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Blender (US)
August/September 2001

In the piano room with Tori Amos

by David Quantick

Hey, it's all, like, ginger in here. What's up with that?

Eight hours from London by windy country roads sits Cornwall, the remotest county in England. It's here that flame-haired songstress Tori Amos has made her home, in a 300-year-old farmhouse with her husband, Mark Hawley, and their daughter, Natashya. And it's also here that Amos has built a cozy recording studio consisting of one small room full of faders and mixers, and one large room full of keyboards. This "piano room" is where Amos has just recorded her 6th album, a haunting all-covers affair titled Strange Little Girls. The 12 songs were originally written by men -- the Beatles, Eminem and Neil Young among them -- but Amos has reworked and reoccupied them from the female subject's point of view. For Amos, such conceptual daring comes easier far from the madding crowd. "I like being away from the record company," she says breezily. "For me to really create, I have to be away from people who are chasin' it"

some stuff in Tori's home studio...

Water figures somewhat terrifyingly on the new album, which offers a version of Eminem's "97' Bonnie and Clyde," told from the vantage point of a mother who is murdered and then dumped in the ocean. "I was attracted to the wife, who was faceless and nameless. Everyone's grooving to this tune, and nobody seemed to care about her," Amos says.

Normally, songs come from inside her head, but Strange Little Girls offers just the interpretations. "I was nursing Tash in Florida, and I was hearing a lot of male artists on alternative radio. And some of them really hated women," Amos says. "I thought about my daughter and what these guys were thinking about women. I wanted to build some kind of bridge, and I figured that was the only way to get into the heads of these men."

"Those are the icicles," Amos says of the small ziggurats that soundproof the studio. The Soundproofing enables Amos and Mark to work in contemplative silence. It also keeps out the noise of the neighbor's cattle. They are, witnesses report, the loudest cows in the world.

"I like to be away from where the latest whatever is," Amos say, and you can't get less state of the art than a harpsichord. It's not easy, though. "You need to have a harpsichord technician. The guy who does the piano does that. He goes on the road and takes it apart every day." The harp tech will be delighted to learn that Amos "was thinking about doing Iggy Pops I'm Sick of You' on the harpsichord!"

A beautiful rococo thing for relaxing between takes. "I lost my shirt on this," Amos says sadly. "They told me it was 19th-century, from Russia. It is 19th-century, but..."

Amos doesn't use a lot of guitars, but when she does, she makes them count. On this album, she makes Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" rock like the Stooges in a burning roller coaster. These guitars, however, are resting.

Operated by Marcel, the nudist engineer - "he has a penchant for taking pictures of himself naked," sighs Amos - and used for recording the rich acoustic sound of the grand piano, as well as the equally rich acoustic sound of Amos's voice.

Amos's main instrument is a huge Bösendorfer grand piano. "How big do you think this piano is?" she roars. "Inches? C'mon! Give me inches!" 60, we guess. "A hundred and nine!" she bellows.

A classic jazz instrument that, in Amos's hands, make strange new music. "The Rhodes is what we did 'Rattlesnakes' and 'I Don't Like Mondays' on," beams Amos, referring to the Lloyd Cole and the Commotions track and the venerable Boomtown Rats single, both on Strange Little Girls.

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