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April 11, 1992
Sigerson Captures Amos' Emotional Tremors
By Jesse Nash
NEW YORK -- It is rare these days to find a record that truly displays an artist's emotional depth and vulnerability. It Tori Amos' "Little Earthquakes" (Atlantic), each song is so revealing of her true self one cannot help but admire her courage for releasing compositions filled with so much honesty.
"This is an album about the performer and the songwriter," says Davitt Sigerson, one of the album's producers. "The best thing about what I did as a producer is give Tori permission to express herself in the way that she really needed to. Her thinking all along had been, 'What do I have to do to take this music and make it sound like a record?' And I was the guy who came along and pretty much screwed her, with her record company, for a while because I said, 'You don't have to do anything! Be who you are! Fit everything else around you and your music and people will come to terms with it because this is great and should not be changed!'"
Songs such as "Me and a Gun." detailing Amos' rape experience close to a decade ago, and "Precious Things," about the loss of her innocence, are proof that here is a singer/songwriter who probably finds writing her music to be the best form of therapy.
Sigerson, now president of Polydor, produced six of the album's tracks at Capitol Studios in Hollywood in the spring of 1990, with John Beverly Jones engineering and mixing. Four other songs were produced later by Amos and Eric Rosse, and two tracks were produced by Ian Stanley.
Sigerson's determination to find a great piano brought the project to Capitol. "We checked out about 15-20 pianos around L.A. and wound up on a 7-foot Yamaha they had there that we felt was really responsive to Tori's style of playing and music," he says. "So we cut the songs in Studio B using an old early-'70s Neve board."
Outboard equipment consisted of some Pultec valve EQs, George Massenburg microphone preamps and parametric EQ, UREI LA 2A limiters, a Custom Beno May mike preamp, Neve compression, and Studer 800 and 820 tape machines. "This definitely wasn't a record about signal processing," Jones says.
The record was cut in analog, "quite frankly because it was cheaper," says Sigerson. Most of the performances were live piano/vocals, with additional music recorded around Amos' performance.
According to Sigerson, demos Amos had done in a more traditional way, playing along to a drum program, took a lot of the life out of her songs. "She has always sung and played live simultaneously together, and whenever you start to divorce parts of the process from each other, you get a different kind of performance," he says. "What I loved most was what I heard her doing sitting in her little studio apartment in Hollywood. And that's what I wanted to record."
There was very little mike processing on Amos' vocals, which were recorded using a Neumann U47 microphone, according to Jones. "We used the Beno May preamp and a little bit of the [UREI] LA-2A limiter on her, just to get her dynamics on tape without really coloring her voice too much."
For the piano, Jones adds, they used Massenburg preamps and the EQs, with a little bit of limiting from dbx 160Xs, and then went straight to tape. "We didn't use the board at all," he says.
According to Sigerson, there were not any challenges in recording Amos' vocals. Amos also did most of her own harmonies, which, Sigerson says, were left "pretty unflattered -- dry and upfront so that the content would come through. And she did them in one take."
According to Sigerson, several tracks did not make it to the final album cut, including live tracks that were cut with bands. "It was an album's worth of songs that kind of went through a tortured process with the record company, who didn't really totally get the record," he says. "They basically said, 'What the hell is this? How are we going to market it? You must be crazy!' But, to give Atlantic credit, they knew they had something very special and hung with it."
Musicians guesting on "Little Earthquakes" include Eric Williams on guitar and keyboard player and programmer Phil Shenale. According to Sigerson, Shenale and Rosse did most of the synths and came up with the sounds, half of which were played by Shenale, and the other half by Amos.
Paulinho Da Costa, one of the leading percussionists in L.A., who has worked very often with Michael Jackson, did some of the percussion parts on the record. Most of the bass was played by Jeb Scott, who also played a lot of the guitar. Will McGregor played bass, and played guitar on the song "Leather." Ed Green, Chris Hughes, and Carlo Nuccio played drums. John Chamberlain played ukulele on "Crucify," and other guitar work was done by Steve Caton and David Rhodes.
Nich DeCaro did orchestral arrangements for "Winter" and "Silent All These Years," which were cut at Captol's Studio A using a 40-50-piece orchestra.
"Sampled strings and real strings are two separate intruments, so to speak, and each serves a certain purpose," Sigerson explains. "For Tori it had to be a lot bigger and free-sounding. You do lose a certain rhythmic acuity with a real orchestra. The lines kind of blend together, and you can't manipulate parts and mix the same way, especially when there's other music involved. But that's the glory of it, and we definitely heard those orchestral pieces. Nick DeCaro and I would sit together and go over the score and play lines back and forth and change stuff. It was definitely an inspiration for the both of us."
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