Poised on a stool, all in white, beneath one bright stage light: there wouldn’t appear to be a more angelic ambassador for an album exploring issues of identity and femininity.
‘Semper Femina’, or ‘Always a woman’, means more to Laura Marling than just an adolescent tattoo. Explaining her time in the US since 2015, the 27-year-old began to detail experiences that had taught her much – obvious in the authority she displayed on stage.
The “mental and physical exertion” of “travelling and touring on her own”, the wounding relationships, and the search for a reputation in America, all contribute to the new adventurous LP. This somewhat “masculine” journey led her to transcend and “take some power” over her own traditional views, previously shaped by the perceptions of men and society, of what it means to be a woman.
Explored in her first live performance Wild Fire, she attempts to empathise with women through a woman’s eyes – as “wouldn’t you die to know how you seem?”. This “self-conscious stumble” into a new perspective shapes the entire album as Laura invites the listener to reflect on an alternative, powerful version of the female.
Unsurprisingly the singer has a close attachment to this series, which may have provided her with the impetus to direct the visual accompaniment for the introductory EP Soothing. Finding the creative process fittingly comfortable, Laura admitted she found solace in giving physical form to her lucid thoughts – hinting that there may be more to come.
Alongside her personal journey, Laura conceded that poetry massively assisted her discovery of femininity. While a Virgil poem inspired the tattooed title, Rainer Maria Rilke was revered as the reason for her investigation into the identity of womankind. Her favourite poet, Laura was equally as intrigued by his romanticism as his “misguided perception of felinity”, induced by his childhood of dressing as a woman.
Interestingly, this research led her to Rilke’s lover Lou-Andreas Salome whom became a “literary mentor” for Laura. Undoubtedly a woman who inspired important men at the time, from Rilke to Nietzsche, was of great influence to Semper Femina’s image. Indeed, her literature along with The Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, led the song-writing for Semper Femina to be “more based in thought” than any known landscape. This philosophy provides for the major difference from her previous long-player Short Movie, marking a definite shift in career. The forward-looking Next Time captured this just as it did her student audience.
Laura’s considerable commitment to research began with her Reversal of the Muse podcast project. Interviewing a number of women in the music industry allowed her to fuel discussion and ideas ahead of the album. The impression the chats left her with was the importance of having this discussion – no doubt this is exactly what Semper Femina hopes to achieve.
Admittedly motivated by the ability of the album’s producer Blake Mills (check out It’ll All Work Out), the singer-songwriter stepped up her guitar playing – seen through her perfectly picked piece Nothing Not Nearly. Her ease with the instrument makes you glad she never pursued her back-up career as a chef. Whereas much of Marling’s music is marked by melancholy, she is particularly enjoying her playing at the moment – with Rambling Man “my favourite song to play, and it might be my favourite song I’ve ever written”.
For her and her audience, the silver lining of her (initial) anonymity in America has allowed her to avoid any “self-entitled indulgence” that is common in the country, and therefore improve continuously her live performance. After long reflections upon literature and her own identity, yet another exciting new direction for her sixth studio album was confirmed at this intimate conference.