General Info

Yes, Anastasia

Monday 8 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

written by Tori Amos

Piano and Vocal: Tori Amos
Strings arranged by John Philip Shenale
Conducted by Scott Smalley

“Yes, Anastasia,” Under the Pink’s final track, is one of the most classically inspired Tori’s songs. She described it as her “big epic” because of the string orchestra that grows broader and broader until the end of the song - she indeed reckoned “we’re storming the Parliament building by the end ” [1] - and acknowledged “[A] lot of Debussy influence on the first half, and the Russian composers on the second half. ” [2] Nine minutes and a half in lenght, it’s the longest track of her whole career with “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” on Strange Little Girls and it’s a mini-symphony of its own with multiple sections and no real chorus even though “we’ll see how brave you are/we’ll see how fast you’ll be running/ we’ll see how brave you are/Yes, Anastasia” is repeated three times through the whole track.

She explained to Keyboard Magazine in November 1994 that she wrote the song in two phases, the first being very improvisational, free
form, which may explain (although she never addressed the subject) she only begins the song with “Thought I’ve been through this in 1919” in live, eluding three whole minutes of the original recording.

“Well, the first part of ’Yes, Anastasia’ is a good example free form. ’Anastasia’ was written how you would hear it. I wrote that whole first half with a tape recorder: The second half was written first, and then I was just noodling, just stream of consciousness with my ghetto blaster on. It took me six weeks to learn the first half of ’Anastasia’ from that tape, because it was all about free form. I’m much better when I’ve never done something before, because when I try to do it the second time, I’m recreating instead of creating. That changes everything. I usually don’t get it together enough to finish a work like that; it’s like I’ve got too much pesto on my noodles. I’ll only get a couple of measures, and then it gets all jumbled. Then I start screaming and hating myself. It’s just bratty prodigy behavior, because I get in my own way a lot. Sometimes I don’t have the discipline of a more formulated person. Bridges have always been my strength, but sometimes the rest of the song is like pissing in the wind: The land masses on either side of the bridge ain’t so great. I’ve got my Coleman stove and my little jacuzzi on the bridge, because sometimes there ain’t nothin’ on the other side."

She also acknowledged she met some problems with the first string arranger that the record company had advised her and later hired John Philip Shenale, who had provided her with some keyboards for “Girl” on Little Earthquakes, to record a new arrangement. “I had called in someone with a ‘reputation,’” she explained in A Piano booklet.

“I’ll never forget the day after we completed a four song session with a 50-piece orchestra at Ocean Way Studios, I went and erased all 50 pieces on all four tracks without telling the record company. I was working with a string arrangement I hadn’t heard before because I was told this was the way the string arranger created, and I would just have to trust. Now I went along with it because of certain advisors on the project and the reputation of the string arranger. This is where I’ve learned to trust my instinct. After the session was over I went next door to the Columbia Bar and Grill. Eric Rosse and the engineer on the string session, John Beverly Jones, were there, and I remember it as clear as the day it happened.They both looked at me, over weak margaritas with extra salt, and asked if I really wanted this, if I really wanted to erase the equivalent of what a medium-sized house in Pomona would cost. Without a doubt, after another lick of salt, I got ut, walked next door, and pushed the erase button. It was the most liberating feeling to get rid of something that I felt compromised the songs. I knew if I was willing to do that, I would be okay in life.” She has worked with John Philip Shenale for string arrangements ever since.

[1The Baltimore Sun, January 30, 1994.

[2Beat Magazine, July 1994.