The Beast

Album: A Creature I Don't Know (2011)
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Songfacts®:

  • The centrepiece of A Creature I Don't Know, this slice of southern gothic mania finds Marling summoning the feminine divine Sophia but instead is confronted by her inner Devil. The image of the beasts within human nature recurs throughout the album. She told NME: "I put it in the middle because I wanted to swell up to that point and then it kind of dies down again. I was doing all the demos at home, and then I was at my parents house for the weekend and I dug out one of my dad's old Gibson electrics, and an old pedal. And I've never used an electric guitar, and I've never plugged in a pedal or whatever… but I put some electric on there, and I was like, 'Hmmmmmm. This could be fun!' And then by the time we came to recording it, (giggles) we had four electric guitars on there.

    It was stupid. Amazing-stupid. The sound was like..my voice was getting dragged down or getting y'know.. enveloped by drums and guitar. I thought that was more fitting for the lyrics to come through. It's a really simple song, and there's not much going on lyrically and there's not much going on melodically, but the sound. The sound was perfect."
  • The A Creature I Don't Know title comes from British biographer Jehanne Wake's novel Sisters of Fortune. The phrase helps introduce the idea of 'beastliness,' a theme that resurfaces throughout the album in particular this song, of which Marling says: "It's the one I still can't believe I wrote. It's quite unsettling; it was quite unsettling to record, and quite unsettling to play to people, and it's quite unsettling to listen to, I think." It is also, she says, a quite provocative song. "Sound-wise it's just a punch in the face, and the imagery is way darker than I intended it to be." Marling adds that it is up to the listener to decide what the beast might be. "But to me, my beast is just giving in to all kinds of horribleness, that feeling of insanity or loss of control, of thinking 'Is this it - have I finally lost my mind?' And there's nothing anybody can do about it."
  • All 10 tracks on A Creature I Don't Know were played in the same tuning. According to Marling: "The reason was probably as simple as because I was bored of the other tuning, and it's always nice to feel as if you don't know your instrument again... It's DGDGBD - but the B string, if you make it B flat then it's minor and if you make it A then it's a seventh. It's quite a hard tuning."
  • Marling struggled to perform against the backdrop of overpowering drums in the studio, which added to the overall uneasiness of the song. She explained in Daniel Rachel's The Art of Noise: Conversations with Great Songwriters: "When we started playing it I'd never played with somebody playing a full drum kit with sticks, and I couldn't physically sing loud enough to get heard over the drums, even though the drums were in a booth and I was in a room with everybody else. That is now important in how we perform it, in that it sounds like a struggle. It's not a comfortable song to play or to listen to. It's not satisfying. There is some importance in the general uncomfortableness of all the instrumentation."

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