Laura Marling On Maya Angelou And Arming A Younger Generation Of Women

Apr 11, 2020
Originally published on April 11, 2020 6:06 pm

British singer-songwriter Laura Marling was just 18 years old when she released her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim in 2008. Over the past 12 years, she's been nominated three times for Britain's prestigious Mercury Prize, moved from the U.K. to Los Angeles and back again, and has recently begun coursework for a masters degree in psychoanalysis.

On Friday, Marling released her seventh studio album; it's called Song For Our Daughter, and it was originally supposed to come out late this summer before stay-at-home orders were issued in several states. "In light of the change to all our circumstances, I saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and at its best, provide some sense of union," she said in a statement issued last week. "An album, stripped of everything that modernity and ownership does to it, is essentially a piece of me, and I'd like for you to have it."

Laura Marling spoke to us recently from her home in London and about the idea of a maternal lineage, rewriting the ideas and tropes that she's absorbed from mainstream culture and what music does best in times of trouble. Listen to the radio version in the audio player above and read on for highlights of the interview.

YouTube


Interview Highlights

On the album's title and making art for a younger version of herself

The title comes from the central song on the album and it's likely somewhat an homage to Letter to My Daughter, the Maya Angelou book, which is a series of essays to a fictional daughter, or to a kind of a wide, broad idea of a daughter; a younger generation of women. And I wrote that song [the title track] with that sort of thought in mind — I'm not, myself, a mother but the idea of a maternal lineage.

That song was written thinking about how I would have armed myself, a younger version of myself, against some of the experiences, or the accumulation of experiences that one accrues as a young woman in the world. It's fairly on the nose, I suppose, in some respects. I started my career when I was 16, so I'm now in the position at 30 where I can see people of the ages of 16 to 21 and see how incredibly young they are in the most brilliant, vibrant way, and realize that I was so young. And what an incredibly difficult thing it is to be young and to make lots of very important decisions. So that is just a product of the time of life that I am at.

On her personal and artistic evolution

When I think about how I might have evolved as an artist, it's quite a difficult thing for me to see because I'm on the inside of it, so I see it all very slowly. But, if I think about how my songwriting has changed, or how I might have changed as a person over that time — which is obviously a huge amount of time — I think my interest has always been in inhabiting this character in the songwriting, always inhabiting this character of a kind of forsaken, hardworking woman. And I've tried to consider why it might be that I have adopted this character, because it's not my experience of life, necessarily.

YouTube

I think as I've gotten older ... I've learned more about how culture and yourself, all these areas from which you inherit ideas and patterns, can be harnessed and taken control of; and you can make your own version of them. You can "control the narrative," as they say now. And that opens up a whole different world full of different perspectives. So I think I've changed my character direction in the songwriting, in a slightly more self-empowered way.

On what she hopes listeners take away from the album during the current global crisis

My experience of hearing what people say to me about what they hear in my albums is that they hear something uncanny, something that's nearly them but not quite, but it makes them feel understood. This album doesn't offer anything relevant to the time we're living in right now, this really unforeseen time, but I think there's something really wonderful about the united feeling of feeling understood and seen. So I think it could offer that.

NPR's Gemma Watters and Tinbete Ermyas produced and edited the audio of this interview for broadcast. Cyrena Touros and editorial intern Jon Lewis adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

TOM GJELTEN, HOST:

And finally today, British singer-songwriter Laura Marling, who was just 18 years old when she released her 2008 debut album, "Alas, I Cannot Swim."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GHOSTS")

LAURA MARLING: (Singing) Lover, please do not fall to your knees. It's not like I believe in everlasting love.

GJELTEN: Over the past 12 years, Marling has released several other acclaimed albums, split time between the U.K. and Los Angeles and even took time to get a master's in psychoanalysis. She just released her seventh studio album. It's called "Song For Our Daughter." Marling spoke to us recently from her home in London and explained the album's title.

MARLING: The title comes from the central song on the album. And it's slightly somewhat an homage to "Letters To My Daughter," the Maya Angelou book which is a series of letters or essays to a fictional daughter or to a wide, broad idea of a daughter, a younger generation of woman. And I wrote that song with that thought in mind - a sort of fictional - I'm not myself a mother - but sort of the idea of a maternal lineage.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONG FOR OUR DAUGHTER")

MARLING: (Singing) Though they may want you to tread in their trail only to see if the path they set fails, though they may want you to take off your clothes...

That song was all written thinking about how I would have armed myself - a younger version of myself, I guess - against some of the experiences that - or the accumulation of experiences that one accrues as a young women in the world (laughter). And it's fairly on-the-nose, I suppose, in some respects.

But yes. So now I'm - you know, I'm 30. I started my career when I was 16, so I'm now in the position at 30 where I can see people of the ages of 16 to 21 kind of thing and see how incredibly young they are in the most brilliant, vibrant way and realized that I was so young, and what an incredible, really difficult thing it is to be young and to make lots of very important decisions. So that is just a product of the time of life that I am at.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SONG FOR OUR DAUGHTER")

MARLING: (Singing) Maybe now you'll believe her for sure. She remembers what I said, the book I left by her bed, the words that some survivor read.

When I think about how I might have evolved as an artist, it's quite a difficult thing for me to see because I'm on the inside of it, so I see it all very slowly. But when - if I think about how my songwriting has changed or how I might have changed as a person over that time, I think my interest has always been in the songwriting, always inhabiting this character of a kind of forsaken, hardworking woman (laughter). And I've tried to consider why it might be that I have adopted this character as - it's not my experience of life, necessarily.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALEXANDRA")

MARLING: (Singing) What became of Alexandra? Did she make it through? What kind of woman gets to love you? Wrote us all a little note - nothing left to lose. What kind of woman gets to love you?

I think as I've got older, and as I've learnt more about how culture and, you know, yourself, all these areas in which you inherit ideas and patterns, can be harnessed and taken control of, and you can make your own version of them. You can control the narrative, as they say now. And that opens up a whole different world full of different perspectives. So I think I've changed my character direction in the songwriting in a slightly more self-empowered way.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALEXANDRA")

MARLING: (Singing) Alexandra had no fear. She lived out in the woods. She'd tell you what you're doing wrong if she thinks she'll be understood. Pulls her socks up to her knees, finds diamonds in the drain. One more diamond to add to her chain.

I'd like people to listen to this album and recognize something - I think in my experience of hearing what people say to me about what they hear in my albums is that they hear something uncanny - like, something that's nearly them but not quite. But it makes them feel understood.

And I think - not that - this album doesn't offer anything relevant to the time that we are living in right now, this really unforseen time. But I think there's something really wonderful about the united feeling of feeling understood and seen. And so I think it could offer that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAURA MARLING'S "STRANGE GIRL")

GJELTEN: That was Laura Marling talking about her new album, "Song For Our Daughter."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE GIRL")

MARLING: (Singing) Get all your records out, and throw them all away. No one left to listen to, much left, less to say. Working hard and getting on, still not getting paid. Stay low... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.