At 22 years old, British singer-songwriter Laura Marling already has left a defined footprint in the country's folk scene, releasing a trio of acclaimed albums, two of which were nominated for the esteemed Mercury Prize.
Her latest, A Creature I Don't Know, was released last September. Smart and funny, Marling toys with literary references and sings in a matured timber reminiscent of Joni Mitchell.
Ahead of a string of Canadian tour dates, Marling spoke to CBC Music about her latest album, literary influences and being part of London's new folk.
Q: Being a British folk singer comes with a lot of associations; is it a title you are comfortable with?
A: I couldn't say I do feel I am that. I'm more at ease being called that than anything else. When I was growing up, folk music was very traditional – shanty music, sea music. To me, that brings up a very different image from where I come from.
Q: A lot has been made of the new British folk scene, including Mumford & Sons and Noah and the Whale. Do you consider yourself part of something?
A: I am slightly cautious of the word "scene." There's a collection of people who've all grown up with a similar background, rifling through their parents' record collections. And I think that naturally creates very similar musicians.
Q: You've received near unanimous positive press for your three records. Does this harm or help when you set out to create new music?
A: I try to stay away from acknowledging the existence of the press as much as I can. Obviously, I do interviews so it's not an especially easy thing to do, but as soon as you cut your work off, you are compromised as an artist because you know no one can hear it. People want people to hear their music and want do it for a living. It's something that is on my mind.
Q: Do you embrace fame?
A: People expect different things from you when you are in the spotlight. For me and the people around, the people I play with a lot ... you are expected to want [fame]. And I don't think people necessarily want it. I think the current definition of fame [is] quite strange.
Q: If you know people know your personal story, does it change the way you write lyrics?
A: I have to consider it, and watch myself. The conclusion is – f--k it. The only people who know are the people who are very close to me, and they know the truth. All of the artists that I love, and the writers, have self-imposed a mystery around them – and they let people decide whatever they want to decide about them. There's a certain bravery in that.
Q: Do you recall the first song you wrote?
A: I've been playing guitar since I was very little. Part of me wishes I learned in my early teens. [My first song] was the product of what you think it should sound like at that age. I absolutely cringe when I think about it.
Q: The lead single on this record, "Sophia," references a piece of the CanLit canon, Robertson Davies' The Rebel Angels.
A: My dad was a huge Robertson Davies fan and he gave me The Rebel Angels, and I read everything else he's written. I think it's absolutely phenomenal. That trilogy, the Cornish Trilogy, was so wonderfully dark with the imagery – and funny. I love laughing at darkness, it's something I really relate to.
When I discovered Robertson Davies – which was only a year and a half ago, when I started writing the album – I didn't know that he died 10 years ago. I was so desperately sad. When I was in Toronto, I went to the college that he taught at, the one with the statue of him.
Q: And there are some Steinbeck cues in this record, too. Another influence?
A: I like the way he personifies objects and landscapes. With all the writers I celebrate, it's more the way they turn a phrase that I get a kick out of.
Q: What are you reading now?
A: I'm reading J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey.
Q: Writers – including the ones we've spoken about – often write to their geography. Does place affect you as a songwriter? Can the same song be written in an English pastoral setting, as in Portobello Market?
A: My writing comes from England as a whole, not London. I spend a fair amount of time in London, but also outside of it. In Canada, you have these huge provinces, but England comes as a whole.
Q: If you could curate a Canadian songwriters' circle and join it, who would you invite?
A: Leonard Cohen. Patrick Watson – he's amazing. And Joni Mitchell.
• Laura Marling plays Montreal's Théâtre Corona on June 16, the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto on June 17 and Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom on June 27.
Patrick Watson performs Adventures in Your Own Backyard, live at Glenn Gould
Must listen: The Archers, or if Mumford and Sons had sons
on Jun 11, 2012