'Making A Clean Break!'
Singer/songwriter Beth Thornley is equally proud of, confused by, and slightly frightened of the list of musical artists to which her sound has been compared. “There are as many male artists as female,” she laughs. The songwriting and music on her first two releases have been compared to everything from Aimee Mann, Beth Orton and Tegan and Sara to Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Folds, The Fray and even U2.
With her new album Wash U Clean, Thornley continues her relentless exploration of the countless genres making up the landscape of modern pop music. “I like to write in a variety of styles,” says Beth. “As a piano-based singer/songwriter it’s very easy to fall into all-too familiar patterns, so I like to step into some different musical shoes for inspiration.”
From the first baritone sax honks of the opening track to the cheerful ukulele-driven defilement of good-luck charms in the final track, Thornley and producer Rob Cairns work to give each song its own unique life, sound palette and color.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Beth Thornley and my first wondered, as it had been overly stated that she was a singer/songwriter that writes an 'eclectic mix of melodic modern rock/pop,' if that was a truly fair assumption of who she thought she actually was?! "I think it’s pretty fair. My albums are definitely eclectic. I don’t just do one thing. Sometimes it throws people so I like to warn them."
Being that you seem to release albums only every three (3) years, why is that timeframe the norm now for you? "It’s just how it’s turned out. This one might have come out in 2008 except that I ran into a scheduling conflict with my producer and this project went on hold for 10 months. Albums usually take a long time and if it’s not the only thing you’re doing, it takes even longer. Also, I would add that I’m not a speedy writer. I envy certain writers like Elvis Costello who seem to have an endless supply of new songs inside them and can pop out albums all the time but that’s not the kind of writer I am."
Indeed, how does the new album, 'Wash U Clean' differ musically, if at all, from 'My Glass Eye'? "I would like to hope that it shows my growth as a writer and growth in its production value. My producer, Rob Cairns, has done all my albums and we both hope we keep getting better. I have to add, though, I’m still very proud of my earlier albums and have songs on them that will always be favorites of mine."
And just where did that new album title originate from anyway - and what else could it so easily have been called, if another possible title you were mulling over had been chosen instead? "I liked how the song with the same title turned out and I liked that it only used 3 words, which I hoped would make it easy to remember. I also liked that it was a little bit different; it’s not a phrase you hear every day, although it’s not totally unheard of either. Bottom line was that it felt good to me. Other titles were “Honey Leather Blitz”, which is an anagram of my name and “I Know Where We’ve Been”, which is a line in one of the songs."
Fun Five - OK, it's now time to fire off some quick questions - to allow those that think they know Beth Thornley to perhaps think again!
a) If you could take one (1) CD (not yours!), one (1) book, and one (1) DVD/movie with you on a relaxing getaway, which would they all be - and why? "Since this isn’t a “stranded on a desert island” scenario, I will go with what I’m listening to, reading and watching right now which is Sara Watkins’ new album, “Sara Watkins”, “The Epicure’s Lament” by Kate Christensen and (I know it’s more than one DVD) the current season of 24."
b) Is there one of your songs that you look back on and would today change the title to, or a line/lyric from it - and if so, which one, and why?! "I see all of my songs as songs that could still be improved. There’s a saying, and I don’t know who to credit it to, that goes something like this – “art is never finished, only abandoned”. That’s how I feel about songs. I do my best and then have to walk away. I just try to make sure I walk away at a point that I can live with."
c) Do you have a recurring nightmare or dream - and if so, how does it usually end? "My recurring nightmare has only recently stopped recurring and that’s the one that everybody has – showing up at school without clothes on and/or not being prepared for a test and/or not being able to find my classroom. The recurring dreams I have now usually involve places; – places I’ve never been to but I keep dreaming about the same ones over and over. One of those places is a city, gothic architecture, very urban with tall buildings; somewhat dark and cloudy, however, not completely unfriendly – just not embracing, and I’m always looking for someone but I’m not sure who."
"The other place is a city at the base of a snow covered mountain and I get into a car and go up a windy road to the top of the mountain where there’s a beautiful mountain town/restort and even though it’s lovely, I’m confused when I get there because I can’t remember why I’m there or what I’m supposed to do. Hmmmm……they still sound like the school dream except without the school and, thankfully, I have my clothes on."
d) What is your sweetest, guiltiest pleasure (food wise!) late at night? "Ice cream!"
e) If you could meet any deceased celebrity, who would it be - and what would be the first question you would ask them? "Hillary Clinton, except she’s far from dead and she’s a politician and not a celebrity. But she’s kicking ass right now and that’s cool. I guess I’d ask her for her take on solutions of world issues – you know, something simple. ;-)"
This new album features songs that embody a dark wit, bleakness, and even optimism, among other feelings - so how much is your real life, poured in-between the cracks of the songs to give them body, compared to fiction pulled from the clouds? "All the songs are about me. Every writer is writing about themselves even if they’re writing about someone else."
Your work has been featured in a variety of TV and film projects, but does one stand out more than the rest as being a very proud moment for you to hear your work within one project over all, perhaps? "Even though I’ve been lucky with the placements, I haven’t had a “huge” placement that would make for a big moment, but I’m happy people find that my music resonates on an emotional level enough to pair with picture."
If asked to record one for charity, what '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover today...and why? "I’d probably cover something from Prefab Sprout’s 'Steve McQueen' album."
Lastly, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, Exclusive Magazine loves Penguins (the flightless bird, not the hockey team!) ...do you? "Yes; me and Lyle Lovett!"
Interviewed by: Russell A. Trunk
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