Tori talks about
from the choirgirl hotel
Let’s talk about that title - From The Choirgirl Hotel. I know you like to describe your songs as girls, so metaphorically speaking the hotel could refer to you?
And maybe not.
(Laughs) “The inside cover will portray a map of some mysterious mystical world. That drawing will map the scenery of the songs. My girls make up a group, they are mutually connected. They belong in a fixed part of the universe. This is their territory, their hotel. More strongly, they run the place. The group, the choir, knows no age limit, their origin also doesn’t matter. Yet every girl is an individual. A couple of them are sitting on the edge of the pool with margaritas in their hands, another one works with reception and has a telephone-fetish and maybe there’s a lady in her room just knitting, or so. This is their territory. It’s very important that this own identity comes up to the fore on this album.”
Don’t you sometimes think after recording: Hey, it’s not a girl, it’s a boy.
“I see the songs being born from some sort of... uhmmm, vulva. From the universal creative womb. I acknowledge the strength of a man, but I prefer to call them girls. Probably because I’m a woman myself.”
Do you write all your songs from a female point of view?
“No! You should measure my testosterone level sometimes. I bet we would both be startled by the result.” [Oor (Dutch) April 18, 1998]
“The songs usually dictate what I’m going to do. When they started coming, I was trying to get through a bad patch. I was pregnant at the end of the Pele tour, and was very... we were over the moon about it. And I miscarried at almost three months, and it was a really difficult time. So the songs started coming not long after I miscarried. The strange thing is, the love doesn’t go away for this being that you’ve carried. You can’t go back to being the person you were before you carried life. And yet you’re not a mother, either, and you still are connected to a force, a being. And I was trying to find ways to keep that communication going. Along the way on the search, sort of walking with the undead, I would run into these songs. The one thing they kept saying to me was I had to find a deep woman’s rhythm. You’re sort of in no man’s land as a woman having carried life but lost it - and yet you’re still alive.” [Wall of Sound - April 1998]
“I was pregnant and I miscarried at almost three months last Christmas. But people thought that was a subtext to the record, and they were getting this so wrong that I decided to talk about it. I just wanted to really have the pregnancy and not rush into doing more music, but when the miscarriage happened, the songs just started to come. I went through many different stages. I couldn’t be the person I was before I carried life, but I’m not a mother, so I was in no man’s land. But there was still a deep connection to this being; the soul and the love doesn’t go. This record is about life force.” [NY Post - April 17, 1998]
“I would change my clothes to be able to sing the songs on this album. Because you have to become the Sybil of songwriting... I’ve really been interested in allowing myself to be taken over by the characters in the songs. You have to change to allow the presence of the entities of these songs to come. For any songwriter to say they do it on their own, well, they must have a very lonely life. I have a very busy life because these girls are coming in and out all the time, since I was a little girl. I’m never really alone.”
Amos made her new album in Cornwall, England, 10 miles from the ocean. The studio is a converted barn; the neighbors are a chicken farm on one side, a sheep farm on the other. “The farmers are cool. Their attitude is, ‘If you turn it up, let’s just hope we get more milk.’”
In fact, she did turn up the sound. Some of her new songs surround her piano with aggressive rhythms and electronic noise. “The effects are part of the psyche of each girl. I looked at the engineers and I said, ‘All those funny knobs over there, do they do stuff?’ They said, ‘They do more stuff than you can imagine.’ So I said, ‘Let’s do stuff.’ It’s sonic geometry.”
