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St. Louis Post Dispatch (US)
Minneapolis/St Paul
July 15, 1994

By Alan Sculley, free-lance writer
Section: EVERYDAY MAGAZINE, Page: 04F

When Tori Amos wrote the directly confessional songs that made up her 1992 album, "Little Earthquakes," she was an largely unknown artist with no idea if her songs would ever reach a sizable audience.

Working against this backdrop of anonymity, she poured large parts of her soul into her writing, painfully describing how she had spent years stifling her creative and spiritual voice ("Silent All These Years"), confessing to her self-doubts ("Crucify") and describing in chilling detail her feelings of being raped ("Me and a Gun"). The confessional tone of the songs, many of which featured Amos playing primarily in a solo piano format, struck a nerve and found an audience. "Little Earthquakes" went gold.

Two years later, Amos, 30, knew she would now be writing for an established audience - one that already know some revealing details about her life simply from her songs. This reality factored into her decision to shuffle the artistic deck for her second record, "Under the Pink."

"I made a very conscious choice to try and not write 'Little Earthquakes' again," Amos said. "That was really diary form, and I wanted to do more of an impressionist painting on 'Under the Pink,' so that there's a lot more codes and... I started really looking at those painters. That's what I wanted to accomplish, more of an abstract piece of work because I feel like each album has to really be its own thing."

For Amos, giving "Under the Pink" its own personality meant exposing her feelings in new, more camouflaged ways, while showing that as a person she had progressed from the wounded characters that inhabited many songs from "Little Earthquakes."

"I wanted to make sure that I was exposing myself, and I made sure that I did on "Icicle," in "Bells For Her," in "The Waitress" and I think a lot of the [new] music," Amos said.

"But at the same time, the theme was refusing to stay a victim anymore, whereas the first one was exploring victim energy. So there were changes thematically as well as structurally - the music point of view."

If the exact messages of the new songs are at times buried in symbolism, there are also points where the thorny issues Amos tackles come through loud and clear. The song "The Waitress" suggests a case of jealousy taken to its violent extreme, while "Yes, Anastasia" finds Amos exploring the emotions of a child-abusing mother.

Perhaps the most controversial moments come in "God," which became a sizable radio hit when it was released several months ago. The song examines not only the supposed missteps of the Almighty but also the male-dominant patriarchal system of the world at large. With the line "Do you need a woman to look after you?" she playfully suggests that perhaps God might benefit from having a female point of view around once in awhile.

Amos has heard her share of adverse reaction to the song, especially from Christian audiences.

"They had a problem, but they should have a problem because, you know, the whole institution is based on control," Amos said. "And that's what this whole song was, and that's what the whole record is about... it's in 'Waitress' about the agony of admitting that you really have no remorse about zipping this girl's head off. It's a very scary thing to not have any remorse about wanting to kill someone, especially when you think you're a peacemaker. So that song is not just about wanting to kill her. It's about the feelings of wanting to kill her, and what that brings up. I should feel terrible, but I don't. Uh-oh.

"And, of course, "Cornflake Girl" and "Bells," that's all that female relationship [thing]. "Bells for Her" is the ending of a friendship, thinking that... this is my best friend forever, that only guys do this to each other. And in "Cornflake," you think, no, this is not really happening - you bet your life it is. It's a betrayal of women against women, which I really wanted to go into."

Such complex, emotionally daring music has established Amos as one of the most intriguing singer/songwriters to emerge in the 1990s. But as the "Little Earthquakes" song "Silent All These Years" suggested, it took many years for the real Amos to emerge.

The daughter of a Methodist preacher and a Cherokee Indian mother, Amos began to play piano before she was 3. Remarkably, by the time she was 4, she was playing piano scores and writing her own music. At age 5, she'd earned a scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore.

But a newfound interest in the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and other rock music found her drifting from the classical grounding of her teachers, and at age 11, Amos was expelled from Peabody. Still, Amos' love of music didn't fade, and with her parents' approval, soon she was playing clubs around the Washington, D.C., area and having tapes of her music sent to record companies.

Piano/vocal music, however, was hardly the trend of the day, and eventually Amos realized she would need to find a more commercially viable format to gain record-company attention.

This quest sent her to Los Angeles, where she joined a pop metal band called Y Kant Tori Read, which also included Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum. The band made one album, which bombed commercially and was ripped by critics. By the mid-'80s, a bewildered Amos was thoroughly frustrated and confused about her musical identity.

After considerable soul-searching, she realized the piano-vocal style allowed her natural voice to emerge, and slowly, over the next four years, the intensely personal songs that would make up "Little Earthquakes" did emerge.

The solo piano sound that defined "Little Earthquakes" is still very much at the heart of "Under The Pink," although Amos and co-producer Eric Rosse experimented frequently to give the new record some noticeable sonic contrasts.

"I wanted to keep the [piano at the] center while I experimented with different sounds. I mean, that was the whole idea," Amos said. "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. So there was a bit of prepared piano experimenting that we really didn't take as far as we really wanted to because we were short on time."


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