By Selena Fragassi | For the Sun-Times
Laura Marling has always been a bit old-school. At just 25-years-old, the English songbird has often been classified an “old soul,” endlessly compared to Joni Mitchell with her familiar rich voice and confessional songwriting and heralded as the harbinger of the acoustic nu folk movement since her debut, 2008’s “Alas, I Cannot Swim” created rippling waves. She loves reading (lately avant-garde vets Rainer Maria Rilke and Alejandro Jodorowsky) and collecting vinyl from 1969 and, honestly, Marling’s not too keen on cell phones, which is why she’s politely asking everyone who attends her double-header at Martyrs this weekend to “keep them in their pockets.”
LAURA MARLING When: 8 p.m., November 21 & 22 Where: Martyrs, 3855 N. Lincoln Tickets: $25 (Nov. 21 is sold out) Info: (773) 404-9494; martyrslive.com
For good reason though — on this ‘”back to basics” jaunt, which visits small clubs in only four cities, Marling is debuting her sixth album, “from front to back,” which is not due out until in the spring or summer of 2016. More than just keeping it off the Internet, she says, “The idea of it is to have that [old-fashioned] intimacy of knowing that only the people who were at that show heard that music.”
Though Marling is mum on what the songs might sound like — other than saying “I’m back” to the folk roots after toying with electric guitar on 2015’s “Short Movie” — she does admit the new album takes her into new songwriting territory.
“It seems to be about my relationship to women —my fascination and adoration and bewilderment for them. It feels like an exciting time for women, and I like being a part of it,” she says. “I’m coming to an age where a lot of my friends are having kids or really doing things in their careers and making big choices. It feels like we’re the first generation that gets to be in our mid-20s and decide we’re not so constructed by society to tell us what we need to be doing.”
She certainly has lived her life that way. Born and raised in the idyllic landscape of Berkshire, England, where her father ran a recording studio that Black Sabbath was rumored to have used, Marling started playing guitar at age five, and quit high school at age 16 to pursue her dream. She escaped to London where she found kinship with a band of musicians, eventually being asked to join the lineup of the folk group Noah and the Whale, before frontman (and former boyfriend) Charlie Fink helped produce Marling’s debut album when she was just 18 years old, shortly before being involved with Marcus Mumford (of Mumford and Sons). “Alas, I Cannot Swim” was a huge success, certified gold and nominated for a Mercury Music Prize. The four records that quickly followed were all just as remarkable (one garnering Marling a Brit Award) and hyperbolically established the singer as the voice of a generation.
Though Marling says, “I never imagined I’d be able to do this,” by 23 she was completely overwhelmed by her life of nonstop touring and recording and abruptly stopped it, not sure if she’d ever return. She moved to L.A. on a whim in late 2013 (where she still lives part-time), lived in a yurt in Joshua Tree for a while, applied to a poetry school (she was denied) and ended up joining a quasi-cult yoga community.
“I think I turned left right at the right time,” she jokes, though admitting the experience did renew her faith in herself as a musician and resulted in a more daring release, “A Short Movie.”
“My relationship with music is the best it’s ever been,” she says, also bubbling about how much she has “stepped up” the musicianship on her latest album, which includes working with songwriter/guitarist/composer Blake Mills for the first time.
“I came away from that year not believing how flippant I was to be a musician or creative or have had the success that has come to me. I came back from that really knowing what I’m doing. Now I wake up in the morning knowing I’m a musician and content that that’s what I’ll be doing today.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.