On Monday 13th February, Laura Marling graced Goldsmith’s SU, The Stretch with her presence and humbleness, discussing and performing songs from her upcoming album, Semper Femina. Marling explains that the album title translates as ‘Always Woman’ which is a concept that has been important to her for a long time, to the extent that at the age of 21 she had the words tattooed, arguably a defining point in one’s life. Semper Femina experiments with challenging the male perspective which as a society, we have become so accustomed to and comfortable with as a way of interpreting the way we see the world. Instead, the album is written from a female perspective and explores the variances of femininity. When asked if she uses literary fiction as a source of inspiration when writing lyrics, Laura explains that she is beginning to move away from gothic and romantic themes which she would be drawn to when writing earlier albums, and more towards literary fantasy fiction as result of reading more poetry and using increased gained experiences that come with age. She labelled Rainer Marie Rilke as her favourite poet and a contributing inspiration to the concept of the album, after learning of his distorted perception of femininity.
Black Cat by Rainer Marie Rilke
A ghost, though invisible, still is like a place
your sight can knock on, echoing; but here
within this thick black pelt, your strongest gaze
will be absorbed and utterly disappear:
just as a raving madman, when nothing else
can ease him, charges into his dark night
howling, pounds on the padded wall, and feels
the rage being taken in and pacified.
She seems to hide all looks that have ever fallen
into her, so that, like an audience,
she can look them over, menacing and sullen,
and curl to sleep with them. But all at once
as if awakened, she turns her face to yours;
and with a shock, you see yourself, tiny,
inside the golden amber of her eyeballs
suspended, like a prehistoric fly.
In further exploration of the components of femininity, Marling released a series of podcasts called Reversal Of The Muse in 2016, in which she interviews various female musicians including Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, HAIM and Marika Hackman in order to discuss the nature of the industry through the feminine perspective. This project alongside the new album and her directing debut with videos for singles, ‘Soothing’, ‘Wild Fire’ and ‘Next Time’ collectively seem to point towards Laura’s progression in maturity and curiosity both as a woman and a musician.
“We’re somewhat accustomed to seeing women through men’s eyes, and naturally that was my inclination to try and take some power over that, but very quickly realised that the powerful thing to do was to look at women through a woman’s eyes. It was a little stumble at the beginning of the record, a self-conscious stumble – but yes that’s where that came from.”
“When I wrote Short Movie it felt like i was writing about something I was going to experience rather than something I had experienced. And music has a funny way, or creativity has a funny way of being ahead of you. So I don’t know where I am now, because maybe it’s still catching up to me. I think whereas Short Movie was more based on a landscape, this album was more based in thought.”
Taking the minute stage with an ethereal grace that conjured up images of folklorean sprites, Laura Marling ushered in her Q&A conference with a soothing rendition of ‘Wild Fire’, the second single from upcoming album Semper Femina. It’s enthralling, watching a woman mere metres from you, conducting an entire room of eagle-eared students with her enchanting guitar strumming. Laura’s voice, in particular, with her dulcet tones and romantic lyrics, manages to control the audience – and the only thing I can liken it to is a mythical creature, a spirit, a fairy. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been studying A Midsummer Night’s Dream this past week, but Laura’s performance is reminiscent of the Pyramus and Thisbe imagery staged in the play. Even so, with her monumental natural talent, there’s a sense of anxiousness, nervousness, in the way she dips in and out of volume, and in between songs, wherein she shyly answers questions from audience members and Twitter questions alike. She seems nervous, despite performing to a room of only around 100, but this doesn’t show whilst playing, merely in-between.
After another round of questions and intriguing answers she begins my personal favourite of the afternoon, ‘Nothing If Not Nearly’, as it is this song wherein Laura repeats lyric “the only thing I learnt in a year/where I didn’t smile once/not really/is nothing matters more than love”. The emotion with which this lyric is released from her throat, from her chest, is palpable, the audience can feel its heady weight in the air through her gently warbling voice.
The final song of the afternoon, ‘Noel’, showcases Laura’s guitar skill; it is remarkable that she plays this song after announcing that she feels her guitar playing vastly improved whilst working on Semper Femina, as her beautiful twanging showcases nothing less than raw passion and flair. Key lyric “fickle and changeable”, which is the English translation of a Virgil poem from where title Semper Femina was taken, is crooned gorgeously over this lilted guitar that Laura purveys throughout the afternoon. The song allows us to have a glimpse into the turgid world of Semper Femina, it hints at what is to come on March 10th, with her layered lyrics that are pregnant with metaphor, and mournful yet alluring instrumental.
Whilst I was undoubtedly waiting for Laura to launch into my personal favourite of hers, lead single from Semper Femina, ‘Soothing’, the short performances that she allowed such a small audience to be a part of truly let her virtuoso shine. It is with bated breath that I, and surely everyone else who attended her conference on Monday 13th Feburary, await the release of the album.