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Diva (UK)
February/March 1996

PIANOSEXUAL

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 shadows."

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 work.

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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