Laura Marling: ‘Because it's a collaboration, it's a different parameter that is being set'
Singer-songwriter Laura Marling on her psychedelic experiment with Mike Lindsay of Tunng...
THE greatest musical side projects tend to have one thing in common – they offer their stars a chance to think outside the box.
Sure, this has resulted in bum notes such as David Bowie’s 80s supergroup Tin Machine.
But it has also offers listeners the likes of Gorillaz and, more recently, Lump.
Lump is the creation of singer-songwriter Laura Marling and producer Mike Lindsay of Tunng, a band sometimes described as the founding fathers of folktronica.
Together, they are gearing up to release their second record, Animal.
“There was a blueprint that existed for the first album,” Lindsay explains over Zoom, sat beside Marling on a sofa in his softly lit home in Margate, Kent.
“It was trying to find a way of unlocking the Lumpy door and making something that fits with where we started off – but takes us into a new unexplored area.
“So quite experimental but with a blueprint in place.”
Lump is not only the name of their group.
It is also the name of an autonomous creature, their mascot – a furry, hulking animal similar to a yeti that lurks in their trippy promotional photography and music videos.
Marling spent last summer making an eight-foot version which they hope to hang above them on stage when they go on tour, like some psychedelic marionette.
“It’s very freeing,” explains Hampshire-raised Marling, who has four times been nominated for the Mercury Prize.
“As much as I would claim that I’m not affected by the assumption people might make that my songwriting is confessional – which I find to be extremely annoying – I am sort of aware there is that element to it.
“And with Lump, because it’s a collaboration and because I’m writing in real time in front of Mike, it’s a different parameter that is being set.
“I’m almost trying to entertain him while I’m writing.
“Do you know what I mean?
“By how weird a lyric I can slip in.”
While their self-titled debut album was recorded in a London basement studio, Animal was recorded in Lindsay’s Margate home.
This created a more relaxed environment and allowed Marling to prowl the house and garden as she came up with the right lyrics.
“There’s the sea, there’s lots of painters, lots of musicians and a community of people that help each other out,” the bearded and wise-cracking Lindsay explains.
“You don’t need phones, you can just sort of wander down the street and do the old, ‘Howdy doody’ which I like.
“I missed that.
“I used to live in Reykjavik and that has the same thing.”
Inspired by the North Sea, his compositions became more circular and sweeping.
Marling, meanwhile, continued the template laid down during their first album and arrived having not heard any of his music.
Helped by her recent master’s in psychoanalysis, she improvised “pointillist”, almost stream of consciousness lyrics, touching on both the banal and weird.
“The lyrics were written quite off the cuff and without much editing or focus,” recalls Marling.
“Not to make it sound lazy – it’s exactly how we did the first album.
“The first album lyrically has quite a nonsensical first impression but it does make sense in some weird way, which is how I think the human mind works anyway.
“It was trying not to box yourself into classic tired tropes.”
Sometimes, however, Marling’s own persona would break through.
“It’s very easy to switch between them and there were a few instances where the Laura Marling voice cropped up and was actually acknowledged by both of us, then shoved back from whence it came.
“And it’s very clear when anything’s too sincere or internal – too songwriter-y basically – it’s not appropriate for Lump.”
Lindsay confirms his favourite part of the creative process is its unpredictable nature.
“That’s what’s so lovely about it,” he enthuses.
“That I don’t really know where the tunes are going to end up.
“I’ve been trying to make a platform of twisted, lovely, odd-timed wonk to then give to Laura as a puzzle to solve – and then you solve it.”
The project also offers Lindsay a chance to stretch out and try some of his more abstract material.
“It’s totally liberating, free, exciting, adventurous,” he adds.
“I get to explore all the strange instruments and bits and bobs I’ve got lying around.
“I can explore until I’ve found something and I don’t have to share it with anybody for a while.
“So I’m interested in that.
“Then I have to sit back and think, ‘That sounds weird. It must be ready to show Laura’.
“But actually the record is not that weird,” he adds after a pause.
“It might even be more accessible than the first record.
“It is lovely to just work with one other person.
“I produce people and work with other people in that way.
“But it’s about writing and creating and building something together.”
When we speak, the pair have just finished a week of rehearsals ahead of a tour this autumn and summer, bolstered by two other musicians on drums and bass.
“It’s surprisingly quite wig-out and quite meditative,” Marling says of their live style.
The singer has also begun to think about how they will present their furry mascot to the world.
“I’ve also been learning to computer animate,” she smiles conspiratorially.
“I’ve made a 3D version of Lump on a piece of software.
“So we might do something with that and some projections.”
Before our Zoom call ends, Marling turns their camera to show me a hulking, furry creature resting gently beside them on the sofa.
It’s Lump itself.
Animal by Lump is release on July 30 on Partisan/Chrysalis Records.