You may think you know about the heartbreak in Norah Jones's life after listening to her excellent new album. And you'd be excused for thinking that. After all, the album is called Little Broken Hearts. And a quick Google search will provide most of what you need to know about her recent loves, and recent loves gone bad.
However, the 33-year-old multiple Grammy Award winner isn't bothered by how listeners translate the 12 songs on her fifth full-length album.
"People are going to read into stuff no matter what, and that's fine," she says over the line from her New York City home. "I know what it is and what it isn't. [The new album] is definitely not a diary."
Below, the singer discusses working with Danger Mouse on Little Broken Hearts, reflects on fame and tells us how a dinner party at her place would go.
Q: The new record debuted at #2 on the Billboard charts. Is that success, for you?
A: No! Not at all.
Q: How do you define success, then?
A: Being proud of something and feeling good about it. And when people respond and say they like it, that's good too.
Q: How did you come to work with Danger Mouse on this project?
A: I met him on the Rome record. He asked me to sing on it. We got to be good friends and we worked together really well, and I asked if he wanted to work together again. We both work fast together and got along really well. We have pretty different musical influences, but it's not like we're from different planets. It's pretty easy to understand each other.
Q: Was there a mandate for the album? An intent to make sure this wouldn't be the same as previous records?
A: It wasn't premeditated ... it was a natural thing. We just sort of threw stuff at the wall, saw what stuck and sounded good; saw how we made things sound. We both put our own things into it but also compromised on each other's [ideas]. It was so much fun to have another perspective on writing and making a record.
Q: Inevitably, people are going to imagine your personal story behind the lyrics. Is this something you have to be comfortable with as a songwriter?
A: I don't really care. However anyone relates to it is fine with me. People are going to read into stuff no matter what, and that's fine. I know what it is and what it isn't. It's definitely not a diary. If people relate to it or make up a story, that's good. It means it's touched them in some way.
Q: Do you self-censor your lyrics, to avoid getting too personal?
A: Not really. As long as the song is good. All is fair in love and songwriting. You have to be respectful, but it's your song – it is what it is. There's a lot of personal stuff that can go into songwriting but there's also a lot of dramatization and fictionalization. You have to do that to make a good song.
Q: What advice do you have for the brokenhearted?
A: Eat a cheeseburger, it will make you feel better [laughs]. I don't know. Do something fun for yourself. Get your head out of your ass. You have to wallow in it for a while. But after a while it's time to move on.
Q: Is it the "eating cheeseburger" part or the "wallowing" state that you write your songs from?
A: It's not really pinpoint-able. These songs were written this summer, very intensely over a two month period with Brian [Danger Mouse]. And I was pretty happy when I was writing them. Everybody goes through different feelings in their lives and these songs touch on a lot of different feelings that we all go through.
PLAY [LISTEN: Norah Jones discusses achieving early fame and both the benefits and trappings that can come with it.]
Q: Some of your fans might be surprised to hear this kind of record from you.
A: Yeah, that's OK. It's OK to be surprised.
Q: The album art is inspired by Russ Meyer.
A: There was this Russ Meyer film poster in the studio, where we recorded all the songs. In Brian's studio. It's just a great poster and it kind of made its way into the record. I stared at it every day. I loved it, I couldn't stop looking at it, I just thought it was the coolest visual. So it made sense to make it into the cover. I think that the record is pretty cinematic, and that's [Brian's] influence.
Q: What's your perfect day?
A: Making breakfast. Having a day off, and hanging out in the backyard. Hanging out with my dog and boyfriend. Cooking.
Q: Do you have a specialty dish?
A: I make a good fried chicken.
Q: What would a dinner party at the Norah Jones residence look like?
A: I like barbecuing because it's easy. Some steak and fish tacos. Play some vinyl – Neil Young's Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. That's a good one.
Norah Jones performed a special live set on CBC's Q on Wednesday, May 16. Listen to the interview and her performance here.
Norah Jones' favourite murder ballads
Songwriter Rodney Crowell and author Mary Karr (and guests including Norah Jones) partner on Kin
Broken Bells on Q TV
Norah Jones plays The Hour's Holiday Special
on May 14, 2012