After scrapping a “boring” new album, Laura Marling found inspiration in the City of Angels
With the title of her first album, 2008’s Alas I Cannot Swim, Laura Marling established a pattern. I Speak Because I Can (2010), A Creature I Don’t Know (2011) and Once I Was An Eagle (2013) followed, all by the time the precociously poised British folk singer and guitarist turned 23. Now comes her fifth album, and the title, Short Movie, signals a change.
“Yeah, you can read into that,” says Marling, who at the start of this year moved back to London after a stint in Los Angeles. “Obviously, I did think about making the title fit in, because I did feel like this album is the last of this crop, five albums in. It would have been nice if all the titles aligned; all the titles are supposed to have six syllables in them. There is one song title that has six syllables (‘Don’t Let Me Bring You Down’), but it didn’t seem to fit, and Short Movie seemed to be the one that encapsulated the feeling.”
The album is full of existential crises, of brief, difficult relationships, of displacement, of transience. “It’s a short fucking movie, man,” she sings on the title track. “I know/I’m going to try and take it slow.”
Although Marling recently appeared in a short film, the seven-minute Woman Driver, she calls that “just a really random bit of synergy.” The album follows a period of unexpected downtime. Shortly after finishing her tour for Once I Was An Eagle, Marling recorded an album, but then scrapped it.
“I just made a really, really boring album because all I’d been doing was traveling and not really taking in anything,” she says. “So, it was a fairly traumatizing experience, throwing away 14 songs or whatever. But it was good.”
The eight months she had expected to spend touring were suddenly free, and Marling spent them hanging around L.A. She wrote poetry, she did some reading and studying (in mysticism and psychology), she took up yoga, she took up the electric guitar. She did a short tour, driving around the country alone. Although throughout her career she’d been referred to as “an old soul,” she says she finally grew up.
“I was just experiencing things for the sake of experiencing them, which again is a privilege not afforded to many—the most troubling thing about it was that I’d been one of these privileged people able to make these strange decisions and able to live my life in a particular way,” says Marling, whose father is a British baronet. “Then I discovered that there was no satisfaction on that side. I’d always been interested in satisfaction rather than fame or success. I think that’s an interest you can only have if you come from a relatively stable background, like I have, and which I feel very lucky to have. I had to ride out the existential side of my discovery to get to the other side where I realized that there’s this wonderful balance in life, and the absolute chaos of the universe is the only truth. I began to find peace in that. So, I came out the other side with fairly dark and difficult truths, really.”
And the stirring, conflicted Short Movie reflects that turmoil (and that electric guitar-playing). It’s an album about transitions, and it marks one in Marling’s catalog.
“It might well be a beginning,” she says. “I had my 25th birthday last week, and I feel like I am my age; suddenly, I feel appropriately aged, and that should signify my next phase in life. I feel like my next phase is adulthood, rather than a tormented and elongated adolescence.”