Beth Orton strikes a mature chord

Beth Orton has hit the sweet spot.

Since we last heard from her in 2006, the haunting British singer-songwriter’s personal life has undergone some dramatic changes: She fell in love. She got married. She turned 40. She got dropped by her record label. And most profoundly, she became a mom for the first (and second) time.

“And all that’s just happened in the past couple of years,” the tired but happy 41 year old exclaims. “For me, it’s just a very different way of living. Coming from a place of having not much family and not much connection with the family that I do have, suddenly I have this huge extended family. I have uncles and aunts and grandparents, the whole deal. And it’s amazing. I feel really blessed and really grateful. It’s completely enriched my life in a way that I didn’t even know could happen.”

Not surprisingly, it’s also enriched her art. Orton’s metaphorically titled (and long-overdue) sixth album Sugaring Season captures her at her most natural and mature, fully dispensing with the trendy trip-folk electronics of ’90s albums like Trailer Park for warm acoustic instrumentation, a timeless vibe and the wisdom that comes with age.

Between juggling calls and picking at a room service lunch in her New York hotel room, Orton discussed her time away, being one with nature and loving Roberta Flack:

While you were on maternity leave, did you stop writing and disconnect from music?

No, I did the exact opposite. I’ve actually never been more connected to the writing part of myself as I was, in a way. I’ve always been pretty connected to that, but it became even more vital to a large degree to keep writing and to keep that part of myself alive. Also, there was just so much more to write about. I found it a very rich, fertile ground. I’ve written a lot of songs.

Did you notice it changing the way you wrote?

Yeah, very much so. It had a big effect on me in so many ways. First of course, there’s the practical ways; your sense of focus is just so much greater. Time is much more precious. And then there’s just the ever-changing perspective of having children. You’re always rethinking and reseeing things and replaying the past and thinking about the future. It’s very profound.

When did you know it was time to get back to work?

Around the time I got pregnant again a couple of years ago, I thought, ‘If I don’t make a record now, it’ll be another five years.’ So I tried to do some recording, but I was too pregnant. So I waited again, and eventually noticed I had accumulated a lot of material. It just became very clear these songs were ready to go. But time just did what time does: It took its own time. And suddenly here we are. Years have passed. But for me, it’s been a really beneficial thing. I’m glad I didn’t release stuff.

The album title refers to collecting maple syrup after the thaw. It seems like a fitting analogy to your life?

It is a great metaphor for creativity and taking the sweetness out of situations. I heard that up in Vermont with my husband. I heard someone say it in passing and thought it was beautiful, such an amazing expression. I started writing the songs around that idea. Funny enough, that song didn’t end on this record.

All the songs are based in nature. Did that reflect where you were living, or was it a fabricated environment?

It’s a bit of both. I do spend a lot of my spare time in nature, and I did spend a lot of time in Vermont. But also, a lot of it was written dead in the centre of the London. The song Last Leaves of Autumn was written at the top of Pentonville Road, which leads into King’s Cross. It’s a very urban area. But I always had a great longing for nature, even in the city. I love trees.

The production and sound of the album is very warm and natural. What were you going for?

The blueprint of this for me was a record by Roberta Flack called First Take. I was obsessed with making an album based loosely on the sound of that record and the feel of that record. It’s kind of a classic sound, sort of a timeless thing. There’s no irony. It’s just fully honest, fully realized, in the moment.

Does this feel like a new beginning, or like getting back on the horse?

A new beginning. When it feels like getting up on the old horse, it feels scary. I don’t want to get up there again. I’m not sure I could do that like that.

Are you nervous about coming back?

I’m very nervous. I don’t know what exactly about. But I’m definitely battling with the confidence. But then I always have. There’s a part of myself that’s not terribly confident. But at the same time, this is exhilarating and exciting — and possibly it’s that tension that makes it work. Let’s hope so.

Beth Orton’s Canadian tour date:

Oct. 16 | Vancouver | Venue


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