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Laura Marling on Touring As a Teen and Writing on the Road

CT and Baio also explain the “toilet touring” phenomenon

Hello and welcome to “The Annotated Road Taken,” Episode 3, the third installment of audiovisual support materials for the touring-focused podcast. In the latest episode, we focus on Laura Marling, best known as … Laura Marling!

Laura emerged from a swirling group of young, talented British musicians in the mid-aughts at only 17 years old, as an already (somehow!) fully realized artist. Since then, Laura has steadily created music that has built on, yet never repeated, everything that had preceded it, carving out a unique and powerful presence through her recorded and live work. A particular favorite of mine is her last album, 2017’s gorgeous Semper Femina, which, like most of her best work, feels effortless yet both classic and contemporary.

Laura was gracious enough to talk with Baio and me this past May in the days preceding Vampire Weekend’s first shows in London since 2014. We cover learning to drive in Shepherd’s Bush (specifically to tour across America), Laura’s optimal routines and mental approaches to being on the road and, yes, debate the morality of the term “toilet touring.”

As always, here are links, videos, and helpful reading to go with the podcast. Let’s get into it!

11:40 “You have one gig this summer …”

Earlier this year, Laura returned from an extended break from touring and performing to open for Bob Dylan and Neil Young in front of tens of thousands of people in London’s Hyde Park. She hasn’t lost a step and is in fact still winning people over, as evidenced by one delightfully Guy Ritchie–sounding gent’s review, partially titled “Laura Marley is a real super talented lady.” Almost completely accurate!

13:06 “You’re the hardest-working artist I know …”

Baio is not joking here. Laura is extremely prolific.

15:54 “We toured in a Ford Ka …”

Laura was right and, alas, we have not been offered the delights of the Ford Ka in America as of yet. It does, indeed, look to be quite an undersized car, and thus it makes sense that the only place for a snare drum was on Laura’s lap.

16:37 “We’d call it in England the ‘Toilet Tour’ ...”

Here comes the controversy! As I stated in this week’s intro, I’ve never liked the phrase “toilet touring” because I feel like there is a sense of judgment and dismissal buried within it. Perhaps, though, there is a U.K./U.S. cultural distinction at play here as “The Toilet Circuit” appears to have a more specific meaning and history over there. In fact, Vampire Weekend played a number of those venues early on in our career (like The Roadhouse in Manchester and The Cockpit in Leeds), so I’ve had more experience in the toilet than I even realized.

17:56 “We played at a bowling alley in Park Slope …”

For her second ever U.S. show, 17-year-old Laura went to Union Hall in Brooklyn for a spot of bocce, a performance, and then hiding out in a utility closet while the bar was being raided for underage drinking. Sounds like quite a night!

20:18 “I love Noah and the Whale because I had no responsibility …”

Here is Laura enjoying her responsibility-free lifestyle while singing backup for Noah and the Whale in 2008.

25:07 “How would you find those moments in between songs?”

While performing live entertainment of any kind, managing those potentially contemplative in-between moments is tricky, and they are generally avoided at all costs. Big pop shows fill those moments just as quickly as the various weaponized T-shirt delivery devices emerge the minute the whistle blows at an NBA game. For larger-scale concerts, with all the bodies and gear onstage, every moment outside of the performance feels almost naked, as the silence resonates almost more loudly than all the noise that surrounds it. A solo performance onstage potentially provides the greatest flexibility with those moments, because that single person can control and manipulate them at will. In this example, Laura adeptly handles a crowd that is simultaneously hyped up and respectful, and a mindful introduction makes the song even more impactful.

27:22 “On one tour I was on, I was reading …”

This book! Mutants and Mystics would definitely be featured in Laura’s American West Coast metaphysical reading list.

36:27 “The best European tour I ever did was with Adam Green ...”

Here are Laura and Adam from Bronson Club on May 2, 2008, in Ravenna, Italy, a stop on her favorite European tour.

37:16 “So when we talked to Winston …”

The first The Road Taken callback moment! The Winston referenced here is, naturally, Winston Marshall of Mumford & Sons, et al, our guest from Episode 2.

37:38 “I think at that point Ted and Marcus were my rhythm section …”

The fact that Marcus Mumford toured for a while with Laura Marling is not a defining feature of either’s career, but it is still pretty cool to go back and behold. Marcus has been in a few of the performances already featured but for some really dexterous early Marling-Mumford performances it’s hard to beat this clip.

42:48 “Do you remember the first time we met?”

It was during both of our first-ever tours of Australia at the festival Splendour in the Grass in 2008. Alas, I am currently unable to find any evidence from the discussed photo shoot (buried in memory due to hand-holding for Laura and for jumping on command for myself). But here VW is from that day, and here is a little cultural context from 2008 Aussie extreme sports bros.

45:14 “There’s been a couple of jobsworth in-house sound engineers …”

Jobsworth is another U.K. colloquialism, perhaps best defined in this extremely British folk song/word explainer.

47:51 “The first time we went to Argentina, that just blew me away …”

Two performances from some of Laura’s favorite shows ever on her maiden trip to Buenos Aires in 2011. From the looks of it, she packed multiple excellent outerwear options for that trip!