With her fifth album in seven years dropping later this month, Laura Marling is about as prolific as musicians come. And, being cut from the same cloth as Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake, she’s also as out-of-the-box as singer/songwriters get. That combination has garnered her multiple accolades, to be sure, but it has also brought a certain amount of pressure along with it.
That’s why, after her last release, Once I Was An Eagle, found its way onto myriad Best of 2013 lists, Marling took the first extended break in her career — retreating to Los Angeles in search of some semblance of anonymity and normality. In L.A., Marling found inspiration in the everyday lives around her that were filled with a dedication to art that was unencumbered by expectation or monetization. Marling, then, transformed and translated that experience into Short Movie, her grittiest, densest work yet.
You’ve worked really hard and enjoyed some pretty solid successes, so far in your career. Do you wish you had paced yourself a bit differently? Or did you just have to push through and get all of that stuff out while you could?
Yeah, I don’t think I had much choice, really.
Were there just a bunch of songs flowing through you or was there a lot happening in your life?
I quite often will write a song and not really pay attention to what it’s referring to until much later down the line. In that respect, I feel as though songs engage with the unconscious in a way that one isn’t capable of doing consciously. I feel very lucky that I have the guitar as an outlet for that. I’m sure other people have other ways. But, yeah, I feel as though songs come from something else.
So, you moved to L.A., wrote poetry, and went sort of incognito. Then you made this new record.
I did try and apply for a course at a poetry institution. And I was trying to get jobs and things like that, and found it all quite difficult because I’ve never really had a job. It was a weird couple of years for me. I sort of stumbled through it like a teenager. But it was good.
You have been, basically, living that Rilke quote from Letters to a Young Poet : “Embrace your solitude and love it. Endure the pain it causes, and try to sing out with it.” That sort of encapsulates the experience because, then, you came back to sing out with that experience.
Yeah, absolutely. As far as I can tell, it’s very much the experience that most people have in their early 20s. But it was very confusing and isolating… an incommunicable experience, in some ways. And all in a fairly foreign place. The reason why this took longer than the other albums is that it was the first time I wasn’t really writing very much. It was like there was nothing to say that I was going to be able to write an album at the end of this quite difficult experience. So it didn’t feel like it was worthwhile, at the time.
It’s such a fascinating premise to withdraw into the everyday life that most people dream of escaping. Was your interest in and approach to that experience rooted more in a spiritual discipline or a psychological experiment?
A bit of both, I think. I was obviously making it up as I went along. It was funny because I was always quite fascinated by people’s projections to me of my own success and their idea that I was extremely successful. Some people would say to me that I was really successful. And I couldn’t relate to that, though I didn’t want to deny that.
But what strange perspective I might have that might be interesting is that, if I’m successful to some degree, then I’ve seen what that looks like and I understand that it’s a fallacy, in a way. A lot of my friends in L.A. were incredibly individual and creative artists and musicians and writers who were all doing the thing that I never did, which was working for no money and having so much passion and joy that you’re able to carry on and get out of bed in the morning to do your work for no money. That is where success is because that’s the most satisfying thing. And I became fascinated with that, and also sad about my success — or people’s idea of my success. And without realizing I was teasing myself back from the dredge in life, from the resistance, and experiencing the more difficult side of what being a human is, in reality. That actually gave me a better understanding and better appreciation of my place in the world, and also my reverence for others… and not just artists or the creative people that I’ve been lucky enough to meet and be inspired by, but also people who have any sort of devotion or purpose in life. It’s inspiring.
What was the breakthrough that got you back into writing and going after this new record? And how are you going to step back into that life differently?
I think it reached a level of surrealism that I was unable to pursue anymore. [Laughs] Life was becoming so insane and sort of teetering on the edge of destructively chaotic that my sort of rationale pulled me out of it. And I began, at that point — which was about six months ago — making my way back to London.
Since then, since making the record, I have been thinking a lot about how I would apply my experiences in the last few years to how I conduct myself now, as a person and as a musician. And I think I sort of want to take the mystery out of everything… demystify, rather than take the mystery out. Just keep things really simple, basically. That’s what I’m applying to how I conduct myself now.

Your voice has led you to be compared to Joni Mitchell. The textures and layers of your records might also play a part in that because, like Joni, you aren’t a typical “folkie.” On this new one, seems like there’s some Chrissie Hynde sneaking in there and, as usual, some Nick Drake, and a lot of different things coming through. Who did you grow up listening to? And who do you listen to now? Or do you actually go outside of music for inspiration?
It’s funny. More so in the last two years, I think it’s more appropriate to refer to books and poets, rather than musicians. I collect records from 1969, so I listen to a lot of music from the late ’60s and early ’70s of all genres, really. And I grew up with Led Zeppelin and Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and Steely Dan. But, in the last few years, it was a lot of poets, a lot of contemporary writers… and a lot of science fiction, actually. I was a late bloomer in the science fiction world, but now I find that, weirdly, as inspiring as romantic poetry.
Interesting! How does that fold into music?
Well, there’s so much…
Or is it just sort of a trigger for imagination?
Yeah, I think it’s that, more than anything… a trigger for imagination. But there’s also… the kind of Philip K. Dick style of predictive, futuristic sci-fi is really very operatic. It’s drama and it’s conflict. So I see a lot of similarity in that. And I think I’ve become less romantic. As I’m getting older… [Laughs] I’ve become less interested in romance and more interested in the evolution of humanity.
I can see how that works because you do craft complex melodies and intricately woven tales. As a challenge to yourself, do you ever try to write a super-simple, three-chord, easy-rhyming song just for a creative exercise? Or do you not even have that genetic capability… because that could be possible?
[Laughs] I think, actually, I’m not a well-trained enough musician to do that because that actually requires a lot more skill than I’m willing to admit… to keep things really simple. [Laughs] I never think about structure. I never think about key signature. And I never think about verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-chorus. And my band finds it absolutely infuriating. I am now trying to improve my knowledge of tones and scales and key signatures and such, just because I think at some point that’s going to be useful. But, no, the simplest stuff is by far the most difficult, as far as I can tell.
This article originally appeared on the Bluegrass Situation.