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by Lucy O'Brien
Women are a problem. Men are difficult too. But
Tori Amos is passionate about pianos. She comes out to Lucy O'Brien, not as a
rock chick, but as as closet classical musician.
"All my pianos are girls and some
of them are dykes. They're women with different desires, wants, needs. I see
them as female, sorta like ships," says Tori Amos, the
trippy singer/songwriter of such hits as Cornflake Girl and Crucify, who is
often been described as America's answer to Kate Bush.
Tori talks like her songs: sometimes direct,
almost crude, at other times cryptic and and surreal. Though her cartoon pop
persona is that of the funky girl with flyaway hair who plays piano with her
legs askew, lately Tori has been exploring a darker side for her new album Boys
For Pele (EastWest), a collection of startling, experimental acoustic-based songs.
Writing this has meant reassessing her role as a female and what she feels
about other women. "I had a strange incident with a
girl when I was eight. It was a bit violent, sexual," she recalls. "She was a little older than me. She held me down on the
bathroom floor, made me take my clothes off and fell on top of me. There are
women now in my life I love and am in love with, but it hasn't
got physical. I experienced it at such a young age, when I wasn't ready. A
boundary was crossed. And maybe I drew a boundary, consciously."
Defining barriers hasn't stopped Tori from
discovering her "unleashed feminine," a side
of herself that came to the fore when, eighteen months ago, she split up from
her long-term lover, producer Eric Rosse. They were soulmates who burned each
other out, "a couple of pyros who hadn't worked on
our own flames."
"I wrote this record because I was
trying to fill the void any way I could," she says, tears in
her eyes. "After nothing worked - men, food, incredible
Chardonnay, shoes - there was no anchor to hold on to, the old ways didn't work
any more. I realised I'd supressed a lot of sides to myself to be loved and
understood by men. I didn't want to play seductive little girl or ballbuster
any more. With this record I played all those roles until I got to my heart. To
find your fire as man or woman you have to take your torch and go to the
The result is a merging of different fragmentary
female voices or 'goddesses', from the cold vampire of Blood Roses to the
proud, vengeful woman of Little Amsterdam to the song Widow - "That's my cornerstone song, my Lady Macbeth. It's my
desire to be King, to have what the big boys have, and giving up my femininity
and vulnerability to taste it."
Boys For Pele is hardly a commercial pop album,
but, as Tori says, "record companies back off when
you're successful." Her last two records, 1991's Little Earthquakes and 1994's
Under The Pink, have sold millions worldwide, making her a front-cover babe
with a large, fanatical following. Her success, though, is rooted in years of dedicated
The daughter of a North Carolina Methodist
preacher, at four she was pronounced a child prodigy. By eleven years old she
had been expelled from the prestigious Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore,
because her taste for rock conflicted with their classical approach; by
thirteen she was playing Gershwin in a gay piano bar in Washington, DC. Then
there was her unfortunate incarnation as the quintessential 80s LA rock chick, wearing
hair teased a mile high and snakeskin boots, to front a power rock band called
Y Kant Tori Read. But by the age of 27 she had ditched the metal riffs and
found her metier, relocating to London to record the soulful, autobiographical
songs that made up her East West debut.
"Earthquakes was my diary," she says, "Under The Pink an impressionistic painting.
This record is a novel."
As part of her search for the right
atmospherics, Boys For Pele was recorded in a small country church in Co.
Wicklow, Ireland. It has a complex spiritual aura, the sound of someone testing
their mettle, the sound of psychodrama. "My
grandfather always said to me, 'You have to walk your talk.' I wanted to take
leaps as a musician and a composer, but the woman in me had to catch up. The
woman wanted to play it safe."
Like much of Joni Mitchell's material, this
album yields up its strengths slowly. To Tori though, who has inhabited these
songs for so long, it's a "fast ride with pedals to
the floor and a load of snacks in the backseat." The suggestion that
fans may be bewildered by this, after the bright open melodies of Under The
Pink, makes Tori think.
She wanders over to the window of the record
company office and, gazing out, says distractedly, "It
has crossed my mind maybe that the public doesn't want my ultimate. But I can't
censor or contrive. I think I'm lucky to have skated through under the guise of
pop musician. I'm really a classical musician. If I get found out now, if the
whistle is blown... maybe that's not such a bad thing."
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