Norah Jones Reflects on 20 Years of 'Come Away with Me' : 'It Was an Intense Time'

Norah Jones tells PEOPLE in this week's issue that it's "nice" to revisit that time of her life "with a calm mind"

Nora Jones
Norah Jones. Photo: Diane Russo

Norah Jones is not one to live in the past.

The singer-songwriter known for her soothing serenades tells PEOPLE in this week's issue that she much prefers to live in the moment — but now, 20 years after the release of her debut album Come Away with Me, she's finally ready for some reflection.

"It's nice to revisit with a calm mind," says Jones, 43, of her whirlwind rise to fame. "I've come to a great place, but it was an intense time in my life. Even though it was super positive, it was a lot of bumps. But when you're 22, things are intense, aren't they?"

Jones is celebrating the milestone anniversary with a 44-track super deluxe version of Come Away with Me (out April 29) that's rife with treasures for longtime fans, including 22 previously unreleased tracks, original demos and a never-before-heard version of the record called The Allaire Sessions that was ultimately shelved.

The star has also penned a lengthy series of liner notes that peel back the curtain on her mindset at the time, and describe in detail just how Come Away with Me came to be.

Nora Jones Come Away With Me cover

"It's like an alternate universe of the record," she says of revisiting the music that kickstarted her career. "I don't think I got to enjoy the success of the album as much as I could have while it was happening… but it's really nice to look back and realize that it was kind of a weird, by-chance path [to] the final record that took a lot of turns and twists. Some of it was sort of buried for so long, and it's really beautiful that we get to let people hear it finally."

The album, which straddled the line between jazz, pop and country, was a runaway hit upon its release in February 2002, and sold nearly 30 million copies, topped the charts in 20 countries and swept the 2003 Grammy Awards.

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Jones had lived in New York City for less than a year when she was spotted in 2000 singing at a jazz brunch by EMI Publishing executive Shell White, who quickly helped arrange a meeting with Blue Note Records head Bruce Lundvall.

"I went to college for jazz—that was the lane I came from when I moved to New York," she says. "The truth is, I don't really think I was worried about genre. But when Bruce, the head of a jazz label, asked what I wanted to be, of course I said jazz singer because I didn't want to be rejected immediately. I certainly don't think Come Away with Me is a jazz record, and I don't necessarily think it's a pop record. I don't know what you would classify it as."

Norah Jones wins five GRAMMYs, for Best Pop Vocal Album for "Come Away With Me", Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Don't Know Why", Album of the Year for "Come Away With Me", Record of the Year for "Don't Know Why" and Best New Artist. (Photo by SGranitz/WireImage)
Norah Jones at the 2003 Grammy Awards. SGranitz/WireImage

Regardless of labels, the album was a massive success—and while Jones says that that success ranged from "slightly stressful and anxiety-inducting" to "crazy fun," she never let it put pressure on her future endeavors.

"Trying to stay on top can be exhausting, and I never wanted that for myself," she says. "I think if you focus on making music from your heart, hopefully you can get through whatever obstacles come around."

Adds Jones: "I sort of just told myself, 'You know what? This is bananas. You're never going to match it, so just play the music you want to play. Don't try to recreate your first album because that's going to backfire.'"

She's taken her own advice to heart over the last 20 years, and has released six studio albums, as well as a Christmas album, in the past two decades. She's also flexed her creative muscles with collaborations with everyone from Foo Fighters and Willie Nelson to Danger Mouse.

Jones — who will tour this spring —has also rediscovered her love for her craft through the ears of the two young children she shares with her musician husband Pete Remm, 42.

"It's just so fun for us to see stuff through their eyes. We listen to pop radio together, which is hilarious, because my husband and I have never been… we never listened to that as adults necessarily," she says. So far they love [my music] so that makes me happy. I just love music, and I'm excited to be able to still play."

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