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Michael Stipe interview
Michael in the Middle
[ Tori-related excerpt ]
I FOLLOW MICHAEL STIPE TO LOS ANGELES, WHERE HE'S WORKING on music and undergoing dental work. I visit him at a studio where he is recording a song with Tori Amos for Don Juan De Marco and the Centerfold. We are supposed to spend time talking together, but they are running behind so it isn't impossible ("I feel like a bad date," he apologizes), and instead I just watch. Perhaps you have wondered what happens when records are made. Sometimes it goes like this:
"Come in," he says when I arrive. "We were just talking about cannibalism." Tori Amos sends Michael into the vocal booth. He sings, but too quietly. "I'm stuffed like a pig," he apologizes to her. Then he burps at huge volume. "Why can't you sing as loud as you burp?" demands Amos. He sings the line again. Silence.
"Tor-eeeee?" he inquires.
"Yes-eeeee," she answers.
"It sucked?" he inquires further.
"No, it didn't suck," she says. "It was great. The pitch was kind of funky, but it should be good..."
He tries a new harmony.
"Was that a third?" he asks apologetically.
"Yes," she says sternly. "It's okay -- we're still friends. I won't pee on you." She turns to me. "I hate thirds," she explains.
Michael returns to the control room; they listen to the playback.
"The tone of my voice is so..." -- he pauses, looking for the right words -- "Grand Canyon."
It is Tori's turn to sing. She adds a new countermelody to the chorus. "It's Moses parting the Red Sea," says Stipe.
"Yeah, it's exactly that," says Amos dryly.
"It's a Charlton Heston in a fright wig," he continues, unbowed
Stephen Dorff arrives. Michael shows him the sparkly black trousers he took from the Details photo session this morning, and turns around so that Dorff can pull down the back and see the label. Tori goes off to sing some more. Michael instructs her to try an octave higher.
"Are you serious?" she says. "You'll say I'm a new-age Druid."
"I'll allow it," he says. "Enya has left the building."
She sings it again.
"More balls," he says.
"More balls? Like I care about you?"
"Be a redhead."
She tries to follow these instructions.
"I think it's a little precious," he says. "Push the same amount of air but make it a little wilder, and we're on the way to Zaire."
This time she not only follows these instructions to everyone's satisfaction but sings the words "on the way to Zaire." If it makes the final, cut, it will be just the thing for generations of Stipeoplogists to overponder for months at a time.
Tori suggests that it is time to break out the Guinness. Bottles are passed around, and the entire song is played.
"Would you fuck to this, Chris?" she asks me. "I would."
Maybe I would, I say.
"We'll put it on a loop for you," offers Michael.
"I'll wear my rubber dress," she says.
[ end of excerpt ]
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