Tori Amos has spoken to Headliner about the making of her new album Ocean To Ocean, the traumatic circumstances that spawned it and how she had to “write myself out of my little private hell”.
Almost a year prior to the release of her new album Ocean To Ocean, Tori Amos was feeling the strain of 2020 more acutely than at any other point. The embers of a year of turmoil and devastation for so many were beginning to flare once again. The UK was readying itself for a long winter under lockdown, while in the US, a full-on assault on the nation’s democracy, the likes of which had never been seen before, was being whipped up by ringleader in chief Donald Trump. For Amos, an American who has called the UK – Cornwall to be precise – home for the past 15 years, the toll was significant.
“I hit a wall,” she states, speaking to Headliner over the phone from a London hotel. “Like so many other people, I just kept thinking ‘when is this house arrest nightmare going to end’? Even though I was lucky enough to be in Cornwall, one of the most beautiful places in the world, I still became very sad and despondent. I was pushed to a place of emotions but also a state of mental paralysis. So I just sat in a chair. And all the energy I had in willing America to hold on to her democracy through the election and for the election to count, whoever you voted for, had gone. By the end of January (2021), I didn’t have the energy to do a whole lot. The only way out was to write myself out of my little private hell.”
Ocean To Ocean, Amos’s 15th album in a glittering career spanning three decades, is a typically soul-baring affair. It details undiluted the dense sense of loss and longing from which it was carved, as well as the reconnection with nature that pulled her out of her slump and inspired her to start writing again. Lyrically introspective but sonically warm and expansive, all piano and acoustic instruments with electronic embellishment, it’s an album that entices rather than demands attention. There’s a lightness and a vibrancy to these songs despite the depth of emotion anchoring them. For an album so entrenched in loss, its surprisingly full of life.
“The first song I wrote was a song called Metal Water Wood,” she explains, her tone contemplative and occasionally pinched with sadness. “That came to me and then I started to go out into nature, and nature showed me that she wasn’t in lockdown but was alive, busy and rejuvenated. By writing this one song and then going out into nature, that began to show me possibilities.”
Metal Water Wood may have hinted at a way out of the psychological stasis Amos was suffering, but the path towards her own rejuvenation was never going to be completed overnight. What followed was a process of confronting her losses, among them, the death of her mother two years earlier.
“It’s a paradox,” she elaborates. “You’re trying to change your frequency because you know it’s at such a low ebb, and you want to flip a switch and walk into something new. But I felt like I had to crawl out of it, I couldn’t just jump because I needed to acknowledge my losses. I needed to acknowledge that I missed my mother who had died a couple of years before. She would have known what to say if I had called her.” Her voice falters for a second before she continues. “She had that thing so many of us look to somebody for… and she wasn’t there. So, I had to really come to terms with that. There was a point where my daughter Tash came up to me and said, ‘listen, I know you miss grandma, I miss grandma too, but I need my mum back’. That was a big turning point.”