Despite more than a decade in the music business, Laura Marling does not fit the cliché of the self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing singer-songwriter. The British folk singer is reserved and difficult to track down—or, as her publicist puts it, “notoriously interview shy.” Marling seems reluctant to talk about herself, but when she does, she chooses her words carefully; she is thoughtful and sincere. That should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with her music.
Marling balances powerful and expressive lyrics with a subtlety far beyond her 26 years. She writes with an efficacy and earnest energy that would take most a lifetime to master. She also rips on guitar, but performs with such grace that you might miss it while focusing on her expressive, bright songbird voice.
Marling dove headfirst into London’s music scene at age 16, keeping company with folk bands like Mumford & Sons and Noah and the Whale. She released her first album at 18, and has come out with four more since.
Naturally, her approach to writing has changed throughout the years. “I think that everything that I’ve done has been at the right time, for the right reasons, whether they’ve had good or bad outcomes,” she says. “I think I’ve come full circle—I’ve tried to take control of the mood that moves through you when you write music, and now I’m back to a nice place, to the innocence of it. I don’t try and control it as much.”
Marling moved to Los Angeles after the release of her fourth album, and ended up taking a year off from all musical pursuits. During her hiatus, she travelled extensively over the West Coast, collecting lyrical fodder for Short Movie, her fifth and most recent album. Her travels included a spirited conversation with an old hippie in a bar outside of Mount Shasta, who repeated, “Life’s a short fucking movie, man” after every sentence.
Marling’s soul-searching took her through Santa Cruz on more than one occasion; she sings about it on the album’s seventh track, “Easy”: “How did I get lost, looking for god in Santa Cruz?/Where you go to lose your mind/Well I went too far this time.”
Marling couldn’t be convinced to divulge the inspiration behind those lyrics, saying only that she has friends who live here. True to form, she leaves much to be read between the lines.
Short Movie is grittier than Marling’s previous releases. She pushes her voice to peak vulnerability, owning a level of emotive expression that shows her art fully coming into its own. Electric guitar appears on more than one track, infusing her delicate folk songs with heavier rock vibes.
These days, Marling is focusing on “non-musical things,” including a podcast that explores the lack of female presence in the music business. “I was inspired to investigate the experience of female recording engineers in male-dominated music studios … it seemed like I was noticing people younger than me, suffering because of this,” Marling says. “Young female engineers inexplicably lacking confidence where they needn’t lack confidence. And it seems to be by no intention or malice of anybody, but it’s just the way that [the business] is set up.”
Marling’s podcast consists of friendly conversations between herself and female musicians, engineers, and producers; the first season’s guests include Karen Elson, Haim, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris, among others. Topics covered include being forced to wear excessive makeup and uncomfortable clothing at photo shoots, being objectified by journalists, and the contradictory portrayal of female superstars like Beyoncé as strong and independent, while also hyper-sexualized.
Throughout her career, Marling has found learning from women much easier than learning from men. “I think that by a combination of things that contribute to my character, I fear that I’m more likely to appear silly if I make mistakes in front of a man,” she says. “For some reason, in front of a woman I feel more … able to suffer that vulnerability, without fear of being condemned.”
Laura Marling plays at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at Moe’s Alley. $17 in advance, $20 at the door.