Some of the new songs muse over loss and guilt and forgiveness; others flaunt an assertive sexuality. “There's a thread of my life running through the songs, but it’s a tiny little thread. The songs never let me forget that. They let me know, as if they're saying, ‘We live and breathe and exist, and you just happen to see us because of something that was happening in your life at the time.’ They say, ‘Tori, it’s not just about you.’ And humbly I say, ‘Oh, thank you, you who is the song.’”[The New York Times - May 23, 1998]
From the Choirgirl Hotel was also born of suffering. “I had just finished Boys for Pele and I was pregnant,” she says in a slow, matter-of-fact manner. “It was going to be a whole downtime for me. I was really into having the experience as a mom. And we miscarried at about three months, and it was quite a shock for us. I think we got really attached to the spirit of the baby and when we lost—when she passed away—it was very difficult for us.” The male part of “us” is Mark Hawley, Amos’ longtime sound engineer whom she married in February. After her miscarriage, the music began to come, beginning with “Pandora’s Aquarium,” the last song on the album. She says the unifying force was rhythm. “I think I turned to the rhythm because as a woman I was having a hard time finding my place. It’s hard to go back to being the person you were before you held life. People keep saying ‘Motherhood changes you,’ and for me, non-motherhood changed me. So I learned a lot from this spirit who has never been in the physical form. And I’ll never know her in that form. She might already be in physical form as somebody else’s daughter and yet she has taught me so much that I can’t even . . . ” Her voice trails off for a moment. “I’ve known people in the physical form who haven’t taught me as much as she has.” [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - October 8, 1998]
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could forget about the lyrics? Burn them as far as I’m concerned. Let yourself be influenced by what the music does to you. Listen to your senses. Your feelings. The music tells you all you need to know, because the emotions in the music go beyond words. The lyrics are merely a pointer in the right direction. Every sound, every note contributes to the character of the song and is thus a link in the bigger whole. The miscarriage was only a starting point, the songs subsequently developed into different directions. They are about my perspective of life and about how this life changed after the loss. But the love doesn’t go away.... The love doesn’t go away.” [Oor (Dutch) April 18, 1998]
“I wrote this record in the tropics. It was very warm and... (long pause) I was recovering from a miscarriage. It was Christmas of 96 and I was three months pregnant. I was going to just take time off and be a mom for a little while and then the miscarriage happened. It was such a shock, I just stayed down there for nine months. And the songs just started to come. And it became a completely different record to what I’d started on.” [Attitude (UK) - May 1998]
“The miscarriage was really the seed of this record, and to not come forward and explain would be really exhausting. I wouldn’t be telling the truth. I think you feel something when you hear the record, and if I didn’t come clean, something wouldn’t make sense when you listen.... The album helped me heal the whole thing, because I really feel her presence. She was a little girl. She is a little girl on some plane. And even though I’ll never hold her physically, I really do feel her. Some days I miss her, because she taught me so much. She taught me more than alot of people... have ever taught me.” [Steppin’ Out - November 4, 1998]
“Well, when the songs start coming to me, I don’t know how they’re going to come. I don’t know what dresses they’ll be arriving in. These songs ended up being about finding the womanhood - finding the strength - in me; the loss that I went through in not being a mother to this being and yet... I found a deep love for this being that I hadn’t really experienced before. Knowing that the spirit didn’t want to come at this time. It was quite profound. Even though I’d loved people before, and I’d had people love me before, this felt different. Mother love felt different to me. So the loss of that hit me on every level. So there’s a deep sense of... passion in this record. Passion for life. I began to appreciate the miracle of life.” [Attitude (UK) - May 1998]
“This record makes a lot more sense than the last one, trust me, cause it’s not just an inner journey. But you do have to read the words. It’s poetry. It’s not ‘and my crotch itches, here we go’” [Attitude (UK) - May 1998]
“This record’s called From the Choirgirl Hotel so you don’t know if I’m reporting from it or sending dispatches - it changes. Each song is an individual. It’s not like the last record - that was like a journey into the underworld of her psyche. This isn’t like that - some are by the pool having a margarita, some are up in suite 17 just trying on each other’s shoes, one is having her own fantasy on the phone downstairs... I don’t know what they get up to - whether they’re a troupe and they sing together or they work together - but they don’t depend on each other to survive at all.” [Attitude (UK) - May 1998]
“The difference in this record is um, I had such an amazing time playing live all my other records, for the most part, I would do the piano first. and then all the other instruments behind it have to fit in around her very um very self-involved way of doing things but this time I surrendered a lot more than I had before, I wanted to. I wanted it to be more of a relationship between me and the other musicians instead of them coming afterwards and me not being able to really interact with them as a player.” [From the Choirgirl Hotel press kit video - 1998]
“I got pregnant at the end of the last tour, it wasn’t planned, but I was very ready at that point in my life to be a mother. Then, when I miscarried, the music just started to come. You know when you have this emptiness - internally, literally - your hormones are crashing and everything is happening? When I’m in some kind of trauma, the songs usually tear across the universe to find me. I have a really good relationship with the Muse, and she usually comes and brings a lot of girls with her also, and they started to really pull me out of it. So although I couldn’t create on a human level, I was able to create as a musician.” [Mojo - May 1998]
