Folking awesome: It’s been 30 years since Norfolk, England artist Beth Orton released her debut album, Superpinkymandy, but 27 years since she really found her sound with the 1996 album Trailer Park. That record was an absolute fucking gem, a sleeper hit that saw her find favor with two very distinct groups of fans – folkies and clubbers.
She would be lazily tagged “folktronica” by critics, but it wasn’t about the creation of a new sub- genre. Orton had tapped into a vibe of chill authenticity. Back in the ‘90s, that appealed deeply to fans of fellow British acts such as Massive Attack, Faithless, Tricky and Portishead. When Orton collaborated with the likes of William Orbit, Andrew Weatherall and the Chemical Brothers, the link to club culture was solidified. Yet Orton considered herself a folk musician.
“I’ve always sat comfortably in my skin,” Orton says. “I suppose I see myself essentially as a folk singer. Or as someone who loves songwriting. So I suppose in terms of genre, it’s hard for me to talk about it. I think in a way it’s more about my adventure in life. My experience has been that, when I first started making music, it was the club culture that took me on, weirdly. That was who I was kinda hanging out with and that’s how I ended up making music. But I wasn’t really gonna become the front person in that kinda way. I sorta brought my sensibility to that world, and I think along the way I met a lot of people who were also not open to compromise in a way. So it was just as interesting to others as it was interesting to me.”
For the artist, the “genre” hardly matters, though she is interested in the conversations that music generates.
“I like meeting people in that way – it’s quite a deep way of meeting people,” she says. “So yeah, it’s always been quite natural. It’s always been part of the everyday stumbling – it’s never been something that I’ve sought out.”
Back in the mid-‘90s, Orton was a big hit at UK festivals such as the sadly defunct Phoenix, thanks to her ability to cast a wide net. At the time, she didn’t see it that way.
“I was just living it, so I wasn’t seeing it from the outside,” she says. “It’s like looking in the mirror the wrong way because for me, I’m trying to look and see myself through the mirror but I can’t obviously see myself the way you’re gonna see it. But for me, it’s been much less about that, and it’s interesting to hear what it must have been like to witness that, but for me it was just very natural. It’s lovely and very interesting, a meeting of worlds.”
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. Orton followed up Trailer Park with the gorgeous Central Reservation in ‘99, and never looked back. Last year’s Weather Alive is her eighth studio album, and people seem to like it.
“It is hard to know,” Orton says. “Nobody’s on social media telling me it’s a piece of shit. I presume they like it. They come to the gigs. People seem happy with it.”
There was a six-year gap between 2016’s Kidsticks and the most recent record. Of course, COVID happened. But Orton basically puts the gap down to life.
“I moved countries, moved home, put another record out, toured it,” she says. “I was touring that until about the end of 2017 and then around 2018, once we settled where we were, I got a piano and got into writing songs that became this record.”
Orton is back in Los Angeles to perform at the Masonic Lodge, Hollywood Forever on Sept. 28 and Sept. 29. As a former resident, she knows these parts well.
“I lived there for a while,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of friends in L.A. I really like it. It’s weird. Some of my best girlfriends are out there. What’s interesting to me about a lot of the women out there is they manage to be artists and parents, and haven’t given up on either. I think back in the day it was affordable, it’s not anymore, but back when I first started going there, there was the possibility to live out there and be creative. I think it’s obviously been a very creative place for many, many years, but I think round the edges there is, or there was, this wild, beautiful time. Spending time with Beck and spending time with Elliott Smith, being creative there, it was just really beautiful and I had really, really special experiences.”
Orton has remained close to the friends she made here in the late ‘90s, and she still sees them when she comes here.
“I really have some deep and meaningful relationships with people, which is supposedly not what happens out there,” she says. “I know a lot of people who have had those experiences. And yet it can flip very quickly into something else. That only really happened to me later in life. But I always seem to be lucky, in terms of meeting really lovely people there.”
Orton will try to mix the sets up over the two nights, so it might be worth going to both if you’re a super-fan.
“I’m basically working up a lot of songs, so I can do a selection from every album for this tour,” she says. “I played L.A. last year, so this time I wanted to mix it up a bit. I’ll definitely be playing from the new record as well. Not the new record anymore, but it is to me. So yeah, there’ll be a selection each night of different songs, different tracks, different music.”
And next? Orton will be traveling to Australia in November, and will look to record new music in-between. Call her music whatever you want, but there’s going to be plenty more of it.
Folking awesome: Beth Orton performs on Thursday, Sept. 28 and Friday, Sept. 29 at the Masonic Lodge, Hollywood Forever.
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