British Invasion: Laura Marling's Fearless Folk The young singer, part of a wave of British women finding success in the U.S. by making old sounds new, is reimagining folk with clear-eyed lyrics that lay bare her dreams and insecurities. The 18-year-old's debut album is called Alas, I Cannot Swim.
NPR logo

British Invasion: Laura Marling's Fearless Folk

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
British Invasion: Laura Marling's Fearless Folk

British Invasion: Laura Marling's Fearless Folk

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


We heard yesterday from the Welsh soul singer Duffy. She's one in a new crop of British women singer-songwriters. Today, 18-year-old Laura Marling. She came in to our New York studios and told me she understands that people will lump her in with other contemporary female British singers. But, she says, they're a gender, not a genre.

Ms. LAURA MARLING (Singer): It's not an insult, but it's strange, because we come from completely different places. The only thing we have in common is that we're female.

SHAPIRO: It seems as though in some ways you've sort of tried to resist the image-based mainstream commercial success that many other musicians strive for. How do you approach your career in that sense?

Ms. MARLING: Oh, I just think of everything I do and how happy it will make me to do it. I don't like having my photograph taken, for instance, so I don't do that often. And I play guitar and sing, and that's my thing. I'm not much of a talker.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MARLING: If there's a chance, I need to play my guitar and sing on that.

SHAPIRO: Do you have your guitar there? You want to play something for us?

Ms. MARLING: Yeah, sure. This is called "Cross Your Fingers."

(Soundbite of song, "Cross Your Fingers")

Ms. MARLING: (Singing) Look down on the body that you have grown. The mountains stand around you, they're not your own. And light squares and bodies are all you see since you broke down, since I broke down, since we broke down. I jump into your grave and dieā€¦

SHAPIRO: What's that meeting like where you tell Virgin Records, actually, no I'm not going to have my photo on the album jacket?

Ms. MARLING: If they ever tried to make me do anything like that, I would down toss(ph).

SHAPIRO: Is that a British expression? I'm not familiar with it.

Ms. MARLING: Down toss. It's not working, back, put the guitar in(ph). Music - the music industry is whatever you want it to be. If you want to be mega famous, you're going to have to do things that people tell you. Until you get mega famous, and then you can tell everybody what to do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: As you've gotten bigger, have there been moments that people have said, no, we need you to do this and you've said that's just not going to happen?

Ms. MARLING: Yeah. Of course, of course. And you just have to stay in control. And I've got - and I think I'm lucky because my dad ran a studio when we were growing up, a recording studio. So I knew a bit of sort of know how about it. So, I'm bloody lucky, really. And I just I stay in control, because it is my career. And, yeah, that's, yeah, just, like, common sense, really.

(Soundbite of song, "Cross Your Fingers")

Ms. MARLING: (Singing) Oh, you crawled out of the sea, straight into my arms, straight into my arms.

SHAPIRO: I understand, when you started your national tour about a year and a half ago, there was a concert that you were actually not allowed to play because you weren't old enough. Will you tell me that story?

Ms. MARLING: It was my first U.K. tour. And we'd all been traveling around the country in this, you know, rubbish old van. And then we got to London, and we went in and we soundchecked. I was in the dressing room, and the manager of the club came in and said, do you have any ID, miss? I said no. He said that his bouncer had read in the paper that I was playing here tonight, and I was 17.

And the reason that it was such a big deal, they usually don't really care in England, but it was because it was a gay strip club.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MARLING: And they had a strip license, so I couldn't go in.

SHAPIRO: But a crowd had formed to hear you.

Ms. MARLING: Yes. So, yes. And my band - I was just really upset because we'd sold out the gig. I mean, it was only 200 capacity, anyway. My band just marched outside, and we played on the street, outside two sex shops in Soho.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MARLING: It was really fun. I was running off adrenaline from that gig for like weeks after.

SHAPIRO: Your performance style has been described as stare intensely at a spot on the floor. How do you feel about performing for people?

Ms. MARLING: I love it. I love it. I used to get horrendously nervous. I didn't love it when I was a nipper.

SHAPIRO: The 18-year-old says.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MARLING: Yeah. But I've grown to love it. It's like an exciting fear.

SHAPIRO: What's it a fear of?

Ms. MARLING: Playing in front of the room full of people.

SHAPIRO: Well, will you play something else for us? Given that we're in an intimate little studio?

Ms. MARLING: Yeah, sure.

SHAPIRO: A mere handful of people.

Ms. MARLING: This is called, "Alas, I Cannot Swim."

(Soundbite of song, "Alas, I Cannot Swim")

Ms. MARLING: (Singing) There's a house across the river, but alas I cannot swim, and a garden of such beauty that the flowers seem to grin. There's a house across the river, but alas I cannot swim. I'll live my life regretting that I never jumped in.

It's a certain amount of fantasy, there being this particular formula for living and for having a real life that I haven't done because I left school. I didn't go to university. And I didn't enjoy school at all, but I loved literature and I loved music. And that's what I knew I loved. And - but because I didn't take the exams - you know, I think it's basically my insecurity, not having finished my school years.

(Soundbite of song, "Alas, I Cannot Swim")

Ms. MARLING: (Singing) There's a life across the river that was meant for me. Instead, I live my life in constant misery. There's a light across the river, but I do not see why I should please those who will never be pleased.

Ms. MARLING: You know, you are what you can prove you've done. That's how people judge you. You know, I've released an album, so I can prove to people that I was a songwriter. And people that have finished university can prove to people that I've got a degree and I've worked to something. And I think - like I love so many things, but I haven't got any qualifications, you know? Apart from the album. The album is my qualification, I guess.

(Soundbite of song, "Alas I Cannot Swim")

Ms. MARLING: (Singing) There is gold across the river, but I don't want none. I would rather be tried than held up by a golden gun. Saying work more earn more live more, have more fun. Saying work more earn more live more, have more fun. Saying work more earn more live more, have more fun.

SHAPIRO: That's Laura Marling, playing "Alas, I Cannot Swim," the title track from her new album. And it's a hidden track on the album.

Ms. MARLING: Yeah. You gave the game away, there.

SHAPIRO: Oh, I'm sorry.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SHAPIRO: And you can hear more of Laura Marling's songs at the music section of


And this is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

SHAPIRO: And I'm Ari Shapiro. Steve Inskeep is back on Monday. And Renee, it's been a pleasure hosting with you these last couple of weeks.

MONTAGNE: And it's been a pleasure having you sort of next to me, 3,000 miles away in the host chair there in DC.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.