By Matt Mazur
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Original source to the interview: popmatters.com
Charles Laughton’s 1955 classic filmed fable The Night of the Hunter has always been a film I credit as one of the key works that altered my perception of film forever, much in the way Tori Amos’ work shaped my perception of music when I first came to know her landmark work Boys for Pele. They both left lasting marks on me. Amos melded these two worlds, the musical and the cinematic, when she posed as a righteous woman in a rocking chair with a shotgun on the Pele cover precisely the way Lillian Gish did in the film as Rachel, salt-of-the-earth savior of wayward orphans John and Pearl. I remember thinking anyone who references Lillian Gish on their biggest CD to date must have solid brass cojones. That was before I even heard one note of the staggering harpsichord banshee hinjinks that were waiting on the disc, with such Tori classics as “Blood Roses”, “Father Lucifer”, and “Professional Widow”.
On that epic record, Amos covers much of the same territory that John and Pearl do as they float down a glittering black river, lost in a cruelly stark landscape with a demonic, serial-killer stepfather—who has just slit their mother’s throat and left her at the bottom of the very river they’ve escaped on – out to murder them. This man, played by Robert Mitchum, is a Christian preacher with the words “love” and “hate” tattooed on his fingers. On her newest record, Night of Hunters, Tori finds herself in this familiar, often-perilous milieu, at the intersection of the spiritual, the supernatural, and the feminine. The thing that The Night of the Hunter has in common with Night of Hunters is that both have a deceptive quality about them, and both are unexpectedly dark visions with serious subtext and nuances to them that take much more time and thought than the typical music press is allowed time or space to properly unpack.
Those critics should rest assured that there are moments on the new record that evoke Pele‘s many elements of surprise, the unexpected awe-inspiring moments in Tori’s music that made me a fan in the first place. “I think the thing that just astounds me about Tori is that she can take a bit of something like a melody or harmonic sequence for some of these pieces that were the inspiration and create something truly her own, showing how truly powerful her own creative stamp is,” said long-time collaborator and arranger John Phillip Shenale. “I think of Night of Hunters as a 70-minute song with 30 pieces of music held together by 13 sets of interlocking lyrics. Now that’s composing!” Indeed, the new album is a towering achievement of composition, tightly-wound, and thrilling in scope, vision, and execution, much like the film that serves as one of Tori’s many inspirations was.
Music aside, Night of Hunters is truly a lyricist’s triumph, with Tori creating a mythology all her own in her own beautiful language. Amos’ florid style of writing, with tales of hot house flowers, white horses, and Gothic Romance, is but one of the three key stars – composition and vocal delivery are the other two – of Night of Hunters, which is, to borrow from Kanye, a “beautiful dark twisted fantasy.” One of the things that inspired me to be be a writer, aside from being inspired by great cinema such as Laughton’s film, was the way Tori Amos used language in her lyric writing, using words to create highly personal worlds in a distinctive, unmistakable voice.