British singer Laura Marling came out of a London scene that looked to roots and folk music for its inspiration, but that sound already felt like home to her.
The kind of music she now plays is actually part of the sound of her childhood, absorbed and reconsidered through her own filter.
“When I was very young, it was the music that was playing in the setting room, on the stereo, from my parents’ record collection,” Marling said. “So a lot of them have mixed with childhood memories for me, like ‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell, ‘Harvest’ by Neil Young, ‘Highway 51,’ all those classic albums.”
Marling said she never really listened to that music closely until she was a teenager, but when she did take it as more than sonic wallpaper, it had an elevated importance for her.
“That kind of music, in the small town where I grew up, was unusual, so they came to define me,” she said. “You know when you’re a kid, you need media or bands or whatever to define your character. They defined me in quite a strange way, because nobody, none of my friends had ever listened to that music and, until I moved to London, only then did I meet people who were interested in what I was interested in.
“They were a blessing and a curse. I loved that music, and the music it led me to, but it also led me away from, certain people and into the armsmof others. So music has been a very strange thing in my life.”
The people Marling met up with in London have now slipped into the modern musical legend, known as the nu-folk movement, and spawning such bands as Noah and the Whale and Mumford and Sons, as well as Marling and others, but it’s only in looking back that Marling sees any of it as cohesive.
“I wasn’t really conscious of it at the time,” she said. “People only called it a community in retrospect, which is often the way, I suppose, but it didn’t really feel like it at the time.”
“I guess we were kids who had rifled through our parents’ record collections and just found the same things. Now, even just saying that, it makes me think that’s pretty strange. It’s pretty weird. And we were a strange bunch of kids as well. We just found each other.”
Marling came to London at age 16. A friend arranged a gig for her, along with a country band. The leader of that band was Winston Marshall, who is now in Mumford and Sons.
Marshall ran a folksy club night in London that Marling became part of, and he also introduced her to Charlie Fink, who was seeking a female backing singer for Noah and the Whales. Marling, meanwhile, was looking for a drummer.
Marling joined Noah and the Whales, recording one album as part of the line-up before going out on her own. That album came out the same year as her debut, “Alas, I Cannot Swim,” which grabbed critical and commercial success.
Marling’s most recent album, her third release, 2011’s “A Creature I Don’t Know” further documented her musical maturity, which she sees as the result of becoming a better guitar player, which directly elevates her song writing, as well as wider influences.
“I have much broader taste and maybe much more forgiving taste,” said Marling. “I think I’ve been exposed to a lot more text and tone since then. I find unusual text and tone very exciting, very invigorating, that’s why it ends up in an arrangement for something, because it’s excited me and so these things culminate together in a sort of melting pot. Created from someone else’s creativity, recycle.”
Marling’s upcoming record reflects a recent embracing of the blues, as well as a little game that she found herself playing in record stores.
“I had a hobby buying records released in 1969,” Mar ling said. “So I’d go into record shops and looked through for hours until I found ones that I hadn’t found before from 1969. I think that had a quiet influence on the third album.”
She’d go to the record store without a clue and just begin searching the bins for anything from that year.
“Part of the fun of it was not knowing what you’d find, and also being able to waste a lot of time,” she said. “I don’t know what it was about that year, but there were so many good al bums out that year, and the tone of them were so different and weird. People just sang really weird stuff then and also fused together lots of stuff that hadn’t been fused together before. I think that more than directly influenced the tone on that album, that kind of freedom is very inspirational. That’s what I take from it.”
She said that the guitar she composed the songs for the al bum on also made a huge difference in her musical step forward.
“My dad had loaned me a Gibson 335 and I’d only played it when I was a kid, messing around with it,” Marling said. “You can’t pick up a guitar like this and sound bad, even if you do a horrible, out-of-tune note, The tone of it is so raspy and warm at the same time. It’s like the sound that I associate with watching virtuoso musicians in blues halls in France, old hippies still playing wine bars, which I love.”
“I wrote quite lovely on that guitar, through an old, pretty bad amplifier, and the natural result of that is that there are some bluesy turns and notes and things that are easily slipped into on a guitar like that.”
Marling says she can see the changes in her since her debut album, and can at least foresee the process that will lead to future changes as she grows musically.
“I’m a vastly different person than I was three years ago, much to my horror, and I continue to grow and evolve,” she said. “I’m constantly asking myself questions and asking questions of the world, to which I get no answers, but that I feel I deserve, and I think that’s the constant. Each question leads me to another question, and that’s what changes in the lyrics. It’s just another load of different questions with no answers.”