By Timothy Dwenger – Marquee Magazine – October 1, 2012
Almost twenty years ago, back in 1993, a 21-year-old girl from Norfolk in the east of England happened upon a chance meeting with Grammy winning producer William Orbit and ended up co-writing a song that would launch an unlikely career that has pushed and blended the boundaries of folk and electronica.
Today, Beth Orton is 41, she is married with two children, and she has just released her fifth studio album, Sugaring Season, after a six year break from most aspects of the music business. “I haven’t done a tour or anything since Nancy was born,” Orton said during a recent interview with The Marquee as she relaxed with her son and her husband, Sam Amidon, before a gig in Atlanta. “I did some gigs here and there, it’s not like I’ve completely cut out from everything, but I certainly didn’t perform to the degree that I used to.”
While she took a break from recording and performing to focus on her family, Orton concentrated privately on her songwriting and guitar playing in a little studio that she built behind her house in the country. Lacking a little of the confidence she had once had with her guitar, she took the initiative to reach out to friend, and legendary folk guitarist, the late Bert Jansch, who worked with her to teach her to play with the instrument more and be more confident with it. “Those wintery evenings, sitting around his house drinking tea, eating biscuits, and just playing guitar. It was such a tender time, and such a raw time, as I was pregnant with my daughter when I really started hanging out with him and Loren [Bert’s wife],” she said. “I, at the time, gave myself over to him because I didn’t have any desire to do anything for myself. I was kind of over the whole thing of trying to make a song that might sell this many, or make me that much.”
Jansch’s influence is clear as Sugaring Season is a record that picks up where her 2006 album Comfort of Strangers left off, leaning heavily on a folk influence that suits her narrative style of songwriting perfectly. “I was very happy with my last record, because to me, that was about really owning something and making music that I really loved,” Orton said. “There was just something about that experience that told me that was how I wanted to make music in the future. Then I got pregnant and I lost a bit of confidence.”
It may have taken her a few years to get her confidence back, but in that time she managed to compose a batch of truly impressive songs that not only reveal a rested and rejuvenated musician, but a strong and sensitive woman who isn’t afraid to write introspective and personal songs. “There’s one song called ‘See Through Blue’ that is definitely for my daughter,” said Orton. “It’s my love song to motherhood.”
While “See Through Blue” is a relatively short waltz that features some plunking piano and swirling strings, it’s songs like “Call Me The Breeze” and “Dawn Chorus” that will earn repeated spins on stereos around the world. These are songs that would fit alongside the gems in Orton’s catalog and go a long way toward defining this album as one of the best of her career.
The other thing that helps in that regard is the involvement of the brilliantly talented Tucker Martine, who produced the record and helped Orton to assemble an incredible group of some of the best musicians in the business. “On the version of ‘Candles’ that’s on the record, it was the first time the band had heard the song. At that time, a lot of producers would be setting up the sound, or fiddling around with something, or using the loo or whatever, but Tucker pressed record and it just so happened that was the best take,” she revealed. “It wasn’t like we went on and did it a hundred million times more to try and find the best take, it was just like, ‘Oh wow, that really worked.’ He wasn’t like, ‘Oh no, you couldn’t possibly, it won’t be good enough, I didn’t have this up or that.’ It was just, ‘Yep, that worked.’ We didn’t over-think or second-guess ourselves; we just kept moving through and moving forward. It was really exciting in those respects.”
Just hearing her talk, it’s obvious that just about everything she is doing right now is really exciting to her as she is balancing being the mother of two small children with performing songs from this new record in front of audiences as a solo artist with no safety net.
“I’m coming out solo and that might scare some people, but it’s a really lovely way to reconnect with the audience and have them hear the songs, and not just the new songs, but the old songs, too, as I reinterpret them as well,” Orton said. “It’s a chance to re-evaluate and put things in a different perspective and play the songs as they are. It just seems to really work.”
:: Beth Orton ::