Beth Orton The Exclaim! Questionnaire
Published Feb 01, 2006What are you up to?
I'm doing press, promoting the new record and starting to tour the record on the ninth of February.
What are your current fixations?
Philosophy. I started studying it, but then again I'm not really studying it because I am doing this, which has kyboshed it.
Why do you live where you do?
London because my friends are there. I think I'd probably move anywhere for love, though. I mean, I say that but whether I would, I don't know.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
I'm thinking Love's Forever Changes. Oh, I know, the Beatles's Revolver. Let's go with that one. I think because it was one that my parents had when I was growing up and I'd put it on and literally have to run and hide behind the sofa because it actually scared me and yet it fascinated me too. It would be like looking at a spider in a box where you're kind of safe, but you're not safe! I'd freak myself out by putting it on.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig and why?
I saw Patti Smith play at Virginia Woolf's house and there were about 200 people there and I sat at the front. She read and sang and I thought it was pretty inspirational.
What have been your career highs and lows?
Making this record has been a bit of a high, to say the least. Seeing something through, having an intention and actually see it come to be. The low is doing lists Oh, a low was being offered support for Neil Young on his solo acoustic tour about five or six year ago, but I was in hospital and I couldn't do it.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
One time I was about to start my period and I was all bloated wearing this dress, and this guy came up to me and went, "Oh wow, my wife's just had a baby, when's yours due?" He didn't mean it, but oh, it was a killer.
What should everyone shut up about?
Well, I heard these people in the elevator this morning speaking about being cut up, like: "The way people drive, what are people like?" Driving is an example of just how awful they are when there are a million examples all over the world of just how awful people really are to one another. They were so shocked about how people do rude things to one another on the road. I thought this guy should shut up.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I find that the best traits are the ones I'm most unaware of, and my worst traits are the ones I am always so fucking hyperaware of, and that itself is a bad trait, know what I mean? I think of have integrity that's important to me, and I'm glad it's important to me, and I'd say that being important to me is a good trait.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
Never to start smoking.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
Disrespecting me and yes.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
Maple leafs and cross-country skiing and somewhere I might want to bring my children up. It really is quite beautiful there.
What is your vital daily ritual?
I want it to be yoga. I wish I could just make that my vital daily ritual and it should be, and when it is it's amazing but it's not. Breakfast. I think breakfast really does make a big difference. Look at me and all of my common sense answers!
What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
I don't like people downloading my music illegally. I do think there is a real freedom to be got by the whole internet revolution, where people get their music heard where it wouldn't be otherwise. But I'm not into people downloading it when I don't want them to.
What was your most memorable day job?
My first proper job was when I was 12; I worked at the washer-upper in this country and western club in the small town where I'm from. It was probably dysfunctional and strange and I learned to smoke with all of the chefs. On good days I could make the side salads as well as doing the washing up, and on even better days, because I was really tall, they'd let me work the bar on a Sunday lunchtime. I don't know why, but it was quite a bizarre place. There was even a woman there called Long Tall Sally, and she was one of the bar maids, who to me always seemed quite exotic. She'd stick her head through the hatch you know, where you get the food from and she and the chef would flirt, and I'd stick my head around the corner and watch them like, "Oooh!"
How do you spoil yourself?
Baths I'm a big bath freak. Because when you're on tour it's kind of the great leveller. The heaviest thing in my bag that I carry around is just loads of stuff to put in the bath, and then put on after the bath, to make me feel nice.
If I wasn't playing music I would be:
I don't know! I'm really interested in psychology and philosophy, so I don't know where they meet. Maybe something to do with psychology. Maybe a shrink. Can you imagine?
What do you fear most?
I have to say I think I fear death.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
A good kisser. Definitely it's an art. I'm a brilliant kisser.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
In L.A., going out drinking with Kiefer Sutherland who took all of his clothes off, jumped behind the bar and started serving. That was pretty funny. And then we started throwing beer glasses at each other in a friendly way.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
At the moment I've got a bit of a fixation with meeting Johnny Cash. I think he kind of embraced both the dark side and the light side; he had a great kind of overview. I think he'd be great to sit and philosophise with. I would serve him something I'm good at, which is a good British roast dinner: roast chicken, roast potatoes, parsnips, green beans, carrots, peas, gravy. I do a good gravy. I'm a very good roast cooker.
What does or did your mom wish you were doing instead?
I think she'd be really happy with what I'm doing.
Given the opportunity to choose, how would you like to die?
Peacefully. Oh god, in my sleep. I guess I would. Oh god.
Beginning her career making dance music with William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers, Beth Orton's been mesmerising us with her blissful brand of alt-folk for the past decade with little to no competition. However, for her fourth album, Comfort of Strangers, the coolest folkstress on the planet felt it was time to begin another chapter in her songbook. "I see it as a kind of new beginning really," Beth says. "I've always wanted to do a real bare record with just voice and guitar, and so I went on the quest for how to best realise that ideal."
In order to ensure there were no repeats of the past, Beth felt it was important to get the right ear in the studio. "With the previous records I found the production process quite uninspiring in the sense that I wanted to sing with the band, I wanted it to be a live experience," she admits.
Hiring Jim O'Rourke to play some guitar and help her attain the sound she imagined, the two hit it off and O'Rourke found his role extended from guest to producer. "When I met him we talked and we shared so completely a vision around my voice and the songs," says Beth. "He described what he wanted to hear and what he hadn't heard before, which completely corresponded with everything I was looking to do and it made total sense."
Comfort of Strangers is certainly unlike any of her previous efforts. Gone are the grand arrangements, the familiar studio trickery and the warm traces of electronics that subtly guided her first three albums. Instead, Beth has simply updated and cut the fat from her music with an album that maintains the warm, beautiful folk sound her fans all love. "Basically I'm making music that I like to listen to. And I like to listen to the kind of music that I've just made on this record."