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NRC Handelblad (the Netherlands)
January 31, 1994

For songstress and pianist Tori Amos songs are living creatures with their own will

"MY BEST WORK COMES SAILING INTO ME LIKE A SPIRIT"


By HESTER CARVALHO

Tori Amos is having breakfast. Reluctantly she smears peanut butter out of a plastic cup on her croissant. Later, when she's finished eating, she informs cautiously if Dutch people always eat 'peanutbutter' instead of butter. When that misapprehension can be blamed on the somewhat carelessly served hotel breakfast, she emphasizes her willingness to adapt to the customs of the land she's in. Because, she says, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do." For the American songstress Tori Amos, nothing is impossible. People whom she likes at the first meeting are probably friends from a former lifetime. She claims that male journalists who've misbehaved themselves are having trouble with their period, because men would have that problem as well. Female unmannerlyness are the result of too little sex. And her songs Amos considers as living creatures with an own will.

Two and a half years ago Tori Amos released a first solo-CD, 'Little Earthquakes' (1991), which displayed her emotions dressed in restless piano-sounds. Amos whispered and groaned. While the record sometimes irritated due to the intrusion of the emotions, she impressed with her unovercomedness. When she came to perform the songs live, Amos appeared to be brought in ecstasy quite easily. Sat on a stool transversely, her hands wandered about on the keys and her feet stamped on the floor rhythmically. The piano has always been a means to express herself, Amos says. "I have an unusual approach of the piano, because I was never interested in learning about pianists. I was more inspired by the guitar. And when you do stylistically on your piano what you've seen from guitarists, you get an altogether different style of playing. For me it was a way of expanding my vocabulary."

For the recordings of the second CD "Under the Pink", Tori Amos stayed together with a producer and an engineer in a hacienda in Mexico for six months. There her piano stood, and there 'it' had to happen. The writing of new songs is an irreversable process to Amos. "A part of the music just comes by sitting down, playing and trying things out. But the best and most important work comes sailing into me like a spirit. Then I'm not the intitiator, but merely an instrument. That's how for instance 'Bells for Her' came to be. One day in our hacienda I said to Eric, our producer, "I think something will happen today". But all day nothing happened. I was standing in the kitchen, cooking something. I didn't dare to sit behind the piano. Because at such a session you must close out your critical judgment. It just happens to you: the music comes, the words, the chords, the singing notes. There is no time to think 'Oh God, that wasn't a good chord', because then you're already on your way to the next one. When you feel something like that coming it is difficult to empty out yourself and to dedicate yourself to the process, before your producer. But if you break that enchantment, that's the most stupid thing you can do. Then I'm out of it for weeks. But that means you didn't have enough faith.

"So... Then Eric came to the kitchen and said, "Hey, the day is almost over, when will it come?" So I went and played a little on the piano, and there it was. Eric had pushed the 'record' button just in time, it was on it in one take. That was 'Bells for Her'. Now I must learn to play it again so I can play it live, because I haven't played it since."

The only preparation that was made before recording "Bells for Her" was the adjustment of the piano. Like the 'prepared pianos' of composer John Cage some strings per hammer were deadened and pieces of rubber were sticked between the strings. The instrument therefore sounds fragile and haunting. 'Bells for her' is according to Amos part of a 'triangle', together with 'The Waitress' and 'Cornflake Grl'. "My first record dealt with the differences between the sexes. This one is about a number of individuals. In my relationships with (female) friends I have had a number of disappointments. I always had high expectations of the 'sisterhood', but women can betray each other horrifically. And that's worse than a man betraying you. Because women touch places that men cannot find. The song 'The Waitress', in which I utter my anger on a woman with physical violence, is my way of settling with the idea that girlfriends are always capable of understanding each other."

'Under the Pink' sounds more controlled than 'Little Earthquakes'. The record has less emotional eruptions and the way Amos presents the theme of sexuality is not as bold. The challenging 'Look I'm standing naked before you' (in 'Leather') has been replaced by 'I once knew a hot girl' (in 'Past the Mission'). "My new CD is maybe a little more sad, but it deals with painful subjects. 'Past the Mission' refers to a personal experience with sexual violence, which I've had a song about on 'Little earthquakes' also. So, the remark 'I once knew a hot girl' is painful. Where's she gone?"

"On this record there are songs about the healing from that experience, like 'Baker Baker' ('Make me whole again'), Past the Mission', 'Yes, Anastasia.' The idea is to rescue myself from the role of a victim. That I have a choice left. Though I can't change what has happened, I can choose how to react. And I don't want to spend the rest of my life being bitter and locked up. That's also the thought behind the phrase "past the mission/I smell the roses"

Under the Pink has recently been released by Warner Music.


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