"I had a lot of dance in my mind when this was being built."
What other kinds of cinema or art informs this record?
I had a lot of dance in my mind when this was being built. I would watch Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. I had a chat recently with Steven Hoggett, who is the choreographer of American Idiot and of Black Watch, and he’s the choreographer of the musical I am working on right now [The Light Princess] with quite an amazing creative team. I said to him ‘I want you to hear the new record, because I was imagining dance with every note.’ We were just talking about how story can be told through dance music in such a magical way, so that was in the back of my mind with every note and every word.
So a moment of honesty: when I saw that Tash was on the record, I got a little nervous. My mind immediately went to “children’s record” which scared me as a long-time fan. Then I was very pleasantly surprised at how distinctive and textured her voice is and how it fit into the often dark landscape of the record. How would you address someone criticizing your decision to have your daughter sing on the record?
I don’t know that I would address it. I think I’m a pretty savvy producer. I make things work or they don’t make the record. I kind of recognized Tash’s acting ability which is uniquely her own. I knew that I needed to have a shapeshifting creature and I thought I could design something for her acting repertoire. She has quite a sense of humor but she also has, for ten years old, she’s very in touch with—I don’t know—a 1930s quality in her vocal. She discovered the blues when she was nine and if you talk to her, she’ll tell you that it changed her life. I thought that I could build something that would work.
How did you work with Tash on “Job’s Coffin” to get her to go where you envisioned the song going?
I studied her, what she does when she’s walking around in life, singing. I think I heard her when we were in Florida, just walking around and singing and I thought ‘ok, I see where it’s going to go’ and there needed to be a point in the record where she talks about a power of roles, who wanted to control earth. There had to be a point where Annabelle addresses when the woman just let her power go. I needed a kind of early 20th century, New Orleans-meets-European arrangement.
I kind of thought of composers who were emerging at that time, styles that were emerging at that time, 1910, 1918, that kind of died. “Job’s Coffin” was the spiritual meets, you know, a European arrangement.
When I listened to the instrumentation on Night of Hunters, I immediately wondered about how much room is there for spontaneity when playing with classical musicians?
OK, well the truth is, that a record like this needs to be really, really strict because the composition is, you know, it’s not a jam session. It’s different when you’re making a rock record and you just want to kind of jam together. I worked really closely with John Phillip Shenale, who arranged for the octect. All the piano and vocals had to be done first. I was locked away in the studio with Mark [Hawley, Amos’ husband and collaborator] for weeks. Whereby nobody heard anything. There were moments of real brutality because I would have to take off the artist hat and sit in the room with him and listen back with the producer hat back on, and it is tricky. I won’t lie to you, Matt, when your skin is off, and you’ve just performed something and you’re listening back with somebody you trust, who wants you to win, who wants you to get it right, but has to kind of look at you and say ‘you know, we don’t have it, we’re not there,’ then you kind of realize that ‘hey, I’ll try again tomorrow, I don’t have the right emotion, I haven’t taken it to where I need to in the performance.’
I spent a lot of time writing it while traveling. I was assembling it over many, many, many, many months. But the compositions were very, very tight once they went to the arranger, and then he and I would be in touch with each other, we’d would talk every day, he’s in L.A. , wherever I was in the world. We would talk at least an hour every day about the energy and what they instruments needed to say, how they needed to express themselves. Which instrument was the man in what song? A lot of times the clarinet would be the voice of the man, the energy of the man and that was played by Andreas [Ottensamer] of the Berlin Philharmonic, an amazing addition. Sometimes it would be the cello that would really pick up the man’s energy. So we were aware at all times of the octet and who they were in the story. When they played, there was very little room, they had to follow what was on the page very strictly. But classical musicians are trained to do this, you see, it’s different than pop musicians who I think sort of work on a more improvisational sort of landscape and do really well with that, as do jazz musicians. They do really well when you say ‘ok, we need to find a new chord, let’s just jam.’ Classical music doesn’t work that way. In a way, that’s why the record is what it was, because every note was written down.
How will playing with these guys affect the spontaneity of the live show and the older songs?
Well, we decided that it would be really great to choose songs from different records and give them a new arrangement with the quartet. Some songs, like “Baker Baker” aren’t so far away from a quartet, because the original arrangement had an element of quartet within it. Songs like “Girl Disappearing”, which we did with the Metropole Orchestra last year, that’s not hat difficult to rearrange for a quartet. The tricky ones are ones that have never had any kinds of arrangement, except maybe a band arrangement, and those take a lot more time. We’ve chosen a mixture of things and we have A, B, and C group. That doesn’t mean A group are our favorites, it just means in the A group, we just have to have enough songs so that we can have a repertoire for the first show in Finland. In the live show, there will be moments where I just play alone at the piano. In those groupings, I can change every night what goes into those slots, you see. I can apply what songs work for that mood and that audience that night and they can be different. But the other songs I play with the quartet, our repertoire will only be so extensive by September, we only get five days of rehearsal, that’s all we get! By the time we hit America, we’ll have our B group of songs arranged, as well as our C group.
I won’t ask you where the American Doll Posse tour DVD is, but I will say that there is an image from that tour that still really sticks with me and that is when you were performing in character, not playing, just singing. What was that experience like being separated from the keys and is that something you’re keen on repeating?
I had so much fun with that! I miss Pip!
So, it wasn’t traumatic being separated from the piano?
If I had been Tori separated from the piano, it would have been traumatic, but because I was taking on this other energy, that wasn’t really a pianist and thought differently… I mean, I had to stretch in many ways. There were sides of my personality that I didn’t even know existed until I allowed Pip, and Santa and Clyde and Isabel into my life. I had no idea that those sides really existed! I wish all women could have that experience, to allow themselves to really investigate. Look, I was fortunate, I had great hair and make-up people and photographers and stylists who could really help me to develop and push it, but then I had to do the internal work as well. As you know, I fashioned them on Greek archetypes, and I had read a lot of books about how most women kind of confine themselves to one or two of those Greek pantheon archetypes. Yes, you know, it is a generalization that most of us are one or two or a combination, but I thought ‘fuck that. What if we’re a bit of each one?!’ And to allow yourself to feel that, that’s really what that record was about. And it did change me. I must say, there are sides of myself that I hadn’t nurtured until I did American Doll Posse. And I’d like to think that there’s a little bit of Pip, and Clyde, and Isabel and Santa that shows up every night.
Are people still constantly asking you where these characters are?
(laughs) Noooooo, not constantly. I mean, husband likes to know!
He just liked the rubber!
Well, I kept the rubber! I still have it! (laughing)
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Night of Hunters will be released on September 20th by Deutsche Grammophon. Tori’s European tour will kick off in Helsinki Finland on September 28th. Amos will hit the United States beginning in Atlanta on November 29th.