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October 10, 2015
Tori Amos' Unexpected Musical
The singer on fairytales, actors and her own theatrical debut
Written by Adam Rathe
Over the course of 14 albums, Tori Amos has built a career around her enchanting voice and singular style of songwriting. Even the most ardent fan might not think there are many hurdles left for the eight-time Grammy Award nominee to leap, but they'd be wrong. Amos' latest release, The Light Princess, is the cast recording of a musical -- which ran at London's National Theater in 2013 -- that the singer wrote alongside Sam Adamson, and which also features two of the show's songs sung by Amos herself.
Here, Amos explains the difference between writing a musical and a solo album, dishes on her own favorite musicals and shares the invaluable advice that helped her make this show a reality.
The Light Princess is the original cast recording of a show you wrote with Samuel Adamson. How did you end up writing a musical?
I was interested in marrying the idea of a fairytale with 21st-century emotions that teenagers are experiencing now, that I saw through my nieces and nephews and through my daughter. That's been the driving force. Sam Adamson and I were brought together through the National Theater in London -- which is state-funded, it's not commercial -- and [people from] Universal came to see it many times and they approached me and said “We want you to go make the kind of record you want to make with your cast and your team, but we want you to make a record like you make records.”
As a first-time musical writer, did you find the medium lent itself to expressing what you wanted?
We knew the story we wanted to tell, and we didn't want to betray teenagers and their experience and their challenges and the darkness and all the issues that they are facing right now. We were warned by different people at different times, when we were talking to people in the business, for instance Julie Taymor told me, “Be very protective of the piece so that you don't let commercial producers come in and dilute it so much that you don't recognize your piece anymore.” She gave me some serious advice that I keep remembering in my mind with each step that we take that I made a vow not to betray the issues that we are tackling.
Is recording a musical a different experience than recording an album in other ways?
Yes. I have a real respect for actors, and being inspired by them was one of the reasons why Sam and I would go away and rewrite something. We would realize “Wow, listen to this instrument we have right in front of us, and the song that we've built so far isn't really exposing their vocal instrument and their ability. So let's either write a new song or expand this one that helps them shine.” It forced us to become flexible.
Is it an experience you can see yourself approaching again?
Before I die, I would like to be a part of another musical -- and I would love to have Sam Adamson as a writing partner because he is just such a great writer. However, they're really tricky things to do and I find that they take a lot of time to get done. In a way, you could think of it as almost three albums of work.
What musicals have inspired you?
A Little Night Music really influenced me greatly in the writing of this show. I was working on an album and it made me rethink structure. It was life changing when I saw it in New York. And I spent a lot of time with the soundtrack so after I saw it, I was obsessed with it. Absolutely obsessed.
What else is on your list?
West Side Story. I can't dance to save my life, so I was in heaven watching the collaboration, the choreography, and the composition. I also loved the story of Hedwig, I loved the music and I've seen the movie. There were people that were coming to my shows who had bought the CD, the sheet music, the DVD -- they made sure I had all the components to do a cover [of one of the songs,] and I did last year.
Now that this is out in the world, what's up next for you?
Walk around, listen to the rhythm of people's conversation, and begin writing the next album. Usually I take myself off when I do that, so that you become an observer and you push yourself and put yourself in different cultures and different situations out of your comfort zone. That's how I begin to start hearing things again.
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