|Beth Orton. (Jo Metson Scott photo / February 3, 2014)|
Though the stars of U.K.-born electronica appeared culturally and technologically advanced in the mid-’90s, it seems as though we all have caught up with them in some respects. Beth Orton, one-time muse of William Orbit and collaborator with the Chemical Brothers, says she and her cohorts from that scene now keep tabs on one another using Instagram and Facebook.
“While I am traveling I can keep up with what everyone is doing,” says Orton, 43, who has five solo albums to her name. “I was really young and it was a lot of fun, and it was a really crazy period of our lives.”
Crazy indeed: At 19, Orton left home after the death of her mother. She traveled to Thailand and studied meditation with Buddhist nuns and then toured Europe acting in a theater company. She met Orbit, producer and electronica artist (and later, frequent Madonna collaborator), at a party and during their brief relationship, he helped her add a musical career to her bohemian resume. Orton recorded ghostly vocals for “Water from a Vine Leaf,” one of the more striking songs from Orbit’s 1993 album “Strange Cargo III.” Three years later came her first proper solo album, the critically acclaimed “Trailer Park.” A year after that, “Dig Your Own Hole,” the Chemical Brothers album that featured her vocals, pushed the then-indomitable-seeming Spice Girls off the top of the U.K. charts, and the electronica was “the next big thing.”
Except it wouldn’t be for Orton: Her work became increasingly acoustic and folkish. Her latest album, 2012’s “Sugaring Season,” is probably her rootsiest, with her ethereal voice spreading over sparse instrumentation. She attributes her expanding vocal presence to the fact she stopped smoking, having taken up the habit at age 12.
“It definitely got warmer and I felt less like hiding behind anything,” says Orton. “I don’t like the word ‘confidence’ because I don’t think ‘confident’ is a word that describes me.”
“Sugaring Season” was Orton’s first album in six years, a gap she says “just happened.”
“I never planned it,” she says. “I had a couple of kids in that time. I never stopped writing. I always write. When you have kids, it takes away all your time. But in the time you do have you need to focus more.” She says it was a while before she found the balance to release a record and resume touring.
Orton’s daughter, age 7, and son, age 2, both tour on and off with her.
Though her sound has changed much from that time, Orton still plays songs from her first few albums, reconfiguring them for a primarily acoustic band. They even tackle “Galaxy of Emptiness,” the 10-minute quasi-soundscape that ends “Trailer Park.” “I never used to do ‘Galaxy of Emptiness’ on tour, but I completely reworked it for when I am in a band,” she says.
You might want to make it out for this go-around if you want to catch “Stolen Car,” “She Cries Your Name” and other such ’90s-era songs, says Orton.
“I do a lot of those old songs, because I think there are a lot of people who don’t know me. I think this might be the last tour for a lot of those though.”