“I really love variety and I sometimes get in trouble four that. People like to be able to put a label on you and if they can’t, it kind of frustrates them,” says Beth Thornley, who’s preparing to release her fourth effort, Septagon, on April 8th. While describing her sound, she explains to me, “For me, my sound comes around to embracing different things. There’s what I’m most suited for, and then there’s some dabbling in some other things.” She also explains that she feels it’s especially important to keep herself comfortable in her own skin: “I find myself sometimes wanting to be someone else and then I’ll be like, ‘Why should I want to be someone else?’ With every artist I’ve seen, it’s the honest ones that stuck with me.” Her upcoming four-song EP (the follow-up to her 2010 LP, Wash You Clean) rings of this century’s most elegantly and sonically sunny indie pop, coupled with the kind of popularly artful 1990s singing/songwriting that often found itself on the stage of Lilith Fair and the soundtrack of My So-Called Life (The EP’s “Last Fall” was actually written with Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket.)
Beth Thornley hails from Birmingham, Alabama, where she grew up playing classical piano and singing in church choirs, however, her love of pop eventually brought her out to Los Angeles. She’s worked on each of her albums with her husband, and noted musical composer, Rob Cairns, who has played and done production work on each one. And in addition to penning and playing songs over the years that have wound up on television shows like Friday Night Lights and The Hills and even Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, the couple co-wrote the rock musical Bad Apples, which won awards from both the LA Stage Alliance and The LA Weekly Theater Awards. During our recent chat we got to discuss all of this and more…
When I ask Thornley about her latest release and how it compares to previous albums, she explains that the process feels quite organic: “Well, Rob is the producer and whenever we’re working on new music, we just try to make it better than the last one by setting a standard that’s slightly out of reach. I hope it’s evolving. I just hope to become a stronger writer and stronger vocalist.” And when describing the sounds themselves and where they pull from, she explains that is not so easy to pin down.
“Musical influences are a little across the map, but they all fall firmly under the umbrella of pop. The first song is very ‘80s – think Aztec Camera – and the second one is definitely a real firm nod to psychedelic rock, which I haven’t done and I really wanted to do (I mean, I’d love to do a whole album of that.) The other two songs are real firm in singer/songwriter piano land, like Carol King and the honesty of Americana and folk. I love that stuff!”
Thornley tells me that the actual inspiration behind this batch of songs began a few years ago, when she decided to re-think the way she viewed her own human experience: “I once heard someone say, ‘The way you see one thing is the way you see everything,’ and that really stuck with me and when I was writing these songs I was trying to reframe things. I was thinking about what I’d been going through recently and it occurred to me, ‘If things in your life are repeating, you’re likely the common denominator.’ So I decided: What if I took my personal perspective out of it?”
I’m curious (and excited) to hear that of her career, Beth Thornley considers the role her music has played in cinema to be some of her proudest moments. In fact, the anecdote which begins her latest bio discusses her watching her song “There’s No Way” (written about a friend with self-destructive tendencies) in a particularly poignant scene of the Eve-Mendes-starring film, Girl in Progress, about a young girl who attempts to prematurely enter adulthood by losing her virginity at a party. Apparently Thornley’s viewing inspired a plethora of tears, convincing her that the music supervisor who chose her song actually got what she was saying. She also tells me that the inclusion of her “Wash U Clean” in Magic Mile was a huge, and unexpected, honor: “The movie Magic Mike, that was a big surprise, I mean a huge surprise, I mean, a Soderbergh, for someone who’s not signed, like me. I have to thank my music reps for getting that.” She also tells me that that’s the kind of thing she’s most happy to continue to have happen: “That marriage of music and film to a larger work of art that’s better than something I ever could have created, that’s bigger than myself.” When I ask Thornley if she has any place she fantasizes about her music winding up, she tells me her goal is to have the opportunity for more of these cinematic collaborations of sorts: “Having a serious and beautiful movie having a really great montage and having my music playing under the montage. That’s pretty much my musical dream… Other than playing live at a big venue with a lot of people.”
Beth Thornley has an EP release show on April 26th at the Hotel Café in Hollywood, California. And while she doesn’t have any additional dates in the books, it’s something that she’s interested in pursuing in the rest of 2014… in addition to more new music: “I would love to tour and I love playing out, but I don’t have anything scheduled. I plan on recording and writing a lot in 2014. I’m starting to collaborate more, which is new to me. I was kind of always a solitary songwriter, but that’s forcing me to grow and expand my horizons, so I’m hoping to do more of that.”