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For Beth Orton, it's always been about the songwriting

WANT TO GO?

"Mountain Stage"

With Beth Orton, Jesse Harris, David Wax Museum, Lucy Kaplansky and Barnaby Bright

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

WHEN: 7 p.m.

TICKETS: Advance $15, at the door $25

INFO: 800-549-TIXX or www.mountainstage.org

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's not something a lot of recording artists have ever done but, when she was 19 years old, singer/songwriter Beth Orton spent three months in an Asian Buddhist monastery.

The 41-year-old Brit, who headlines "Mountain Stage's" return to the Culture Center this Sunday, said, "I did, at one point. I did it because I got the opportunity and I thought, 'I'd never do this again.'

"I really got into it, I guess. I really loved living with these people. I loved meditating, and I loved the experience of something so completely other than what I'd known before.

"Yeah," she added. "It kind of pulled me in."

Orton said the spiritual experience opened the way for her to become who she is an artist.

"After the monastery," she said, "I started writing songs."

Orton wrote a lot of songs. Over the course of her career, which began in the early 1990s, Orton has recorded six albums, two EPs and collaborated with artists such as Grammy-winner William Orbit, electronica duo The Chemical Brothers and Scottish folksinger Bert Jansch.

She's toured extensively and was part of Sarah McLachlin's Lilith Fair in 1999. Her music has been featured in films like "Vanilla Sky," and television shows including "Dawson's Creek" and "Grey's Anatomy."

For years, Orton was recognized for her fusion of folk and electronica music, which she appears to have moved away from more with her latest record, "Sugaring Season." The album, which has garnered several favorable reviews, features more of a straightforward singer/songwriter approach and less of the electronic aesthetic she was known for.

Orton didn't see it as a departure, just a matter of her current tastes.

"I've essentially always been a songwriter," she said. "What I put around the lyrics, in terms of music, I think, is the basis for what I've always been doing."

Still, whether she thinks she's really switched gears musically, Orton is definitely in a different place creatively than she's been. Her life has changed.

Since her last record, six years ago, Orton gave birth to two children, got married and broadened her musical horizons working with Jansch, whose music influenced artists ranging from Bernie Taupin and Elton John to Neil Young and Fleet Foxes.

"I spent a couple of years working with him and learning from him," she said.

And while she wasn't recording material, Orton said, she never stopped writing.

"I wrote lots of songs, and I thought a bit about whether I wanted to put more music into the world."

Orton might not have bothered if she hadn't found a new record label.

"I got a great record deal with a label called Anti," she said, "and I was just happy."

Orton doesn't meditate like she did when she was 19 and living with Buddhist nuns.

She said, "I'm not that great of a meditator; I'm not really good at sitting down. But I do other things, and songwriting is one way where I definitely can shut off myself."

Orton didn't think her kind of meditation opened the creative floodgates. That comes from how she's able to step to the side of her own mind.

"The best work I do," she said, "is when I get out of the way of it."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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