Union Transfer


Laura Marling

Laura Marling

Johnny Flynn, Marika Hackman

Sat, August 1, 2015

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 8:30 pm

Union Transfer

Philadelphia, PA


This event is all ages

Laura Marling
Laura Marling
"I've always been told that I'm an old soul. And I'm not. I just have a deep voice and a stern face. I am actually young. I hadn't had chance to stop and think about that before."

A little over a year ago, Laura Marling came off the road after touring her hugely successful fourth album Once I Was an Eagle, and immediately set about recording its successor. "I literally rolled out of the van and into the studio — a decision made by my own stubbornness," she recalls. "And then I just stopped cold turkey."

Marling's fifth album, Short Movie, is the result of an extended period of stopping and thinking. "I realised that I hadn't been in a place for longer than two or three weeks since I was 16," she explains. "I thought 'I wonder what will happen if I try and root myself somewhere?' Look back over the past eight years."

Shelving the album she had written and begun, she gave herself six months away from anything related to music, to explore and learn new skills, to try other kinds of writing, other ways of thinking. "It was definitely good for me," she says. "But it was also absolutely horrible and I'll never do that again."

Uncertain whether she wanted to continue songwriting she had redirected her energy into poetry, only to have her application (under a pseudonym) to study at a writing Centre in upstate New York turned down. "I think," she says, "it was the first time anybody's ever said no to me."

And so Marling returned to Los Angeles, where she has lived for the past few years, and sought new direction. "LA is literally the worst place to not have a job," she says. "It's so drifty anyway. It's the kind of place where you can either skim the surface, go with the tide or be dragged down to the stagnant waters. And you don't want to fall through the cracks here, I guess. Not that you're in danger of doing that if you're somewhat sane, but I felt really on the edge of sanity."

Exploring the worlds of mysticism, yoga and psychedelics, she began to feel the isolation of her city, to notice "people talking about good vibrations in a concrete jungle", the people on the street who "just seem to let the light come in a bit too much to close it off again. And you can't look at them without knowing that you're capable of doing that too."

The days began to blend together. "Everything, every day seemed really banal," she remembers. "If I was in France we would have called it 'an existential crisis' and got on with it. But here they treat negativity like it's something infectious."

Simultaneously, for the first time in her adult life, she was trying to integrate into a community. She chose not to tell people she was a successful musician, or even a musician at all. "Not that I'm a somebody somewhere else, but I'm very much not a somebody here," she says. "And for six months when people asked me what I did I would tell them something else. And it was nice. It was hard, but it was good. And I had nothing, I had to go on actually who I am — which I haven't had to do for a long time, since I was 16."

Community had become suddenly important to Marling. The nature of being a songwriter had necessitated a certain observer's distance in herself, and prompted a certain amount of projection onto her by others, a combination that had left her quite removed. "I was attached to being alone," she says — living alone, touring alone, spending time out in Joshua Tree where she remembers she "used to wake up and be so excited by the isolation."

But then something changed. "I just got the fear all of a sudden. I saw something that I couldn't unsee. I felt something that I couldn't unfeel. And then I had to really face the reasons why I like being isolated. And I understood why people fear loneliness"

She had also "fallen out of love with touring" she says. "I did a lot of touring on my own. I wanted to do that, but it ran me into the ground. I felt I'd lost all the elegance of music; it had just become this really rough, hard thing. I think I had wanted to prove that there's no reason why feminine can't mean strength and endurance. In the end I discovered there was a greater point to be made to myself about femininity, that of quiet grace, quietly knowing when to rest, which is not opposed to strength."

Along the way, she had also shed a certain amount of naivety. Where once she loved the thrill of driving into the desert at night and sleeping under the stars, suddenly "romantic behavior like that stopped being appealing to me." It was, she says, "a shame, realising I can't behave like that anymore because I saw through it, I'd found the roots to all peoples strange behavior which was a fear of loneliness that I hadn't understood before. I saw the violence of that act, ripping away from reality to do whatever you want and saw danger in it. I just couldn't do that anymore. Or I didn't want to. And so I just stopped allowing all of that stuff to happen."

Slowly out of the "chaos" of that time Marling began to find a kind of order. She enrolled on several online courses to study literary criticism, immersed herself in the writing of Rilke, Chris Kraus and Jodorowsky. "I got really obsessed with getting educated," she explains. "And then I realized it's not actually about being educated it's about being wise."

Her intention was to "take the mysticism of songwriting and tame it in a way. Or take control of it. I wanted some whipping into shape. And I think that by whatever means I have done that. And that's why I think this crop of songs is different."

These songs are different — in mood and sound and temperament. They reflect a time of great exploration for Marling, and so encompass doubt, magic, hope, humanity, salvation, rage, peace, place and being alone.
But they also show a striking new confidence.

Marling produced Short Movie herself, spurred on by a desire to "demystify production". She was aided by two studio engineers, Matt Ingram (who also played drums) and Dan Cox.
She describes the experience as "pleasant but anxious."

Recording at Urchin Studios in London, she was joined by her long-time collaborator Ruth De Turberville on cello, Nick Pini on bass and Tom Fiddle from Noah and the Whale.

