Beth Orton's new album is so full of broken hearts and bitter ends you'd
think the lanky British singer would have given up on falling in love at this
"I don't know that I've had bad luck in love," Orton, 31, said. "I think I've
experienced some brilliant love, I just think that I have high expectations."
Those lofty aspirations color all kinds of mad, bad and sad love on the
folktronica chanteuse's recently released third album, Daybreaker.
The LP bears her signature mix of dusky folk arrangements imbued with
everything from full string sections and bossa nova horns to electronic
beatscapes courtesy of frequent collaborators the Chemical Brothers, with a
fresh twist of Americana courtesy of such new friends as Ryan Adams and
When you live your songs and your songs live you, as Orton put it, it's hard
not to feel like your life is just a step on the way to becoming your art.
Orton, whose speaking voice is more girlish and playful than the breathy,
fragile one of her albums, said she's not into "experimenting" with the
people she meets. "I think that's a dangerous road to go down," she said.
"True songs come from true life's experience, not from orchestrating
situations that will breed inspiration."
That inspiration seems to come from everywhere these days for Orton, who said
she can often be found staring up into the sky while singing. The intimate
connection she feels between emotion and landscape finds her sitting on a
train looking out the window ("Paris Train"), staring at the horizon ("Mount
Washington") and worrying about the sky falling down on her head ("Concrete
On the latter, she collaborates with singer/songwriter Adams, who
sings and plays on four songs on the album. But, as knocked out as Orton was
by the ex-Whiskeytown singer's 2000 Heartbreaker album, their first
meeting was less than auspicious.
"I thought he was an ass when I first met him," Orton admitted. "No offense,
but I thought he was a cocky American. But then we got in the studio and he
was wonderful. There is a beauty and wiseness expressed in his voice ... I
thought he must be about 40. I suppose I was really attracted to that and to
the crack of his voice [on his album] ... I'm not saying I heard it with my
mind, I heard it with my heart."
One of Adams' other contributions, the lush acoustic ballad "This One's Gonna
Bruise," wasn't written specifically for Orton, but with its mix of regret
and naturalistic imagery, it might as well have been. The wistful story of a
galaxy-spanning love reduced to a stack of Polaroids in a cardboard box ends
with Orton glumly admitting, "I'm as dead as you."
"I think he wrote it about another girl," she said haltingly, "But with me in
mind to sing it." She deflected questions about a rumored romance with the
scruffy singer by saying, "All anyone needs to worry about or acknowledge is
[what they hear] when they listen to the music. It was definitely a very
strong musical connection, which is obvious when you hear the songs."
Orton's first meeting with another musical hero who chipped in on the album
also got off to an awkward start, but ended up producing one of the record's most
emotionally resonant songs, "Concrete Sky," another duet with Adams.
Orton met ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr backstage after one of her sets on
the 1999 Lilith Fair. Introduced through a friend, Orton immediately struck
up a conversation with the guitarist for the band she had an intense
love/hate relationship with as a teen in England.
"I was and I wasn't a fan," she said of the Smiths. "They were everywhere,
you couldn't get away from them growing up in England, especially in a small
town. [But] I really liked him as a person when we met and we got on really
well and we were talking, talking. Then I asked him, 'So, what do you do,
anyway?' I didn't know who he was. [When I found out] I thought, 'Oh, f----ing
Not the least bit slighted, Marr hooked up with Orton at their hotel that night and,
with the help of several bottles of wine, began singing and playing their
hearts out with a promise that they'd work together someday.
As confessional as her songs are, Orton is obviously a firm believer in
privacy, especially when it comes to her personal relationships. While her
liaisons are seemingly laid bare in her songs, the singer said she's careful
to phrase them in such a way that only she knows the true meaning of her
"There was one boyfriend who used to go on about how they were all about him
and he should have a writing credit," she laughed. "I told him to f--- off."