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You build these places that have many rooms that interconnect, and as a composer, I began to see, OK, I’ve been building planets, then you build solar systems, and then you want to build a galaxy. And it has to interweave with each other. That’s what a double album is, it’s building a sonic galaxy, and if you don’t appreciate that form, then there’s no way you can analyze what it is.
Earlier this year, Matthew Breen spoke to Tori on behalf of The Advocate. While the focus was ostensibly the current tour and Abnormally Attracted to Sin, the album it was supporting, Midwinter Graces was also a topic of conversation. In the first part of this feature, posted on the day of the seasonal record’s release, they discuss Midwinter Graces, The Light Princess, composition, double albums and the music industry. The second part will be posted next week.
Thanks to fourseraphs for the link!
The Tori Amos Album You Never Expected
Almost nothing in iconoclast Tori Amos’s recording hinted at a holiday-themed album. Just before completion of Midwinter Graces, Amos spoke about her upcoming musical, double albums, and why looking good is about more than shopping at Barneys.
By Matthew Breen
During her summer tour for her last album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, firebrand musician Tori Amos spoke (at that time off the record) about her upcoming seasonal album, which comes out today. This is part 1 of the interview. Part 2, in which we discuss sin, touring, and gay marriage, will follow next week.
*Advocate.com: As the music industry is rapidly changing, does that change the way you think about music? *
Tori Amos: Some people do not understand the idea of a double album. I’ve been making double albums for a while now because that is just the form that I’m interested in and challenged by. That’s just a structure that I enjoy and I’m impassioned by. People aren’t buying albums, never mind double albums, for the most part. However, I cannot stop creating a certain form. If you’re a novelist and you write big novels or you’re a visual artist and you do big installations, then to start just giving out the postcard of the picture and if it’s not what you do, then that’s not going to give you your orgasm. You need to come in, take the sonic mescaline, as I call it. It will take you almost anywhere. It will take you almost two hours; but hopefully, you will run the emotional gamut, hopefully have a little good feeling, a little shimmer, a little cry, a little oomph, gets the mojo in your body going, feel some strength, feel some humility — all of those things. That’s what happens to me when I go to a good art installation, yet I know a lot of people in the industry aren’t encouraging that because people want to buy a tune. But I can’t change my art form.
Somebody’s got to make double albums. I know journalists would rather I don’t because some of them are so lazy that it takes them more time to listen, and that’s just the truth. So they need to do some blow, shut up, and encourage people to make sonic novels.
Much has been made about your living in England — or do you?
We have a mechanizing company. They run all aspects of the Tori World. I record in England. That’s the only thing that happens there. The little empire is not run out of there. It’s run here in America, so I commute a lot. But I record from there because [my husband] Mark [Hawley] has been there since ’94, when we met. As I developed as a producer, Peter Gabriel said to me, “Look, you know, you have the engineers. If you’re going to be more than a singer-songwriter,” which in not so many words, he said, “if you’re going to have a 20-year career, a 30-year career, you’ve got to expand. You have engineers — get one of them to build a recording studio.” But my business life is not in Britain. It’s complicated, because Mark wanted emphatically to enroll [our daughter] Tash into a British school, against the violence and guns… So that was kind of the compromise. I think the decision is right. It’s best for her. So he built the studio; he owns it. I don’t own anything in Britain, but I record there, and I, like any other artist, book [studio time] and pay to record when I’m ready. There’s a residence in the back. You know, a gym, steam/sauna/spa. I don’t leave when I’m there. I can stay there for weeks on end and never leave. It’s a cocoon lifestyle. And it takes me a long time to record records anyway.
Are you particularly experimental when you’re recording?
On the sonic side, my interest in [experimentation] has grown over the years. I think before, when I was only a singer-songwriter, you think of the musicians as backup surrounding you and your songs. After a while of doing this, if you’re still passionate about making music, maybe you think, If [the] composer is really energized by these amazing musicians, why don’t I compose things that aren’t always just around the piano player?
I realized that [my] records have not centered on the piano for a while. I think that if they would have, I wouldn’t have the career that I have. I wouldn’t have grown as a composer. I will do a record [again] where the piano is the center, but I needed to grow as a composer, because at a certain point my structures started becoming repetitive. And I recognize this. So I started to infiltrate my brain with George Martin arrangements, all the Beatles records, and others… all kinds of records from all kinds of times. I always thought of myself as a composer first, never a pianist. I mean, I’m good, I’m OK. And so I didn’t just want to write piano music, I wanted to write compositions for the musicians where Jon [Evans, bass player] and Matt [Chamberlain, drummer] and John Philip [flute, strings] would turn around and say “Wow.”
