At the age of five, Tori was accepted into Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory of Music on a full scholarship. She was the youngest student the prestigious institute had ever admitted. "I remember everything about it," she asserts. "I remember these people sitting there, and I was an object to them, and I was aware of that. I was a thing that could do things. I felt a bit like a Dr. Seuss character." In 1974, at the annual Peabody audition, Tori played the required and prepared pieces in her own inimitable style, which resulted in her full scholarship not being renewed. -- All These Years, pgs. 10, 14
By her teens with her father as chaperone, Tori began fulfilling hotel bar engagements in and around Washington, performing easy listening standards. At home, she composed and recorded her own songs. Reverend Edison Amos then dutifully mailed them to record companies and dealt with the stream of rejection letters. For nigh on a decade, it seemed as if the minister's daughter was destined to burn eternally in the fires of piano lounge hell. By the start of the '80s despite Tori dogged efforts, the consensus among disinterested A&R personnel was that the appeal of the girl-and-a-piano concept had died in the '70s along with the dwindling commercial fortunes of Carole King. Narada Michael Walden - celebrated funkateer and future producer of Whitney Houston - disagreed, having spotted Amos playing in a hotel lobby and likened her to a young Joni Mitchell. Following a year in which the singer-songwriter posted off a succession of cassettes to Walden, at 19, Amos flew to San Francisco to work with him on her first serious demos. The resulting tracks featured her voice tweaked up a vari-speeded notch to make her sound more girly - which she hated - and no record contract was forthcoming.
"I spend most of my time with my B�sendorfer. The guys I pull in to work on a project use the computers in unbelievable ways. All the tracks are recorded, me and the piano alone first, then everything is built on top. So you can imagine how computers can be used. Tempo changes are happening all the time within my own structure and they have to get clicks for the musician to play on top of my work so that it make sense. There's loads of stuff that happens in the computer." -- Michael Pearce interview, 1994
"I played a B�sendorfer when I was little. I felt a difference in the presence of this instrument. It was like it had a ghost protecting it...sometimes it was sinister, others alluring. It was like the soul of it came from the underworld. I've played some Steins that I've had a relationship with For the most part, the B�sendorfers are hand made, you get the personality of the maker. It gives you more stuff to work with as a player. They're live things, they really are. -- AOL Online chat; Jan. 20, 1999
B�sendorfers are reputed as the world's finest pianos, founded by Ignaz B�sendorfer (builder of pianos & founder of the B�sendorfer firm). Handcrafted in Vienna, Austria since 1828, building techniques require 62 weeks to complete a single piano. The B�sendorfer Grand is considered the ultimate musical achievement. The beautiful sound and technical perfection of the action truly enhance the player's ability. Tori performs with a black, Model 290 Imperial Grand (97 keys, 9'6" ft. in length, 5'6" in width, and 570 kg in weight). This is the one that we see on-stage at the tours. To see the road crew fold "the giantess" up is a sight to see, indeed!
Inside the studio Tori introduces on of the two B�sendorfer pianos she owns as "my baby". Always referring to her instruments in the female third person, a year ago, Amos had told Q Magazine that this piano "had no character, she was boring". Now she admits, "She's making me pay for that statement daily," before beckoning Q under the piano's lid saying, "Here, put your head in," for the full cochlea-rattling experience. Following a torrent of expert arpeggios played by a swaying, trance-like Amos, she holds the sustain of the last note, and then emits a breathy, "Isn't she pretty?" -- Q Magazine (UK); May 1998
From the Choirgirl Hotel chronicles a new phase in Tori's musical evolution that includes a full band - guitarist Steve Caton, bassist Jon Evans, and drummer Matt Chamberlain. "I wrote a lot of it at the keyboard but also at the synth, too. I have a.... What do I have? [Chuckles.] I have a Kürzweil. The good thing is they maxed me out at Kürzweil with sounds, and then my friend came in and gave me a bunch of sounds - Mellotron sounds and stuff, 'tron viola, 'tron flute, 'tronny stuff like that. I started messing with them and in some cases writing things around some of them, like in "Hotel." So the keyboard was very present while I was writing. I wrote most everything before I walked into the studio." "..the B�se...she's just in another league than the other ones. She's hand-made, and we got her MIDIed up so I can play with a band without all the feedback and stuff. If you played her, you would understand. Just in the action, the way she talks back to you as an instrument. She talks back in a different way."
Matt Chamberlain, drums: An Ayotte Wood Hoop drum set with a 12" mount top, a 15" floor tom, a 22" kick, and a 14" Keplinger Metal snare. He uses Sabian cymbals; 14" hand-hammered duo hats, a 20" duo ride, a 16" AAX Studio crash, an 18" Sizzle crash and an 8" mounted saw blade. "You never know when you might need it." All his hardware is Drum Workshop. Interestingly, he has Taos Native American kick drum and snare. On the other end of technology he has a MIDI FAT PAD, and a Roland MS1 sampler. He pounds out the music's disparate rhythms with Vic Firth sticks.
Tori's "piano room", a cozy recording studio located within her Cornwall home, is where she recorded her 6th album, Strange Little Girls. The studio consists of one small room full of faders and mixers, and one large room full of keyboards. "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."
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.
"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 Pop's, I'm Sick of You, on the harpsichord!"
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.
THE GRAND PIANO
Amos's main instrument is a huge B�se 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.
From her lastest album Strange Little Girls, Amos strove for a desert feel [for the song Rattlesnakes] and used a "Rhodes delay back and forth to create the tail of the rattlesnake." She tracked the song alone and calls it her personal favorite. During the Strange Little Tour 2001, Tori was seen performing with her ever-present B�se, the Fender Rhodes keyboard and a Würlitzer (Whurly), an organ used at the original Woodstock which she purchased from Country Joe and the Fish. Forever experimenting with sound and reinventing her "girls" with a new voice, Tori illustrates the roles and care of her instruments as she does to her music.