Norah Jones: Q&A
Quarantined Artists is a new FUV feature that includes online Q&As and on-air conversations with musicians dealing with life in Covid-19 lockdown.
Norah Jones was to release her seventh studio album, Pick Me Up Off the Floor, the first week of May, a relatively quick followup from last year's collection of stand-alone singles, Begin Again. The origins of Pick Me Up Off the Floor wasn't a conventional one — Jones admits that she didn't set out to write and record an album — and as it turned out, its rollout wasn't going to be an easy one either. The Covid-19 pandemic pushed the new album's release date to June 12 and touring is another hill of uncertainty to climb.
Jones's albums haven't always been blessed with outwardly fortuitous timing: quite memorably, what was to become her breakout, diamond-certified (and internationally multi-platinum) debut, 2002's Come Away With Me, was released barely six months after 9/11. But like that very first album, Jones's Pick Me Up Off the Floor prophetically intuits the intense pain, bewilderment, and communal fortitude of these historic times, and finds a way to articulate complicated emotions. The songs shudder, soothe, and soar with candor and vulnerability. It's impossible not to listen to Jones's latest single, "How I Weep," and not believe that she had the foresight to write it for this current crisis.
Earlier in April, she began playing her own mini 'Live in the Home' concerts (usually Thursdays around 4pm ET on her Facebook page, but whenever she can) and she also found time for FUV's Quarantined Artists series. She emailed us about the germinal start of Pick Me Up Off the Floor, her work with Jeff Tweedy, and how she's handling this uneasy stay-at-home era. She also made us a Spotify playlist of some songs that give her some peace of mind (and when Pick Me Up Off the Floor is released, we'll add a couple more songs from that as well):
Your seventh album, Pick Me Up Off the Floor, was written and recorded long before this Covid-19 pandemic nightmare, but there is something prescient about songs like "I'm Alive," "How I Weep," and "Hurts to be Alone." The desire for connection and comfort in very dark times.
Yes, these songs have taken on a whole new meaning! I guess I was feeling some deep things when I wrote them. Like any human, I go through my ups and downs and writing is a nice outlet for when I’m feeling all the feelings.
Your debut album, Come Away With Me, which came out in late February 2002, was enormously healing in the aftermath of 9/11. Pick Me Up Off the Floor is also keyed into this present zeitgeist and need for solace. Even the intimate sound of the album — lush piano, brushed drums, hushed harmonies, bluesy jolts of defiance — feels intuitive. How did you envision this album when you were starting out and what surprises you the most of where you ended up?
I didn’t set out to make a record. I was actually trying to avoid it. The last few years I’ve been making music with the intent to collaborate with different people and release singles every few months. This process ended up inspiring me more than ever and I ended up with a lot of extra songs from each session. After a while I kept listening to them and realized it was its own album. Once I started thinking of this as an album, it all fit together as if it was planned. After all, I guess all the music still came from me in a short period of time, so it's not that odd. And there were a lot of sessions with some of the same musicians. But the thing that surprised me most is that I started doing these collaborations and ended up with a very personal album. These songs are a bit lonesome, but also have an intense longing. There are some glimmers of hope within the album and I wasn’t sure how to shape it all till I actually sequenced the record. Then the story all came together.
For this new album, you worked with Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer on your single "I'm Alive" and the track"Heaven Above." You and Jeff also collaborated on two songs on 2019's Begin Again. What do you like best about connecting with Jeff?
Jeff is someone I’ve admired for a long time and actually known now for almost 18 years. Although we were casual friends, it was amazing to actually spend three days writing and hanging out together in his studio. I can’t speak for him, but I felt an instant connection musically and we had a nice quick flow to picking up different instruments and throwing these songs together. As with all these collaborations I’ve done in the last few years, I could easily keep going and want to make a whole record with the person. But that would be a bigger commitment and more difficult to pin people down to quickly get together. This is what has made it all so exciting, that people are able to give a few days and we can do these intense sessions where we get in each other's heads. I love harmonies and I wanted to add some special background vocals. I wanted something specific and to have almost like a backup section sound. So I called my friend Ruby Amanfu; she and her husband Sam Ashworth came to Brooklyn and made for a killer harmony duo.
There's a hint of Texas drifting through this album too, as in the haunting "Were You Watching." Is there a particular track on this new album that feels even more personal or relevant now, given all that we're facing — and why?
I think there’s a hint of Texas drifting through all my music, it's just in my bones. There are many songs on this album that have a new weight to this since this pandemic hit. One is “This Life."
How are you looking after yourself, your family, and keeping your spirits up during this crisis?
I have two young kids so they definitely keep my days from being boring and keep me on my toes. We all go through moments of feeling low in this time, missing friends and school, and being outside around people. I’ve especially enjoyed doing yoga and cooking when my kids give me a minute, and sometimes they do it with me 'cause that's the only way I’ll get it done.
When we emerge from this global lockdown, how do you hope the world will change?
I hope that change can come from all this pain people are feeling. I hope our society will no longer accept the precarious way things are set up to the detriment of people who are in financial strife and in most need of health care, child care, paid sick leave, and all of these things that have been glaring problems during this time. I hope our leaders are held to task to figure out how to better take care of all of us and not just some.
- Norah Jones
April 11, 2020
Stay-at-home Playlist (compiled by Norah Jones)