Sort of like an architect with these plans to build the World Trade Center. You’re stepping out of your safe zone when you’re not just building beautiful houses. You say no. You build these places that have many rooms that interconnect, and as a composer, I began to see, OK, I’ve been building planets, then you build solar systems, and then you want to build a galaxy. And it has to interweave with each other. That’s what a double album is, it’s building a sonic galaxy, and if you don’t appreciate that form, then there’s no way you can analyze what it is. Some people will say, “Well, I don’t like novels that are longer than 200 pages.” Well then, if you’re given a 500-page novel, you shouldn’t even read it. Because I studied the double-album form now for about, intensely, for four years, it’s been burning in my soul. Abbey Road — it was one of the most important records of my life. It’s why I fought the professors at the Peabody [Conservatory of Music, where Amos studied as a child]. So yes, the arrangements, the production, the composition, all of that, in a double-album form, has been my goal my whole life. To write a double album that I can turn around and say, yeah, that’s right. This might sound crazy, but next project that I do — I might do something else. I might do a different form.
Can you talk about it?
Well, I can tell you off the record, but you can’t write it. You promise?
So Doug Morris [Universal Music Group CEO and chairman] whispers this thing to me — meaning behind closed doors. He says, “Tori, I’ve always wanted you to do this.” And I said, “And how do you see it?” And he says, “I don’t want you to do it in a way that all the other artists do it. We have enough of those. We have ones that do it very, very traditionally, we have ones that do an R&B read, but we want you to think about using your background, and growing up with this music, and doing a spin on it. A Christmas record.”
A Christmas record? Really?
I’ve been writing like a demon on the road. I’ve been on this promotion tour since March. I’ve been writing like a demon, but I’ve been writing it since I was a little girl. Little girl, in church.
So while you were prepping for the summer tour you were also recording the seasonal album? You had simultaneous setups, one for rehearsal and one for recording the seasonal album in your home studio?
Yes. [We had] live rehearsal with big old tents in case it rains every day, but you know, so rehearsals are out in this raw countryside mother earth. You’re in the middle of — I mean, there’s not a city for 20 minutes away. They’re tiny little villages. There are no streetlights. You’re in the middle of farm country. There are cows and farmers everywhere and you have all this gear — hundreds of boxes of gear. And all my crew guys filtrating north Cornwall to rehearse for the tour, and we have the studio set up and we go in, so we have everything. Full keyboard setups ready to roll. Two of ‘em, two of everything.
You seem to be very happy.
I’ve had to go through some tests in the last couple of years. You know, lots of changes. I think leaving Sony [in 2008] was maybe the beginning of that kind of…I don’t know, what do you call it…wake-up call? Or emancipation? Or to say, “Look, you need to be in control of your life and make sure that everything is running really efficiently.” So I’m in a good place now, but maybe that’s because something you asked me before, that’s because I’ve chosen to not just hand everything over. I’m more aware of the consequences of things in my life. Just, you know, being more responsible. Not just as a creative artist, you know. I mean, I delegate a lot, but I don’t know. I’m realizing the consequences of things.
Tell me about this project — The Light Princess?
Yeah, that’s a musical [I’m writing, based on the short fairy tale “The Light Princess” by George MacDonald]. I think we’re doing it in the right way. There’s a lot of work that’s gone into it, and more work has to go into it to make it great — not good, but great. I have an entitlement vibe. I want it to be great. I want it to hold up against other musicals, not because of who’s doing it, but because the work is powerful. That takes a lot of woodshed time. I’m working with people who do a lot of musicals. Tim Leavy’s the producer working on Broadway now. And Samuel Adams is the playwright. He did the adaptation of All About My Mother, coming to Broadway. Really great playwright. But really, it’s a work in progress. At the earliest it would be out late autumn 2010.
You’re an attractive person. What would your career have been like had you looked different, had you not been interested in fashion, had you not been photogenic? And would your feeling about being yourself have been different?
I’ve put a lot of effort into the whole person. That includes the physical side as well. Because I’ve realized that the truth of the matter is that a lot of people become marginalized and judged because of what they look like. I’ve put a lot of effort into it. It’s taken a lot of awareness. And there was a time when I could’ve really let myself go. I think there was a period if you go back and look at photographs from that early ’98 period — I mean, I look back and cringe a little bit because I did not listen to my stylist. I went against her. It’s the only time I’ve ever gone against her.
Karen Binns, yeah. And she said, “You cannot just walk out like you’ve been hanging out with your husband having a doughnut.” And I said, “Why not?” Well…because. There is a level of artistry and performance and respect that you have to take to the stage. People are coming to see a show. And you might get away with it for a tour, but I then became very… I was rebelling, I think. But then I became very interested in fashion. The possibilities. Not just walking into an expensive store. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the art form.
Not just going to Barneys and buying very expensive things. No no no. All kinds of women who don’t have a lot of funds choose to express themselves. It’s an extension of how they present themselves. It’s an extension, how they dress. And they make it an art form. And that began to inspire me, the possibilities. So I think I grew to love my body, and that was a big step. Being pregnant, I began to really love it. And then after I had Tash, my body changed and it became more what it is today. I got really active and I changed shape a bit so that I had the energy as I got older to tour. But yeah, I think if I didn’t, I think unfortunately, you get judged by it.
Midwinter Graces is available in stores November 10.