The heroine
When In Rome: Norah Jones

Read an interview with Norah Jones about her involvement with the spaghetti western inspired 'Rome' album alongside Danger Mouse, Daniele Luppi and Jack White.

When did you first become aware of the project?

Gosh, I guess like three years ago or something. I just got an email that Brian and Jack were doing this project, and so I gave them my number. Then Brian came over and played me some songs that he had already recorded, and kind of explained it to me. It sounded fun and it sounded great, and I love Brian and Jack - of course I was already aware of their music and am a fan - so it was kind of a no-brainer for me to get involved.

There was a lot of time and effort put into the project by the time you became involved. Were you fascinated as much by the back story as you were the players?

Yeah. I came in at the end. I thought the whole story was interesting, the whole concept and the whole theme they had going, which they’d had going from the beginning. But mostly I just loved the music. All those Italians...they just sounded so good! It’s so nice that they went over there to record it. And I ended up really liking the songs. Because when he played for me, I think maybe there were one or two Jack songs already recorded, but I didn’t know anything about the songs I would be singing, or what they would be like. But when Brian taught me the songs, I really liked them a lot.

Brian and Daniele had very specific ideas about what they wanted for the vocals, which is why they sat on the instrumentals for so long. When you came on board, did you feel pressure to meet their exacting expectations, or did the fact that you got the job in the first place mean that you were going to be okay?

It didn’t feel pressured at all. It felt very comfortable, like, ‘Hey, how’s it going? You want to do this?’ ‘Sure.’ And then once we went into do it we were like friends and it was fun. It wasn’t a big high pressure thing - there was no record label looming - it was just Brian doing his thing, and Daniele came in one day. I didn’t feel any pressure. I didn’t know if I was auditioning - I thought I was just doing it! (Laughs)

What were they like to work with?

It was fun. It was just me, Brian and the engineer. Daniele came in on the second day. I didn’t work with Daniele as much - he kinda just came in at the end to check our work. (Laughs) Just kidding! But it was fun, and just felt very comfortable, which is always the best.

You’re no stranger to collaborations. How has this one been different?

Well, this one has been more of a relationship. You know, there was more than one song, and it was more than one day in the studio, and we ended up hanging out a lot as a result. So it ended in a nice friendship - not that they don’t all, but it’s just nice to be able to spend more time with somebody musically. You get more of a sense of what they want and what they want from me. It beats just going in and doing it real quick and not knowing if you did what the person wanted.

Do you have a method of choosing whom you want to work with?

Of all the interesting collaborations I’ve done, it’s been more like they asked me, or I’ve asked them if it makes sense for a song, and it’s just kinda random. It depends on the project or the song - everything is different.

You are a very successful artist in your own right and don’t have to work with anyone else, but you choose to. What do collaborations offer you?

It’s fun. For me, it’s fun to do different things and meet different people and get pulled outside of your own comfort zone, but it’s also good musically too. It’s influential, I guess. Everything I do influences me, so how fun that I get to do different stuff. And how boring would it be if I didn’t? If I closed my mind it would be kind of a drag.

The other players are the same - you all seem to like defying what people might expect from you.

Yeah. I think we probably all do it because we love what we do. It’s just fun. It’s like playing - you just get to play with other kids! (Laughs)

Brian wrote the lyrics to the songs that you sang. Did you manage to identify with them?

I loved them. That’s the one thing about the songs - I had no idea what to expect, and I didn’t know how good he was at writing lyrics. But I loved them.

Were you a bit trepidatious in the first place?

No, I wasn’t trepidatious. I just didn’t know what to expect, I guess. (Laughs) But I love that song ‘Black’; I love all the words. I thought they were all great.

Was there less pressure on you because you weren’t the band leader? Without the responsibilities of looking after everyone and directing everything, you could just turn up and do your thing.

Yeah, it’s always fun to just go and play a part.

Do you have any favourite lyrics of Brian’s?

I just love the ‘Black’ lyrics. I love that song.

Why do the two voices work together so well when they are so different?

I think they’re two pretty different sides of the coin, I guess, but also not. I mean, we sound totally different: he’s got such a raw thing, and... I dunno. It works though.

You’re perhaps the smoother side of the coin?

Perhaps. I was trying to avoid that word! I guess it’s attached to me no matter what I do! (Laughs)

That’s not a bad thing.

Exactly. It’s not a bad word. It can be used in bad ways! (Laughs)

Were you wary of the fact that two such high-profile vocalists coming on board might steal the limelight away from the people that really put time and effort into this project?

I didn’t think about it really. If anything it’s kind of a cool collaboration, and Brian has his own thing so much I don’t think it’s going to be a problem. If anything happens, it will just attract random people to the project that are maybe fans of me or Jack and then they’ll like it, and they’ll know Brian - if they don’t already!

What was the most rewarding experience of Rome for you?

Just getting to know Brian and hanging out with him and working with him. It’s just nice to have a fun collaborator.

There were suggestions that Rome could be performed live as several large productions. Is this something you’d want to be involved in?

Yeah, I would love to. I’m not sure when it’s gonna happen yet, but we’re all trying to figure out our schedules.

They’ve not discounted the possibility of doing another album the same way. If the same line-up got together, or if more friends came on board, would you like to be involved again?

Oh sure. I love working with those guys.

So anything they asked...?

Well, not anything! Probably anything!

What about working with Brian as producer of your own music?

Yeah, I think so. That would be fun.

What’s next for you? You had an album out last year, is there another one planned?

Not right now. I’m just kinda relaxing at home and figuring some stuff out.

Read further interviews with the other 'Rome' participants, Danger Mouse, Daniele Luppi and Jack White.

Norah Jones and her 'Rome' collaborators feature on the cover of the latest issue of Clash Magazine, in shops now. You can access the issue online HERE or subscribe HERE.


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