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The Story Of Tori
Though she initially appeared on the music scene in 1988 as the frontperson for a peculiar hard rock band called Y Kant Tori Read (who failed miserably upon their Atlantic Records debut), the spirited and dynamic singer-songwriter Tori Amos rebounded in 1992 with the successful solo outing Little Earthquakes. When left to her own devices, this passionate pianist and clever lyricist quickly emerged as a top-selling artist capable of simultaneously soothing and disturbing the masses. Amos spent some time with LAUNCH executive editor Dave DiMartino detailing the recording of her most recent album, Boys For Pele.
Launch: You recorded this album in a church in some small town in Ireland, correct? That must have been interesting.
Tori: Some days were harder than other days, and it took about four months of recording. You can imagine that when you and your crew are working and sleeping together, you do get very close, but you also can't get away from each other. You try not to tread on one another's tails, shall we say. It was fascinating for me because I really let my whole musical kind of, shall we say, "spice," decide what it wanted to pull forth that day. But if we wanted a Leslie cabinet, that got a little tricky, because we were in this remote little county, and I think we got the only Leslie in Ireland that was available. It was partly broken down. We put it out in this graveyard. That's how the record happened; it was very spontaneous as it developed.
Launch: Boys For Pele made it to No. 2 on Billboard's Top 200 Albums chart. Did you go into this thinking, "I'm going to make a commercial record"?
Tori: No, I didn't think that this was a commercial record. I never deluded myself into thinking this was my "catchy tune" record. I do think they're catchy tunes, but I just set out to make a body of music that I really have always wanted to make. It's more like a novel, so it's not just songs, but a story from beginning to the end. To me, it's very much a story. And the songs mean different things when you take them out of the story. When you hear them in context you begin to see more of a dimension of what the song is.
Launch: When you reach the point in your career that you have, in which you've really proved you can sell albums, does the label allow you "artistic freedom" or do you feel a certain pressure from the business side to conform to the label's desires?
Tori: I have artistic freedom, and I'm always wondering where I want to take it. That's the tricky thing: when you do have freedom, you don't have any excuses any more. You can't say, "Well, they made me do it." No, they didn't. If it sucks, that's definitely me. And that's a whole new place to be. You hear so many musicians complaining, "I can't do it the way I want." Well, I don't know about that--I think quite a few musicians can, but stop themselves. That's the thing about diving off this cliff and letting yourself really throw something on tape, even if it's terrible. I do think you're always afraid that maybe it will be terrible, so you find ways to never find out that it's going to be terrible. So you say, "they won't let me do that" or some other excuse, but I can't make excuses anymore. If it sucks, it's really all my doing.
Launch: Where do you most like to go when you travel? Do you have a favorite city?
Tori: Traveling... my favorite city. Well, it does change as the cities change. I'm a big Rome fan. I love Rome. [Singing] "Roam if you want to..." I love Italy. It captures my heart, that place, but I pretty much try to explore all of the cities I'm in. Naturally, if it's depressing and rainy, or horrible, you do find the spa or the sauna, and that's the part of the city you see. I love the visual arts. I try and take myself out on a day off after I sleep. It's real important to intake. When you're touring and you're outputting all the time, everything is out, sometimes you just feel like you've got this intravenous thing in you sucking you dry. Especially with the interviews. The interviews can be very draining. The shows are fulfilling. The shows are the best part of touring, but that's a very small part. I don't think people realize that you've been working all day when you show up at that concert. When I get a day off, I go to see other artists. And I prefer visual art.
Launch: You strike me as very "continental" and I know you spend a lot of time in Europe. Do enjoy traveling? Where do you make your home?
Tori: I can pretty much cruise on both continents. I mean, I know that's so "chic," but I'm really comfortable traveling. I just pick up a bag--I have one always packed. If, for some reason, it isn't packed, I can pack it in 15 minutes--especially if I have a triple Virgo girlfriend on hand, because they're so organized. I can pretty much go with the bags I have for a year.
Launch: Do you use e-mail to keep in touch while you're bouncing around the world?
Tori: I don't know much about how it all works.
Launch: Do you ever surf the Internet to check out your web sites?
Tori: Not really. I'm aware that there are people who are chatting. Hopefully, they find the music interesting, the songs interesting. To me, the work has a lot of layers that a lot of people don't want to get into. And I think that the individuals on the Internet are a bit like archaeologists--they like to go and they like to dig and see the different dimensions. And the dimensions are there, they do exist. But most people don't want to spend the time looking for it. So it's kind of thrilling to me that there are people out there that are digging. Because I was hoping that somebody would be.
