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Mojo (UK)
May 1998


It's not all hand-wringing and wailing in her world, you know.
By Sylvie Simmons.

Tori Amos
From The Choirgirl Hotel (eastwest)
Fourth album (fifth counting Y Kant Tori Read) from singer-songwriter-pianist

IT'S NOT at all what I expected. I'd spoken to Tori just before the album was completed, and the few finished tracks I'd heard were haunting. Which tied in with what she told me: that she hadn't planned to make a new album yet, but she got pregnant (hadn't planned that either). Then she had a miscarriage (definitely hadn't planned that). Suddenly all these songs flooded in like little spirit babies to fill the empty space. A pained, raw, overwrought, it's-my-postpartum-and-I'll-cry-if-I-want-to record is what I expected, and I was wrong. Choirgirl doesn't sit in the corner hugging itself; it's sensual and full of life. And far more rhythm-based and band-inclusive than her previous girl-plus-piano material.

Much of the album - recorded in the converted 300-year-old barn in Cornwall where the North Carolinan now lives - was cut with Tori playing live with her musicians (Steve Caton, guitar, Matt Chamberlain, drums, George Porter Jr and Justin Meldal-Johnsen, bass). Which no doubt gives the five rhythmic tracks - Raspberry Swirl (heady, dizzying), iieee (tribal, dangerous, defiantly unpretty), She's Your Cocaine (quirky, Talking Headsy dance), Cruel (oppressive, angry, the vocals Kate Bush via The Exorcist's Linda Blair) and Hotel (bubbly, curdling, almost proggy - Rush could cover this) - their solidity and conviction. The other songs range from bittersweet to savage ballads. The singing is exquisite: on tracks like the wistful Jackie's Strength and Northern Lad almost unbearably beautiful, on others like Pandora's Aquarium, slightly nuts. A mix of the disturbing and alluring, this is a powerful, excellent record.

Sylvie Simmons talks to Tori Amos

How did losing your baby inform this record?

"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."

What is the Choirgirl Hotel?

"Each song is really complete in herself - I call the songs 'girls', because they really existed, sort of a parallel to the soul of this being that existed without me and come through me and left, because it couldn't take root. The songs are separate, I record them and then I send them off into the world with lunch boxes and bottles of Krug! Each of the girls has her own thing going. Then I started to see them at the Hotel. I'd seen some of them by the pool, drinking margaritas, I'd see 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."

Do you feel camaraderie or competitiveness with other female artists?

"I think when you're good at what you do, you've got a skill and you're working on it all the time, then you have your place and you're not threatened. It's like I'm a lioness, I kill my own meat, but if another lioness is there and says, 'Hey, I've just had a kill, do you want a bite?' I'll say, Sure and vice-versa. It's when you meet a lioness who's envious that you can kill your own meat and she can't that it gets nasty. Women are very competitive - it can be quite vicious."

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