(Isle of Noises extract from Mail on Sunday serialization)
Biggest hit ‘Devil’s Spoke’, March 2010
4 Top Ten Albums
I’m pretty bad company for a couple of days before a song is written. There’s too much clutter in my brain and it feels like big chunks of mess come out.
I write with a left-handed fountain pen. I got given a fountain pen two years ago. So brilliant, so elegant, I’m never going to go back.
I can’t write songs at will. I’ve tried, and it’s awful, awful, awful.
Is the creative process therapeutic? There is a lot of darkness in your work, referred to either directly, obliquely, or through character. Do you recognize that?
Yeah, definitely, and that’s why I say I’m equally grateful for it and fearful of it. That’s obviously one side of my personality that seems to write songs – not that I have a split personality, as a liner note – that place that I’m in whenever I write songs, which does tend to be a similar kind of therapeutic and quite a dark place. My fear of it is that I would ever try and pursue that darkness; the exorcism is such a relief and then you kind of get to a place where you’re sort of unhappy. That’s a bit worrying! That’s why I can’t sit down and write a song whenever I want to and that’s why I try and live life simply and normally as possible. I don’t indulge in the thrills around songwriting and being creative, or I try not to. It is so tempting. The older I get the more aware I am of that.
During June 2013 Daniel Rachel was the resident author at Secret Cinema present Laura Marling.
Laura Marling – ‘Master Hunter’
Why are you a songwriter?
I think out of necessity is the reason why I keep doing it: it’s a necessary exercise. I don’t know the reason why I started doing it.
What would the exercise be?
I’ve had to struggle to accept that some people have a creative need and some people just don’t and are quite happy going about life without the need to express something. I would never have considered myself one of the other people who need to be creative because I find it can become an excuse. If I don’t have an outlet in which to express myself, be it through songwriting or other mediums of writing, I get a bit jittery and a bit odd. I think it’s a necessary thing and a blessing for that.
Can you explain your state of mind when you are writing a song?
I guess it varies but it’s becoming more apparent to me the situation in which I tend to write songs – which is late at night. My biggest thing, and this will probably come up with all the questions that you ask, is that I hate the idea of once somebody proclaiming themselves an artist is perusing art for the sake of art. I was intrigued by what you were going to do because I find talking about songwriting so embarrassing, because it’s such a self-indulgent pursuit of art and living in an artistic way. Well, it’s quite brave to do that. I’ve got this constant tussle of whether by putting myself in those situations where the songs are written, am I indulging in a kind of lifestyle that perpetuates that kind of behaviour? Is it my saviour or is it my downfall?
Suggs was reluctant to label himself as a songwriter because he saw it as a lofty term that applied to people like Bob Dylan. His songs came because they seemed to just tumble out.
From seeing other people and other songwriters that I admire, the ones that really stand out are the ones that are brave enough to give themselves over to their art.
Have you done that?
No, and I don’t intend to. They are now solitary, untouchable, barely real existences.
Laura Marling – ‘When Brave Bird Saved’
So you’re fighting being a creative spirit or being a writer? You reluctantly put songs out?
Well, this is the thing: it’s a complete contradiction, I suppose, because I do it and I am very grateful for having that outlet. I’m very grateful for doing a job that I love, but I would never completely give myself over to pursuing life for the sake of my creativity, or I hope I wouldn’t. You can so easily become alienated or completely disconnected from what is reality. Music is not the be-all and end-all of anybody, I don’t think. In the grand scheme of things, what my music or my songwriting means to other people is not grand enough for me to tip myself over the edge.
Are you aware of when a song is coming to you?
Yes, I think so. I think I know when the situation arises. There’s too much clutter in my brain and it does literally feel like big chunks of mess that have come out. I’m pretty unawares as I write. I’m pretty bad company for a couple of days before a song is written.
Why would that be?
Preoccupied, I think. Not by thinking about how I’m going to write a song, but whatever I’m thinking about. I suppose melody is an afterthought. When I do sit down to write a song – I’ve always got a guitar around and I’m always playing guitar when I’m at home – I guess I’ll be coming up with little melody lines and chord sequences all the time without really thinking about it. Then suddenly a song will just come out with one of those chord structures I’ve been playing with. It just seemed, I don’t know, the right time.
Do you record little ideas and later build on them?
No, it’s all from memory. I’m a complete technophobe. Sometimes if I finish a song very quickly then I write it down because I’ll definitely forget it the next day. But I can’t read or write music so I do write down chords and stuff.
Can you just sit and write a song at will because you want to?
I’ve tried, and it’s awful, awful, awful, awful.
Because you’ve put undue pressure upon yourself ?
Yes. I do it as an exercise sometimes: just writing for the sake of writing. Actually that’s a lot easier; you can be a lot more absent-minded, but because you’ve got a guitar in front of you and you’re trying to write a song then you end up trying to write a song about what you think a song should be written about, and it’s always a disaster.
Because it’s not coming from a true place?
Writing a song is a marriage between the guitar and the pen. You wouldn’t isolate the two forms?
No, I never have. It would be incredibly convenient if you could.
Dylan has said that your intellectual mind can hinder the creative impulse.
Ah, nice. Well, that’s interesting. I mean, it depends what he means by that. I take that as what I just said about not allowing oneself to be completely taken over by creativity, which I think is a sensible thing, personally. I don’t know if Mr Dylan would agree. Also, I have to give a little credit to not knowing anything. That’s probably why I write, because I’ve got so many questions unanswered. And also I don’t know my instrument very well, which has helped me a lot. I was never taught the guitar properly and I was never taught music properly. So maybe in that way my lack of intellect has somehow helped my creativity.
Naivety in not knowing an instrument allows a freedom to explore – is that how it is?
Yes, definitely, in some ways the not knowing… you don’t know what potential mistakes you could make. The not knowing is quite important.
Words: Daniel Rachel