"'If you believe the good ones, you have to believe the bad ones,'" the British folk singer recalls someone telling her about reviews. "From that I deduced that it's probably best not to read any of them."
Consequently, she's ignoring near-unanimous accolades. Marling's 2008 debut, "Alas, I Cannot Swim," came out just after her 18th birthday and earned a nomination for Britain's prestigious Mercury Music Prize. Subsequent records (2010's also Mercury-nominated "I Speak Because I Can" and 2011's "A Creature I Don't Know") only continued the stream media and fan praise for the sophisticated talent of a singer-songwriter who is now only 22.
From her home in London, Marling (who expects to release a new, currently untitled album in early 2013) talked about constantly being called wise beyond her years, revealing more about her listeners than herself and limits to her Experiments in Awkwardness that should recall for "Arrested Development" fans that classic guideline, "No touching!"
When: 8 p.m. June 19
Where: Athenaeum Theater, 2936 N. Southport Ave.
You can't search for a Laura Marling interview and not find someone writing about you being wise beyond your years or having a voice that sounds like you're older than you are. How much do you take that as a compliment, or is there a point at which you wish people would stop acting so amazed you're not older?
[Laughs.] I think it reminds me that I'm cursed with a child's face. I'm always going to have the face of a child. I've got a very young-looking face. That annoys me because people always think I'm really young. They think I'm like 15 or 16. I'm constantly getting ID'd for cigarettes and alcohol. I'm sure I won't be so bemoaning of it in a few years time. But I find age to be a strange thing. I don't [mind] that people mention it all the time; I just find it weird that we're so structured by it when it's so subjective.
Maybe now's the time to dye your hair gray so people will say, "There's the wisdom we've been hearing."
[Laughs.] Yeah, maybe. Maybe that would stop it all.
You've said that you have a guitar with you at all times, and if you have a spare moment you pick it up and do some writing but don't actually write down new songs. Do you ever go back to something and almost don't recognize what you've written because it's so entrenched in that time that it came to you?
Yeah, actually that happens very often. It's nice. It feels like every song is something on that day. Everything I write is something I've dealt with so when I come back to them or I play them again live it's always kind of new.
Does it feel like recapturing the way you felt that day, or does it feel like performing a song by somebody else?
It depends. I think when I perform it best I'm back where I was when I wrote it. When I can't quite bring myself to do that then it feels slightly alien.
It seems like you see a lot of change and growth from record to record. Do you now think about this as you work and say, "I love this today, but who knows about in a year?"
[Laughs.] Now I understand when it's appropriate for me to be writing and when I will be writing and what that will mean. And then I'm able to decide—'cause I'm in the studio at the moment doing another album, and I knew that if I didn't do it now it wouldn't be right to do it any later. It wouldn't be relevant to me anymore. And that would be a shame I think. I don't like throwing away perfectly good songs. So I am conscious of it.
Do you have a title yet?
No, not yet.
In your album titles you've had the words "Cannot," "Can" and then "Don't." I assume this one will have something to do with something you can "Do."
[Laughs.] It might, now that you put that thought in my head. [Laughs.]
You've talked about not editing your work. Would you ever change something so people were more likely to understand it, or do you prefer that people don't necessarily know the intricacies of you from songs that can be abstract?
My objective is never so people can know me. When I listen to music I don't want to know the writer; I don't expect to. But I want them to understand something about me. Not that I really consider this my [goal], but if I imagine what I would hope somebody listening [would get, it's] that they understand something about themselves, not something about me. And so I don't think I'd ever go out of my way to make it a biography of my life.
Do you think that's how a lot of people listen to music? I think many people do want to feel like they're getting to know an artist.
I don't know. That's my perception. I'm a fan of music as well. There are artists that I love. You do get an incredible sense of intimacy with some of them and you feel like they're being creative but very honestly, and you do get a sense of intimacy. But I don't feel like I know their life; they're putting into words [something] that I can relate to, and that's what I think entices me to listen.
Is there a sense of isolation that comes with that place of intelligence? After sharing a book (Robertson Davies' "The Rebel Angels") with people, you said, "I gave it to everyone I knew, and no one has read it."
[Laughs.] Yeah, but that is the thing about literature and music. You use it as a way of defining yourself. You use it as an extension of your character. Somebody else's words writing your thoughts. And I think everybody who relates to music is kind of isolated. It's lonely. Everyone who uses the creative side of their brain is that much removed from reality. They are looking for answers wherever they can find them.
Tell me about your Experiments in Awkwardness. Where did that idea come from, why did you do it and when will you do one in Chicago?
[Laughs.] We had a summer last year where we were playing a lot of festivals, and I hate festivals ... I find a huge contradiction because they're meant to be these great get-togethers … and now they're just really over-crowded, really overpriced, and I find them very strange. Anyway, I thought it would be quite interesting if we were doing all these festivals to take people out of that overcrowded, really busy place and put them in a tiny, tiny space and not tell them what was happening. And then go in and play them a song really, really close to them and not acknowledge and not have any kind of normal human interaction with them other than playing the music and then just leaving the room again. And it was two strangers at a time in a room; they had never met each other and they didn't know what they were doing there. We got people to write down what they thought of the experience, what it made them feel. It was really interesting. Some people loved it, and some people thought it was really horrible and some people thought it was like mean of us to do that to them, and some people really got into it. We did it about 10 times.
Can we expect that you'll do it in Chicago?
No, no. We're correlating the results of the experiment now, so I think we're a bit done with that.
How tempting would it be to escalate the level of awkwardness each time? You'd have to start dumping tomato sauce on people at the beginning just to mess with people.
[Laughs.] We did consider how far we could push people. "Could I touch them? Would that be really inappropriate?" We decided yeah, it would.