home / interviews
Spotify (US, www)
Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines commentary
"It is a letter, and we were trying to figure out the soundscape for it in order to, um, infer that there's a Native American energy with the other America, as well as a futuristic other America. And how she's ancient, and yet, she's all of us. So creating that character and a space for her to tell her story and sing her song through her letter was our big challenge -- finding that, that soundscape. And we were playing with, umm, the piano acting like a banjo, so that was what we were going for -- banjo/piano -- because the acoustics were doing their job as acoustics, and, uh, we didn't want the Bösendorfer to come across as a classical-sounding instrument, so we spent a lot of time working on the parts, back and forth -- the conversation between, um, guitars, piano, and midrange.
"There are a couple vocals that are supporting the lead vocal and we were working on, I'd say, the bridge first, so we approached that and all its vocals before we went back after the chorus, haunting vocals. Sometimes, for me anyway, I like to know where the song is taking us, where it needs to end up, and the bridge is an explosion -- um, obviously inspired by all those Beatles records I've listened to all my life, as well as for Mark and Marcel; they were listening to those through their life -- and it all came together, I guess, in the bridge. So therefore, once we knew what that bridge was, then we could do some backtracking."
"This song has been something that has really driven, driven itself, because of the story. And that Trouble being personified, being chased by Satan -- whatever he looks like, to some people, um... I found him to be quite elusive in some ways, that we didn't want to really meet him vocally, character-wise. We wanted to have a feeling of him chasing her, so we wanted it there, but there was something quite sexy about it that we felt the track had to, um, encapsulate as well as we needed this whimsy that was happening between the narrator, who was my character, and Trouble. And Trouble can be anybody; I guess I've been Trouble in my life. Most women feel like they've been that. So I was holding two positions: that understanding and, um, what goes with that, as well as the narrator, that seems to have a relationship with Danger. And therefore, we were trying to make sure that the instrumentation was, um, representing all these different detailed relationships."
"I think the thing about 'Wild Way' is, um, I played it first as piano-vocal, and it could, it could have lived on its own in that way, but we felt that if it didn't build, if something didn't start to happen, that, um, we were missing an opportunity -- that it was almost too safe. So it was about, um, finding what it was. And so it began to become clear that the song was demanding an arrangement: the verse needed its own treatment, and the chorus needed its own treatment, and we had to create different spaces for them to do that. So it was just a very simple following-what-the-piano-was-doing."
"'Wedding Day' is, I guess, a, uh, a reflection of a time when things were really magical between this couple, and so making sure that the track, um, was, uh, holding an arrangement space for her to look back as well as to be in the present. And in the present, there is a very, um, obvious mistress between them, and the mistress is silence, and she's the siren that is between this couple. So in order to express that, tell that story, and then to burst into what that wedding day was like those years ago, that was really part of our, um, fun -- we had a lot of fun developing that. So there was a lot of playing back and forth, um, jumping from the Rhodes, the electric keyboards to the Mellotron flutes to the Bösendorfer, as well as the electric and acoustics. And then the, um, the certain type of percussion was demanded because we wanted, there was a mixture: we have certain Native American drums, certain Celtic drums, but more of a non-Christian type of celebration, because it felt as if we wanted to go further than that, almost an ancient marriage that wasn't about religions, but before that. So that was all part of the development."
"'Weatherman' is something that Mark and Tash got used to hearing me play in the early hours of the morning, maybe four-thirty, five in the morning in Florida, in Florida's winter. So it might be slightly chilly before the sun's up in Florida, and it's always a bit before Christmas when this was happening. So they would wake up to hearing this because sometimes I could play -- I would play it for hours, just play it and play it -- but the story, really understanding the story was something that took me, really took me time because I couldn't work out, until I did, that she was dead, and that he couldn't move on. The guy in the story, he couldn't move on, and didn't want to move on, and wasn't ready to move on -- so there wasn't a, there wasn't a resolve for him, and there isn't, there isn't another woman -- it doesn't exist. And so I finally had to realize how to tell the story, and I kept being pushed to see that nature was a core character in this story, and that she was painting a wife to life."
