This show will take place at the Athenaeum Theatre (2936 N. Southport).
It’s considered lazy journalism, or just plain old cliché, to say that an artist’s work gives you “the chills.” Or to describe how saltwater wells up in your jaded Internet-era eyes as you listen. But in the case of Laura Marling’s ambitious new LP Once I Was an Eagle, these things really do tend to happen. After seven years of playing music professionally, three albums, one BRIT Award (UK Grammy equivalent), two Mercury Prize nods, and one move across an ocean and a continent, the precocious and preternaturally talented British singer-songwriter has attained what sounds undeniably like vocal, emotional, and artistic maturity. It’s a record for the ages. Released at the age of 23.
Eagle is a concept album, sort of. It follows a thread of mythology, lyrically and metaphorically. An eagle and a dove, the devil, and the sea populate her cast of across he States. The loose narrative is this: A character, or perhaps alter ego, Rosie, journeys from heartbreak to defiant temptress to vulnerable lover to confident, contemplative woman. Through it all, a bird flies in and out of Rosie’s consciousness, attempting to show her the way as she grapples with her place in the world.
The songwriting process, to Marling, is less about musical conceits than about weighty life questions. “I was focusing a lot on the frustrations and the walls I was coming up against, whether I consider myself an artist,” she says. “Being an artist doesn’t necessarily mean you are aggrandizing yourself. It’s just taking what you’ve seen and what you’ve learned and translating the experience for other people to see and learn from.” The dance between independence and codependence, and issues of modern morality, were on her mind too. “I really wanted to question, in retrospect, the conventions of what it is to be alone or what it is to be in love or what it means to be a good living human person,” she says. “How do you continue to improve yourself as a human being if all you’re focusing on is not being alone?”
Appropriately enough, Marling has just decamped from East London to lush, hilly Silverlake, in Los Angeles, having fallen in love with the western U.S. on her tour. It’s that facing-the-fear thing again. She’s availing herself of the natural wonders of the West Coast—Big Sur, Joshua Tree, Sequoia National Park. Marling likes to tell a story about meeting a shaman in Oregon who directed her to the headwaters of Mount Shasta, where the water is said to have magical powers. She drove out in the pitch black, alone, and wandered into the stream, which she could sense only by its icy touch. Scared senseless, she collected a bottle full of water, and drank it. It tasted as pure and delicious as was promised, “like what regular water would taste like if you were on mushrooms, but I wasn’t, “ she says. “It’s the collection of these vulnerable experiences that allows you to have a different perspective.”