“Hi there!” a cheery, London accent comes down the phone to greet me. It’s British singer-songwriter Laura Marling, and “I’m just making some toast, if you don’t mind,” she says. It’s about 8am her time, and the 27-year-old is happily enjoying a quiet morning before she jets off to the US for a month-long tour to promote her latest album Semper Femina. It’s a long tour, she admits, but packing for such a time doesn’t daunt her: “I tend to go vintage shopping when I’m on tour, so I don’t actually pack a lot,” she says. “I will take an enormous bag but not pack very much in it.” The record gets its name from part of a phrase penned by the ancient Roman poet Virgil in the epic Aeneid. It’s also a phrase she has tattooed on her upper thigh, a decision she made when she was 21. It means ‘always woman', and it’s an abbreviated version of the full verse "varium et mutabile semper femina" which translates to: “Woman is always fickle and changeable”. So with six years between her tattoo and this latest release, why has she chosen to to write a record fitting to the phrase now? “You know how concepts and ideas work themselves into you quite slowly? I think, at 21, it was the age I felt at the beginning of my independence, and having my own thoughts and ideas about things,” she says. “I think the ideas of womanhood and sisterhood had just occurred to me then, and it took me a long time to get my head around what that meant. That phrase is such a perfect expression of that, without being explicit.”
What does this album, your sixth, represent for you?
It feels like a return to a relationship with some writing that’s innocent, it comes from a creativity that wasn’t laboured. After I took some time off, I wrote Short Movie, and I sort of forgot, you know, when your consciousness turns off and the rest of your brain does the work.
Where does this creativity stem from?
It’s hard to put a finger on, but it usually goes in a similar pattern in some respects. If I have a couple of months off, or I’m on tour because I have a lot of time off during the day, I tend to read a lot and get fascinated by one subject, and then, that taking in of knowledge then finds its way out again. It’s like breathing in and breathing out.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading a book by Erich Fromm, who was a famous psychologist in the 60s, called The Forgotten Language.
What about your relationship with yourself at 21, how has that changed?
It’s amazing how brutal you can be to yourself when you’re young. Literally, physically and mentally, I’m a lot more gentle now than I was then.
How have you achieve that?
I’m lucky, because I’ve managed to get a lot of space in my life. I’ve taken a lot of time to explore the depths.
You speak a lot about muses, I wonder what it is about this concept that fascinates you?
What keeps me coming back to the concept of muses is that it’s stands over this really fragile line between an object that is subjugated or a person or a concept that is untouchable. It doesn’t belong to anything, it’s just a feeling that exists. I just think that’s fascinating. The muse has become celebrity, this very hollow, shallow expression of what inspires us.
There’s definitely aspirations, at least through social media, to be or become someone else.
Yeah, at least a homogenised version of...whatever. You know, to be this unified version of something. It’s very odd.
I get the feeling you’re quite a reserved person, is that accurate and what is the live experience like?
That is accurate to a certain extent, when I feel vulnerable I can get quiet reserved, but playing live is my favourite bit.
Because it’s the easiest thing, of all the things that go with this. Writing is fun, but it’s solitary, and playing live allows me to get into that strange trance. And I don’t seem to ever not fall into it. And I’m with all my buddies.
Laura Marling plays Thursday June 8 at The Triffid in Brisbane, Saturday June 10 at The Gov in Adelaide, Sunday June 11 at Forum Theatre in Melbourne, and Monday June 12 at the Sydney Opera House as part of Vivid Live. Her new album Semper Femina is out now via Kobalt.