16 Shades of Blue
"I didn't get Cézanne for the longest time, and I don't know if I get it now -- I get it in my way. But, um, when people talk about art sometimes it can be fascinating to me, but I don't pretend I know half of what they're talking about, just because -- if I don't hear it, then it doesn't make sense to me. And then when I do hear it, I'm not listening to them anyway because I don't understand them, so... if you hear the rhythms and the counter, um, maybe contrapuntal lines happening, when you are looking at something, then I begin to know that at least I understand a feeling that the artist was invoking. I might not understand it again like certain art lovers do. And it's important for me to say that because somebody came up to me and just said 'Oh, so are you becoming a painter now?' And you think, are you kidding? I'm not that delusional. I have no ability to paint. And as a sonic artist, I go to the, uh, video artist in order to, uh, not get trapped in a structure. When I'm listening to other musical artists, I have to be very careful and very aware that although motivated, I'm not taking that structure exactly. And so that's why I go to other mediums sometimes, to really get, um, to take a pilgrimage, whether it's at an exhibition somewhere in a, in a different country, or whether it's picking up books along the way and them taking them as we travel.
"So '16 Shades' could only come once, I guess, I was battling myself with the idea of turning fifty. A few things had to align for me to get it, um, and looking at 'The Black [Marble] Clock' by Cézanne, and reading about how he approached his work, with quotes from all kinds of writers -- from Hemingway to Rilke -- and because of the writers and their perception, I started to understand it. And Rilke talking about that Cézanne would have sixteen shades of blue sometimes on his palette. So therefore, it all came together. I turned a page, looked at 'The Black Clock,' no hands, battling my own issues with age -- so battling it that I've been hearing from teenagers, twentysomethings, and thirtysomethings that I...you know, middle-age women don't have the copyright on battling age, so move over, sister. It's like, oh, get off the cross. Um, having heard all that, it just all came together and while I was supposed to be working on 'Weatherman' at Christmas, '16 Shades' was written in a couple days, like that, after years and years and years and years of getting books by Cézanne and frustrating a lot of people, finally it came together within forty-eight hours."
Maids of Elfen-mere
"So, the pre-Raphaelites... something I've been studying for many years, just looking at their work. It's not just something I stumbled upon, but I did stumble upon, in one of the books, um, when I was in Ireland, uh, this, I guess, wood carving, but I don't say it right, forgive me, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, for a songbook during the nineteenth century; I'd say, maybe during 1839 -- something like that. And I wasn't, um, investigating the song; I was completely transfixed by what I was seeing so that when I was looking at this wood carving, the print of it, I started hearing the maids singing to me, and I started wondering what their message would be then, and in the twenty-first century, and that's how I was kind of taken by them, seduced by them, in a way."
"It was really, um, fun to create with Tash, to talk about a relationship between mothers and daughters. And she's, she's very funny, so... we have a very different type of relationship, I guess, then maybe we did several years ago because she's at boarding school now and that changes things. We're traveling a lot, we've been traveling a lot the last couple years and she's become very independent. So, I would say, the song took, took on all of, all of that relationship. Maybe in some ways it's good that she's in boarding school because she's dealing with other authority figures than her dad and her mom; we're not the main people she's dealing with on that level for the majority of the time. And Tash and I were able to talk about different girls that she knows and their relationships with their mothers -- um, some are really good, some are not so good -- and we were asking each other questions about why, why we thought they couldn't communicate, how there is almost a language barrier where one of them doesn't think the other understands them, or understand the seriousness of a situation, or the consequences (if you're the mother), and the daughter thinking 'If you tell me how to tell how to live my life and live my life for me, then it's not me living my life.' So these were all kinds of things that were the backdrop of us coming up with a way to promise each other certain things."
