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'Heightened version of herself': Laura Marano talks music

At 19, Laura Marano has packed plenty of coolness into her life. Landing the leading role of singer-songwriter Ally Dawson Disney Channel’s recently wrapped series “Austin & Ally” stands out. So does signing with Big Machine Records – that’s Taylor Swift’s label – in March. (Her first single hasn’t yet been released.)

But Marano, who’s in town Saturday to host WKSE-FM’s Kiss the Summer Hello concert at Canalside, has at least one childhood dream still unfulfilled.

“As a kid I had the fantasy of going down the falls in a barrel,” she told The News by phone. “That was just the dream.”

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[Read Tim O'Shei's preview of Kiss the Summer Hello & chat with R5's Rocky Lynch]

Then, before talking about her budding music career, Marano thought she should toss in a qualifier. Her fan base – for the moment – is loaded with impressionable kids. “Obviously it’s not safe and I would not want to do it now!” she added. “But I’m so excited to finally go.”

Excited is the right word to describe the Los Angeles native’s overall outlook on her career, judging from her recent phone interview with The News.

Here’s our conversation, edited for space and clarity:

Question: Now that “Austin & Ally” has wrapped, are you still going to act? Or is music your focus?

Marano: I’m definitely focusing more on music. Acting will always be my life, 100 percent, but at this point, and I think for the next year and maybe longer, music is the No. 1 priority.

Q: People are about to know you as you — Laura Marano — and not the fictional character of Ally. How does that feel?

Marano: It’s really exciting for me. You have to understand, this is something I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve never had the opportunity. My mother had a children’s theater and that’s how my sister (Vanessa Marano of ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth”) and I got into acting.

Even though my mom didn’t want us in the entertainment business – that’s a whole other story – she knew people in the acting business, which is great. It definitely helps when you live in L.A., and you know people. But for music? No one in my family has done music. I remember being 12 in seventh grade, and writing songs since I was 5 –and thinking, “This is what I want to do.” But I 100-percent love acting, loved being in that business, but I want to do music. I really had no way of connecting with this world I so desperately wanted to be in.

When I got “Austin & Ally” – which was kind of the dream for me because it was a show about a girl who writes songs and does music – not have people only seen me as a singer too, but it definitely opened up connections.

Q: As a solo artist, do you feel like you’re presenting yourself onstage? Or is it still like playing a character?

Marano: You’re yourself, but you’re a heightened version of yourself, if that makes sense. You are – for lack of a better phrase – a more extreme version of yourself. As an actress, you’re bringing parts of you, but you’re definitely a character. You’re creating characters or telling stories. As a singer, you’re telling your story, specifically. You’re letting everyone in on the story of your life, which is really an amazing idea.

Q: Since your solo music hasn’t been released yet, what can fans expect?

Marano: They can expect pop. I love pop. They can expect a One Republic-y kind of pop. A Maroon 5 sugar kind of pop. That’s the music I’m really drawn to. I love to write in that vein, I love to sing in that vein. Lyrically, I love telling stories. My goal for every song is that everyone can imagine a music video with it. Whenever I’m writing, that’s always my first thing – what would the music video be for this?

R5's Laura Marano explains the difference between playing a character and performing as herself.

Laura Marano explains the difference between playing a character and performing as herself.

Q: What’s been your biggest struggle as a musician?

Marano: My favorite part of music is performing. I love writing — that would be up top with performing. But actually recording music, I’m always very critical. I feel like sometimes sounds really young. And I want to make sure I appeal to younger audiences, because I don’t want to forget about those fans – they’re amazing and awesome.

But I obviously want to appeal to a larger audience as well, a little bit older. I don’t know what it is about my genes, I feel like I look 12, I sound 12. That’s sometimes been my struggle when I’m recording and hear the song back and I’m like, well, let’s try to get an older vocal. But that’s been my thing.

Q: On that note, what’s your plan for establishing yourself outside the realm of Disney?

Marano: Everyone has a different strategy. For me, I think when you establish yourself not just as a singer but as a musician as well – I love to play the piano, there’s going to be a large portion of my set where I’m on the piano and sitting down – I think people 100-percent connect with that.

I think no matter what age you are, when you see a live band and an artist who’s not only evoking the song with her vocals, but doing the piano, that can broaden the audience. No matter how old you are, you can always enjoy that aspect.

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