Published Jan 01, 2006Beth Orton was long ago crowned by Generation E as the "Comedown Queen," their favourite soother for strumming a lullaby to drift along with into the 21st century. Yet Orton's role in the music scene might be more accurately described as the "Collaboration Courtier."
It was her early work with producer William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers that led to the aforementioned techno-association and "electro folk" label a pigeonhole in which the willowy minstrel has felt quite uncomfortable ever since. With a roll of the eyes and a dismissive wave of the hand, she blows off that categorisation nonchalantly: "It's annoying when have I been electro? It's bullshit, really, isn't it?"
But the ever open-minded Orton has never let an official press dubbing stand in the way of exploring her diverse interests. She's a woman who revels in extremes, likening her hectic and geographically varied touring schedule to the fascinating polar opposites she finds in her peers. "[Last year] in Australia I was in a lagoon, and then I got to Montreal the next day, and I had icicles in my hair! Those are two extremes, and I think you can equate that to people, too. I find that really inspiring."
In defiance of strict genre-fication, she's snagged inspiration from an unexpected and jumbled grab bag of musicians, pairing with myriad artists, including Princess Superstar (the only collaboration she's ever "hunted down"), Ben Watt, Ben Harper, and Evan Dando just to name a few. On her newest release, Daybreaker, Orton has added a few team-mates to the list: Ryan Adams ("He's really good fun, really amazing"), Johnny Marr, and Emmylou Harris, who she sighs as being "the real deal."
Normative expectations have never stood in her way; she simply likes what she likes. And no matter how seemingly schizophrenic her interests may seem, Orton insists that it's simply being a product of a complicated music world in which it's still possible to stay level-headed, focused, and true to her own internal muse. "I'm of this age, I'm of this generation, and I meet a hell of a lot of people," she shrugs. Could this cut & paste, mix and match approach to marrying various sounds lead to lumping Orton into a whole new category: hip-hop? Don't worry, she's not heralding in the new "bling-bling booty beats Beth," though the comparison isn't as ridiculous as it first may seem. "I do think that it's usually hip-hop artists who collaborate the way I do," she says, "and I think in a way it's a sensibility that I use. It's quite urban, my upbringing maybe that comes across in what I do."