“That’s exactly what I wanted,” Nine-Time Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Norah Jones says when I say that her new album Day Breaks “feels like now.” “The songs have a lot of throwback in them and a lot of them are in old styles. I didn’t want it to just sound like a bunch of old timey songs. I wanted it to sound right.”
After selling over 45 million albums in a career that has seen her delve into pop, jazz, country and even electronica, Jones makes a triumphant return to the piano on Day Breaks, a captivating set of alluring originals and unexpected covers featuring celebrated guests such as Wayne Shorter and Dr. Lonnie Smith. It’s an album that feels both resoundingly fresh and reassuringly familiar, from an artist who has never shied away exploring new sonic landscapes.
Just days before heading overseas on a promotional tour, Jones spoke to me via phone to talk about the intention and reinvention that went into Day Breaks.
The last time we spoke, back in 2012, you had just released your album Little Broken Hearts and you talked about your penchant for playing guitar. Fast forward four years to your new album Day Breaks, and you’re playing a ton of piano again. Can you talk about finding your way back to the instrument you got your start on?
I had to do some solo gigs a couple of years ago for a few different charities. I get asked to do things here and there, and sometimes it makes sense to do things super stripped down, because you want all of the money to go to a good cause. On one gig, they wanted a 20- or 30-minute set, so I was working out a couple of songs that were a little different. I worked out a couple of songs from my last album like “Little Broken Hearts” on solo piano, and it was kind of fun. It took it completely out the vibe that it was in and put it into a whole other one. It was a challenge, too. I think that’s kind of what kickstarted me playing more piano—just working out extra arrangements for those shows. The next one I did was a 45-minute set, so I had to learn even more random stuff. It was just fun, and I started playing more piano from there. Some songs I start writing in my head without any instrument at all, but when I was inspired to write songs for this album, I just sort of tended toward the piano.
What was it about returning the piano that felt so right?
Well, I love playing piano. It’s not something that I never enjoyed. It’s just, you tend toward different things and go down different paths that are inspiring you. I guess the key for me is to keep things inspired and fresh, and when you feel static on something, to try something else. But I feel super inspired on the piano right now. Even live, I’ve been playing more piano and I love it. It just feels good.