Internationally-renowned for a sound that is somewhere in between folk and electronica, Beth Orton first made waves in the United States with 1996’s Trailer Park album, which was nominated for BRIT Award and Mercury Prize honors. Beth’s follow-up release, 1999’s Central Reservation won her a BRIT Award — beyond earning another Mercury Prize nomination — and was featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Beth’s streak of excellence continued with 2002’s Daybreaker, which led to a Best Album nomination at the Q Awards and a Best British Female Singer nod from the BRIT Awards. Critical acclaim also followed for 2006’s Comfort Of Strangers and 2012’s Sugaring Season.
2016 has brought the sixth studio album by Beth Orton, Kidsticks, as released by Epitaph Records sister label ANTI-. The Guardian has referred to the full-length as “a real reinvention: not so much a return to her electronic roots as a bold exploration of fresh territory.” In support of Kidsticks, Beth returns to New York for a Dec. 3 performance at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. Beth spoke to Downtown about what to expect from the Zankel Hall gig and how she really feels about being called a “folktronica” artist.
What do you remember about the first gig you ever played in New York City?
Beth Orton: I remember it as being one of the most exciting experiences of my life, Arlene’s Grocery. I was treated with such affection and I couldn’t believe people were into the music. It was the best most fun. I was with Girlie Action [Media] and Dedicated [Records] and it was a ball.
For someone thinking of coming to see you at Zankel Hall, what should be expected?
BO: I am playing with a band. Songs from the new record, Kidsticks, and songs for previous records. I’m very much enjoying how the new songs work with the older songs and bring new found light to each. There’s something very satisfying about playing entirely acoustic in one song to completely plugged in and/or electronic. I’ve never played so loud and quiet before and it’s freeing. I have an amazing guitarist playing with me called Grey McMurry who is actually from New York and he has the most incredible voice, too. It’s pretty euphoric to sing and play with him. I’m playing keys and guitar. There’s drums, too, and everyone doubles up on bass. There’s a great breadth of sound.
How would you describe your latest album Kidsticks to someone who hasn’t yet heard the first two singles?
BO: It’s the most experimental record I’ve made. It’s a soulful record, the songs have depth, but they have more of a soul sensibility to them than anything I’ve done before. It’s emotional and honest as that’s what I suppose I do. I enjoyed not writing to guitar and the effect that had on my writing. I think it allowed a different kind of freedom melodically. The record is more electronic than anything I’ve made and been involved with under my own name. It’s got a lot going on and can be quite bombastic in some ways but subtle in others. I’m fond of it in all sorts of ways.
Your latest album has appearances by Grizzly Bear, Twin Shadow and Winged Victory members. Had you sought out collaborations before starting to record?
BO: I had no plans when I went in to make the record. I started from the beats that were created between me and Andy Hung from Fuckbuttons. I was excited to write to these loops and sounds. I was living in L.A. and met Chris from Grizzly Bear whilst living out there. He was an incredibly important part of the records more “Fleetwood Mac” elements. He helped with additional production and brilliant bass and keyboard parts. Also killer harmonies. I met Dustin from Winged Victory through a friend who works with him. I was in London and saw them play and asked if he’d like to do some arrangements. I flew to Berlin 24 hours later and we spent a couple of days with him blowing my mind with beautiful arrangements and piano parts…
A number of your albums are “carbon neutral” in terms of their manufacturing. What first inspired you to become environmentally-minded?
BO: I don’t know that there’s anyone who can’t afford to be environmentally-minded. It was a no brainer when I found out that this was possible. That for every record sold a tree could be planted seemed to go towards lessoning the carbon footprint of touring. Touring seems like a traveling pollutant and this was a way of directly helping and balancing out the damage.
When someone refers to you as a “folktronica” artist, is that something that you enjoy?
BO: When someone names what you do and you feel cornered by it, it’s never a comfortable feeling. I don’t find it offensive but I do sometimes find it funny. There’s something silly about it. If it irritates me at all, it’s because it’s a way of describing what a woman does to make certain sounds — not sure I’ve heard a bloke be described as making folktronica. I’m probably wrong about that.
About 15 years ago, you acted in the movie Southlander. Is acting something you ever see yourself doing in the future?
BO: I did a film a year or so ago. It was an interesting experience.
A few years before Southlander, Ben Weber danced in one of your music videos. Any chance of that ever happening again?
BO: I will always be open to Ben Weber dancing in one of my videos
In all of your travels, have you ever encountered Randy Orton? Or “Cowboy” Bob Orton?
BO: Randy and I go way back.
After this tour wraps, what is coming up for you?
BO: I’m writing…
When you’re not busy with being Beth Orton, the recording artist that tours, how do you like to spend your free time?
BO: I like being with my family and making music.
If given a few hours of free time while tour in New York, how would you ideally spend those hours?
BO: I love walking. I walk the streets and the park and I breathe it all in. I love New York and it never loses its sparkle however many times I go there to visit.
Finally, Beth, any last words for the kids?
BO: Revolt with love, you complacent fuckers.