Semper Femina — PearShaped’s Afternoon With Laura Marling

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Laura Marling raises questions on femininity and artistry.

Laura Marling has always been a PearShaped favourite. Every tour, we have our tickets; every album, we’ve got it pre-ordered months in advance; every interview, we’re devouring, to discover all the thoughts and backstories that go into her music. We couldn’t have been more excited that a couple of us were able to attend an invite-only student press conference, held in anticipation of her upcoming sixth album, Semper Femina. What entailed was far more than a simple promotional event for her album: it provided the opportunity for real discussion about the complex ideas and inspiration that went into her latest album.

Taken from a longer line by Virgil, Semper Femina translates to “fickle and changeable always is woman” and is representative of the album’s very explicit focus: what it means to be a woman. Of course, Virgil’s insistence that women are “fickle and changeable” suggests his own sexism. One imagines, that Laura’s reappropriation of this line alludes to something more complex, and more liberating. When she set out to write the album, she tells us, she tried to write it from the point of view of a man. “We’re somewhat accustomed to see women through men’s eyes, and so naturally I was inclined to take some power over that.” However, she shortly realised that “the more powerful thing was to look at women through woman’s eyes.” Indeed, the album barely mentions men at all.

Contrary to what one might expect, however, she doesn’t claim to “have very firm opinions about femininity and feminism.” Instead, what she does have, it seems, are lots and lots of questions. From the theoretical — “whether femininity begins on a biological level or a psychological level or an emotional level” — to the practical — “why there aren’t more women working in [music] studios” — it is these questions which fuel her creativity. As she tells us, they occupy not only her album but also her Reversal Of The Muse project — a series of 10 podcasts about the under-representation of women in the creative industries. “What I really enjoyed about Reversal Of The Muse and the making of this record in its subject mater was that it allowed me to keep asking questions about those things, and that’s what I want to keep doing.” What she does firmly argue is that, regardless of what femininity is or where it comes from, the imbalance between men and women needs to be rectified, “so that we can have a more balanced understanding of the world, because these are the mediums through which we understand it.” Drawing from her own experience, she says that many female musicians feel constantly afraid whilst travelling or on tour, and that’s not right: “It’s a big physical and mental exertion… I’ve noticed that that innate sense of fear is really quite constricting and is perhaps more of an affliction women than to men.”

The number one thing I learnt about Laura Marling from this press conference is this amazing inquisitiveness and curiosity; not only concerning gender’s relationship with art, but also the nature of art and the artist itself. Namely, “is it an indulgence or is it a compulsion? […] Should I be doing something more important, more useful?” While living in LA gave her the “freedom to express herself with self-criticism”, it also made her wary of how this can be interpreted: as “fairly self-indulgent.” Does she ever think about what she would be if she were not a musician? “I think about that constantly… Right now more than ever.” Let’s hope that this is not a hint that her enthusiasm for the music industry is diminishing.

Laura Marling also took some time to talk about the important influence of literature on her music. To see our Semper Femina Reading List, consisting of Laura Marling’s own recommendations, Click Here.