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What's On (In London) (UK)
March 2, 1994
From dodgy rock chick to sensitive and sensual, piano-tinkling songstress, Tori Amos has done it all. And as Nick Duerden found out, it's been anything but an easy ride
We'll start with a quote first, because she's good at those. "I was a prodigy first, then a whore, then I redeemed myself sometime after that."
She's speaking musically, of course.
So here comes Tori Amos, a fluffy vision in grey wool and mittens, her cheeks glowing from the morning's magnificent snow storm. Up the stairs, into her record company, greeting everyone who crosses her path with the warmest of hugs, shaking white flakes from her hat. And then she's out again, back down the stairs and into the cafe opposite where she does a Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, ordering eggs over easy, specifying a particularly runny yolk, with toast, wholemeal toast, not under the eggs, but on the side. Maybe some jam as well. And a pot of tea, with hot chocolate to follow. She doesn't however, fake orgasm, though one guesses she'd be rather flamboyant about it were she to give it a go. The waiter smiles. He's used to her. She comes here all the time.
Tori Amos, top selling female singer-songwriter, is already infamous for her 'kookie' nature. She's like Kate Bush only more so; she's the one who says things like, "I'm the decendent of some big burly Viking"; the one who talks of her other selves.
People who meet Tori Amos come away suggesting she's other-worldly, a little barmy, even. It's those piercing eyes and that wailing voice, and the way she talks a load of old psychobabble. Following her train of thought is like following a downhill slalom race after 20 pints of Foster's.
But this hardly constitutes insanity. Not even mild insanity. What Tori Amos possesses in great quantities is an overwhelming passion for just about everything. Her mind seems to work so fast, her mouth can barely keep up. Warching her do something as simple as talking is a bewitching experience.
It's been two years since Little Earthquakes, an album that, on its way to a million copies, gave us one of the first real stars of the '90s: Tori Amos -- the girl with the child in her eyes. She knew this was to be her fate, she says, "on my fifth birthday."
By the age of two she could play the piano. By the time she reached her fifth birthday, she knew where John Lennon was coming from. Empathy, she calls it. And 25 years later, she saw her second solo album enter the UK album chart at number one.
"I had a lot of things going on when I was five," she says. "You wouldn't have wanted to know me when I was a little older because I was a complete waste of time. But that's okay, I just went into a fog. I'm out of it now.
"You know that Scrooge movie where the ghosts take him to Christmas past and Christmas present?" she says. "Well I wish it could be like that. I wish I could take you on a quick tour of my past so you could understand properly just what I've gone through and why I am the way I am today.
"You go and talk to women who have lived through violent experiences. Some are so hard and bitter that you can't even find a smile in them at all, while others are so closed in they can barely speak. I'm just desperately trying to find a balance between the two."
Tori Amos is keep for you to know everything about her. Where most stars are reticent over their personal affairs, Amos likes to throw open the book, revealing almost all of her back pages. We know, for example, that she was ejected from the prestigious Peabody Institute in Baltimore in her rebellious teen years for liking Sergeant Pepper and Jimi Hendrix too much. We also know of her unspectacular years touring middle America's bar circuit where she'd play human jukebox for a bunch of drunks. We know that six years ago she was raped (a subject she later 'dealt' with on the harrowing 'Me And A Gun') and we also know that she made a very poor rock chick record a few years ago called Y Kant Tori Read.
"Y Kant Tori Read came out at a time when I was very weak," she says, almost defiantly. "Not weak as insipid, but weak as in I could be swayed by anyone. That was my whore stage. That was when I didn't care about the music, I just wanted -- I needed -- attention.
"It's so crazy, though. When word of that album came out, I got ripped to shreds by the Press. Like, they suggested that with Little Earthquakes I'd suddenly re-invented myself!" Her eyes are wild now. "You don't write a record like that unless you've been on your knees, unless you've been through something. People who suggest otherwise have no f***ing idea! Who the f*** are those people anyway? My poppa used to say you cannot judge a man until you've walked in his moccasins. The people who make these accusations don't even know me. I mean, Jesus!"
During this fierce retort, she lances the butter with such aggression that a knob flies from the knife and plops into her hot chocolate. Unfazed, she fishes it out with a spoon.
Four weeks ago, Under the Pink, the singer's second solo album, went straight in at number one; confirmation of just how rapid her ascent has been in these two years. It's a strong collection of songs: painfully honest, soul bearing stuff, swamped in piano, with a disarming vocal style that bunjee jumps from a low, rich timbre to that histrionic high-pitched howling so reminiscent of Ms Bush.
When she talks about her songs she talks about possession, about songs using her to find their way to the outside world.
"Okay, let's talk about the track 'Past the Mission'," she says. "That song came to me and said, 'You know what? I want Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails to sing on this song', and I said, 'I'm sure you do'..."
And that, believe it or not, is exactly what happened. The year's most unlikely collaboration: Tori Amos, the new age chanteuse, and Trent Reznor, industrial vocalist from hell. Stranger things have not happened.
"We got together 'cos we were friends in a past life," she reckons straight-faced, before catching herself. "Uh, oh! These are the kind of comments that got me in trouble! Ha-ha! But seriously, after spending two minutes with him, I was convinced that we went way, way back. Maybe in another life, who knows?
"But anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, songs. Songs for me are living things that come and hang out for a while. And not just my songs. Take 'Big Time Sensuality'. That's a living thing."
And then she makes another one of those comments that is bound to get her into even more trouble. "Even though that song came from Bjork, it hangs out with me too 'cos I need some big time sensuality myself every now and then. It comes over to me and says in this squeaky voice, 'Hi Tori, I had a lunch break from Bjork, so I thought I'd come hang out a while!'"
Tori Amos throws her head back and laughs, tee-heeing mischievously.
People are going to read this and think she's mad... Again.
Tori Amos plays Her Majesty's Theatre on March 6 (sold out), and then returns to London for shows at the Palladium on April 28 and 29. Under the Pink is out now on East West. See Rock and Pop listings.
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