Giant's Rolling Pin
"There are all kinds of things on 'Giant's Rolling Pin,' um...I first played it on the piano for the team and I do think there was an idea of some, uh, collecting people along the way. And that's why, with the key changes happening where they happened, and how they happened, that more people would join the little march of the Giant's Rolling Pin, from village to village. So, it had, I guess, a little of the, um, Beatles inspiration as well, perhaps, in the instrumentation. It became its own thing. We had a lot of fun with it, and we were building it up, uh, instrument by instrument, trying to make sure that, um, with a very serious subject on one hand because, um, it's divided people; people in the States have been divided by this subject, which is, when does a government cross a line in spying? And in order to protect us, are our liberties compromised? So it's a big subject, and we thought that it needed some fun around it. And when we were talking about it, um, we were having this pie, this amazing pie that these women called Beth and Marlene make -- they are real women who make real pies, with help from Caroline, that's all true -- and they're so good that when I was eating the pie, I just started thinking, what if they were truth-telling pies?"
"'Selkie' has her own little story, um, because she might not have been written if the muses didn't interfere, which I kind of think they did. I reckon I was, um, I was looking out on the Indian River, and something can happen at dusk when, when, uh, you almost think you see things in the water, and you really believe you do. Now there are all kinds of things in the water; it's, um, brackish water, so it's part salt and part fresh, and it's been known that some crocs can make their way up there -- a long time ago, but it's been known, people talk about it -- um, and of course the manatees are very much there, which, which when they, when you think you see them and you think you might be seeing a seal, and there are dolphins that are there -- so there are all kinds of creatures that come up on the Indian River, and I was out there looking, convinced that I was seeing something that I hadn't seen before. And I had been reading about the seal women who have dual lives: seal family and then a human family. And it so happens that one of my best friends, Johnny, uh, was off to go get dinner, to get stuff to make dinner, and he just didn't come back. And hour after hour after hour -- and I stopped thinking about -- I know this can happen, though. I reckoned he'd be fine because he loves to drive, and... I just got taken on, into this story. And he walks back several hours later, and as he walks in the door, 'Selkie' was done, I mean, within a few minutes. And I said, 'Where have you been?' And something happened to him whereby he got on, um, the Turnpike, the Florida Turnpike, and he couldn't get off for miles and miles and miles, I mean, miles and miles! He had to go up north; he got pulled away. He said, 'I was being pulled away, not far from the ocean, so that I couldn't get back. I had to go all the way up, turn around, come back.' And he said, 'And I came straight back,' and by the time that he walked in, it was done. And would I, would I have been able to decipher the riddle? I don't know; I can't tell you I would or I wouldn't, but there many songs that never get finished. There are many songs that are sitting there over the last twenty-five years that, that's it -- and they just sit there like relics, and I can't, I cannot finish them. So, that clear path went to her; she had other plans."
"That's the Irish connection again. I mean, Ireland has this crazy pull for me. Something happens; I don't even have to go there. I can be, uh, traveling the world, and I can just...I don't know, get called, get called back by the mythology. The mythology, uh, does something to me. I think you feel it in 'Wedding Day'; it shows itself through the record. Um, it's very much the driving force behind 'Unrepentant Geraldines' because I started writing the song there in one day, and then I was there for several days and the song started to shift a bit. Once I began really seeing that it wasn't about just one person called Geraldine; it was that any, any woman can be this person who has to stand by what she believes in at a certain point. And I was thinking about her story and my mother-in-law and my mother-in-law's older sister who, believe it or not, when you're talking to teenagers about how fortunate they are, it's -- they'll look at you and say 'Well, things are really tough for us out there,' and they are, they are very tough for them in some ways. But Tash, my thirteen-year-old, was having to hear how women had -- these women are still alive -- didn't have the opportunity she did. Or did for a moment and then they were snatched away. And her great-aunt was telling her she built radios and planes in World War II and went up in the planes without having to be a wife, without having to be a mother...and of course those G.I.s were roaming around, and nobody was talking out of school about what all that was about! And then, of course, when the war ended, um, then these judgments started to happen for the women, and they had to go back to the kitchen. And at the time that wasn't a place of having your own TV show and cooking and being on the cooking channel and all that; it was being relegated to, you don't get to choose what you want to do, this is what you do -- this is your place. And so, some women had to be very apologetic for some of the things that they were doing in the war, the relationships they had, the passions they had; some people had children, then some of those children were taken in by the soldiers that were coming back to save face because it was shameful. And so when Tash was hearing these stories from her mother-in-law and her aunt, what is was like -- not that there was their personal story, but what it was like -- you begin to see: wow, these women, they're, they're alive! And they are telling me that the world was so different for women -- so different that I started to think about being unrepentant. And turning fifty is a time when, although there might be regrets that you had through your life, how you handled things, there's a certain time with your work and as an artist where you have to stand firmly where you stand. No excuses, and truly be unrepentant and unapologetic as a creative force."
