Beth Orton's sixth album (seventh if we're counting 1993's export-only Superpinkmandy) Kidsticks is being hailed as a return to the "folktronica" sounds of her earlier records — her work with William Orbit and Andrew Weatherall, and her collaborations with the Chemical Brothers — after two more acoustic-based albums, Comfort of Strangers and Sugaring Season.
In fact, the UK songwriter tells Exclaim! that some of the musical roots of Kidsticks (out May 27 on Anti-) date back further than that, to music that she was listening to in her teens.
"One of the nice things about this record is it evokes a time before I became a songwriter, which was around the age of 19 or 20," Orton says. "When I was just discovering Joni Mitchell, and all these incredibly wonderful acoustic singer-songwriters, like Nick Drake, a whole world was opening up to me, and that became the world that I started to honour when I wrote songs.
"But there was this whole other life that came before that, which included Talking Heads and Blondie and Kate Bush, and I think I reference that a lot on this record. Sometimes you feel like parts of yourself get atrophied, and then you remember, 'hang on, there was a whole other life before this' — it was really nice to celebrate that and conjure it up again."
Orton made Kidsticks during a two-and-a-half-year sojourn in L.A.s' Laurel Canyon, during which she connected with Fuck Buttons' Andrew Hung after he made a remix of Sugaring Season's "Mystery."
"I really love what he did and I really liked him," Orton says. "So I said, 'Let's try to do more together, let's see what happens.'"
The result ended up being more keyboard-heavy than anything she'd done.
"I've written a couple songs on the piano," she says, "but I've never sat around making beats with someone. He would change the sounds, and his sound-changing would influence what I would play, and what I played would influence his sound-changing. It just kind of evolved from there. It was just really exciting to me, and very experimental. I think if anything, this record is an experimental record."
The record gets its name from its final track, "Kidsticks," an Orton neologism.
"It sounded like kids playing with sticks, hitting shit and making sounds," says Orton, "so I thought, 'kidsticks' — it sums up the playfulness and that kind of beginner's mind: going to an instrument I've never played before and starting a record from a place I've never started from. Just sort of throwing everything up in the air and starting fresh."
The entire album is, in a way, about rebirth and renewal, as much as it's about experimentation and Orton taking the reins as a co-producer.
"We have life after death, but what about life after life?" Orton asks. "Like, you feel like you've lived all you possibly can and then another life appears. I would hope maybe when you feel despair, that then the world opens up again and it's like 'hang on, this is incredible, I hope I have a whole other lifetime left to experience this lifetime that I'm just finding!'"
Have a listen to Kidsticks' "Moon" below.