Love Letter To A Record: Howlite’s Alison Thom On Laura Marling’s ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’

Many of us can link a certain album to pivotal moments in our lives. Whether it’s the first record you bought with your own money, the chord you first learnt to play on guitar, the song that soundtracked your first kiss, the album that got you those awkward and painful pubescent years or the one that set off light bulbs in your brain and inspired you to take a big leap of faith into the unknown – music is often the catalyst for change in our lives and can even help shape who we become.

In this series, Music Feeds asks artists to reflect on their relationship with music and share with us stories about the effect music has had on their lives.

Here are their love letters to records that forever changed their lives.

Alison Thom, Howlite: Laura Marling — ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’

Dear Alas I Cannot Swim,

I first met you in year 10 on a burnt CD, wrapped in coloured paper and handed to me, like a drug deal, in the aisle of the school bus by my friend Melissa. Between us, Melissa and I had established something of a piracy ring of Myspace music downloads, YouTube rips and Limewire files. We were the curators of our own secret music club, dedicated to scouring the internet via dial-up for new and exciting artists. There was no band too obscure, no demo too rough, no download too painfully slow. Every few weeks we would return from our crusades and wordlessly exchange handmade cases, with meticulously handwritten notes detailing the contents.

Your first song stood out immediately amongst the mix, a single track of fingerpicked guitar and a girl’s voice, quietly strong. “Lover please, do not fall to your knees – it’s not like I believe in everlasting love.” I searched you in the computer labs and found out Laura was one year older than me, and my heart sank in the way that it does when you see someone else living your dream, saying what you want to say, only more eloquently. I was floored and amazed. I was inspired.

I had to take the train out to Watergardens JB Hi-Fi to buy you. I played you for the first time on my CD player, which I had moved into the bathroom especially (best acoustics + mirrors for practising film clip moves). However, today there would be no lip-syncing. Instead, I sat on the floor, entranced. You were like nothing I had ever heard. I played you through twice. I found your secret title track. My sister demanded I vacated the bathroom so she could shower. I demanded she shut up and listen to the album.

From then, I was hooked. You were in my head, my computer, my iPod nano, my parent’s car. I printed out chords and lyrics. I learnt all your songs. Prior to you, my guitar (and closest neighbours) had been subjected to Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne, and the dreaded Eagles Best-Of tab book. The world of music as I knew it was forever changed. This was something real, something deeper. I could write about things that weren’t boys, I could wear jeans and no make-up, and be taken seriously. I could write five-minute songs if I wanted, sea shanties, interludes, waltzes. I could write poetry.

It is at this point that I must obviously thank you. Together, we deviated to the path less travelled and started a journey that was entirely our own. You led me to Joni Mitchell, to the London folk scene and on to a host of other wonderful musicians who helped shape and inspire me. I learnt from you, I lived by you. I plagiarised you relentlessly, trying to find my own voice somewhere inside yours.

I return to you now and then in moments of nostalgia; primary colours splashed across your cover, beneath the plastic case that snapped after removing the lyric book all the time. You are like a blanket, a warm hug, a reminder that my teenage years weren’t entirely excruciating and awkward. I have followed Laura on her journey too, as we both age and our voices grow deeper and wiser from cigarettes and experience. How young we both sounded then, trying to sound so old! But how wonderful it is now to have that youth immortalised in sound, to remark on, be embarrassed by and proud of.

So thank you, Alas I Cannot Swim, thank you for existing when I needed you most, and for teaching me what I needed to know. They are your songs, but they are mine too.

Howlite’s new single/music video ‘Saviour’ is out now. Catch it here.

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