If we wanted any proof that Beth Orton now leads a life that involves a lot of complex juggling, it occurs within seconds of our conversation commencing. There seems to be a degree of domestic comings and goings in the background, leaving us kicking our heels for a moment. When Orton finally gathers herself, we wonder if it feels odd to be back in the media business, discussing her new album Sugaring Season and taking phone calls from strangers who want to know what’s been going on. “It’s strange to be in the thick of it all again but it’s nice, I like it”, she agrees. “I love the record so I’m happy to talk about it, to the best of my ability at any rate.”
Does it feel like you’re coming back?
In lots of ways. I suppose there is a degree of that. There was never a plan to take this much time off, it was just a fluid process. I had a daughter five and half years ago but even during that time I was working with Bert Jansch and we made the Black Swan record together. I’ve also been writing consistently during this period but at certain points I didn’t know who or what it was for, other than myself. Then I got an exciting deal with Anti and was ready to make a record and then I got pregnant again. I did a lot of recording during the pregnancy but I wasn’t ready to carry on. When my son was four months I went back into the studio and as luck would have it, it was the right time with exactly the right people. I put a dream band together, who were all available, and went from there.
Did that time off give you a new approach to writing?
After a while you lose any self consciousness. I began to experiment and play around, which has become a large part of the last few years. I’ve gone into it much deeper. I got very used to everything I do being released, which may sound like a weird brag but it’s not. From ‘Water On A Vine’ onwards everything I did got heard by people so it was really good to make music not knowing where it was going to go. That had an impact on the songs.
With its punk roots, Anti Records may not seem like an obvious home for you…
They have Tom Waits, Merle Haggard, Bettye LaVette, Wilco. They have an incredible diversity, let alone the punk rock side of things. They don’t sit on their laurels being a dick. The boss Andy Kaulkin said to me, “I don’t need to hear your songs, you’re Beth Orton”, which was such a brilliant vote of confidence. I hope I repay that trust with this record. They have a punk rock ethos of course but they’re total devotees to the cause of good music.
Was writing and recording around two young children difficult?
It is difficult but in another way it becomes its own inspiration, to change up the discipline a bit.
Did that have an effect on the musical side of things?
I’m not the best person to analyse my own music, it’s too abstract for me. The only way I can put is that I feel like I’ve gone deeper into what I do, in the songwriting and in the music. I write from a certain part of my brain and talk from another part. I know what I think and feel but can’t necessarily explain it. This is just what’s interesting me at the moment.
Sugaring Season is out now on Anti Records. Beth Orton plays The Pepper Canister Church, Dublin on December 14th.