“There was no intention, to be honest,” says Beth Orton of her swing on her latest album, Kidsticks, from acoustic guitars to the kind of electronic sound familiar from her mid-1990s recordings.
“I was in contact with Andy [Hung, from the electronic group F*** Buttons] out of the fact that we liked each other – we’d met when he did a mix of a song from [Orton’s 2014 album] Sugaring Season – and we thought we should just try doing something else together from scratch. For no other reason that s***s and gigles we went into a friend’s studio in their garden in LA where I was living at the time and we just started making music together. He put a keyboard in front of me and I started playing it and he would change the sounds and it was just sweet then things went from there.
“He left after about ten days and I continued working to what was pretty simple four-bar loops just when I could – I was also doing a Central Reservation [anniversary] tour and bits and pieces at the end of Sugaring Season – but as it went along I was writing songs to these four-bar loops and I just felt there was something really special and I got pretty deep into it.
“I’d send stuff back to Andy in England and a record started to grow very naturally without there being any preconceived idea of what it should be.”
As the songs progressed Orton drew in other collaborators. “There’s a wealth of people in LA that were incredibly lovely to work with and it became an exciting, many and varied adventure. Bringing in Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear – he got an additional production credit because he really was involved as well, he helped in some ways meld the more live instrumentation with the beats, especially on songs like Waves and Snow and Moon. Then there’s also the live band that I went in with a great engineer called Jake Aron. It was just an extraordinary experience to watch something grow and each time go away and be on my own with it and sit with it and go, ‘OK, what do I make from this now?’ and it kept evolving in a very natural, unstressful kind of way.”
Orton says it was liberating not to play guitar on this record. “I think that it really changed up how I wrote songs. I don’t exactly know why – there’s probably lots of practical reasons – but it just allowed me to access a different part of my voice and a different range and also an emotional range as well, I suppose.”
She found her new way of working “took any self-consciousness away”. “I don’t read music, I didn’t study music, everything I do comes from a feeling, it never comes from a thought,” she says. “But then again it’s tricky because there is thought involved. I was just allowing myself to go with what was each moment, which was lovely.”
Orton has described Kidsticks as a ‘soul record’. She says she didn’t like being pigeonholed as a folk musician or acoustic singer-songwriter. “I love soul music,” she explains, “I’ve worked with Terry Callier, I’ve always done my bit, as in I’ve always been around the edges of enjoying soul music and I always think there’s been an element of that in what I’ve done.”
Touring the new songs, she’s found they work “beautifully” alongside her older material. “The older songs come to life in the light of the newer ones and vice versa. It really enhances one and the other together. It’s been lovely to hear the old songs re-energised by this new material, the way they stand together. It’s been great doing it live and I’m super excited to be touring it in England now because I’ve done America and some parts of Europe but I’ve not had chance to bring it round to UK audiences yet.”
Beth Orton plays at Leeds Beckett University Students’ Union on October 3. For details visit http://www.bethortonofficial.com/
It’s been lovely to hear the old songs re-energised by this new material, the way they stand together.