I think I understand sounds in a different way now," she says of the experience. "I understand more than I used to how tones interact with each other. How sounds literally send things vibrating through your body. And I wanted to have a particular sound on the record, which the strings are fulfilling, this weird soft discordant noise."

The discordance of course reflects the strange but revelatory time she spent away from music, the introspection and confusion, the cacophony of a city like LA, "where there are helicopters everywhere, things that sound like they're from Blade Runner, or you're getting on the freeway in your car, it's all overwhelming sound," she explains. "I wanted to incorporate that background chaos that was going on all the time, as well as the little bit of sense I managed to make out of it."

If Short Movie proves anything it is that stopping, thinking, and making a little sense out of life has had a profound effect on both Marling's songwriting and how she views herself: "Underneath the noise I was thinking most of the time what the process of creation is," she says. "I would never have called it creation or art before, what I do, it seemed aggrandizing. But now I see it differently. Because there is something divine about how things are done and created out of nowhere, we are only a means for them, they are therefore beyond us silly humans."
Johnny Flynn
Johnny Flynn
Country Mile – the title for Johnny Flynn's third album – is an apt description of a strident career that has encompassed a vast distance, along a naturally meandering pathway.

Johnny first appeared on the scene in 2006 playing in numerous bands and running club nights, but ears were pricked by his first album A Larum, released in 2008. It has come to be seen as an influential musical template in recent years, with its honest recording approach and revitalising take on traditional forms of music with songs such as Leftovers and Tickle Me Pink affecting and inspiring a new aesthetic.

Country Mile took shape naturally in various home recording environments and eventually at Soup Studios, London, rambling towards perfect song structures from furtive ideas without the pressure of timekeeping.

The Lady Is Risen owes a debt to Hank Williams who Flynn listened to a lot when writing the album. Fol-de-Rol references Johnny's love of South American folk songs and specifically a Peruvian style of music called Chicha – psychedelic 'Cumbias' from the 60s/70s. Einstein's Idea, a lullaby written for Johnny's two-year-old son Gabriel, takes the theory of relativity to romantic heights.

His thespian tendencies have not been neglected either, with a lead in Song One alongside Anne Hathaway released next year, and a role in Oliver Assayas' Sils Maria with Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Moretz.
Marika Hackman
Marika Hackman; an artist who is more likely to quote proto-feminist ghost stories such as the Yellow Wallpaper than align with audience expectations of a woman prepared to "sing a few nice songs with a pretty voice and then forget about it".

Clearly she's made of more substance than her contemporaries.

A captivating vocalist and incredibly attractive individual who is more interested in challenging perceptions of what songwriting can or should be in modern times, to bring us a greater sense of truth and understanding of current issues, from the forms of the past.

"All mainstream music is written in such a lazy way. It's all a formula of where to put each chorus and hook, its robotic in its creation. People don't really have to listen because they know they'll be able to hum the chorus back after one minute, I think the clever placement of hooks and big chorus' con people into thinking they're actually enjoying it rather than being aware that it's just running along a well beaten track in their brains."

She expresses, asserting that her own frustration with this situation has coloured her approach to bring something better to the masses.

This approach links back to her approach to production, initially working with mentor Johnny Flynn and Adam Beach in a scenario in which inventive ideas were encouraged in a familial and confidence building scenario, before working with Charlie Andrew who had recently completed work on the Mercury Award Winning Alt-J album.

"We took each song and stripped it back to the basic guitar part and vocal and then played around on different instruments to build up the layers. On retina television we decided to not use any instruments at all and try and build up the song only using sounds from my body, so as well as singing and humming I was doing stuff like tapping my teeth and jumping. We drew the line at burping though..."

This inventiveness is sprung from Marika herself as much as her production collaborators though, testified by her unique interpretations on her online covers EP which disclosed a raft of influences from Warpaint and The Knife to Nico (who she also shares a striking visual resemblance to) and Nirvana, and translated into the arrangement of her own material on the new extended play:

"When I've got an idea for a song I make a really rough demo on Garageband so I can try building up vocals and different instruments." She explains in relation to standout track 'Plans': "The layered vocals in the verse was an idea that hit me as soon as I started recording the demo. Once I'd tried it out and decided I liked it, I was spurred on to finish the song. The harmonies in the chorus I developed by singing as many lines as I could over the original melody and then choosing my favourites."

This approach is always an extension of the lyrical substance behind each song – always confrontational, with shades of Gothicism that reveal themselves beneath an accessible aesthetic like the hidden grotesque and mysteriously hellish details that can be decoded in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

On Cannibal, an outwardly accessible, and eminently listenable song there are some deep ruminations about the conflicts between human evolution and personal greed.

"It's taking the idea of cutting off your nose to spite your face to a new level" she asserts "as you're cutting off your nose to consume it. It's realising that what you're doing is wrong on many levels but being too afraid to confront it and therefore just carrying on. A fear of change I suppose, and a general level of disgust at where our 'evolution' has taken us."

Through taking previously clichéd metaphors and imbuing them with the full horror of their original meaning, she asserts a fresh perspective that both shocks and provides comfort with the tools for the listener to deal with the situation of modern living.
Venue Information:
Union Transfer
1026 Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19123