Photo Credit: Mary Ellen Mark
Singer/songwriter Madeleine Peyroux hits the road again this spring, but with a detour from her smoky, introspective vocals. Her latest album, tentatively titled Anthem, is due out this summer and includes 10 originals and three covers—including the titular remake of Leonard Cohen’s song. We chatted with the former Boston resident before she kicks off her national tour at City Winery on April 25.
Is the album a departure from YOUR previous works? It’s a bit different in a few different ways. I have tried to do records that are mostly writing before and during those periods I was much more in my own head, and I think the songs showed that. It was almost intellectualizing things in order to show that the work had been done, that I had been thinking hard. I wanted people to think that I was giving them something deep. I kind of made the lyrics more obtuse than they needed to be, which sounds pretty critical. Even though I like those songs, I don’t think that they were as accessible. I guess this record was meant to be more accessible. I’ve opened myself up to whatever with these songwriters. It was really a kind of collaborative effort, so that the songs don’t actually have an identity that belongs to any of us at the end of the day. There’s little bits and pieces from everybody, which I think is kind of cool. And the record does not take itself seriously, I hope, because I think that’s a big part of it. There’s some lightheartedness even though we’re touching on some dark issues.
In terms of the upcoming tour, do you have anything special in mind for it? We have all these new songs. It’s also going to be a new group of people in the band because unfortunately the trio I’ve been working with, those guys are too busy. So I’m putting together a brand new show. I hope it has the humor I’m telling you about, and I guess the focus of the show will be to try to have a good time and get some laughs. It won’t very much be a jazz show, so in that sense, it’s sort of a departure from that approach.
Anything special that you like about performing in Boston? Boston is overwhelming to me. … I lived in Dorchester for about six months, and I tried to go to Berklee College of Music for a while, and I think Boston is tougher than New York—and sometimes a little more racist and confrontational. I think the weather is probably part of it, but it’s not the only thing I’m talking about. I think of Boston as being a little bit daunting. It’s also got the best schools and the most intelligent people. It’s a bit of an enigma to me. And for some reason, somebody doesn’t like me in the newspapers. I keep getting bad reviews every time I play there in this one newspaper, The Globe. I kind of don’t know what to think about Boston. I’ll just keep trying as long as they’ll have me. I’ll do my best. I have a little bit of a twinge of uncertainty, when I think I have to play Boston. I’ll try one more—I played there not too long ago. Wherever that was, it was a tiny place and it was actually quite empty, and I thought: This is it Boston. And I do remember before the show, thinking: This is the best I could possibly be. I have to have an amazing show tonight. I did all this mental preparation, probably for weeks, and then it was a half-empty room. Maybe it was a great show; I just don’t know anymore. That’s how life is, that’s why it’s so fun. It’s a good thing we could just get in the car and then go to the next city.
How did the album come about? Well, we’re really close to being finished. They’re scheduling a single to come out April 20 and then the record at the end of August. The whole project started in late 2016, came together with three or four guys in Los Angeles. My friend and producer Larry Klein was there. A couple of songwriters (David Baerwald and Brian McCloud) who were part of the Tuesday Night Music Club with Sheryl Crow were there, and a wonderful keyboard player and string arranger (Patrick Warren). We started writing in the late summer of 2016, and of course I had been living through the run-up to the election with my trio, touring around the United States quite a bit during the campaign and primaries and caucuses. And every city was going through its timeline with all this. So a couple of those things were on the list of what it’s like to be here in this country right now. And then the election happened, and then the songs got a little bit darker, I guess. And we kept getting together every few months. I would go away on tour and then come back. And we’d spend a couple of days starting songs. And at one point in the spring, I said to Larry, “I think we should make a record with this stuff.” He was into it, and we were pretty close to having 10 songs written, so I went out to L.A. some more and I spent quite a bit of time out there, especially reviving lyrics with David Baerwald because he’s an amazing lyricist and talking through stuff with Larry. So we got into tracking last fall. In a way, for me, it’s been a long process. There are now 13 songs, three of which are cover songs that we didn’t write. One is called “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen, and I do believe that’s the title of the record.
Was there a message that you’re trying to send through the new album? Well, these things obviously take shape as you go, so I feel a little bit changed by making the record. I don’t know if people will get the same thing from listening to it. The intention is never to preach in terms of saying, “This is the right way to look at the world.” In fact, I think it was a conscious choice when we were writing the lyrics to make sure that we didn’t go that way because it’s tempting for someone like myself to just decide this is how it should be. And then find out I’m wrong after it’s too late. We’re trying to avoid that. I learned about tenderness on this record, although it’s not necessarily a tender record. It’s very playful, there’s a lot of sort of pop tempos and funny lyrics. The humor is a bit dark. There’s a song called “Lullaby,” which is very much about trying to soothe the soul. There’s a song called “On My Own,” which is basically somebody waking up in the morning and realizing they have to take a look at their life—but sort of more in a Beatles attitude. It’s not very pensive sounding. There’s a song called “Down on Me,” which is a bit rock ’n’ roll and that touches on how nothing seems to be working out. My landlord kicked in my door because he thought I was part of the Mafia, and I don’t have a job, and I can’t get a credit card and various problems. There’s a song called “Party Time,” and the title belies what it’s about because it’s based on someone who is in rehab and at a mental hospital and they’re talking about how it’s not very much fun in there. So there’s some dark humor like that. There’s a song called “All My Heroes,” which I guess is the most reflexive tune because it talks about how I need some heroes and they all seem to be flawed people, and I’m trying to figure this out. I guess we’re exploring what it feels like to be exploring some identities. There’s a song called “Afternoon,” which is about basically having nothing to do in life.
What’s your goal for the tour? The new goal is the old goal, which is I want to have great shows. I want to sing songs that really work. And I’m at a place where the record isn’t out yet, and I don’t know what the response will be at all. Each song is a little bit different from the next, so the different responses from family and friends are like: “I really like that one.” I guess the goal is to see what happens and do my best to survive all this. If it turns out to be a good record, I might be busy for a couple of years, and I should probably take advantage of that by doing my best work.
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