Your Racist Friend (Y Tori Kant Even)

January 25, 2015 7:08 PM

It's past due for the 25th anniversary of Flood, but here's a cover of They Might Be Giant's Your Racist Friend done roughly in the style of Tori Amos.

The version of this in my head is a lot tighter and the vocals are magically a lot closer in pitch and timbre, but you come to a pastiche with the tools you've got.

I spent a buttload of time in high school in particular listening to Tori Amos albumsโ€”Under the Pink especially, but also Little Earthquakes and Boys For Pele (hence the harpsichord intrusion during the bridge). I can't play piano the way she can, but it's fun to at least try to do a stylistic impression. My digital piano doesn't have a Bosendorfer sample set, unfortunately.

posted by cortex (12 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

๐Ÿ‘ณ๐Ÿ‘ฒโ™ ๐Ÿšท๐Ÿ’”
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:58 PM on January 25, 2015

Yes! So glad you finished this.
posted by curious nu at 8:03 PM on January 25, 2015

I love it. As far as I can tell, you nailed the piano pastiche perfectly.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:59 PM on January 26, 2015

posted by chara at 1:48 PM on January 27, 2015

Hah, amazing. I was a huge Tori fan, and Boys for Pele especially remains an otherworldly masterpiece in my book. You captured her style incredibly well!
posted by edlundart at 8:04 PM on January 30, 2015

I remain happy that I made this but listening to it again for the first time in a couple days it turns out I still dislike about it the things I disliked about it when I got done with it initially, so as just sort of an exercise in verbalizing my thought process about music and recording and the whole creative process in general, here's a list of Things I Don't Like About My Own Recording:

1. My voice don't sound like Tori Amos. Not exactly fixable—we're just in different ranges to begin with and have different larynxes and she's got this great crystal clear voice that she can grit up when she wants, and it's a hell of a voice—but something that I suspect with some more work I could at least get a closer take on the tone and idiosyncrasies of. I tried to get a couple of halfway-to-growl type drops in there and little touches of the odd way she accents/pronounces some syllables, but the drop-and-growl thing in particular is harder to sell when you're not a lot farther up to start with. The contrast isn't nearly as clear.

I did experiment briefly with pitching the whole thing up post-recording by two or three semitones just in case it magically hit the right timbre as a result, but instead it did the much more likely thing of just sounding a bit weird without sounding any more like Tori.

2. The vocal phrasing is consistently tentative and delayed; I straggle in to verses and especially choruses after the start of the measure and sort of catch up. Which as a one-off isn't really an issue, since part of Tori's style is a creative looseness and dynamism with phrasing that definitely allows for meandering around the neighborhood of the downbeat with a bottle of wine, looking for just the right spot to settle in. But it's really consistent in this recording, not because I wanted it that way but because I ended up executing it that way.

And this is an impatience problem more than anything; if there was one thing I could go and fix, it'd be to spend the time to get this right, because in my head I'm right on the beat at the start of those quiet delicate choruses, etc. But the vocal here is a single first or maybe second take, because I was just trying to Get This Done, and I realized to my dismay in the process of recording the vox that having both really dynamic levels on the piano and really dynamic tempo (with basically arbitrary, improvised fermata at the verse/chorus breaks) made it both hard to hear and hard to guess the actual moments of transition from one section to the other.

So I end up singing "this is where..." after the piano's already started tinkling that phrase, and then catching up in the phrasing after, because there was no click track, and no steady beat or pick up notes, to sell the timing of that first chorus note, and I was too hurried to take it a bunch of times to get it right by rote, and so I just played it conservative and erred on the site of late entry. Turns out that's sort of bugging me more than I'd hoped.

3. Instrumentation is a bit spare. The solo piano stuff to open it is fine and on point for Tori as far as that goes, but the bridge in particular that picks up with harpsichord and guitar and a little bit of melodica could have been much more of a big turn. I tried a little upright bass, bowed and plucked, but neither worked really; the plucking didn't really fit, and I'm just still terrible at bowing so that didn't come out well enough to want to use. I considered trying to briefly lay into some actual drums, but given what a mess the tempo is and how little a sense I had of what that should sound like, I decided to give it a pass. Likewise, the idea of bringing in some scratchy distorted electric guitar as an interlude element or something panned and reverbed hard to complement the main mix occurred to me since she's gotten a decent amount of mileage out of that in the earlier albums, but I wasn't sure where to go with it.

Long story short: I rushed it like I rush a lot of things. And sometimes that's the way to go, and even in this case for all my complaints it was still probably the way to go, because often the only way I can get something out of my head is to just Get It Done and that may mean getting sort of determined-bordering-on-manic for an hour or two and then calling it. Better probably than continuing to think about it every day as That Thing I Should Do, because that can get to be a lot of creative/mental baggage to carry around.

But it's still rushed, and it could be better if I took the time to really work on it. The fear there being that I might get sick of it before it ever gets done, and instead of carrying around a vague thing I might do I'm carrying around a more concrete thing I tried and failed to make, and some sort of resentment about that. The more practical non-fear issue being that working on things takes time and effort and if all the fun in an idea for me is in the first little napkin sketch (what this recording essentially is, I guess) then forcing myself to double-down and iterate may just leave me a little frustrated and bored. It's hard to know which projects will really have legs, of course, but I can guess a bit from knowing myself and I'm pretty sure I don't have a great welling desire inside of me to put blood, sweat and tears into a slightly improved Tori Amos/TMBG pastiche right now. And so here we are.
posted by cortex at 8:02 AM on February 3, 2015 [6 favorites]

(Also, layering harpsichord on top of ongoing piano in the bridge break is totally a cheat and is busier than her arrangements would ever be; if I'd planned that out right, I'd have set it up as a transition from one to the other, and had the harpsichord be a lot bigger and more sure-footed instead of sort of a complementary flourish. But I wasn't sure what the arrangement was going to be exactly when I started, so no dice there.)
posted by cortex at 8:07 AM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yep, getting it Out is often preferable to getting it Right (for most values of Right). It was enjoyable and conveyed Tori's style perfectly well.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:11 AM on February 3, 2015

Eeeeeeeeeee that chord change over "Can't shake the devil's hand and say you're only kidding." Yes. Spot-on.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:00 PM on February 5, 2015

Ha! And the minor chord at the end! Yeah, uh, she sure did have some distinctive stylistic tics, huh? I loved those first three albums to death and this is fucking awesome.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:03 PM on February 5, 2015

This is badass. I am now gleefully imagining cortex versions of Iieee and Playboy Mommy.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:04 AM on February 9, 2015

Man, Playboy Mommy would probably be pretty fun to just do a straight-up downtempo in-three rocker cover of. I usually gravitate toward her first couple albums when I get to thinking "I should cover a Tori song", but then I basically always end up deciding that whatever I'm trying isn't really working; PM is such a solid, bedrock four-chord structure that it might give me a lot less trouble there.

I haven't actually listened to Choirgirl Hotel in general in a long time. I remember having sort of misgivings about it when it came out because it had such a different production feel in a lot of ways than her earlier stuff. But every once in a while one of those songs pops into my head and its clear they've stuck with me pretty well regardless.

Northern Lad could be interesting too—I've always really loved that track in particular as Tori in sort of Epic Pop mode—but there's a whole lot of high vocal stuff in the chorus that'd take a lot of rethinking.
posted by cortex at 7:11 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

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