As a lot of you know, I am a huge fan of Singer/Pianist/Songwriter, Tori Amos. Today is her 50th birthday & I am so pleased to have below an interview with her string arranger, John Phillip Shenale. They have been working together on all of Tori’s albums since 1993 & are currently collaborating for her forthcoming musical, The Light Princess. A huge thanks to John for answering my questions & always being so kind to Tori’s fans!
(Me with Tori, 2009.)
How does Tori first introduce a song to you, does she play it and you go from there?
Yes some times at the very beginning of a project she will play it on the phone and sing sometimes, or just sing and go thru the lyrics and concept with me . She is amazing at getting to the root of a song and describing what she wants for her baby then I will usually get tracks from her to work – usually finals but sometimes ruffs.
The symphonic tour was different in the fact the I had to take tracks, and edit to fit roughly the arrangement that we wanted.
Tori would call and say, ‘how bout I play this for the intro and I’d write it down and use that.’ We really loved doing the intros and variations on the tour last year.
What’s the process like from going to a song on an album then arranging it live?
Well the quartets for the Night Of Hunter tour was a revelation; I have naturally seen her perform many times but seeing at her love and interpretation of the live performance first hand was pretty amazing. Tori’s live performance concept and delivery is an art in itself.
It was also interesting writing for live performance and not playing; I enjoyed it very much , the record versions are so wonderful. Tori wanted the live performance to be another new emotion. The quartet could be pushed in a way that was perfect for Tori’s level of live performance, and the same with the orchestra . its power came from an internal resonance and its variety of colors.
Also, I had a chance to reframe the beauties that I didn’t arrange originally, so that was fun, too.
How did you and Tori meet and become such brilliant collaborators?
We met on Little Earthquakes and from the start knew that we had worked, drank and smoked alot of cigars many times before, in the old world.
She really brought a high level of performance both piano and vocal wise to a massive audience, it was an amazing and productive time in the late 80s and early 90s in record and music creation. People could devote their life to art 24 hours a day and not have to worry about paying the light bill or your rent; the record companies leased you an “Island escape” for 2 or 3 years that if you were wise and lucky you would have a career at the end of your stay.
Who were the artists that influenced you to start your own music career?
At first classical composers . Igor Stravinski, Richard Strauss, G Mahler, Samuel Barber Ravel and my the other side of my brain liked The Yardbirds, Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding and all kinds of rock, funk and R&B, and that was the start of an ever-widening love of music.
(Heres wishing Tori a wonderful birthday, & much success to her, John & all involved with The Light Princess! xo)