KUTX hosts Beth Orton in Studio 1A
By Jody Denberg
Beth Orton’s September 20th visit to Austin and KUTX was significant in many ways. Firstly, it was the English singer/songwriter’s first visit to the Capitol of Texas since SXSW 2006 – ending a 17- year long absence for her enthusiastic fans. Her sold-out show that night at the Stateside also marked a year since the release of her critically-acclaimed album “Weather Alive” – and 30 years since her hard-to- find debut “Superpinkmandy” landed.
Orton made herself comfortable at our Studio 1A grand piano to perform two songs on the airwaves with her band – “Friday Night” and “Fractals” – and then completed her session solo at the keys with a riveting “Lonely”. You can see the entire session – and hear our conversation below.
For me, the session was also a long time coming. I first interviewed Beth during her 1999 SXSW visit. And in the pre-podcast era, we produced two one-hour interview programs that were distributed by her label as promotional CDs – 2002’s “Daybreaker Dialogue” and 2006’s “A Comfortable Conversation with Beth Orton”. Here are some highlights from each…which can be heard in their entirety here as well.
Recorded June 11, 2002 backstage before Beth Orton’s show at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom, this interview focused on her fourth release, “Daybreaker”:
Beth Orton on the album’s single, “Concrete Sky”
Well, I think a concrete sky is a state of mind. Really? I don’t know, I suppose. See, I could get literal, but when I wrote, it wasn’t literal. And I think it’s only this sort of year that I’ve realized what it was about is a concrete sky. And it’s just a state of mind, really, when you put expectation on stuff or past experience. And I suppose something I’ve learned in the last couple of years is it’s actually sometimes it’s harder to be. It’s harder to be in a really, truly loving relationship and sustain it than it is to be constantly getting your heart broken. And we take what we learn and we imprint it on where we are now. And that to me is a concrete sky. It’s like making everything very solid, very literal.
Beth Orton on working with Johnny Marr
I met Johnny Marr. I’d just come off stage in L.A. and he was talking to a friend of mine and I was just chatting to the two of them. I didn’t know who this other guy was and I was just we were talking for about half an hour, getting on really well, having having a laugh and then I was just like, So what do you do? And he was like, Oh, I play guitar. And I thought, Right, okay. And anyone I might have heard of? And he was like, Well, maybe. Yeah, The Smiths. I was: I know you’re Johnny Marr. Oh, okay. Okay. And then I sort of expected that embarrassment set in and just thought, Oh, but it didn’t because he’s just such a sweetheart and we just carried on. It was like a blip. And then we went or whatever and just carried on talking. And then it turned out we’re staying in the same hotel. And he came up one evening and we just sat on my balcony drinking wine and playing guitar until like the wee hours, you know, And and it was just beautiful. It was like it was amazing. And I had I had these songs and I was” I’ve got this song” and I had Concrete sky. I’ve had that knocking around for a while and and he just got very excited about that song in particular and, and started adding these chords underneath and then sort of said, I know what I, what about this idea for a bridge and, and and that and then, and then edit and then a little bit and then help me with my chorus, you know and just kind of like galvanized it and I don’t know, made it into what it is really.
Beth Orton on the “folktronica” label and the title “Daybreaker”
That tag? I don’t mind it as long as it’s not a gimmick. I mean, I was playing around with that and it was my ambition to mix those two things. And it also made me laugh because both of them are such such kind of genres, just full of snobbery. You know, you’ve got your dance snobs and you’ve got your folk snobs and you got this thing. And I just was hilarious to bring it together in a way. And also I just thought it could be really beautiful.
DAYBREAKER is a word I made up when I was talking to Johnny Marr. I was trying to describe how I wanted the song to be outside. You know, like a daybreak. Like a song. It’s a daybreak and a song. For example, I’d been at a friend’s house and we were up all night drinking and talking. And him and his wife were there, and we were just having the best night. And before I left in the morning, like 6 a.m., they gave me a copy of Dusty in Memphis. And I went home and I put it on and I watched the sun come up with a head full of dreams and, you know, and you’ll just be like, oh, drifting around. You just had a brilliant night with your friends. And you listen to the most beautiful record you’ve ever heard. That is a daybreaker.
“A Comfortable Conversation with Beth Orton”
Recorded January 7, 2006 in Austin, Texas at Terra Nova Digital Audio, this interview focused on Beth’s fifth album, “Comfort Of Strangers”:
Beth Orton on her inspirations (and especially for this album):
Nature is a huge inspiration for me. Relationships, love and faith and lack of faith, definitely. All of those are threads that I often find myself pulling together. I like the idea of threads as well, because it’s often I don’t necessarily know the theme of my record, and I find that the themes come together. I do find, like a lot of disparate threads get pulled together, like thousands of things that just just suddenly give meaning to what didn’t necessarily seem to to make any sense. I find sense in writing, and I think a way that I’ve found to describe it, which I really like, is is I’ll find like a key phrase that either just popped in my head or I read or somebody says or something like that, and it becomes like a kind of an anchor or or like a magnet. And then I’ll go through life or the day or the week or a month or the year. And, you know, I’ll meet people along the way. I’ll see a band or I’ll see a film or read a book, and it’ll be like, Oh my God, that there ties in exactly to this other idea that I’ve got written down somewhere. And it’s just seems to be the process of actually writing something down suddenly makes it kind of hang in the air and makes it possible. And I could have forgotten about this initial idea, and then suddenly I’ll remember it and I’ll be like that. That makes sense to that. And then I think what happens is I’ll play the guitar and and something will come out of free association, kind of just of the moment. And then that has the same effect to I’m like, Oh my God, that whole thing that I was writing there that fits with this. And so it comes together that way. Other times, though, it just comes out straight, just with a guitar and just in the moment.
Beth Orton on if she likes explaining her lyrics
Not really, because I find it. If I could say it, I probably wouldn’t bother writing about it, you know? Which is sounds like an old cliche, but I think it’s true. You know, it’s like that’s pretty much the only way I can make sense of most things is to write about it. And I find it quite hard to have a long form dialog about it.
Is Beth a romantic?
Yeah, I think I’m a bit of a romantic, but romantics have to be careful not to become cynics. It’s like the innocence, you know? You just gotta be careful with that whole thing. Like, well, am I too romantic to get married or something? Am I to romantic to actually have a relationship? You know what I mean? It’s like all these people who are actually far too romantic for their own good. Just it becomes like this kind of idea and never a reality. And I think, anyway, maybe I shouldn’t be getting so happy, but yeah, I guess I’m a romantic. Yeah.
What music was Beth listening to while making this album?
I think Nick Cave’s last record of Orpheus (“Abattoir Blues / The Lyre of Orpheus”) – and meeting Nick Cave when we did the Leonard Cohen meltdown, the Hal Wilner project. And when we toured it in Australia and I found (Nick’s) kind of grace and general demeanor very inspiring and I listened to that a lot. I also had just got my iPod, so I was pretty much on shuffle the whole time.
FOLLOW BETH ORTON
Album: Weather Alive (Partisian Records)
Musicians: Beth Orton – vocals, keys; Ty Gibbons – bass; Chris Vatalaro – drums; Jesse Chandler – keys
Credits: Producer: Deidre Gott; Production Assistant: Confucius Jones; Audio Engineer: Jake Perlman, Rene Chavez, Ben Collins; Audio Mix: Jake Perlman; Cameras: Michael Minasi, Renee Dominguez; Deborah Cannon; Edit: Michael Minasi; Host: Jody Denberg