It’s been six years since we last heard from Beth Orton. Since then she has given birth to a daughter and a son and has spent most of her time with her children and husband, folk singer Sam Amidon, at their home in Vermont, in the north-eastern United States. When The 13th Floor spoke to Beth on the eve of the release of her new album, Sugaring Season, we found it was more than just family commitments that kept the English-born singer out of the studio.
“I think there was a bit of crisis of confidence in the fact that I couldn’t see the material I was making was…what it was or what I was or what anything was. In a way, that’s been great because I dug a lot deeper and a lot wider and I really stretched myself in ways to find out what it is I really connect to in the music that I make and the songs that I write and the craft of what I do. I keep going back and back and back and working and working and writing or leaving sometimes, just leaving stuff, leaving it be and not going back to it. So, in a way it worked out, but I didn’t know it was going to work out necessarily. I’m so happy with this record for so many reasons but I do feel like it’s a testament to time and it’s a testament to sometimes taking time is a really really good thing to do because even if it was borne in some way from a certain amount of insecurity and lack of confidence, it actually ended up being a good thing and maybe in some way there was humility as well.”
According to Orton, hubby Sam Amidon was instrumental in helping her find the confidence to resume her career.
“He is a huge influence on the record and in fact it was his enthusiasm and commitment, commitment to my music and songs, that kind of made me feel the confidence to get out there again to a degree, to get back in the room, so to speak. He also plays a lot of guitar on the record. So when it got to that song I said, “Oh please, sing on that song”. And he just got up and sang that and it was like, ‘Oh, my God, so beautiful’.”
Sugaring Season was recorded in Portland, Oregon with producer Tucker Martine and along with Sam Amidon; they assembled a band that includes acclaimed drummer Brian Blade, bass player Sebastian Steinberg, guitarist Marc Ribot and keyboard player Bob Burger. The musicians were given plenty of opportunity to contribute their own musical ideas during the sessions.
“When I went into the recording studio to make the record the songs were very much written, they were very complete, very structured songs. In terms of asking the musicians to play anything particular, I didn’t ask them to play anything particular. For example, Candles, I sat down…the version that is on the record is the one of me playing it to the band actually for the first time and them just joining in and Tucker having the fore-sight to press record and that being the version. We tried it a couple of time but, “fuck it, we got it”. We got it the first time. So no, I didn’t sit there and say, “Now, I really want this sort of drum beat on this song”. I was in a room full of people who didn’t need that kind of direction and to be honest it’s like, you know, I couldn’t have asked them to do what they did and imagined what they did. It was more than anything I could imagine.
I mean, I think the songs are complete to a point that they spoke of what they needed but the fact that each musician, like for example Candles, for me is a stand out track. I don’t know if it is for everyone, but it is for me. I think especially in terms of the way everything came together it’s a good example of how everything came together. It’s an extraordinary bass line that Sebastian came up with. He must have heard the song once and he keyed in on an emotional level and I swear, manifested that in the bass where it screams out in the bridge. It sounds like a fucking wounded animal. He just like attacks his bass with the bow, and that’s that sound. And then, Brian is never afraid of playing his drums really hard, you know. No one pussy-footed around. No one played it nice and I really appreciated that.”
And if you’re wondering about the significance of the title, Sugaring Season, well, it makes sense if you live in Vermont.
“It’s an expression from around here and it describes the time when the sap rises in the trees and they get the sugar from the trees for maple syrup. Not only did I think it was a very poetic, beautiful term, I also really liked when I talk to people about it and I heard that there’s quite a chemistry involved in the rising of the sap. There’s very cold nights and a particularly warm day and it’s still a quite difficult time of year. There is the kind of glimmer of hope, of spring, but it’s not really about that. It’s about that chemistry of things not always being entirely easy, but the chemistry of that can sometimes create sugar. It can create a sweetness. And I just think it’s very beautiful and very poetic. I like that and for me it summed up my last few years, well, a lot of my life really…very, very cold nights and then a particular warmth that can create a sweetness even in quite austere circumstances.
Beth Orton’s Sugaring Season is out now on the Anti- label.