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