General Info

Bells for Her

Monday 8 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

written by Tori Amos

Prepared upright Piano and Vocal: Tori Amos
Prepared by John Philip Shenale and Eric Rosse

“Bells for Her” was Tori’s most experimental track since the beginning of her career because of the prepared piano she used to compose and record it. She wanted to experiment around the piano and keyboards to change “its inherent character,” and work around new but hand-made sounds. Eric Rosse and string arranger John Philip Shenale worked for two days to detune and reconstruct an old upright. “What that is, is Eric and Phil totally destroyed this upright piano, in a wonderful, wonderful way,” she explained in the Tea with the Waitress CD interview. “They detuned the whole piano and then muted the three strings to a note. So they muted two strings out of three on the whole piano.” They also put nails inside the piano and took silver balls - Chinese meditation balls - and rolled them down the strings of the Bösendorfer to record it. “I didn’t know what the sound was until we found it,” she wrote in the A Piano booklet. At this moment, the song wasn’t yet even written, but Tori knew she wanted to create something with this prepared piano.

Finally, Tori wrote and recorded the song at the same time and the take we can hear on the album was the first and only to have been recorded. “That moment is a moment, that song as you hear it was written as it was recorded,” she explained the Baltimore Sun in January 1994. “I’d been feeling something in my belly all day, and I told Eric, ’I’m feeling something.’ He goes, ’Like, when? Do I need to set the mikes up now or what?’ I said, ’I don’t know, but later. I’ve got to eat first.’ It was around four o’clock, and he said, ’Are you feeling something yet?’ I said, ’Not quite yet.’ He goes, ’Well, like, feel it now, because I’ve been waiting for six hours and I need to record this.’ And I said, ’Uh.’ He said, ’Just go into the piano. Just go in.’

“So I went in, and I was listening to the sonics of the detuned acoustic. All of a sudden, this thing has started that was [inhales deeply] and it came in that moment. Words, music, everything. And for one second, my head went out of it and had to come back in. It was during the instrumental part where I was going, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ And when it was over, it was like, ‘Did you get that?’ And he goes, ‘I got it.’ He pushed Record. It’s like, thank you for pushing Record. I have to relearn that. I haven’t relearned it yet. But I gotta relearn it to play it live.I dictated the words right after I did it to understand what was being said, and I understood it. I felt it when it was coming through. The words and the music are trying to translate what the feeling was.”

“Bells for Her” was the song that began for Tori “a passion to explore ways of taking keyboard instrument and changing its inherent character,” she wrote in the A Piano booklet. “‘Bells for Her’ planted a seed of possibilities for keyboards. So whether putting a harpsichord through a Marshall amp, a piano through a Leslie cabinet, or a Clav through guitar pedals, I began to realize there were some definite possibilities.” Possibilities that she will explore in depth in her following record, Boys for Pele.

During the Under the Pink World Tour, Tori performed the song on the same prepared piano and couldn’t imagine playing it on a regular piano. “No, can’t. It’s like, forget it. It’s like pasta with no noodles if I do it without that piano,” she thus told to Beat Magazine in July 1994. However, the old upright was certainly not handy to tour with, and she never took it to the stage again after that tour. During the Dew Drop Inn Tour in 1996, she had the Bösendorfer, harpsichord and harmonium with her (quite a lot of heavy instruments) and played the song on the harpsichord, giving it another feel while keeping a particular sound. During the Plugged Tour, where she had a full band to back her up, she played the song on the Bösendorfer and was backed up by her guitarist, bassist and drummer. She always played the song in a quite similar way since then, subtly making it evolve from tour to tour. In 2009, she took the habit to play the song solo with a long and beautiful intro, one hand on her Bösey and the other on the Yamaha keyboard.

information sources

The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994.
Tea with the Waitress CD interview, March 1994.
Beat Magazine, July 1994.
A Piano booklet, 2006.