Image by Tierney Gearon
Emerging from a well-deserved four year hiatus, there’s something different about Beth Orton: a certain detectable excitement and energy that is surfacing in every rushed explanation of how to manoeuvre a synth, and each voltaic twist and turn voyage through her exceptional new release.
As we chat on a rather cloudy, miserable Thursday morning, there’s a sense of naivety in her voice, as though an interview is a dooming feat that has been creeping up on her through every calendar day passing. As it turns out, this was just her young son Arthur pulling on her arm in demand of an emergency SOS play date, which is politely declined in favour of a quick natter with me; I almost felt slightly bad about it.
The humbleness and carefree attitude that exudes from Beth is refreshing given she works in an industry laden with outlandish media headlines and dreary from events that are contrived to give a dwindling artist a bit of the ‘OOMPH’ factor. “The industry is pretty different now to when I first began,” she notes, “I just want to make music, and that’s sometimes made out to not be enough nowadays. It’s much harder work, but I’ve always had this determined ethic, and I just want to ensure I keep on making wonderful tunes.”
Since her first release back in 1993, entitled Superpinkymandy, Beth has churned out a further six releases, and nabbed herself a Brit Award for Best British Female Solo Artist. Her style is often perceived as ‘folktronica’, a term she’s not overly accustomed to. “I think it sounds like a pretty silly term in all honesty, but if that’s what floats your boat. I don’t want to be sat around going ‘oh I make FoLkTrOnIcA’,” she says, in a mocking voice one can only describe as being similar to Thomas the Tank Engine’s Fat Controller. “I try really hard not to describe my own music; I think it’s quite a dangerous thing to do. I wouldn’t want to force myself into a pinpoint direction, I just want to make it and go with what feels right at the time creatively.”
being in LA with its incredibly wide open skies and wide open sense of creativity felt daring
Beth’s newest jewel in the collection comes in the exquisite form of Kidsticks, “It’s named after a song on the record that sounded to me like kids playing with sticks, just hitting things and making music and messing around a lot. That’s sort of how the record started on a very simplistic level. It’s just a little bit of it, there’s a massive ton of hard work disguised behind the scenes, but overall there was a very playful nature to the album!”
If there’s one thing distinguishable on Kidsticks, it’s the adventurous and gutsy spirit that loops between each lyric of its 10 tracks faultlessly. As a mature musician, the decision to throw herself into a dynamic that was previously unfamiliar could have been detrimental, but it’s a challenge Beth has approached with a fearless demeanour. “It was a couple of years in the process, a lot of back garden studios and DIY nonsense. I got together with Andy Hung from Fuck Buttons and we sat in a room together for a solid ten days, with me muddling about on the synth and keyboard, which were very new instruments to me.” Swirling through ditties such as Moon and 1973, the element of uncategorized fun is simply brimming from every wild drumbeat and impounding reverb, and the asymmetry from her preceding creations couldn’t be more apparent. “Kidsticks has a pile of electronic sounds that are very different. In a peculiar way, it’s a companion piece to 2012’s Sugaring Season; it all has a very dense sound. A sense of songwriting that I started a while back definitely shines through a little bit, but I see all of my work as entirely apart and I’d never be one to compare…I’ll let the journalists do that!”
Upping sticks to Los Angeles a few years ago with her family was a compromise that has served Beth remarkably. The drastic move from the Big Smoke was a one that coincided with her American husband’s (fellow musician Sam Amidon) homesickness and her thirst for a new visionary awakening. Speaking of her brief experience indulging in The American Dream, Beth says “lots of things happen there. When you move somewhere new, you get a bundle of new inspirations. When I started on Kidsticks, it was with someone from Manchester, and I went all the miles over there for him to come out and follow me. It was born out of several days on end of loops over here and leads over there, and being in LA with its incredibly wide open skies and wide open sense of creativity felt daring.”
With her laid-back California aura firmly intact, Beth sets out to embark on a UK tour this autumn, making an anticipated debut at Sage Gateshead on Tuesday 27th September. “I’m so excited to play with a band again! I really enjoy the juxtaposition between the old songs and the new, they complement each other in a way I hope the audience will reciprocate, and overall I’ve just missed singing. My voice has changed considerably and I’m feeling incredibly strong about it.”