Little Broken Hearts is the darkest album in Norah Jones’s 10-year-career, and the record’s first single was Happy Pills. Is she depressed? Are we talking Prozac pop? In advance of shows in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa this weekend, the downy-voiced chanteuse talks pep, pedicures and producers.
On Little Broken Hearts, do the songs represent heartbreak you’ve received, or caused? Or are they just stories?
That’s a good question. People keep doing that, attaching the heartaches to me. There’s some personal stuff in there, but there’s also a lot of drama in there. I certainly wasn’t brokenhearted when I wrote the songs, but we’ve all had our hearts broken. We can all draw on memories of what happens and the feelings that come with it.
Are there other things which you can draw on?
It could be a movie. It could be a friend. It’s easy enough; it’s everywhere.
The producer and co-writer on the album, Brian Burton, had the idea that the material should be dark and moody. Did he push things in that direction, or was it more organic?
Once he suggested that, I said “Well, I’m not really looking for that, but I’m open to whatever.” He said, “Yeah, me too. Let’s just see what happens.” So we weren’t really focused on that at all.
The album cover is based on a poster of a Russ Meyer film, Mudhoney, and there’s a cinematic feel to the record. Is that a continuation of your previous work with Brian on the Rome album with Daniele Luppi?
Brian brings that. It’s something he does often, and he brought it out in me. As far as the movie poster, it was on the wall in the studio. Brian collects them. I looked at it every day for at least an hour, collectively, when we’d be writing lyrics. It just made it into the record somehow.
Was it Brian’s idea that you write the record together?
It was. He didn’t want to just produce a bunch of songs I’d already written. At first I was like “okay, fine.” But I’m glad it happened that way, because his real gift is in the whole process, rather than hiring a band and making it sound good. I was psyched – I didn’t have to do any homework.
I asked the Black Keys what Brian brought to their latest record. Would it surprise you that they said melody?
Not at all. I don’t think people realize what a great songwriter he is. He loves a good melody. You think that should be a given, but it’s not. And this was such a collaborative thing. I’ve never worked with a producer before who wrote songs with me.
Not Lee Alexander?
That was different. We would finish songs for each other. We wouldn’t write side by side.
Your last album, The Fall, was a ‘break-up’ record. This new album addresses some of the same themes, but it is more conceptual. Are you committed to the cohesive album form?
Yeah, I like albums. These songs stand on their own, but I know that whenever I played them for my friends, even though they liked them, I knew they weren’t getting the whole album at the time. It works as an album.
Does it bother you that fewer people now listen to albums?
People can listen to music however they want. Sometimes an album is a great thing. Now, whether it’s valid for most people any more – whatever. But there are a few people who still like to listen that way.
You’re one of those artists who will probably never be able to match the sales of an album you released earlier in your career. How does that make you feel?
I’m happy. I’m not doing so bad. I mean, I’m never going to have the success I had on my first album, but I don’t know that I would want it. That was a full-time job. It was crazy.
Of course, that debut record, Come Away With Me, with 20-million copies sold and five Grammies, gives you the luxury of deciding how hard you need or want to work now, right?
Well, yeah. It afforded me this theory where I just want to be happy. I’m set. So, sure, if I had no money in the bank I would feel differently. I might do things differently. I have no idea.
You’ve said that your greatest fear is unhappiness. You address that with the album’s first single, Happy Pills. Are you on happy pills now?
I have things, but not that I rely on in a bad way. A pedicure. Spaghetti. And a martini. The lyrics to that song are quite dark, actually.
Darkness makes for good songs. Some songwriters will say that the sadness is almost worth it, if a song comes out of it.
No, I understand. That’s how a songwriter feels. You go through something, you write a song and you’re proud of that song. That’s how it goes. But I want to be happy. Happy is so much nicer.