Little bird flies to LA: If you've been wondering where Laura Marling has been pondering...

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

She has moved to California, but don't expect a sunnier outlook – just some scorching songs from new album Once I Was An Eagle. Andy Gill is floored by her sound

Sipping mineral water outside a pub in Columbia Road, home to the East End's famous flower market, sits Laura Marling, English rose of the ongoing folk boom. Or perhaps the Arum Lily would be a more apt floral metaphor for this gamine blonde: there's an enigmatic pungency about Marling's songs that speaks more of hard-won emotional experience than sickly roseate sweetness, while the elegance of her delivery eschews delicacy and ornament in favour of unvarnished honesty.

Take her striking new album, Once I Was An Eagle, the most accomplished release of Marling's short but prolific career. A song-cycle charting various responses to emotional upset, it rejects the simple clichés of blame and victimhood to acknowledge the more complex dynamics operating in relationships. Clearly, it takes two to tie the kinds of emotional knots involved in songs like "Take the Night Off", "Master Hunter" and "When Were You Happy? (And How Long Has That Been)". It all sounds very personal – but is she, I enquire, simply adopting characters for the songs?

"I'm creating characters to say certain things," she admits. "There is a story to it, but it's not a true story. It's a kind of narrative, but everything is from my experience, because that's what I know – I'm not a great fiction writer."

The most impressive part of the album is its opening salvo, a four-song sequence in which the ripples of each song lead into the next, quietly but methodically stacking turmoil upon turmoil without allowing closure to dissipate the emotional momentum. Its success, she claims, is largely due to her producer, Ethan Johns, who had an instinctive grasp of the album's bigger picture.

"I had written this 16-minute track that was quite definitively four different things," she says. "Ethan took notes as we ran through it; I'd give him instances of places where I wanted certain things, but he had this wide picture of the record that I didn't have. So when it came to the arrangements, he wanted it to feel like each of the instruments had this character to them. I didn't really realise that until the end of the process! Listening to it later, he had brought out things in the songs that I'd forgotten were in there."

Hence the clear emotional arc described by the album, an aspect of music so often overlooked in these days of cherry-picked downloads. "I see the record as being very contemplative in the beginning, the middle being very frustrated, and the end finding a sort of peace," she says. "And yes, it does correspond to my experience: it's not necessarily 'I won't get hurt again', it's more a kind of peace, an acceptance of one's place in the world, and the things that disrupt it."

Since recording the album, Marling, who admits she's "quite a solitary beast", has deliberately disrupted her life by moving base to Los Angeles, setting up home alone in an apartment in the bohemian Silver Lake district.

"It's purely hedonistic," she explains. "I like the lifestyle in LA. I'd been travelling around America a lot, and I think the expanse of it had an effect on me – opening my eyes to quite how small a fish I am in an infinitely big pond. I really like it: I live in a very quiet, strange suburban neighbourhood, full of hippies and vegans, an hour from Joshua Tree."

It's an apt move for someone reared on her parents' musical diet of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Stevie Wonder, almost a spiritual pilgrimage to the hippie heartland. The first song her father taught her to play was Young's drug lament "The Needle and the Damage Done", a staple from his own time as a wine-bar troubadour in France. Her parents, she admits, were delighted when she won the 2011 Brit Award for Best Female Solo Artist.

"It's sitting on their mantlepiece," she says. "Because they're parents, they worry that I'm not successful, and that was like, 'I'm on the telly, make of it what you will'. That was the best part of winning it. I didn't expect it at all. It was weird enough being there, let alone having to go up and receive an award!"

Although she doesn't view herself as a folk singer, Marling's Brit Award was one of the first confirmations of the burgeoning "new folk" boom which she helped establish with the Mumfords and Noahs. Not that she misses the camaraderie of that tyro scene.

"I think it's taken its natural course," she says, matter-of-factly. "Everyone's very busy. The nice thing about living somewhere else is that people always tell you when they're in town, and a lot of people come to LA, so I see a lot of shows. And we all wish each other well, from afar."

Marling's back off home to LA the next day, where she'll spend her days struggling to write songs. For such a prolific writer, she claims to lack the facility to write songs in any circumstances.

"Some songwriters, great songwriters, get up and they're ready for the muse," she says. "Which is a term I can't understand. They can write all day, write certain sections of songs and put it all together, and I don't think I understood that when I was young. I play guitar every day, and sometimes I write a song, sometimes I don't, and that's as far as I have control over that."

She does, however, believe that her songwriting has improved with the loss of the innocence, such as it was, of her earlier songs.

"Yes, naivety was ripped from me, as it is from everyone!" says Marling with a wry smile. "I thought I knew everything when I was 18, and now I know nothing, increasingly less and less. It's a funny experience, hearing a younger version of yourself. The further I get into songwriting, the more I understand myself – the less I wriggle in my skin – the easier songwriting becomes. I used to be so guarded, I'd be, 'No, it's not about me, don't ask!'. Now, I don't think it's that I care less, it's just that I'm a bit more grown-up; I know what I'm giving away."

*This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of Radar magazine

 

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor