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April 2, 1999
Tori Makes Waves
"The piano was excited - so excited because she didn't have to masturbate for the first time in a long time!" Tori Amos is talking about the making of her new album. She's talking about it in that explosively disarming way she talks about things that excite her, too. "This was our chance to go to the playground and meet the other kids," she adds.
"from the choirgirl hotel" is Tori's fourth album proper, following on from the multi-million-selling "LITTLE EARTHQUAKES" (1991), "UNDER THE PINK" (1994) and "BOYS FOR PELE" (1996). Those albums established the singer as one of the most strikingly talented song writers around today. Unorthodox, uncompromising and unashamed to follow her own unique musical instincts wherever they might lead, Tori also emerged as a phenomenally supple and brilliantly complex piano player. No-one wrote songs, sang songs, or, most importantly, played piano quite like the girl who had first sat down at a keyboard at the age of two and a half. Now, with the recording and release of her new LP, again self penned, Tori is coming at her music from a new angle.
"I developed this record around rhythm," she says. "I wanted to use rhythm in a way that I hadn't used it before; I wanted to integrate the piano with it. The whole record had piano and vocal cut live with a drummer and a programmer. I didn't want to be isolated this time round. I've done the girl and the piano thing, I wanted to be a player with the other musicians, with guitar, bass and drums."
The results, though unmistakably Tori, are unquestionably different. Compelling lyrics are coupled with pulsing, polyrhythmic patterns of beats to dramatic and sometimes disorienting effect. And although ultimately still more of an evolutionary musical change than a revolutionary one, this self imposed shift of focus has certainly been one to keep Tori on her toes. "The piano player knew her head was on the chopping block with this one." she says with a smile. "She really had to practice hard to be able to play with these guys!" The line-up on "from the choirgirl hotel" includes long-time collaborator Steve Caton on guitar, Matt Chamberlain on drums, George Porter Jr. (Meters) and Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck) on bass. The touring band will be the same, apart from bass duties which will be handled by Jon Evans.
If Tori had long known that she wanted to use rhythm and live recording in a way she hadn't done before, she couldn't have foreseen the wider source of inspiration for her new songs. Nor would she have wanted to. "I wasn't going to write this record as soon as I did." she says. "But at the end of 1996 I was near the finish of a tour and I was pregnant. I had known from very early on -- within a week -- that I was pregnant. So I lived with the feeling and got attached to the soul that was coming in. And then at almost three months, I miscarried. It was a great shock to me, because I really thought I was out of the woods and I was really excited to be a mom.
"I went through a lot of different feelings after the miscarriage - you go through everything possible. You question what is fair, you get angry with the spirit for not wanting to come, you keep asking why. And then, as I was going through the anger and the sorrow and the why, the songs started to come. Before I was even aware, they were coming to me in droves. Looking back, that's the way it's always happened for me in my life. When things get really empty for me -- empty in my outer life -- in my inner life, the music world, the songs come across galaxies to find me."
This event was the seed of the new album. The loss of her baby was what Tori calls "the egg of her music." "People had a very hard time talking to me about what had happened," she says. "And I had a hard time talking about it. But the songs seemed to have such an easy time talking to me. And I began to feel the freedom of the music."
That freedom revealed itself in a variety of different ways. "Each song would show me a certain side of herself because of what I was going through," Tori says. "So a song like "Cruel" came to me out of my anger. "She's Your Cocaine" and "iieee" came out of a sense of loss and sacrifice. And other songs celebrated the fact that I found a new appreciation for life through this loss."
Perhaps it's surprising, but "from the choirgirl hotel" -- as spiky and spirited and even barbed as it often can be -- is never sombre in the way that Tori's last album, "BOYS FOR PELE," was. "I crossed the River Styx on that record," the singer says of an album that charted what she calls "a change in my relationships with men for good." And the new album is different too from "LITTLE EARTHQUAKES" ("a diary") and "UNDER THE PINK" ("kind of an impressionistic painting"). This album emerges as, somehow, a much more complete record than the singer has made before. Tori agrees: "Each song to me is complete. They're not as interconnected; they're not dependent on each other to work. They get to hang out together and you get to know them together, but they exist quite happily without each other."
What does perhaps unite the songs is their passion. "There's a deep love on this record," says Tori. "This is not a victim's record. It deals with sadness but it's a passionate, record - for life, for the life force. And a respect for the miracle of life."
"from the choirgirl hotel" could mark further changes in the career of a star whom so may have, in the past, encouraged to court controversy. Listeners and observers straining to hear or see the effortlessly provocative, apparently "kooky" Tori Amos of legend may be a little unsettled today with the eloquent , honest woman whose definition of girl power is simply: "The power is in the people being moved." Tori seems no longer interested in playing up to people's expectations or seeing her words twisted into oddball shapes for the amusement of others. "I've already given God a blow job," she says. "After you've done that there are other things that interest you."
"This record got me through a real bad patch," she concludes. "But I can laugh with this record, and I can move my hips to this record, which is really good for me. It's very sensual - that's the rhythm." Long may the beat go on.
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