The smoky-voiced chanteuse talks to us about sexploitation, murder, and secret identities.
1. She admires Russ Meyer heroines.
A poster for Russ Meyer’s 1965 film Mudhoney hung on the wall above Norah Jones and her producer, Danger Mouse, while they wrote the songs for her new album, Little Broken Hearts. Jones recreated the image for her album’s cover, in all its lurid splendour (minus the line, “Passion debased by lust”). “The album is cinematic; it’s very much dark and scary and vulnerable and mysterious, just like the poster is, to me,” says the petite, soft-spoken singer while in Toronto. “Plus, I wanted to look like [Antoinette Christiani as Hannah Bradshaw]….I think the women in his films, even though it’s a lot of boobs and stuff, have the power. Which I like.”
2. She thinks we should stop talking about her break-ups, already
Many have assumed Little Broken Hearts is a straightforward break-up album, just as 2009’s The Fall was said to be about her ex, and former bass player, Lee Alexander. “People are obsessed with finding the true meaning of things,” she says. “I think that’s a shame, because songs have their own life. It’s fine to be Adele and going through something and putting all that [into her lyrics]; for me, it’s encrypted and it’s not meant to be decoded necessarily.” Instead, she says her writing “slips in and out” of character. What’s more, Jones and Danger Mouse drew on shared experiences in writing the lyrics, and she says she has “five girlfriends going through break-ups right now. It’s a collective team effort, as far as emotions go.”
3. She isn’t really out for blood.
The most talked-about song on her new album is “Miriam,” a spooky revenge fantasy against an “other woman” that ends with the line, “I’m gonna smile when I take your life.” According to Jones, “Some people think it’s really creepy and scary, and some think it’s hilarious.” The key to the song, she says, is the “sense of the depth of the emotion that we’ve all had in a fleeting moment and you don’t act on—just that raw feeling.” She was inspired by the dark country covers she sings when moonlighting with the band The Little Willies, including Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City,” and the traditional “Delia’s Gone,” in which, Jones laughs, the narrator “just murders the bitch, and it’s like, ‘Holy shit!’” She’s keen to note, “I’m not killing anybody named ‘Miriam’ in my real life. Or I wouldn’t write a song about it—I wouldn’t want you on my trail.”
4. “Snorah Jones” she ain’t.
Despite the fact that Jones’ 2002 debut Come Away With Me is the biggest-selling album of the past decade, Jones can get away with playing tiny venues like Manhattan’s Rockwood Music Hall, with various side projects. (“At the beginning, it was hush-hush.”) Now, she says, “I play so much, New Yorkers are too busy to give a shit!” It does help keep crowds at bay when she and her mates perform covers under “silly” monikers like Puss n’ Boots or Fangbanger (named after her obsession with True Blood). She also sings in the comedy outfit White on Rice while wearing costumes. It seems mild-mannered Norah has a wilder side. Even though she’s excited about promoting her new album, she’s somewhat glum to be doing press while her backing band does things like visit the CN Tower. “They told me you can walk around it on a harness, and I got so mad, because I wanted to go so bad! I think they’re too chickenshit to do it, but I would.”
Norah Jones plays Massey Hall (178 Victoria St. #DTN) on July 6.