“Each song is really complete in herself. I call the songs ‘girls’ because they really existed, sort of parallel to the soul of this being that existed without me and came through me and left, because it couldn’t take root for some reason. The songs are separate, they take root, I record them, and then they go out into the world again by themselves. I send them off with lunch boxes and bottles of Krug [laughs]. Each of the girls has her own protons and neutrons whirling around her, like ‘Raspberry Swirl’ is very much her own entity, ‘Spark’ has her own thing going. Then I started to see them at the hotel. I’d see some of them by the poolside, drinking margaritas. I’d see one of them answering the phone after having just gagged the girl on the desk, and another one visiting the odd guy in Room 13. I saw this troupe that were very independent and yet they worked together - sort of as a singing group. I really wasn’t sure what my role was: if they’d let me be part of the troupe sometimes, or if I was just reporting what they were doing, or if they were trying to show me bits that I really needed to express. They just magnified it 10 times 10 to the 10th power.” [Mojo - May 1998]
“I saw the girls being like a singing group, because they’re very independent, but they hang out together. They have their own solar systems, they have their own family trees, but I did see them having margaritas by the pool. Sometimes they let me sing with them.” [The New York Times - May 23, 1998]
“To me, these girls, this set of songs... they know each other. They have margaritas together, and play pranks on each other. They hang out together, but they have independent solar systems from each other. They’re not so dependent on each other. They let me come sometimes, but not always.” [Wall of Sound - April 1998]
“I feel songs are coming to me from across the galaxies to find me sometimes. They’re busy doing something disagreeing with Jabba the Hut somewhere, and then they tear across the universe when I am really in a bad way. Choirgirl is not a victim’s record. It is very much about appreciating the life force and trying to connect with this being I had become connected to but I can’t find anymore.” [Us - July 1998]
“As ‘Cruel’ was being written, and as ‘Hotel’ was being written, and ‘Liquid Diamonds’ was being written, I knew. The piano was really saying to me, ‘Hey, I have a role to play here. But you need [drums]. This is written for a whole other element.’” [Cincinnati Enquirer - July 17, 1998]
“I let the rhythm take over, it wasn’t really easy because I’m a control freak, but I thought if I want good rhythms then I have to feel them, get caught up in them. This is the first album I recorded with a live percussionist, the first album where there was interaction with other musicians. Usually I recorded the vocals, the piano and the rest of the instruments were somehow placed around it... I just knew that I wanted beats. My beats. Beats I created, not beats somebody else created. I wanted them to be part of my music and not the other way around... I wanted to capture a certain atmosphere that was only possible with drums, not with additional drums but with real life drums. I needed the interaction with a drummer. I want to grow, personally and musically, and to grow you have to move on, you have to experiment, otherwise it becomes far too static.” [The Inside Connection - June 1998]
“If you can’t create physical life, you find a life force. If that’s in music, that’s in music. I started to find this deep, primitive rhythm, and I started to move to it. And I held hands with sorrow, and I danced with her, and we giggled a bit.” [Wall of Sound - April 1998]
“It surprises me. I listen to this album and I smile. It happened and I didn’t know it. I found a way to dance with sorrow.” [Vox - June 1998]
“On this record I really spent time with sorrow, and I realized that she’s got a shoe collection, too. She can tell jokes like nobody. Her view isn’t always about tears, but she knows tears. She understands them. But she’s really comfortable putting her feet on the dock with me in the water, looking at the jellyfish and finding the beauty. I think in the end this record is very much about dancing with sorrow.” [Alternative Press - July 1998]
“...I learned a lot. Loss is going to happen, whether it’s a friend, parent, grandparent or child... Nothing you do can keep it away. It doesn’t matter how many times you chant, go to church or help old ladies across the street. You’ll go, ‘This isn’t fair. Why us?’ Especially when you see parents hitting their kids in the shopping mall, you go, ‘Why did we lose our baby? What kind of universal law is there?’ I’ve heard people say, ‘The angels were there for us and saved our child.’ You go, ‘But what happens when the angels don’t save your child?’... At the end of the day, I decided the angels have to go to the pub, go to a rave, go out on a Friday night. Sometimes they’re just not around. This feeling that, if you’re a good person, you won’t have to experience tragedy, it’s a false belief that gets perpetuated, especially in the Christian church.” [Chicago Sun-Times - September 24, 1998]
Quotes from before the album was released...
“I’m writing the whole record in the tropics. It’s great to watch the lizards and drink margaritas while you’re writing. The humidity influences the whole rhythm of the songs - your hip sways differently and my left hand is not the same as it was before. It’s so humid, as soon as you take a shower you regret it. I love the heat, although it’s absolutely necessary to ship in a lot of French perfume” [Q - Jun, 1997]
“I start recording October 1st , um, in England [Cornwall] in some old stables. I can, can never record in a studio just because it is too sterile for me.”
“No, the truth is, you don’t really know how something’s gonna turn out. You think it’s gonna turn out really well, but I think if you talk it up too much then everybody’s sort of disappointed. It’s like, “That’s it?” So, we’ll see. I’m excited. It’s a whole different work than the others I’ve done, and I’m working with players I’ve never worked with before. I’m cutting with drums from day one, which is a new one for me.”
“My engineers set up this, uh, small recording... little demo area for me... Um, I have my Bosey with me, and it takes up the whole space. You can hardly walk. You have to kinda crawl over the piano to get to the food, and back again. And, um, it takes up the whole space. But, if anybody’s eating, they have to eat on the piano.”
“Shock and amazement. Sit down. Nobody will be interested, but yeah, I have joy in my life.” [99X, Atlanta - August 14, 1997]
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