Other Worlds is your second album in a row that is very much rooted to a specific place. Do you feel that making albums as sort of travelogues is something that comes more naturally to you than making a more typical record?
I think so. I really enjoy doing it but it’s a lot of work; it’s challenging. I decided I would never go into a recording studio again after making Open Field. It kills my creativity; I need to be able to record wherever I am. That’s a lot easier these days, if you have a computer. It’s easier to just be spontaneous and more playful. I think I will always want to make another album in a similar way, but I have no idea where or how yet.
Had you been listening to much Hawaiian music before you went to Hawaii and that gave you the idea to go there, or what inspired the trip?
No, I hadn’t been listening to Hawaiian music at all. I just liked the atmosphere of Hawaii, and the beauty of the nature of the islands and I wanted that as the setting for the album. I planned it for about a year, while I was still living in New York. I pushed hard for it and made it happen.
You worked very closely with photographer Amanda Marsalis on the project. Did she take much convincing to be involved or did she jump at the idea?
Immediately! She loved the idea. She loves Hawaii, too; she’s been there a lot so she knows it very well. She does a lot of television shoots there.
She must have been able to take you to some really amazing spots then.
Yeah, indeed. We went all over Hawaii.
Did you have a favourite place?
I’m not sure. We had a house on the beach and I think that just waking up there in the morning was probably my favourite thing. Waking up to the waves was amazing.
Tell me why you picked that photo for the album cover.
The cover is sort of an homage to a photograph by David Hamilton, of a woman holding a seashell against her ear. I actually got the idea to have that image before I even started writing the songs for the album, so that was really the whole theme – that there are other worlds in there, inside the shell – and I felt that it was perfect, like it tied everything together for me. But then we had a lot of problems with clearing the image, so we made something similar. It’s not the same but it works. Also, of course, it’s me in the photo rather than that woman.
You’ve said in the past that you’ve always worked very hard on your music and wondered whether being at peace would instil a sense of laziness. But with this album it seems like you are finally embracing living at a slower pace. Do you think that has to do with living in a warmer climate, or more to do with just getting older?
I think it’s a combination of all the things going on in my life. Probably growing older is a big part of it, and finding a home for my heart. I fell in love with a person very deeply, so I felt like I had found a home for my heart in that sense. And that made me not be as afraid of settling down as I have been in the past.
Ah, lovely. Is this the first time you’ve fallen so deeply?
I’m not sure. I mean, it’s a different kind of commitment knowing that this will be forever. It’s a different thing, so maybe, yes.
When we read about Hawaii or see it on TV programmes, it’s easy to get the idea that there is music everywhere you go on the islands. Is that the case?
No, not really. I mean, there’s music in the sense of the sounds coming from nature, from birds and other animals, but otherwise it feels very quiet – unless you go into the city.
Was it important to you to stay away from some of the more clichéd aspects of Hawaiian music?
I don’t really know what the clichés are. I guess some people might see Hawaiian culture as a bit clichéd, all surfing and chilling, but I just see it as a way of life.
I don’t know. When people think of Hawaiian music they tend to think of things like luaus, ukuleles, and lots and lots of steel guitar.
Right. I did try to avoid things like a brisk ukulele and flat steel guitar. I was after more of a dreamy, adult feel, and layers of that. That was my ambition. I mean, I did work with a few steel guitar players for this album because I really wanted to find the right sound. My first instruction was that I didn’t want it to sound country-ish; it needed to be Hawaiian. The approach is so different.
‘I Want You’ has a reggae vibe that sounds nothing like anything we’ve heard from you in the past. Was that a fun song to make?
I really loved making that song. I’d never sung reggae before and it kind of blew my mind how fun it was to sing. I was actually surprised that I hadn’t done it before, so I think that was the song I was most excited about making.
I was actually going to ask you if making this kind of album had allowed you to discover parts of your voice that you hadn’t really explored before?
It really did. I feel like I’ve been doing this forever now. I mean, I didn’t think I had reached a limit or anything like that, but I thought I knew what I was doing. But in making this album I guess I didn’t, so I was a bit blown away by that. Those moments when you discover new insights, or when you’re making music that feels like you are outside of yourself, looking in, are very exciting to me.
So are the songs on the album all the ones you wrote for the album or are there some that you’ve kind of left off?
I never write more than I have to. It’s kind of draining, you know. I love doing it, but it’s like you give it all and then you have to build yourself up again.
Do you find the promotional side of releasing an album enjoyable, or do you find it kind of difficult or repetitive?
Yeah, I’m sorry. I mean, I don’t mind talking to you. It’s necessary; I want people to hear my album because I’m proud of it. Also, it’s always inspiring to me to hear how people approach and experience a record, so it’s worth all the promotional stuff. My god, I sound self-righteous, huh? [laughs]
No, no. I think I would be the same.
Yeah? I just feel like the album has been sitting with me for so long; I mean, it was done in May and we were going to release it in June but for logistical reasons it didn’t work out.
Yeah, it seems much more of a summer album than an autumn one.
I wanted it to be released during summer because for me it’s a very summery album. But, in a way, it might just keep summer for going longer. It’s very weird living in LA. I’ve been waiting for the trees to start changing but they don’t. Everything just keeps on going and it’s very confusing!