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January 12, 1996
FINDING HER FIRE
By Dean Buckley
On the eve of her third album, Tori Amos proves that the redhead at the piano is just getting started.
About five years ago, Tori Amos was struggling to rise from the ashes of the dismal rock band Y Kant Tori Read. Her therapy, with the encouragement of longstanding beau Eric Rosse, was to record what became "Little Earthquakes." Produced in part by Rosse, "Earthquakes" revealed a brutally honest Amos, with songs weaving vulnerability, sexuality, and righteous womanhood into a wry package. At the core sat the acappella "Me and a Gun," a factual recounting of the thoughts going through her head as she was raped. Women identified immediately and flocked to her concerts; even men seemed to appreciate her for more than her good looks and flaming red hair. The album was a hit, selling two million copies, according to Amos' label, Atlantic Records.
And thus was born Tori Amos, Superstar. The title was fitting, since her next album, "Under the Pink," went on to sell another two million copies: yet, "superstar" still rang odd for an artist selling nothing more than her voice accompanied by a Bosendorfer piano.
Born in North Carolina and the daughter of a Methodist preacher, Amos was playing the piano before she'd turned 3. At age 5, she was sent to study at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory, but was expelled six years later. "The whole idea was for me to be a concert pianist," she's told interviewers, "but I found that I was more interested in free expression. I didn't want to do what was expected of me." Eventually, Amos went on to spend several years playing Gershwin in gay bars in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore before going on to form her own band.
After leaving Y Kant Tori Read, she returned to the piano and began composing songs.
With "Pink," came several changes -- Rosse had taken on a larger role, producing the entire album and Amos' audience had grown to international proportions.
Her this album ushers in still more change. Amos produced the upcoming "Boys for Pele" by herself, and, she says, the album arises out of a need to understand her relationships with men. What happened to Eric Rosse? That's another pile of ashes from which Amos has emerged.
When Amos picked up the phone from New York to discuss the new album with Frontiers, she had already endured a marathon day -- within a marathon week -- of media interviews. When asked how she was holding up, she could barely grumble.
Your voice must be tired.
No, it's my brain, not my voice.
Well, we'll try not to use your brain.
Frontiers is a gay and lesbian newsmagazine, so I'm probably going to ask you some gay-and lesbian-related questions.
Oh, good! The Chronicle didn't ask me those.
I don't want you to think I'm trying to queer-bait you.
No, no no. Don't worry. Knock yourself out. Anybody can think of me however they want. I don't know why I'm attracted to three legs at this point in time, but I am. It's ... chemical. Although, you know, there are women that I'm absolutely in love with in my life. And I'm sure I would become intimate with them before I would become intimate with a man that I didn't feel that I was in love with or drawn to. Somebody said, "What are you?" Well, at this point I seem to be sharing intimate moments with men -- intimate physical moments. I share intimate moments with women that aren't physical, necessarily. Although if I were, I don't know, in a room with Beenie -- who's my best friend -- and some guys were like khak! [making a sound loaded with disgust] I would say, "Beenie, let's go!" I saw this movie, "When Night is Falling" -- do you know it? -- a lesbian film out of Canada. The guys involved were so absolutely repulsive, but these two women get together, and it's one of the most romantic scenes I've ever seen, ever, on film. And there's a moment where you go, "Who knows when that person can walk in the room?" And I literally mean that. It hasn't happened yet, but I don't think you can close yourself off. Never say never if you're a hetero. It's about souls. You don't know when a soul may walk in the room and just maybe affect you that way. You can't predetermine that.
It works the same for gays, too. You can't say you'll never cross the line.
Well, obviously there is a scent and there is a smell. You know, there is a preference. But then it becomes about souls.
What do you suppose attracts your large gay and lesbian audience to you?
My fantastic shoes.
It's funny, you seem like an earthy person in certain ways -- you are able to talk about basic earthy issues -- yet I don't picture you wearing Birkenstocks.
No. Always a heel. If I can help it, I'm going to give that calf a line, [even] when I'm digging for my earthworm. And you know I'll have a red purse to match. You've gotta have a little bit of glamour when you're out foraging, digging your organic vegetables. C'mon girls...
Also, it may be that you seem like a confident, self-assured person.
Well, then this record will come as a surprise to many people, [laughs] because I was crawling. For many reasons, I was crawling. When I'm in my element, I'm confident a lot of the time -- not all the time. When I'm not in my element, which was in my personal life, when I wasn't the musician, I just couldn't see that that was enough. [I felt] this need to see that reflection in the eyes of the men in my life, this need for them to desire me on that level and acknowledge what I meant to them, if anything. And then, of course, if they acknowledged me too much I'd split [laughter]. There was no pleasing the redhead. It's this vampire thing -- boy blood boy blood now now now now now! Then I kind of hit a wall where I would start to go into "put on the blinders and feed." Once you start to open up to different ways of thinking, it's hard to go back. I knew that I wasn't honoring myself. I knew that I wasn't even asking myself, "Why do you think, Tori, that you need to do this?" It's not a simple answer. Let's go back to the programs inside. Let's go see the hooks we've put in those boys and see the hooks they've put in us. And take them out. What about all those suppressed sides of yourself that you just haven't acknowledged all these years? That's what this record became. It gave me freedom.
You have said "Boys for Pele" is about your relationships with men.
Finding one's own fire. That's what this record's about.
What's the fire?
Many things. It's passion. It's passion for yourself without having to have it with somebody. Or having to have them have it for you. Or thinking that they have this access to some energy force that you can't get to. We can all get to any emotion that we want to. We just forgot that. And sometimes we don't know how to get there. And it'll be different than the next person's way.
The first time I saw you perform was at the Anaconda in Santa Barbara; and the last time was at the Pantages in Hollywood. From the balcony, you almost looked like a dot on the stage. For somebody who "sells" intimacy, how do you maintain that as your audience gets larger and larger?
[Pauses] I don't know. I wish my thighs looked like a dot on the stage! We did do three nights at the Pantages. At the same time, if you do the club tour, you're going to be touring for three or four years on one record. But intimacy to me isn't about the size of a hall. I've been to clubs where I could have been a galaxy away from the performer; and depending on that performer, they can make you feel like you're in a living room with them.
In terms of discussing your life, at what point do you feel like your privacy is compromised?
When somebody asks me a question and you hear me say something like, "I've answered this already." I think I've given an answer that makes me feel comfortable. And I'm saying that quite a bit on this record. Because there are other people involved.
Is Eric one of those people?
Well, we were together seven-and-a-half years, so that's probably going to come into the record a bit...
You've produced this one by yourself. What was that like?
It was like walking into an ice cream shop and going, "OK. Yeah, I could have all these on my plate right now. But how do we want to combine these? Let's do things that maybe nobody ever let this piano do. Let's let this harpsichord thrash." So it was liberating in some sense [sighs]. As a musician and as a woman, that's why I had to produce it. I had to not look over my shoulder and say, "What do you think?"
Do you ever feel like the woman-at-the-piano format is limiting?
Some would say there's only so much you can do. Yeah, well, stick around, Honey.
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[article provided by Lori Christie]
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
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