It is a sunny, warm spring day in London and Laura Marling is in her garden contemplating how coronavirus has changed everything. "It is so much quieter," she notes and, sure enough, there's virtually no hint of the outside world during our FaceTime interview. You would not know she was residing in one of the world's busiest cities.
The lockdown has been easier for her than most, she reasons. "I'm used to being by myself, and spending time away working on my music. But I am worried for my relatives, especially my parents and aunts."
Like virtually every professional musician on the planet, Marling has had to adjust to not being on the road, playing her songs. She has a wonderful new album and had lined up a tour to promote it. All the shows have been cancelled.
"I don't know if it will ever happen, this tour I mean," she says. "But it's fine - there are far more important things in the world right now."
That Marling is not preoccupied with her own difficulties is hardly surprising to anyone who has listened to her music. Her songs are possessed of great empathy. She is a confessional songsmith of the old school, one whose work is a reminder of greats such as Sandy Denny and Joni Mitchell. Leonard Cohen too.
Marling says she grew up adoring the songs of Cohen and, on 'Alexandra', the opening track on her exquisite new album, Song for Our Daughter, she was directly inspired by his song, 'Alexandra Leaving'. "I wanted to explore who this Alexandra was, what her interior life might have been and what happens to a person who survives that kind of passion."
Marling has made music for as long as she can remember. Her father, Sir Charles William Somerset Marling, taught her how to play guitar when she was old enough to hold the instrument properly.
"He loves Neil Young, and I'm pretty sure the first song I learnt to play was 'The Needle and the Damage Done'."
A dark, meditative song about the coruscating effects of heroin addition, it was not the sort of fare a primary school child might typically be taught to play.
But, then, she did not have a conventional upbringing, as her father's aristocratic title might suggest. Her dad - a baronet - ran a recording studio and was something of a key background figure in the British folk scene of the 1970s. He was a session guitarist of considerable note too.
"I was heavily influenced by the music my parents were listening to - and I still love that music," she says. "I go back to people like Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell all the time, partly because the music offers so much, but also it's a bit like an education. The more you write your own songs, the more you want to know how other people wrote theirs."
Marling may be only 30, but this is her seventh solo album. She's not one to pause releasing albums when inspiration comes to her, although the three-year gap between this one and Semper Femina is the longest of her career to date.
"I had to reset," she says, simply. "I had to think about my music in a new way, otherwise I would just have been making the same sort of songs and that would have got very boring.
"Having been so young when I started [releasing music], I was trying to claw back some ownership over my own narrative - I hate that word - but that's become a focus of mine."
Part of the reset was forming a band with Mike Lindsay from Tunng, the English alt-folk group. They called the project Lump and released an album in 2018 that didn't attract a huge amount of interest but it allowed Marling the space she needed to work in a completely different way.
Semper Femina was a treatise on femininity and feminism, and Song for Our Daughter is cut from the same cloth. The songs are inspired by an imaginary child as Marling tries to distil what she has learned about the world and how her 'daughter' can navigate life's twists and turns.
"As my 20s shifted into my 30s I started to have this sort of maternal feeling for the world," she says. "And my preoccupations, unsurprisingly, were centred on being a woman, especially in the times that we live in."
She took her time to make the album, working for the first time in a studio she had constructed in the basement of her house. "I was able to experiment with creating an orchestral backdrop of backing vocals or playing slide guitar, which I'd normally need a few takes to do. It was the sort of stuff I'd feel very embarrassed to do in front of other people."
Over the course of seven albums, Marling has managed the tricky art of delivering expertly produced music that also feels completely homespun. It ensures an intimate listening experience. She credits her long-term engineer, Dom Monks, with helping her to fashion the music in such a way.
"He has a signature sound and is becoming something of a superstar in his own right lately. He did the last two Big Thief records. The idea is to take my vocals and put it directly between your two ears - which might sound a bit ridiculous, but that's what I'm trying to get at."
Marling came to prominence when she provided guest vocals on a Noah and the Whale song when she was just 17. A year later, her debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim was released. It attracted the sort of euphoric reviews that might have messed with the head of anyone less mature. It was also nominated for the Mercury Music Prize - losing out to Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid.
"I don't mean for this to sound patronising, but when I look at the young female artists coming through today, they're really confident. They know what they're about. I wish I had some of that confidence when I was that age.
"What helped me keep my feet on the ground," she notes with a wry laugh, "was I was never in any danger of being wildly popular. And that's been a blessing in its own way, although one hopes that expands over the course of my career."
The only happening that threatened to test her feet-on-ground capabilities was winning a Brit Award. "But," she chuckles, "it had no consequence whatsoever.
"I have all kinds of insecurities but they don't often lie in my ability as a songwriter. I sort of amaze myself about how little I know about contemporary music and how I feel that reflects badly on me. I just keep going back to certain period of music, to '69 to '72 and there are so many riches there."
Although Marling has little interest in such modern fancies as social media, she has embraced Instagram as a medium in which to give guitar tutorials. Every Sunday at 7pm she uploads a new lesson. She's a good teacher - warm and witty.
"I call them Isolation Guitar Tutorials," she says, "and I hope people get something out of it at this time when we're all having to stay indoors a lot and have lots of time on our hands.
"I love the idea of a young kid somewhere picking up the guitar and maybe learning something from me. I was lucky enough to have had that hands-on help when I was young, and maybe this - in a virtual way - can help someone too."
'Song for Our Daughter' is out now