The recording was finished — all that needed to be done was the mixing and mastering. Instead, singer-songwriter Beth Thornley decided to shelve the EP she’d made in 2011.
Looking back on that project three years later, Thornley says she “just couldn’t put five or six songs out that I just felt were almost there.”
“One of the songs I felt was strong enough, but I couldn’t figure out the right way to record it,” she adds. “There was another song I absolutely loved but I never felt like lyrically I nailed the chorus. There was another song that I really liked but it didn’t fit. I hate to use this word, but it was kind of ‘jazzy’ in a way that I’m a little afraid of because I don’t deal with that genre at all.”
Around that time, Thornley also made the conscious choice to temporarily shelve her solo career, which up to that point included three full-length studio albums (songs from those releases have been featured in such TV shows as Suburgatory as well as in theatrical movies, among them Magic Mike). She was pleasantly distracted with an offer to write the score (along with her husband, composer-instrumentalist Rob Cairns) for the play Bad Apples, which was staged in 2012 and 2013 by the Circle X Theatre Co. in Thornley’s hometown of Los Angeles.
With a new EP under her belt — and this one will see the light of day — Thornley’s solo career is back on course. The four-track Septagon not only represents Thornley’s newest batch of songs; it also reflects her reaction to 21st-century changes in the way fans purchase and listen to music.
As much as she loves everything about an album — the physical CD itself, plus the artwork and the credits — Thornley realizes other people prefer single-song downloading. She also feels that making an EP works to her advantage in more ways than one.
“It’s going to cost me less money and a whole lot less time mastering four songs instead of 10 songs,” she says.
Additionally, Thornley believes that an EP “is an incredibly digestible chunk for just about anyone to sit down and listen to, and I don’t know very many people anymore who listen to entire albums. It’s kind of been proven to me with my albums that are up on iTunes: The first five songs get a bunch of listens, and after that, it just drops right off. And some of my favorite songs that I’ve ever recorded are songs six through 11 or whatever, and nobody gets there.
“If you give somebody a group of four or five songs, I think people have time to listen to that many, generally. Wherever they’re driving in their car, they’ll be able to hear most of it by the time they get to their destination. And that’s really exciting to me because I feel like my work is actually being heard.”
Septagon, due April 8, features “Last to Fall,” a song she co-wrote with Toad the Wet Sprocket frontman Glen Phillips. The seeds for the collaboration were planted when they met at the Durango Songwriters Expo in Santa Barbara, where Phillips lives.
“He just came to my hotel room, and I had a keyboard set up,” Thornley says. “We talked about a couple of song ideas, and we landed on the one we ended up writing. We spent a couple of hours together and came up with kind of a first verse, with most of the lyrics and chords, and then a lyric idea for the chorus.”
Thornley returned home, and within a month or so, she fleshed it out and sent the song to Phillips, who added his input and bounced it back to her. Toad the Wet Sprocket recorded “Last to Fall” as a bonus track for its 2013 album, New Constellation, and Phillips sings backing vocals on Thornley’s version.
“It was a highlight for me to work with him,” she says. “We’ve talked about the possibility of writing another song, but he’s so busy with Toad right now, he said, ‘If you can wait, we’ll do it.’ And I said, ‘I’ll wait.’
“I’m familiar with waiting,” Thornley adds with a laugh. “It’s something I know how to do. … Nothing moves quickly for me. I have always been more tortoise than hare.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Photo by Heidi Ross