home / interviews
Wednesday, July 27, 1994
AMOS SPEAKS CRYPTICALLY
By Sue Smallwood, Staff Writer
WITH 1992's BRILLIANT "Little Earthquakes," her confessional album debut, singer/songwriter Tori Amos tore into decidedly female terrain - issues of self-esteem, sexual violation and repression - with a captivating voice that vacillated between girlish vulnerability and outright aggression.
This year's "Under The Pink" is no less powerful or poignant. But it's somewhat less direct, with often cryptic lyrics.
"It was a conscious choice to do (the new album) in a different form," Amos said recently in a phone interview from Kansas City. "'Little Earthquakes' is more diary form and 'Under The Pink' is more, to me, an Impressionist painting. I felt that as the songs were coming, they wanted to come in a different form. They kind of grabbed me by the throat, to be quite honest, and said, 'Babe, we're coming. I was like, 'But now's not a good time.'"
Amos heeded their call and holed up in an old hacienda in New Mexico for several weeks. To ensure she would hear only her own creative voice, she isolated herself from all media input.
"I refused to watch TV or listen to radio during the whole making of that record because I couldn't afford to be influenced," she explained. "I usually have an inpouring (of creative stimuli) while I'm on the road.
But when I start to write and create, then I close the door because I don't want to start going, 'Oh, let's change the whole structure of this because this is kind of cool.'"
Amos likens her sponge-like ingestion of artistic experience and inspiration to a camel storing water in its hump to sustain itself later. The reggae shop she lived above in London several years ago, for instance, eventually found its way into "Cornflake Girl," the album's current single, a loping composition about women who betray other women.
The reggae influence "is hidden quite a bit because there's a big Keith Jarrett influence that's also there," said Amos, a North Carolina native who was playing piano at age 2, composing at age 4 and eventually kicked out of the prestigious Peabody Institute at age 11 for following her own - not Mozart's or Beethoven's - muse. "There are many layers of jazz influence in 'Cornflake Girl.' But while I was writing it, I refused to go back and listen to those influences because it had to evolve itself."
"Under The Pink" finds Amos experimenting with a variety of fascinating sounds, many created by processing her primary instrument, the piano. The haunting "Bells for Her" - chronicling the painful falling apart of two friends - was inspired by an old upright that was physically manipulated to create a chime-like timbre.
"Eric Rosse, who produced the record, had wanted to really work with the piano more than samplers," the singer recalled. "He (and John Philip Shenale) completely annihilated this upright and made this beautiful creation out of it. They spent two days detuning and muting it, doing all this stuff to the strings."
Another track features the unlikely vocal union of Amos and Trent Reznor, the violent misanthrope of aggro-industrial outfit Nine Inch Nails. Reznor had sent a message to Amos expressing his admiration for "Little Earthquakes"; Amos recognized a musical and spiritual ally. She invited him to sing on "Past the Mission," a song about the devastating psychological effects of victimization.
"The choice for ('Past the Mission') had to be somebody that represented rage and anger because this is all about a girl trying so hard to work through being a victim," she said. "I felt like for a guy to be supporting her, it had to be a guy that could rage, because then it would really mean something if he could be tender. Trent is - well, you can't be in all that much rage and pain unless you have a very big heart."
Violence and violation are recurrent themes in Amos' work. "Me And A Gun" from "Little Earthquakes," her a cappella account of her own rape during her early 20s, garnered her a Visionary Award from the Washington, D.C., Rape Crisis Center. Amos explores violence between women as well on the new song, "The Waitress," with its discomfiting juxtaposition of vitriol and serenity. "Violence between women isn't really looked at or talked about, how we treat each other," Amos mused. " 'Cornflake Girl' is about the shock of the betrayal, 'Waitress' is the violent reaction... of, 'just rip her head off, no problem.'"
When a man reveals himself a traitor, she continued, "I go, 'Yeah, typical.' But when a woman does it, especially one who is supposedly talking about support for other women and they turn around and turn on you... it hurts, and I get angry. But we've been taught that respectable girls don't do that. And we want respect more than anything, I think, as women."
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos