Funny, honest and down to Earth, Norah Jones handled her overnight stardom with poise and humor. It was a blast to interview her on the eve of her 2004 U.S. tour. 


Talking to Norah Jones is a lot like talking to anyone else — and no one else. Despite the skyscraper-high success brought on by her debut CD, Come Away With Me — so many Grammys (five) and millions of records sold (18) that she’s embarrassed by it all — a conversation with her just seems . . . normal.

The Booker T. Washington High School grad giggles and makes jokes like any other 25-year-old but is also, when it comes to her music, extremely well-grounded and stern. She’s not, in other words, like a lot of platinum-plus rock stars, who give interviews that often feature arrogance, defensiveness and yawning.

To tout her upcoming Dallas show and her new album, Feels Like Home — which sold 1 million copies the week it was released, 3 million to date — she gave us 15 minutes. Here’s every second of them:

Q: When you were living in North Texas, did you ever make it over here to Fort Worth?

A: A little bit. My mom and I used to go to the Fat Stock Show every year. I went to museum school there every Saturday, too, at the big one, the one with the turtle out front.

Q: The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History?

A: Yeah, that one. I took pottery, took painting. I got to hold a boa constrictor. That was cool. My mom would try to take me to the Amon Carter, but I was too young to appreciate any kind of visual art. About four years ago, my mom moved to Fort Worth and lived there for about a year. She tried to get me to play Bass Hall. I was like, ‘Mom, I don’t want to work with you!’ And that place is a little stiff.

Q: So why New York?

A: I was 20 when I moved to New York. My mom’s friend had an apartment here that I could rent out, and I just took ’em up on it. I was supposed to come home, but I never left here. I loved it too much. You wanna move here, but it’s a pain in the butt. It’s hard to live here. You get lonely if you don’t know anybody. I was so lucky. I knew a lot of people, a lot of musicians. I knew where to go to get a gig, who to talk to. What if you moved here and didn’t know anyone? It’d be lonely.

Q: Feels Like Home has a subtle country slant to it. Was that sort of an homage to Texas or just a direction you wanted to go in?

A: It just came out that way. You go through phases, and I guess we were going through a country phase. What you’re listening to comes out in what you’re playing, like when you eat onions, you start to smell like onions. We were listening to a lot of Johnny Cash, Alison Krauss, old Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton’s bluegrass records.

Q: Dolly’s on one of your songs, Creepin’ In. What was it like working with her?

A: She came by after Conan O’Brien’s show, looking like a million bucks. She sang her butt off and was gone with the wind. We were nervous, ‘cuz with her, you either get it the first time or you don’t get it. She came in, and the first take worked. I took pictures.

Q: And Ray Charles. You’re on his new record.

A: I just wanted to hear Ray Charles and watch him sing. In reality, I don’t want to hear my voice all over something Ray does. He called me on the phone to discuss what song we were gonna do. He wanted me to pick the song. When he called, I was like, ‘Hey, it’s Brother Ray! Wait, let me get my tape recorder!’ My mom got to come to the recording session. I never heard her be quiet before. She’s the biggest Ray Charles fan. He wasn’t doing too well then. He had trouble walking. It was sad to see him in bad health, but I think out of all this, everything that’s happened with me, that was the most profound moment for us. It was really amazing and wonderful.

Q: When you were working on Feels Like Home, how were you able to shut the door on everything that was going on around you — the Grammys, the sales, the pressure of reproducing the success of the first album?

A: I just shut it. I didn’t care. All that stuff was wonderful and cool, but the cool thing about the studio is no one will bother you, even though they still kinda do. You have to have the artwork finished, the mixing, and sometimes they’d come in ‘with an idea.’ That was annoying. I wasn’t going to let them put it out if it wasn’t true to what I wanted to do.

But recording this was so much fun. We were in a hermetically sealed studio. You don’t even know what the weather is. I just wanted to have fun making this record and not get stressed out about it.

Q: How have you been able to keep such a low-key profile? You’re one of the most popular entertainers in the country, and there’s never anything in the tabs about you.

A: I don’t think it’s that hard. The people who want to be in the tabs want to be in the tabs. If you invite that stuff in, it’ll never leave you. Like Britney, she probably liked it at first, but I bet she doesn’t enjoy it anymore. I just don’t care about that stuff, and nobody cares about me. I’m not out making a fool of myself. I’m pretty mellow, pretty boring, just kinda hanging out. I’m not out doing coke on the bar or anything.

Q: Some of your other shows in other markets are being moved to smaller venues. Do you think your popularity’s waning?

A: I think maybe it’s stabilizing. It was insane for a while there. But if that means I get to play a smaller venue, that’s good for both me and the audience. The whole concert industry isn’t doing that well, so I’m not taking it personally.

Q: Why are you playing Smirnoff? It doesn’t seem like the type of place that’s conducive to your music.

A: Is that that outdoor venue? It used to be called Starplex, right? I think I might have seen Rush there. Smirnoff, Nextel, Verizon — it’s really odd. Why not just call it “theater”? I don’t know why I’m playing there — bigger place, I guess. I liked that place I played last time, NextStage. That was nice.

Q: It’s now called Nokia Theatre at Grand Prairie.

A: That figures.

Originally published October 17, 2004.