Videos by American Songwriter
Be sure to catch Laura Marling performing at the Billy Reid/Third Man Records Austin Shindig on March 18. You can RSVP here.
When Laura Marling moved to Los Angeles from London two years ago, she wasn’t sure what she’d find. A change of scenery, sure, but the now 25- year- old British singer-songwriter didn’t realize that the sprawling metropolis would become her temporary home, one that would reignite her creativity and inspire her best release to date, the forthcoming Short Movie.
“It wasn’t really a conscious decision to move there,” she tells American Songwriter from London (she recently moved back). “I kind of ended up there by chance and I loved it.”
Marling felt burnt out on the heels of releasing Once I Was An Eagle, the critically acclaimed 2013 release that solidified her status as more than just another member of the Mumford & Sons cohort, her association with the band an unfortunate byproduct of her relationship with lead singer Marcus Mumford around the time the quartet came to prominence. Her restlessness led her to Los Angeles, a place she quickly found to have a strong creative gravitational pull.
“Every time I planned on coming back [to London] I always found something else I wanted to explore,” she explains. “So I ended up staying for two and a half years.”
Her time in Los Angeles proved fruitful in many ways, but none more so than providing her with the creative freedom and broadened perspective to write an album unlike any she’d written in the past.
“I wasn’t writing the whole time, but I was playing all the time,” she says. “The best thing I found in L.A., or the best thing that I took from it, was meeting so many amazing musicians. I think there’s something about the fact that it’s such a big country, that if you’re going to make an impact there you have to be the best. And in England you don’t really have to be the best, you just have to be okay [laughs]. So I met so many musicians who are so much better – obviously it isn’t rare to meet musicians who are much better than me – but I was really inspired by that and it gave me the passion to improve musically.”
It doesn’t take long to hear that newfound passion on Short Movie, which finds Marling exploring new territory both sonically and lyrically, a move she credits more to circumstance than any conscious decision. Tracks like “False Hope” and “Short Movie” are imbued with a sense of defiance and aggression rarely seen from Marling, the album underscored by electric guitar flourishes and experimental arrangements that announce an artist unafraid to make a marked departure.
“It happened very naturally,” she says of her new sound. “Where I was living last year was in a studio apartment and all I had was an electric guitar and a little amp that I couldn’t play very loudly. And that was kind of a nice restriction.”
Marling found herself frequently operating within newly-set boundaries, a change to her writing process that ended up being far more liberating than she’d ever anticipated. Her approach especially differed from the one she took on Once I Was An Eagle, an album that left her feeling a bit too raw and vulnerable after its release. “Writing [Once I Was an Eagle] happened really quickly,” she explains. “And only in retrospect did I feel quite vulnerable after it. I felt like I had written it without much thought and I felt very happy about it. I had a sort of instinctual feeling that it was a good thing. But it did start to make me wonder who’s in charge here. Is this show running me or am I running the show?
“And so when I was writing [Short Movie], I think I was more inclined towards the fantastical. I treated it more like creative nonfiction rather than, you know, very raw emotional sincerity. And I didn’t think I lost the feeling of sincerity but I think I was a little bit more keen to have some sort of fantastical boundary, like a spin on everything so it’s not quite true. I think boundaries do allow you to be more honest at the right time, under the right circumstances.”
The album is appropriately titled, as Marling equates her stint living in America to a short film in the larger movie of her life. And like any good short film or short story, the ending to Marling’s is still unclear, an ellipsis instead of, as the Brits would say, a full stop.
“There was no real time scale [in L.A.]; there was no real feeling of being part of the earth as a whole,” she says. “For a moment I would think about, ‘What happens if I stay here forever? What will happen to me?’”
She answers herself, if obliquely, in the title track: “I don’t know what we’re afraid of/ But I know I don’t mind/ Oh no, I don’t mind.”
This article appears in our March/April 2015 issue. Subscribe here.