Beth Orton on “Weather Alive” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 29th, 2024  

Beth Orton on “Weather Alive”

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Dec 06, 2023 Photography by Eliot Lee Hazel Issue #71 - Weyes Blood and Black Belt Eagle Scout
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Before Weather Alive, Beth Orton’s eighth studio album, the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter—who has three decades of releasing music in her rearview—was thinking, “It probably was time to gracefully bow out.”

It was a combination of life events that led Orton to this thought. Orton’s health has always been less than ideal, primarily due to having Crohn’s disease. She toured her 2012 album, Sugaring Season, with her two toddlers on the tour bus. She took them with her again four years later for the album Kidsticks.

“It got to a point where I really felt I didn’t want to put myself out there anymore,” says Orton speaking from her London home. “I couldn’t see how I could make it work. I didn’t think I could take it, physically, mentally, any of it. I didn’t want to.”

But then, after Orton stopped drinking and stopped going out—for health reasons, and after her children were in school until the middle of the afternoon, she was left with herself. She never stopped writing songs, thinking that they could be for other artists. She still really loved the practice. It came as a revelation and songwriting became a figurative place for Orton to go.

“I don’t see songwriting as therapy,” she says. “I fucking hate that idea. I found being a parent incredibly confusing. Going to the school gates in the midst of writing a song was really jarring. Where am I? Who am I? What is this life I’ve been living? How do I put all these bits of who I am into one person?”

For the writing of Weather Alive, Orton created a contained space with a piano, a guitar, and a laptop. She would go between the three, recording, engineering, and producing herself. She took her time, five years all told, to dig in and uncover herself in the process.

“The songs [on Weather Alive] are born of lost memories, things that were important to me,” says Orton. “The album was a collaboration with time, in a sense. I had to sit with songs for a long time to figure out what the right thing to do was. But when I went in with the raw materials, something would always happen, something would always change for the better.”

Oscillating between heartbreak and heartfelt, Weather Alive’s airy minimalism leaves a lot of room for emotion and personalization. The very nature of Orton’s wonderfully hoarse tones gives songs such as the title track a heartbreak quality—even if that’s not necessarily the song’s message. There is a plenty of pep on the album, such as “Fractals,” which is about Orton’s sometime producer, the late Andrew Weatherall. The song’s soft bubbles temper the somber sentiments. The freedom Orton felt in penning Weather Alive is palpable

The piano—which historically has not been Orton’s go-to instrument—helped her evoke a sense of time, a helpful tool when she was tapping into memories as the source material for Weather Alive. Orton says that working on her own without the presence of in-person collaborators felt like she was, “Recording spirits.”

“Conversations I wasn’t able to have anywhere else, I was able to have with this piano and this silence,” she says. “It was a reintroduction to my own songs. Truly writing for myself.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 71 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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