"'Oysters' was in development for quite some time, mainly, I guess, because I had to travel, really travel with that one. And it originated itself first in Ireland again -- a few years ago, perhaps around, right before the 'Night of Hunters' time, but it was somewhat different then -- so it's really taken on a different character, and I'd say to you, a different, um, accompaniment language, which then pushed the melody into different places. Some things were retained, um, from the original idea but it, it needed to grow, and I think it's because at the time, I hadn't captured the sadness, the melancholy that I needed to capture. I was hearing different stories from different women about the idea of, um, not having accomplished certain things, and they were stuck. So they needed to go out and have some kind of communion with nature. Different women explained it to me in different ways but I began to hear this one gal who just said -- and she'd had quite a life; quite a life, many experiences. I mean, been in Hollywood and working there behind the scenes; I mean, she'd been around the world -- and she's a British gal but she was, um, I ran into her in Ireland, and she was going to set up a, a little tackle shop somewhere at the ends of the earth, at the ends of the earth in the Third World. And I started thinking about turning oysters in the sand; an old Native America idea, the idea of 'Chop wood, carry water.' The idea of doing something with the land as part of the land, whereby you become out of your problem, so you -- some women, men, will talk about the gardening -- I run into them, where they just had to get their hands in the dirt, really get their hands in the dirt, and to plant in order to stop thinking and reliving something over and over and over again, because they can't push through it. So in their own life, they go back to the same pattern, the same negative patterns. And, um, I started thinking about the idea of turning oysters in the sand. And musically, then, it started to make a sound, what that would sound like. Therefore, the piano melody that you begin to hear is the sonic oysters turning, and then once I heard the oysters turning, then it all came together."
"She hasn't taken, by any means, a long time, but I was being made aware of how -- just listening, just by observing -- it is difficult for teenagers to retain, and be encouraged to have, an imagination instead of being forced to deal with reality and supporting themselves, getting a job that will support themselves, paying those bills, and all those things are very, very important, as we know. But can you do that and retain your ability to imagine? And is imagination part of reality as well? Well, I would say yes. Particularly from a writer's viewpoint, that in order to really write, you cannot be so immersed only in pragmatism and the day-to-day, um, demands. You have to be able to dream."
"Structure, um, began to reveal itself because it didn't all happen at once. I had to understand things about it at different times, and that it really wanted to be an ode, a song to, um, a sense of wonderment for men. Whatever 'Invisible Boy' means to the listener -- some people think it's about somebody whose lost their father, or, um, they're not accepted for what they do, so they're a loner, they're on the outside and, um, they're not being accepted for who they are or who they want to be. And once I understood that 'Invisible Boy' is a sensitive person that isn't always able to show himself because his mates might think that he's not tough enough or masculine enough, so the fact that he's a romantic -- whatever, whatever his sexuality is -- the fact that he, um, has really good friends with women and cares about them, um, the fact that he does have these strong emotions but can't necessarily express them and is afraid that if he does, he could be bully or ridiculed, so he just doesn't share them. And I wanted the song to be for all those people that exist more than I think we realize they do."
[transcribed by Michael Morrison]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos