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NME (New Musical Express) (UK, www)
September 16, 2011
Tori Amos - video (unavailable)
"I knew more about shoes than classical music"
Singer also discusses working with her daughter
by Adam Bychawski
Tori Amos has said that she didn't have very much knowledge of classical music before she began work on her classically inspired new album Night of Hunters.
The singer who releases her new album, her 12th, on Monday (September 20) via German classical label Deutsche Grammophon, admitted that despite paying homage to the likes of Bach and Chopin she didn't know that much about the genre.
In the video interview, which can be seen by clicking above, the singer said: "I realised I knew more about shoes than classical music," before work began on the album and she started a period of studying the works of various composers.
Speaking about the narrative of the albums "song-cycle" Amos said it followed the aftermath of a couples break up. "They've made the crossing from the new world to the old world and there's a shattering in their relationship." By the end of the album she says their fate is "up to the listener to decide. But there's hope".
Night of Hunters also sees Amos' daughter Natashya Hawley making an appearance playing the character Anabelle. Working with her daughter was "natural", she said.
"If I were having a dark night after a shocking experience I would go to [her] to talk to [her] so naturally I wanted [her] involved in the project."
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Night of Hunters is a song cycle and it takes place from dusk 'til dawn on the River Bandon, right outside Kinsale in Ireland. And the couple has just made the Atlantic crossing, from the New World to the Old World, in his sailboat. How they've ended up to be at this old Georgian house, we don't really know. But this is where, at sundown, a shattering of the relationship has taken place and he has left.
I liked the idea of starting with the crisis, with no back story, not telling anybody anything at first. Because we've all been through something, whether it's death -- you get that phone call and all of a sudden life has changed.
And we follow her now, in her psychological process, through the night.
When Deutsche Grammophon approached me about doing a 21st century song cycle, the first thing that I really had to get my head around was the arc of the narrative.
I began to think, really, in terms of telling an epic story in mythology. And one of the great epic stories that inspired me from Robert Graves' The White Goddess is "The Battle of Trees" itself. I knew we had to come from the New World over, in order to have European mythology in our song cycle.
I've always been drawn to the magic of Ireland. There's something about the land, yes, and the ancient mythology they have. So, I decided that we would set it at this old Georgian house on the River Bandon. And I got the house in 1995, so I know the energy of the house well. So, I felt like instead of being on a location, that's somebody else's place that you have no relation to, that there needed to be some element of truth.
I decided that it was important that we had characters, so Anabelle and the Fire Muse, we hear from them. And he, the man in the story, is very present. We hear him as the cycle goes on, through instrumentation and through quotations that he has made. And we meet him through his ghost [in the song, "Your Ghost"].
And also, I felt like we needed to bring myth into this. So there are forces -- he carries the force of water and she carries the force of fire.
My daughter, Natashya Hawley, who we call Tash, plays Anabelle in the story. As does my niece, Kelsey Dobyns, she plays the Fire Muse. It was just a natural choice. I think if I were having a very dark night after a shocking experience, I would go to both of them and talk to them, so naturally, I wanted them involved in the project.
The hunter and the hunted, it's a theme that I keep coming back to over and over and over again.
Anabelle is a changeling creature, a shape-shifting being, that's come out of nature. You do learn more about Anabelle as the story goes on. And she is duality, she is the hunter and hunted, in her fox form and her goose form.
Tash is very much involved as Anabelle. When she and I discussed her involvement, she wanted to make sure that Anabelle had an affect on the woman, because Tash has said to me, "You know, grown-ups sometimes aren't very good listeners and children maybe know some things that could help grown-ups."
Anabelle offering Tori the cactus elixir was to bring in a ceremonial, transformational element. And clearly the woman needed to grow very quickly and to open her mind up.
What's exciting is that you don't have to just go for one look with this kind of story, with a song cycle. You have all these kind of different opportunities for me to respond to that consciousness. So when I'm responding to the fire spirit, it's going to be different than when I respond to the water spirit that's coming alive. And she comes alive in music as well as in the visuals, hopefully.
We don't necessarily know what happens to this couple. It's up to the listener to decide what happens. But I've chosen to believe that there is a possibility because the woman has decided to look at her part in things, and it seems like we're hearing his perspective as well. Where they both can acknowledge that they've wounded each other, then there's always hope.
Dr. Buhr at Deutsche Grammophon knew I'd been working on a musical for quite a while and trusted that I would have some understanding of narrative and therefore would be able to take on board a song cycle. And yet, what really appealed to me was the idea of working with these classical themes.
We didn't know exactly what the project should be. We would just throw ideas back and forth. But Alex started to talk to me about the tradition of variations on a theme and how composers have been doing that for hundreds of years and that it's a valid form in itself, it's not like thieving.
Unlike the red sole of the Louboutin, which supposedly other people have taken and upset him. Fair enough. These are his, by the way, these are not anybody else's. So, the idea of variations on a theme isn't just taking it and stealing that idea. It's using that as an inspiration and working with it. That becomes the DNA of then another creation, another being.
Being open to other classical works that I hadn't even been exposed to was really key.
I wanted to reapproach it and be open to this cornucopia of music that is so vast, but I realized that I know a lot more about shoes than I know about classical music. And so I asked my friend, Dr Alexander Buhr, to send me endless amounts of music that inspired him.
Most of the pieces, when I heard them I would know on the first or second listen, if that was something that I would be able to sculpt with.
I'd been listening to quite a bit of Stravinsky and I was taken with the idea of an octet. And at times we had a ninth instrument, the contrabassoon, but for the most part it was based on an octet shape. John Philip Shenale, the arranger and I, we talked about if it's small, then one of the instruments can, at times, be his voice, the earth, the land, has a voice, fire has a voice, the sea, of course. The underworld, she has her many voices.
I think when you listen to Night of Hunters for the first time, because it's designed as a narrative, every song informs the other. And once you know them, then I think they can live outside the cycle and stand on their own. I think live, I did battle with myself. My shows have always been about responding to what people are feeling and what they're dealing with. And therefore, it became clear to me that the songs in the cycle will become part of this palette, which is the catalog, and that all of them will be available to tell the story of September 30th that night, or October 14th that night, wherever we are.
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