General Info

Past the Mission

Monday 8 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

written by Tori Amos

Piano, Vocal, Vox Organ and stuff: Tori Amos
Guest Vocal: Trent Reznor
Bass: George Porter, Jr.
Drums: Carlo Nuccio
Percussion: Paulinho Da Costa
Guitars: Steve Caton

“Past the Mission” distincts itself by its complex structure, which makes it a both rich and uplifiting track. Tori actually joined the three distinctive parts that are the verses, chorus and bridge (something that she’ll do again on some of her songs of her following recordings, like “Fast Horse”) and the result is astounding, giving the song a very broad dimension, while the melody has a very smooth quality: the song seems to flow effortlessly out of Tori and her piano, though it is far more complex than what it seems when you may first hear it. When she played an early version of the song to one of her musician friends, he told her it didn’t work with such a structure.

“Like in ‘Past the Mission,’ I was putting three totally different structures together: the verse, chorus and the bridge belonged to different things.” “And, I’m like: ‘That’s your opinion. I mean, I was playing Chopin when you were peeing in your bed, so see ya!’ I’m sorry, but sometimes you have to get a little protective. Or you put nothing out,” she explained to Star Tribune in July 1994.

She also wanted to experiment with different sounds and worked closely with her then co-producer and companion Eric Rosse to experiment with the piano and different keyboards. “I wanted to keep the [piano at the] center while I experimented with different sounds. I mean, that was the whole idea,” she told St Louis Dispatch in July 1994. “What arrangements can the piano hold? And through the whole process, we learned the piano can pretty much take anything. It’s just this choice, like in that bridge of ‘Past the Mission,’ I’m playing a Vox organ around the piano, and Eric had styrofoam being pushed on the bottom end of the strings of the piano to create that strange bassoon sound.”

The cultural influence of New Mexico, where she wrote and recorded the song, was also a great source of inspiration for her and the musicians who took to translate that particular ‘southy’ vibe and weave it into the song. “George Porter Jr. from the Meters played on the whole record, and there’s a lot of him on that, as much as Carlo Nuccio from the bottom end,” she told the Baltimore Sun in January 1994. “I did the piano vocal first, but they played the track, which gave it that—especially in the verses, that New Orleans kind of church meets Otis Redding meets, and they had a lot to do with bringing that out of the piece itself.”

While writing the song, she also knew she wanted Nine Inch Nail’s lead-member Trent Reznor to sing on the track with her in the backing vocals of the chorus. “I wanted him to sing on it because of his energy. I love Trent’s work,” she also told the Baltimore Sun. “...obviously, it’s nothing like he does in his work, which I found an interesting choice, because it wasn’t for him to sing on something that was his, why do that?” After contacting him, she flew to Los Angeles to meet him at the Sharon Tate house where the actress and her guests were violently murdered by Charles Manson’s gang.

Trent lived in the house - that has been teared down since then - at the time, and Tori confessed she felt a very spooky vibe from the mansion, “not in the way it looks but just because you know what it is.” She thus told many times a funny story about how she wanted to bake fried chicken (one of her only culinary specialities) to Trent but was unable to succeed and therefore blamed the influence of the house. ”I can make this chicken. Whatever he tells you, ever, the truth is I make really good chicken. It’s oven fried and I’ve been making it since I was a little kid. It’s awesome how it dribbles down your chin and the butter - yummy. I was worried about his health because he’s not eating a lot, it doesn’t seem like he is, and I just said, ’Let me make some chicken. I’d feel really good if I could do that.’ And so he said, ’Yeah, come on up and make it. I don’t believe you’re really as good as you say you are.’ And I said, ’No, I make good chicken, Trent.’ And so I brought all the ingredients and I swear to you for the life of me, I couldn’t make this chicken. HORRIBLE. It’s not like I’d been proven wrong. But anything that is cooked there, my chicken being the only experience I had, of course... Nothing bakes. So I don’t know what to tell you, but I think it’s a very weird place because - I promise you, I know how to make this chicken! ”

She didn’t reveal, however, if Trent’s vocals were recorded at the Tate House (which would be the most plausible option) or only met him there to talk about it but made the recorded him at the hacienda in New Mexico where she recorded the whole album.

information sources

The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994.
WHFS Press, Spring 1994.
Star Tribune, July 10, 1994.
St Louis Post Dispatch, July 15, 1994.
VH1 V-Spot Boxset, avril 2007.