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Go Your Own Way: Norah Jones and The Swell Season Recover From Broken Hearts

Music Features Norah Jones
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Go Your Own Way: Norah Jones and The Swell Season Recover From Broken Hearts

Is The Fall a breakup record? “I think in a lot of ways it is, and in a lot of ways it isn’t,” says Norah Jones of the follow-up to 2007’s Not Too Late. Her split that year with longtime boyfriend Lee Alexander made the gossip pages, despite her silence on the subject. She has no intention of sharing her thoughts on the matter today, either, though she’s generous with the fries accompanying her hefty veggie burger at the East Village restaurant where we’ve met. “Will you have some?” she asks. “I won’t eat them all.”

I ask her about “Back to Manhattan,” a song that feels like the moment you know a relationship is really over. There’s a line where she says she’s returning to the city, where she has “a prince who is waiting.” Given that the last song on The Fall is about finding true love with a dog, I assume the prince is also a canine.

“Oh, that’s cool,” she says. “I mean, it’s not like”—she feigns petulance—”’I’m not gonna tell you what that song is about.’” Still, she doesn’t tell me. I learn she celebrated her and a dear friend’s 30th birthdays this past March with a bowling party, and that she got a poodle the color of “peanut butter,” but even though we talk and laugh ‘til the fries have gone cold, she remains elusive.

“I’m not going to talk about my breakup. I’m not going to go into details about my mom and dad. It’s tough for me to open up when it involves other people,” she explains. “There’s enough in the songs that you can piece together.” She smiles. “And you won’t know what’s about us and what isn’t.”

You might think the prince is a dog, I say. “You might think the prince is a dog,” she says. “And you might be right.” Kristina Feliciano

Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of The Swell Season starred in the low-budget Irish film Once, fell in love, won an Oscar for their song “Falling Slowly,” and then fell out of love. Everyone assumed that the end of their romance meant the end of their musical partnership. Instead, they remained friends and went to Connecticut together to record some songs. Irglová even cooked a traditional Czech dinner for the band every night. “Even though we’ve stopped being, you know, boyfriend and girlfriend,” Hansard says, “we’re still super connected. I feel like, certainly, by her side I can walk through any storm.”

Their new record, Strict Joy, has moments of strict sorrow—like Irglová’s “I Have Loved You Wrong,” a name that says it all. “I won’t lie to say that it’s not sometimes difficult to hear someone say, ‘Forgive me lover, I have sinned, I have let you go,’” Hansard says. “You know? It’s like, fuck.” But for every tragic verse, there’s a glimmer of hope. Northern-soul song “Low Rising” marks an especially tender place in the pair’s romance-turned-friendship: “I want to sit you down and talk / I want to pull back the veils / and find out what it is I’ve done wrong,” Hansard sings.

“I was trying to say, ‘Come on, we can do it!” he explains. “Come on, I want to figure this out. I want to make it better. I want us to be good friends.”

Caring for grief he cared his grief away:
And those sad songs, tho’ woe be all the theme,
Do not make us grieve who read them now-
Because the poet makes grief beautiful.

“He’s alone. He’s missing his woman. He writes poetry,” Hansard says of the poem’s main character. “But when he reads back the poetry, he finds that he’s not feeling any of the darkness of the poetry, he’s only feeling joy.” Kate Kiefer

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