Listeners don’t need to know the narrative behind her new fourth effort, “Once I Was an Eagle,” to fully appreciate it, according to English neo-folk chanteuse Laura Marling. But she’s happy to recount it.
“It follows a central character wandering through a gray landscape, and all the while she’s followed by this silent bird,” she says. “Which doesn’t come into play until the end of the album, when it hurts its wing and falls at her feet. And she finds a reason for living in saving this bird, and — once its wing is fixed — she sends it off to an unknown person across the sea, whom she can see but can’t speak to.”
The avian figure — which morphs from eagle to dove — represents freedom, says the scholarly 23-year-old, who plays The Chapel this weekend.
“The eagle is a very dominating bird, the dove is a very peaceful bird, and then Little Bird — who is the other character — is, I suppose, love, kind of silently and slightly stupidly flitting around in the background,” she says.
One lilting track, “Undine,” taps into Greek mythology (“You had to be called by Undine down to the water to have naivety reinstated upon you,” she says), and another, the percussive first single, “Master Hunter,” sums up her simmering frustration of “not knowing any of the answers.”
The genesis of “Eagle”? Marling woke up one day feeling overwhelmed by existential questions. She was tired of performing with a band, tired of the touring life and starting to wonder what it all meant.
“It was a crisis, but a minor one,” she says. “Just asking what justifies one’s existence, what’s satisfying and what isn’t, and how do you decipher truth and morality, and noting at one point how hopeless it all appeared, and how sad. It was a blinding front of important issues that you simply have to address in order to carry on doing what you’re doing.”
Many modern artists would have flaunted their feelings on Facebook. But the privacy-conscious Marling never overshares. Her sister runs her Twitter account and all other online outlets with business in mind, not chattiness.
“You just have to be clear about your boundaries, as I am, and only do what you’re comfortable with,” she says. So instead, she retreated to her producer friend Ethan Johns’ country studio and — backed by Johns and cellist Ruth de Turberville — recorded the acoustic “Eagle” in a cathartic 10 days.
What did Marling get out of her system? “Well, every record feels like an exorcism, to some extent,” she says. “But I’m already writing another record, most of it on electric guitar. So I must have moved on!”
Where: Chapel, 777 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $20 to $25
Contact: (415) 551-5157, www.ticketfly.com