Launch: Do you have any advice on how to buy a good piano?
Tori: Finding a good piano...Well, if you're on the market to buy one, you know it's really about personal taste. I've seen so many pianists say, "Oh, Tori, this piano is so amazing, you have to play it," and I'll play it and it's all wrong, it's like mushy peas. You know when you're eating mushy peas with no salt? It's like bleecchhh. This is not my idea of good food. "This is not my beautiful house/this is not my beautiful wife..." And so, as far as picking my pianos, I searched, I looked around. Let's be honest, let's not kid each other--they're Bosendorfers, which are the best pianos in the world. When you have an opportunity to play one, it's truly a gift. They're made by craftsmen, and to even get a chance to play them...every time I go up to them, it's like I [she folds her hands as if to pray] and then I play them. I'm just fortunate enough that I can own the ones that I play. I have two--I have one on each continent--ready to move, ready to tour.
Launch: You also play the harpsichord, right?
Tori: Yeah, it was tricky to learn the harpsichord. I haven't had the time to practice and I have to get my chops back or it's going to be quite embarrassing. It's a difficult instrument, it's quite demanding. It takes so much skill, for me anyway. It's really challenging for me to pull it off, but at the same time, it's thrilling because it's never like, "Oh this is a breeze." It's not like that. I think it's like good mountain biking. If you have a good mountain, you can fall off at any time. It's really about your skill that gets you through the mud and over the mountain.
Launch: We've heard you're a big fan of wine and different wineries. How did you get into it?
Tori: The California wine directory! It's a fantastic directory! It's like this big book, and it tells you about the vineyards and the people who make the wine. It could be a couple who's making the wine, and they tell you what they had to go through to get the vineyards to where they are. It just fascinates me, the whole idea of wine and these people's whole lives--especially when you're getting these special vintages. And it's from some small house. I kind of adore the fact that you've met the person and his wife, or his lover, her lover, whatever's going on, you taste the wine they've put there--they've cried, lost their dog, found another, adopted a kid, had affairs--and it's all in this bottle you're drinking from 1992. And I love that.
Launch: You seem pretty cheerful and optimistic, but what really makes you mad?
Tori: One thing that made me angry? Um... hang on. I'll tell ya. Hang on, hang on. Okay. I was in a restaurant, and I never have dessert. Hardly ever. And we were in this pretty decent restaurant, somebody in my crew and I--one of the security guards--we were just eating, and then the waiter came and asked us, "Would you like anything?"
The security guy said, "What's your sorbet?"
And the guy said, "Blueberry or chocolate."
And I asked a question about the chocolate, "Does it have a lot of fat in it?"
And he said, "No it doesn't, it just has chocolate. It's not an ice cream."
So Joel said, "I'll have blueberry," and I said, "I'll have the chocolate."
It comes five minutes later in one dish--with the chocolate and blueberry all mixed together. So I asked this other guy to come over, and I said, "Hi. He wanted blueberry and I wanted chocolate. We didn't want it together. It's not family style, right? If we ordered fish and spaghetti, you wouldn't put it together, right?"
And he just looked at me, and he takes it away, really like he was being put out. So he takes it away, and he brings back my chocolate and brings back his blueberry. And my chocolate has all this blueberry all over it, which means he just scooped it onto another dish! So I called the waiter over and I said, "Look. This has become a drama, but what I just want you to know is, when I ordered chocolate sorbet and he ordered blueberry, was it such a big deal that we just get it? This is a high class restaurant."
And he just stared at me - doesn't say a word. Then he goes, "Well, I'll go get it for you."
And I was like, "No, I'm over it now. Do you understand this 10-minute drama? This is your business. You don't need to tell me my business, so why should I need to tell you that you separate sorbet?"
I mean, ding-a-ling! And when I walked out of there, I realized this is a good lesson for anyone who feels bad. They can't even get the sorbet right! Do you know what I mean? If I don't get the sorbet right at my show, those kids are not coming back. And I do not get the sorbet wrong at my show.
Launch: What's the last record you bought?
Tori: I think the last record I bought was by Radiohead.
Launch: I've heard you have a real fascination with fairies and magic and other mystical things.
Tori: I believe in energy. Everything's energy, and therefore magic can sometimes get created if somebody is open to energy doing what it does--instead of being so cynical that you miss magic happening. The reason I thank the fairies, frankly, is because I'm not stupid.
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the World of Tori Amos