By Andrea WarnerNorah Jones has never quite shaken off the wide-eyed ingénue persona of her debut, 2002's Grammy-winning Come Away With Me. But her new record Little Broken Hearts ― chock full of grown-up problems like messy break-ups, murder fantasies, and infidelity ― should shatter any preconceived notions about the 33-year-old singer/songwriter.
"I wrote a few songs that were a little mean, but it's not like I'm such a bad girl," Jones laughs. "I'm an adult. I'm not a little kid. I don't really mind when people have a misconstrued perception of me. It's not like I'm pulling one over on people. I am a nice person." But she and collaborator Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, have a lot of fun playing with that "nice girl" image. The two met years back and talked about recording together, but it kept getting pushed back. Finally when they were ready to sit down, Jones arrived at his studio, freshly wounded from a defunct relationship, armed with only a couple beginnings of songs. She and Burton started to talk and they built Little Broken Hearts from the ground up.
"I never really intended to write about [my breakup] and it's still kind of encrypted," Jones says. "We've all gone through things and had those moments. It became more about me and Brian being a little bit more philosophical about relationships. We definitely got inside each other's heads. I wouldn't have been able to write these kinds of songs with somebody I didn't know that well. We would take a feeling and kind of run with it... The album's not a diary. I was never nervous about writing it, because I know what's real and what's not."
What are you up to? I'm in Europe playing some shows with my band and doing some promotion. It's very fun. I have a new band and we're all just startin' out.
What are your current fixations? Iron Chef. I've been watching a lot of Iron Chef for some reason. America. I love the Japanese one, too.
Why do you live where you do? All my friends live in New York and I've just lived there for so long I think I'm just there.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art? Well, I'm sitting here in Cologne, Germany and I have a view of the Gothic Cathedral here. It's pretty amazing.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why? We did a free show in San Paulo, Brazil. It was in a big park and I knew it was a free show, it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, I thought there would be a lot of people there for free music, but I could not believe it. There were, like, 40,000 people there. Not only was it so crowded ― people couldn't even get into the park ― they were all so into the music! It was like they knew all the songs actually. I was just so surprised and touched by that. I felt like a total rock star. (Laughs) It was so wild. It wasn't something I usually experience. And I remember when we left there were a couple girls following our car, pounding on our car, and I felt like the Beatles. It was very sweet. I mean, nothing dangerous. It was only, like, three girls.
What have been your career highs and lows? Highs? It's always fun making records. Every time I make a record, I feel very happy. I don't know if I've had any lows. It's been pretty good so far.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig? I actually don't think I've had anything really mean said to me.
What should everyone shut up about? Well, just anything trivial. I don't know. People over-analyze everything... I don't know. God. No, I didn't mean God! Don't print God. [Laughs] People should just shut up about gay marriage and let them get married already.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself? I wish I was more patient. And... I don't know. It's hard to say something good about yourself.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday? No plans. Making breakfast. Hanging out with my dog and my boyfriend and just taking a long walk, nice day, you know, typical.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you? (Laughs) Never so quickly. I guess being an asshole. Being dishonest or using you. Just being a dick.
What do you think of when you think of Canada? Neil Young. The Band. Hockey. (Laughs) I'm pretty obsessed with Neil Young.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money? I think I bought the Digital Underground tape. (Laughs) I liked "The Humpty Dance" song. I didn't know what it meant, but I thought it was funny.
What was your most memorable day job? I waited tables at a restaurant in the West Village in New York, but I did the breakfast shift and had to get up at six in the morning. It only lasted about a month. I couldn't keep it going. I had to get a later day job.
If I wasn't playing music I would be… Like, a professional roller skater or something. Honestly, I don't know. I've never not played music.
What do you fear most? Unhappiness. Just that feeling when you're so unhappy. It's always nice to get out of that.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter? I got to meet Carrot Top. That was pretty fun. It wasn't that strange. I just never thought I'd get to meet Carrot Top. He's very nice.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them? I guess somebody who likes to eat, right? I don't know. I'm over-thinking it.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead? Nothing. She's happy.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral? I used to have an answer to that. But I don't know if I do anymore. "Hands on the Wheel" I guess.