When musicians talk about getting back to their roots, it’s usually an excuse to pull out a battered old acoustic to create some bare bones music.
In Beth Orton’s case, going back to her roots meant something very different.
Having relocated to California a couple of years ago, Beth began experimenting with a series of electronic loops that would eventually come together as her career-redefining new album; a record inspired both by the wide-open nature of Los Angeles and the spirit of Beth’s earliest recordings.
The final product, Kidsticks, repositions Beth’s unmistakable voice inside 10 pure, audacious, playful and kinetic songs.
A resolutely focused album, it represents a rare chance to hear an established artist get plugged in and completely re-work the song-writing process with wide-eyed, open-minded glee.
“We started out just doing it for fun,” says Beth. “I was just in LA and we just went into my friend’s back garden in the shed and he had a tiny little keyboard and I started playing. We came out after 10 days with 20 to 24 little four-bar loops. I started to write to those. I started to write whenever I had a moment, after a while I was aware there was something that I really loved. That was the genesis of it.”
Kidsticks was co-produced by Beth and Andrew Hung. It was recorded with various musician friends of Beth’s in California, including George Lewis Jr from Twin Shadow on electric guitars, Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor on backing vocals and bass guitar and Dustin O’Halloran from A Winged Victory for the Sullen who provided piano and string arrangements. Vocals were recorded by Alain Johannes (Queens of the Stone Age/Mark Lanagan Band) and mixed by David Wrench (Caribou/Hot Chip).
She’s taking the record on the road with a UK tour that reaches Birmingham’s Institute on Wednesday. “You never can tell how things are going to turn out when you’re on the road,” she says. “It depends. Sometimes it’s wonderful. It can be all shades of everything. It’s so dependent on each night. On the whole I really love playing live and it’s an experience.”
Beth Orton has been one of the most unique and beguiling voices in music for the past two decades. Her debut LP – Trailer Park – pioneered a synthesis of electronic and acoustic songs to huge acclaim. The follow up – Central Reservation – brought international success and a BRIT Award for best British female.
Further albums like the Jim O’Rourke-produced Comfort of Strangers and 2012’s Sugaring Season deepened the breadth of her craft.
“I had no idea Trailer Park would be successful,” she adds. “It was very strange. Suddenly I was meeting my heroes and singing with Terry Callier. It was glorious, it was better than my wildest dreams in lots of ways. For me to come out of nowhere, well, I had no idea people would be so into me.”
She was part of the Heavenly Records and Sunday Social club, who, during Britpop, were the coolest cats in town. “We had our own little circus.
“It was a sweeter version of other things. I remember the BRITs but I didn’t notice when they said my name, even though I’d won it. I just went up and got the award and got really drunk. I’ve still got it, but I’ve no idea where it is.”
She says: “Having kids changed things. I’m very kid-centric. I don’t go out and do stuff a lot. I think that fuels the work. I just have my priorities – it’s kids and the music.”
By Andy Richardson