Editors' Notes Even though it arrives two decades into her career, Norah Jones’ eighth album is her first born from poems. Her friend, the poet Emily Fiskio, inspired Jones to try poetry, and Jones inspired Fiskio to write songs. Eventually, the two combined forces, and several of their collaborations are included here. “It opened me up to a different avenue of writing,” Jones tells Apple Music. “Plus, when you read Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein to your kids every night, weird rhymes float around in your head.” Perhaps that’s why these songs, which trace a difficult period in Jones’ life, as well as the world, still feel somewhat hopeful. Or it could be the fact that they weren’t written to fit an album at all. Instead, Jones allowed herself to record spontaneously, uploading tracks to a playlist whenever they came together—another first. “I was collaborating with different people and just trying to make singles rather than forcing an album,” she says. “It was very freeing.” Here, she shares the inside story behind each song.

How I Weep
“This song began as a poem, and then I sat on it for a few months, unsure what was going to happen. I knew I eventually had to try to turn it into a song, because that's what I do, so one night, I waited until the house was quiet, and played and sang until it came together. I always had it first in my little side playlist. It was always the first song. So when I decided to turn those songs into an album, I knew this would be the introduction.”

Flame Twin
“This is another song that came from a poem. I brought it into the studio one day and was like, ‘Well, let's see if I could put some music to this real quick and record it.’ And it came together pretty quickly.”

Hurts to Be Alone
“I had a little piano melody and some lyric ideas in notes in my phone, but as usual, I didn’t really know what they were until I started working with them. For me, songs tend to come together in the studio. This one came to life during one of those whirlwind three-day studio sessions where we wound up with seven songs. There were no bad pancakes! Lyrically, you know, sometimes you don’t even realize you’re going through something until you write a song about it. It’s only later that you’re like, ‘Oh man, I was really feeling that.’ It's a good way of processing.”

Heartbroken, Day After
“This is one of my favourites. I love how it came out with the pedal steel. It's very mournful and heartfelt. And of course it references something specific, but I like that it's still open to your own interpretation. It's interpretable to the listener. So I'm not going to tell.”

Say No More
“This is a song written by my friend Sarah Oda. She’s one of my oldest friends, and she’s also my manager, and she’s a really gifted songwriter. When she brought me this, it was basically done. All we had to do was change some of the chords. It's got a fun energy; we picked up on it immediately in the studio. For me, I thrive on spontaneity and recording with a live band. I don't love labouring over things. If we don't have a good take of a song in an hour, then we move on. It’s instinctive. Sometimes, when artists overthink songs, I think you can hear it in the music.”

This Life
“‘This Life’ has turned into one of my favourite songs on the album, and it started out as a real throwaway. It was a little backup idea, a voice memo I had that was just ‘This life as we know it is over.’ I brought that into the studio along with a couple other lines, and we wound up with a pretty good vibe. But it wasn't amazing. It was only later when we added in the part where the harmonies come that I really fell in love with it. It felt like something you’d hear in church, those big harmonies. That’s one of my favourite things.”

To Live
“I wrote this song for a session with Mavis Staples. I’d written two songs for our session, but she only wound up singing on one of them, ‘I’ll Be Gone,’ which we released as a single [in October 2019]. This was the song we didn’t wind up using, but I couldn’t really part with it. It was intended as a duet, but I liked my demo, and I thought, ‘Well, I'll just keep it.’”

I'm Alive
“This was one of the songs I did with Jeff Tweedy in Chicago. I went out there a year and a half ago to mess around with him for three days and maybe release a single, and we ended up doing four songs. Two of them are on this album, this one and ‘Heaven Above,’ and I think this one has great energy. I've known Jeff for a long time. I met him for the first time doing a TV show that we were both on in London, and ever since then we've been friendly, and I've always been a huge fan. He was one of the first people I thought to call when I wanted to start doing collaboration singles, because I thought it'd be a great way to connect. They’re just a great way to connect with other musicians without being bound to an album. They’re low commitment and low pressure.”

Were You Watching?
“I wrote this song in March of 2018, and it was the very first session I did for anything that wound up on this album. I knew it needed harmonies and I liked the idea of adding vocals that weren’t me, so I called my friend Ruby Amanfu. She and her husband Sam Ashworth came to New York and did a bunch of harmonies on four or five songs. Then I had this great violinist, Mazz Swift, who I've always wanted to work with, come in and add violin. She did a great job. She sounded like she was on the original live recording. It felt perfectly spontaneous.”

Stumble on My Way
“This song, like a lot of my songs, as you’re probably realizing, came from a spontaneous experiment. A voice note in my phone that blossomed. I always keep scraps of ideas and pick them up years later. I found one from 2015 the other day that’s currently stuck in my head. The ideas and emotions hold—the fear for the state of the world, the anxiety about being human. You think you're writing about something very ‘in the now,’ but the truth is that you’re writing about being a human on this planet that is falling apart.”

Heaven Above
“I had this song in my head before I went to Chicago, but I loved the way it came out after working with Jeff. There’s something meditative about it that works as the last song. It's a little bit like a benediction, if you go to church. A nice closing moment. You know, the album has a lot of sad stuff on it, so I wanted it to feel hopeful in the end. Because I am hopeful about things. I’m a realist, but I’m hopeful.”

SONG
How I Weep
1
4:42
 
Flame Twin
2
3:21
 
Hurts to Be Alone
3
3:25
 
Heartbroken, Day After
4
4:12
 
Say No More
5
4:58
 
This Life
6
2:38
 
To Live
7
4:28
 
I'm Alive
8
4:16
 
Were You Watching?
9
5:16
 
Stumble on My Way
10
3:53
 
Heaven Above
11
4:15
 

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