laminated the tension between her desire and disinclination for love. She distanced herself from the typical folk sound introducing elements. She took more artistic license often embellishing ideas and concepts, many of her songs are personal but not confessional. She also utilized this idea in the 2011 release of her third album, A Creature I Don’t Know. This album is a paradox. It is both intimate and distant.

It’s important to understand that Marling had been touring non-stop since she was 17. The constant touring and album recording began to wear on her mentally and physically. With just a couple of books, guitars, amps and CDs, she boarded a flight to America after wrapping the tour for Once I Was An Eagle. She solo toured the U.S. for a few weeks while working on her new album. The hype of touring and New York began to wear once more. So, she boarded a flight to L.A.

Los Angeles was refreshing but also overwhelming. The warm air fostered her creative spirit while she took an 6-month break on making music.

The break created her most cohesive album to date, Short Movie, which was released in 2015. The title was inspired by a flute playing shaman that she meet at a vegan restaurant in Mount Shasta, California. Short Movie is her first album to feature any electric instruments; she used her father’s old Gibson 335. This album is a culmination of her quarter-life crisis and her feelings of the overwhelming vastness of the world. Marling drew inspiration from writers Alejandro Jodorowsky and Carl Jung. Those writers helped her understand her feelings of loneliness and her place in this world. In a Pitchfork review of Short Movie, the music website succinctly stated, “The crises she’s grappling here are the same ones she’s confronted her entire career: love as a threat to autonomy, suitors as perpetual disappointments, wariness of intimacy but also of the alternatives.” This album also featured Marling’s ideals concerning gender and sexuality drawing inspiration from Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Which inspired her 10-part series podcast, Reversal of the Muse. Reversal of the Muse, hosted by Marling features only female guests laminating the issues faced by women in the male-dominated industry. This podcast is avouches that women are more than just muses in music.

Fans worldwide are writhing in anticipation of the 2017 release of her latest album, Super Femina. Laura Marling has come a long way from the whimsical teenager to an ever evolving modern woman. Many artists convey their feelings through their music, but not many can wholeheartedly convey vulnerability like her. This angelic-voiced lady has thoughtfully articulated her dreams, ideas and pains through music for a decade. She has beautifully matured into a sultry, soft-spoken artist with the world at her fingertips. Her music is soaked in mysticism while still grounded in reality. Laura Marling’s reality is that of 25-year-old woman still on a journey to self-realization.

-Crysta Jones