home / interviews
Music Express (Canada)
Up The Ladder Of Pianos
By Jennie Punter
It seems I have been following singer/songwriter Tori Amos across Europe -- except I'm stuck over here at the end of the telephone, dialing convoluted numbers with no answer at the other end. Finally, I find her in Paris, in the middle of a whistle-stop publicity-and-performance tour that will take her to places like Amsterdam, Rome, Iceland, Israel, North America and the Pacific Rim countries.
"I'm elated," she says sweetly with a sigh. "Then I go back to Europe and all of June I'll be here. Then I'm going to sleep."
The 28-year-old North Carolina-born performer, who now lives in London, has attracted all kinds of attention with her deft piano-playing, beautiful girl-woman voice and, perhaps most of all, brutally honest, poetic lyrics that move back and forth between the voices of innocence and experience. Her promo tour for her solo debut record, Little Earthquakes, is nothing less than gruelling; her confessional and confrontational performances expend a lot of emotional energy -- and there's no one to back her up, as there is on the album.
"I'm not choosing to go out and duplicate the record," she says. "That's really boring to me. It is scary to go out on your own alone, but at the same time I learn a lot about myself. And it's something that I refused to do for a long time, so now I'm doing it to claim a part of myself that I trashed."
The child prodigy was kicked out of the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore at age 11 for playing by ear; during her teens, she played standards in nightclubs and hotels; and around the age of 20, she gave it up, unable to deal with the strain of her fragmented life.
But the pull of the piano was too great, and while she was living in L.A., Tori began playing and composing again, shaping the 12 songs that appear on Little Earthquakes. "Well, right now I'm not writing anything... I'm kind of depleted," she explains. "When this is over, I'll take time to sit at the piano... I always do every day... and I sit down and give it some time, to experiment with stuff. That's sort of like compulsories for a skater. I work on my vocabulary, my tonal vocabulary."
The lyrical ideas emerge in a similar way, she says. "Maybe a word or maybe a syllable comes. Like in [the first single] 'Silent All These Years.'" Tori sings, "The antichrist, da da da. That word 'antichrist' was the only one that was understandable. So because of what I was doing vocally, it started to sculpt itself. As I started to understand what the story wanted to be, I started to craft the words. But 'what if I'm a mermaid' was always there. 'In these jeans of his' got written out of something that was coming tonally"
The completed lyrics often throw images of childhood against haunting scenes or feelings of pain, fear, sadness and anger. "Sometimes I'm shocked at how angry I am at some things," Tori says of her lyrics. "I'll obviously be saying something that I might not have said if I han't written a song. But when I'm writing I give myself completely free reign."
One wonders how Tori can summon the energy to put on what are reportedly entrancing and impassioned solo performances night after night. "Well, I sit in a room and I call certain energies," Tori explains. "When I say that, it's my little witch-fairy thing that I do. And all sorts of energies come. Maybe I'm working on a father energy that night. So each show is very different. It's almost like, before I play I have to pull myself into another space, so that I'm very focused. Because if I'm not in a place to do that, then I should really just be vegetating watching television. Then it's just paint-by-numbers."
And then there's the question of pianos. "I've had a lot of clunkers," she groans. "It's so scary. Yuo just go, 'My God.' Some of them aren't taken care of. But I'm touring in London with a really great great great concert grand.
"But I don't think it'll be that way in the States... 'cause I'm bigger in England than I am in the States. So you work your way up on the ladder of pianos." Bigger in England? Well, maybe for now...
[scan by Sakre Heinze]
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos