'All's fair in love and break-ups'
She's got it all, but Norah Jones's new album, her most interesting so far, is inspired by a broken heart. She speaks to The Lady about English breakfasts, missing her dog - and new loves
She has been in the music industry for more than a decade, sold more than 50 million albums and has won a staggering nine Grammys, yet when Norah Jones came to record her fifth album, she was utterly unprepared.
‘I went into the studio having written absolutely nothing,’ she confides when we settle down to chat in the Covent Garden Hotel. ‘It was daunting and exciting all at the same time.’
Norah spent two months collaborating with celebrated producer Danger Mouse – real name Brian Burton. ‘We would sit and talk and listen to music,’ Norah explains, ‘and the songs just kind of grew.’
The result was the provocatively titled Little Broken Hearts which, she confesses, is a reference to personal circumstance. ‘It was inspired by a personal break-up.’ She pauses, and a look of discomfort flashes across her pretty face.
And yet she found the process very cathartic. She and Brian would sit and discuss the ‘mystery of male-female relationships’, compare their perspectives, and then develop their thoughts into a song. ‘If you put it in a song, you don’t have to feel it any more. And I’ve always liked the slow numbers – the ones with real heart and gut.’
Does her former partner know it is about him? ‘I’m not sure. Probably. But hey, all is fair in love and break-ups.’
Her frankness is surprising, as despite being one of this century’s most successful recording stars, Norah is notoriously private. She has consistently maintained an air of mystery – no mean feat, in today’s tell-all culture. ‘Staying out of the spotlight has been both intention and luck. I certainly never put myself in that position, and happily it seems that people don’t really care.’
Norah first shot to fame in 2002, when her debut album Come Away With Me stormed up the charts. Her unique jazzy, bluesy sound captivated listeners and the album sold upwards of 20 million copies.
‘In the beginning it was a little hard to get my head around my success,’ she says. ‘I had always wanted to be a musician, but I’d pictured my career being a little more low-key.’
The accolades poured in, and she duetted with musical legends Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton and Ray Charles. In 2004, she even made the list of Time magazine’s most influential people, among luminaries such as JK Rowling and the Dalai Lama. A brief foray into acting followed, and in 2007 she starred in My Blueberry Nights with Jude Law. Music has always been her passion, though, and she keeps returning to it. But it is not always as glamorous as it seems. Sometimes it’s a hard slog.
‘I’ve had moments where I was very tired and I didn’t want to perform,’ she says. ‘It took a long while for me to feel comfortable with it. It’s a matter of connecting with the audience, speaking to them, and trying not to be awkward on stage. Sometimes you can’t feel in the zone until you’re up there doing it.’
The life of a musician is an itinerant one. ‘I miss my friends when I’m on the road. And my dog. And my house. But I’m lucky I get to explore. I can still go off and do my thing without feeling like I’m in a fishbowl.’
There are perks to the travel, too. ‘I love English breakfasts,’ she enthuses. ‘There’s just something about scrambled eggs in the UK – no one else knows how to scramble an egg like here.’
She likes to listen to music while travelling. So how does she feel listening to her latest record? ‘I think it is a bit of a grower – the more you listen, the more the melodies stick in your head.’ That is not to say she is dwelling on the sadness. In fact, in another admission, she mentions that she was already seeing someone new while recording the album. ‘I fell in love again, and we’re still together now,’ she smiles.
‘I’m proud of this album but I don’t want to make a bunch of break-up records, and I certainly don’t want to keep breaking up. I feel happy now and I want that to continue.’
Norah’s record speaks of little broken hearts, but it’s clear that she’s got a big mended one.
Norah Jones …Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note/EMI, £8.97) is out now.
Daily tip from the lady archive
"It is not always she who appears most kindly in her interest who is the safe sharer of sacred (maybe sorrowful) secrets! Charming manners do not always connote sincerity of heart!”The Lady. In Confidence. 4th April, 1918