At this one off Semper Femina conference, Laura Marling is a vision in all white. She picks up her acoustic guitar, perches herself on the end of her high stool and starts to effortlessly play new track Wildfire. With her angelic, soft spoken presence I would like to think she had been busily engaged before the conference. Perhaps reading French poetry or collecting pollen like a honey bee. ‘Are you getting away with who you’re trying to be? Do you cry sometimes?’ She serenades us with this introspective new track and with my daytime buzz it’s become more of an emotionally charged experience than intended: Am I getting away with who I’m trying to be? Yes! I do cry sometimes.
Semper Femina, released March 10th, takes it’s title from the poet Virgil. Literally translated, it means ‘fickle and changeable, always woman.’ Marling has been exploring this notion in her music from an early age. At 21 he even got the Greek words permanently tattooed on her left thigh. ’21 is a good age for making permanent errors on your body.’
She began writing the album, similarly to the perspective of Virgil, as a man looking at a woman through a man’s eyes. However Marling sought to change this imbalance in her music. She realised that ‘it’s not a man,’ looking at women. ‘It’s me,’ she states. ‘I don’t need to pretend it’s a man writing to justify the intimacy of the way I’m looking at and feeling about women.’ To understand the world, Marling also addresses that the imbalance needs to be rectified. The ubiquity of music’s maleness. Also the ubiquity of maleness in other areas of culture. ‘I became interested with gothic and romantic literature. It helped me develop a new vocabulary for romantic experience. And albeit a misguided perception of femininity.’
Following Marling’s Reversal of the Muse project, Semper Femina explores feminine creativity within music. ‘I’ve been asking a lot to have firm opinions about felinity and feminism. So what I really enjoyed about the Reversal of the Muse and its subject matter was that it allowed me to keep asking questions about these things. And that’s what I want to keep doing.’
Working with American song-writer and producer Blake Mills – the ‘cool cat with the incredible tonal palette’ – Marling also developed musically. Improving her guitar playing to keep up with Blake, and therefore able to address the subject matter of the album with new musical expression. What are the origins of femininity? Are they biological? Emotional? Social? Marling has had an incredible journey, allowing her insight in to some of these issues. ‘Touring and traveling on your own entails dragging three or four guitars around with you in a car, all by yourself. I became very aware of the restrictions of women traveling alone. There is an innate sense of fear and more so for women.’
Considering these burdening restrictions and limitations, and the challenges of recording and touring, it is evident how they could affect a woman’s potential for creativity. Especially in an industry so structurally favoured for men.
Marling’s music video for single Soothing released in November last year, is a self-directed, latex-filled exploration of the female body. Female company, companionship and unity. It’s a visually provoking display of two women in latex bodysuits, intertwining their bodies together on a mattress atop a bed of leaves. ‘I’ve never felt inclined to give a visual representation for my music. But it’s the way the music industry is. It was actually fun. I found it to be one of the most creative outlets.’ And as she later goes on to say, ‘creativity has a funny way of creeping up on you.’
Laura Marling, fiercely intelligent with an incredible modesty, is a modern day troubadour. Expressing the insecurities, intimacies, failings and heart ache that are bound up with relationships. Semper Femina is her first album that departs from her typical format. It attempts to focus on women, independently of any other perspective and outside of romantic courtship.
Lastly, she is asked if she saw another career path for herself outside of music. ‘Probably a chef. I think that would be a fun way to make money. If I had a speciality? Something vegan. I eat meat myself but I feel that would be a good way to impress people.’
Laura Marling plays at the Brighton Dome on March the 16th, and if she likes Veganism we’ll impress the socks off of her!