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Woman's Journal (UK)
November 2001

Travel Journal

SONGS OF PRAISE

WHAT IS THE AMERICAN SINGER/SONGWRITER TORI AMOS DOING LIVING IN CORNWALL? WHAT HAS LURED HER AWAY FROM L.A. TO SETTLE IN A PLACE OF WILD COASTLINES AND QUIET TOWNS? AS SHE TELLS 'JOURNAL', IT COULD BE THAT SHE HAS FALLEN UNDER A MAGIC SPELL.

I have one man, three homes and five pianos - that's not too excessive, is it? Cornwall is our main home but it's also where my husband, Mark, and I have our recording studio. I wanted to create a spot that was a little bit difficult for the outside world to get to me. I wanted a place that didn't have all the crazy anticipations that go with the music business - when I walk into the studios in LA, I can smell the fear. Often in LA, the studio's fear is greater than their faith - bless their cotton socks. But when I'm in Cornwall the record company never crosses me. There's a real positive energy force.

We've lived in North Cornwall since 1997, and it's the place we're going to raise our one-year-old daughter, Natashya. I had three miscarriages before she was born, so she's very precious. As a musician you spend a lot of time travelling and living in hotels, so when we get a chance to breathe, we want to make our own food and sit on our own porch and just play house. I love being a hermit.

Cornwall is a real heart space for Mark. He's very British. He loves the land and all the things that make Britain what it is, from local history to a good pint of bitter. He loves the fact that the Cornish still own the land. when he was a little boy, his family would drive down to the south coast and stay in bed and breakfasts. He has these fantastic memories of English summer holidays.

Since 1994, Mark has been the sound engineer on all my albums. When we first met in a rehearsal room in North London, I thought, "This is big. This is an upheaval in my life." He's a Northern lad, quite anarchic, and a little bit shaggy, you know. when he proposed to me, he said, "I'm definitely not marrying you for a Green Card. I can't live in that place," so I've had to be the one who relocated.

We have three houses. I'm restoring a Georgian house in Ireland, and we have a beach house in Florida, but Cornwall is our base. We live in a 300-year-old converted farmhouse a few miles from Bude. When we found it, Mark looked in my eyes and said "I'm at home here, I understand this place." I recognised that it was a power spot for him. It's not easy being married to a musician. If you're in a relationship where one person gets an unusual amount of attention, the other has to find a place where you can both take root. So I just figured we all had a much better chance in Cornwall.

The other great piece of advice came from Peter Gabriel. After we worked together, he took me aside and said, "you have to get your own workshop. It's very important." So we set about converting our barn into a state-of-the-art recording studio. It's called Martian Studios, and when you see all the computers and monitors, you probably do feel as though you've walked into ground control at NASA.

Being in Cornwall is like living on location. about a month before we start recording a new album, the crew arrive and it's a very creative time as everyone just gets the feel of the area. It's not like we play hooky or go off fishing - well, the chef goes fishing, which is great - but it's more about osmosis, getting to know the land.

I'd like to think our presence is quite low-key. We don't do that over-the-top, 'L.A. comes to town' thing. Although it's quite funny when the record company flies in. The chopper has to land at the rugby club nearby, and everyone has a laugh about all the fuss. They know it's not something I'd usually engage in. And I suspect the local women are quite excited by the male crew who come to work on my albums. I was once invited in for sherry by a woman who asked, "So when are you bringing that tall, dark Dutchman round?"

I think Cornwall connects with my Celtic and native American roots. I'm predominantly Cherokee Indian and Scots. As a family, we grew up in Cherokee nation land in North Carolina, and my grandfather taught me to have an instinctive relationship with the spirit of the land.

Cornwall is so spiritual, too. It's Arthurian country, full of tales of chivalry and wizardry. Travel down the coast to Tintagel and, on the rocky headland known as the Island, you'll find Tintagel Castle, said to be the birthplace of King Arthur. Locals insist it's the true site of Camelot. The cave at the tip of the island is called Merlin's Cave, and Dozmary Pool, at the heart of Bodmin Moor, is where the king's sword, Excalibur, was received by the Lady of the Lake.

I'm obsessed by the sea. For me, writing music is like jumping off a cliff and then deep-sea-diving among new coral reefs. I think women are like water, while men are much more like clay, like earth. Our house is surrounded by farmland, but when you walk out of the front door you can glimpse the sea at nearby Widemouth Bay. I have to know the sea is there. I filmed a video for my single, China, around the cove. I had a piano built out of rocks and I just slipped into the sea as the tide came in.

The land in Cornwall is so vast and dramatic, it really does hold a space for you. You can dig in as deep as you like and keep on going. In return, you must respect the land and ask its permission to enter and leave. It will protect you but you need to leave little offerings and thank you's to acknowledge its power. Walking over Bodmin Moor, I often leave presents, like a special flower, a necklace or tobacco. It's almost like the Persephone and Demeter myth - where you go into the dark underworld and then have to leave your most precious gift behind to win your freedom.

Since moving here I have got addicted to the 1970s TV series, "Poldark", which was filmed around North and West Cornwall. They've had reruns on TV and it has certainly influenced some of the tracks on my new album.

The songs I've recorded on my new album, Strange Little Girls, are all written by famous men - from Lou Reed and The Beatles to Lloyd Cole - but I recorded them from a woman's perspective. I wanted to look at how men say things - and what a woman hears. I went to what I call my 'laboratory' of men and asked them, "Which songs really mean something to you?" I got all sorts of answers. Sometimes the song triggered a memory of taking a girl on a drive, or the beach - it was as though they walked off into their own independent film. But then I had to narrow the list down to lyrics that relate to my life. I had to find my own entry point - to ask, "Who am I in this myth?" So while I was researching the album, I spent a lot of time motoring along Cornwall's Atlantic coast. If you want a dramatic drive, try the stretch of coastline leading to Crackington Haven with its towering cliffs and jagged rocks.

For a songwriter, Cornwall is a very inspirational place to be. Daphne du Maurier based her novel, 'Jamaica Inn', on the coaching inn at Bolventor. During the 19th century, it was a meeting point for outlaws and smugglers. Cornwall is a good place for bad boys and outsiders - there's always been a bit of piracy going on. What a great time in history it must have been, when people were having adventures and breaking away from the authority that was choking them.

The town of Launceston, originally the capital of Cornwall, was a great favourite with John Betjeman, and Thomas Hardy met his first wife, Emma Gifford, when he was working as an architect on the church at St. Juliot, near Tintagel. The village appears in his early novel 'A Pair Of Blue Eyes', and there are memorials to the couple in the church.

With so many wonderful places to visit, parts of North Cornwall are becoming quite metropolitan. The fashionable young surfers have invaded bude, drawn by the Atlantic breakers and the dolphins. I love sitting on the beach with my little girl as she chases the ocean waves back, chanting her childish spells. When the tide goes out, the whole town arrives at the beach, and when it comes back in, they go back. It's almost like an ancient rite - it's just magical.


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