Performing Arts Magazine
Richard Koppinger and Alan Denniberg sent me an article on Tori that appeared in in the November 1998 issue of "Performing Arts," the house magazine for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). Tori performed there during the Plugged '98 tour on November 25, 1998. The includes a photo of Tori wearing vinyl standing in water. It is the same picture as the recent Rolling Stone one where she was sitting in water, except it was black and white and reversed.
The recently released *from the choirgirl hotel* is Tori Amos's fourth album proper, following her three consecutive RIAA platinum releases, *Little Earthquakes* (1992), *Under the Pink* (1994), and *Boys for Pele* (1996). Those albums established Amos as one of the most strikingly gifted vocalists and songwriters of the decade. Unorthodox, uncompromising and unashamed to follow her own unique musical instincts - wherever they might lead - Tori also emerged as a piano player of unusual brilliance and complexity. No one wrote songs, sang songs, or played songs quite like this girl who first sat down at a keyboard at the age of two-and-a-half. Now, with the recording and release of her new album, again self-penned and self-produced, Tori is coming at her music from a whole new angle.
"I developed this record around rhythm," she says. "I wanted to use rhythm in a way that I hadn't used it before; I wanted to integrate the piano with it. On the whole record, the piano and vocal were cut live with a drummer and a programmer. I didn't want to be isolated this time around. I've done the 'girl and the piano' thing. I wanted to be a player with other players."
The results, though unmistakably Tori, are unquestionably different. Compelling lyrics are coupled with pulsing, polyrhythmic patterns - to dramatic effect. Although ultimately more of an evolutionary musical change than a revolutionary one, this self-imposed shift of focus has certainly been one to keep Tori on her toes. "The piano player knew her head was on the chopping block with this one," she says with a smile. "She really had to practice hard to be able to play with these guys!"
Recorded in Cornwall, England in a 200-year-old barn converted into a studio, *from the choirgirl hotel* finds Tori joined by a core band consisting of long-time collaborator Steve Caton on guitar, Matt Chamberlain on drums, bassists George Porter Jr. (Meters) and Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Beck), and programmer Andy Gray. On stage, Amos is now joined by Caton and Chamberlain, with Jon Evans on bass - marking her first-ever touring with a full band. This, too, represents a major evolution for Tori as a performer. Since the beginning of the decade, she has communicated intimately and passionately with her live audiences simply through her voice and piano, in the process building on one of the music world's most fervent, dedicated followings. Now, by enlarging the sonic scope of her live work, she is taking the Tori Amos concert experience into a whole new realm.
If Tori had long known that she wanted to use rhythm and live recording in a way she hadn't done before, she couldn't have foreseen the wider source of inspiration for her new songs. "I wasn't going to write this record as soon as I did," she says. "But at the end of 1996, I was near the finish of a tour and I was pregnant. So I lived with the feeling and got attached to the soul that was coming in. And then, at almost three months, I miscarried. It was a great shock to me, because I really thought I was out of the woods, and I was really excited to be a mom.
"I went through a lot of different feelings after the miscarriage," she continues. "You go through everything possible. You question what is fair, you get angry with the spirit for not wanting to come, you keep asking why. And then, as I was going through the anger and the sorrow, the songs started to come. Before I was even aware, they were coming to me in droves. Looking back, that's the way it's always happened for me in my life. When things get really empty for me - empty in my outer life - in my inner life, the music world, the songs come across galaxies to find me."
That event was the seed of the new album. The loss of her baby was what Tori calls "the egg" of her music. "People had a very hard time talking to me about what happened," she says. "And I had a hard time talking about it. But the songs seemed to have such an easy time talking to me. And I began to feel the freedom of the music."
That freedom revealed itself in a variety of ways. "Each song would show me a certain side of myself because of what I was going through," Tori says. "So a song like *cruel* came to me out of my anger. *She's your cocaine* and *iieee* came out of a sense of loss and sacrifice. And other songs celebrated the fact that I had found a new appreciation for life through this loss."
Perhaps it's surprising, but *from the choirgirl hotel* - as spiky and spirited and even barbed as it often can be - is never somber in the way that Tori's last album, *Boys for Pele*, was. "I crossed the River Styx on that record," Amos says of *Pele*, an album that charted what she calls "a change - for good - in my relationships with men." And the new album is different, too, from *Little Earthquakes* ("a diary") and *Under the Pink* ("a kind of impressionistic painting").
*from the choirgirl hotel* emerges as, somehow, a much more complete record than the singer has made before. Tori agrees: "Each song to me is complete. They're not as interconnected; they're not dependent on each other to work. They get to hang out together and you get to know them together, but they exist quite happily without each other."
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