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The Times: Metro (UK)
April 11, 1998



Sex, rape and now her miscarriage: there is little that Tori Amos won't turn into a song. No wonder, then, that to some she is a crazed egotist, to others a victim. James Bennett puts the case for the defence. (photos by Paul Rider)

The big interview - No pain, no gain

It has been six years now since Tori Amos, piano prodigy and flame-haired preacher's daughter, emerged on to the world stage and sang so bewitchingly about the "antichrist in her kit-chen" on the first track of her 1992 debut album, Little Earthquakes. And after spending two harrowing hours with the singer as she prepares to release her fourth album from the choirgirl hotel, I have to report that she is as arresting as ever.

On Playboy Mommy, a key track on the new album, you will hear her blaming herself for a traumatic miscarriage. She sings: "In my platforms I hit the floor/ fell face down/ then the baby came/ before I found/ the magic how/ to keep her happy." She goes on to plead: "Don't judge me so harsh little girl/ so, you've got a playboy mommy."

Hard to tell whether she is being literal or metaphorical - it always is with Tori - but this miscarriage informs the entire album. If her debut was the "rape album" (Tori was raped by a fan in the Eighties when she gave him a lift after a gig), and 1996's Boys For Pele was the "break-up album" (Tori split with her boyfriend of seven years), then this is the "miscarriage album".

However, we do have happier things to talk about first. Heard you just got married Tori. "Yes I did - two weeks ago. I've hardly told anyone, but with the Internet you can't keep anything secret. He's really, really private and I try to respect that. It's very precious and very fragile too." The pictures also made it to Hello! magazine.

Did she wear white? "Blue," she whispers. "Ice blue." Tori has changed little since I first met her around the time of Little Earthquakes. Now 34, she seems less orange, less fiery, more assured. But interviewing her is still an intense and bewildering experience. Uncomfortably long pauses punctuate the conversation. Sometimes she turns inwards, goes into a trance; her eyes mist over.

She has married her sound engineer, Lincolnshire-born Mark Hawley. Anyone familiar with Tori's work, the way she has constantly raged against the Almighty, may be surprised that she saw fit to sanctify her union in His sight. She seems surprised herself, and almost apologetic at having done something so conventional, so very uncool.

"How do I reconcile it?" Thirty-second pause. "I never had a fantasy of being a bride as a child after I realised that Robert Plant would never marry me. And with Dad being a preacher, I saw too many weddings. You see, I don't think I could ever have gotten married in America."

It was in Britain, then? "Yep"

In a church?

"Yep. A little old church in West Wycombe."

In this way, the details trickle out. She continues: "I don't feel an intense religious vibe here in this country. All that shaming and guilt I was brought up with, all that stuff I heard from my grandmother: you stay a virgin till you're married, then you give your body to your husband and your soul to Jesus and don't keep anything for yourself, Uh-uh, not me."

So did she promise to obey? "No, no, no. Love and honour."

And how does it feel to be married? There is a pause so long that I think she has forgotten I'm here with her. "I think I'm still in shock. I'm trying to be honest with you, and yet . . ."

It transpires that Tori is scared of what may happen to a woman when she marries. "I hired a physical trainer this week. I start tomorrow. I don't want to just like get married and then become a blob. I really . . . You see, I didn't get married because I didn't have anything to do. I really looked at this man and thought 'this person is incredibly unique and I don't want to be with anybody else.'"

This man? This person? She laughs. "I'm trying not to say his name. I know you know it but it feels more private, you know, if I don't say it. I wanted the wedding to be real private, just our friends. But family is tricky. It's like the fucking Waltons, my family - they'll all show up like critters crawling out from under the Appalachian mountains and be at your door with a banjo." Her father, however, did give her away.

Back to the apology: "I thought about it, and if I'd got married in front of a judge, well, that wouldn't have meant anything to me. And, sure, I could have got married in the middle of the mountains and all the other nature spirits could have been there, but . . . In the end I tried to find a place that was very sacred. This place was an ancient site since the Bronze Age, and a pagan one before it was a church, and the vicar honoured that."

Ah, pagan - this is more the Cornflake Girl we know. She is a rare animal, Tori Amos. Part Cherokee (on her mother's side), part Scarlett O'Hara, raised downhome Southern style in Carolina. She's a choirgirl who can screech like a banshee. A preacher's daughter who sang about menstruation on her first album, masturbation on her second and castration on her third. A trained classical pianist (practising scales from the age of two-and-a-half), who turned into a Led Zep fan and a honky-tonk harlot, legs wide astride on stage.

Some, particularly insecure male critics, find it convenient to pigeonhole her as Ginger Nut, in the scheme of things where women singers must be categorised as either bimbos (Kylie) or basket cases (Bjork). Some, having heard that rape song, Me and A Gun, see her chiefly as a victim.

Tori's language is full of these contradictions. It can go from cutesy to coarse in a flash. Like a little old Southern lady she asks me: "How's your sweetheart, James?" Still sweet, I reply.

As far as interviews are concerned, she doesn't really do sentences. Thoughts hitch a ride mainstream. Metaphors go wild. If you heard some of it, coming raw off my tape recorder, you would think her barely literate. And I would direct you to her last album, and ask you to find a more powerful, more economic, description of heartbreak than this one from Hey Jupiter: "If my heart is soaking wet/ boy your boots can leave a mess."

Look inside the sleeve of that last album and you will find a picture of Tori offering her breast to a piglet. There should by rights be a baby at that breast now. Tori tells me what happened: "I finished the Boys for Pele tour at the end of 1996 - and surprisingly I got pregnant. With Mark's child. I got to three months. I had really gotten used to the idea, and I thought I was out of the woods. Then I miscarried. I didn't intend to make another album so soon, but that's when the songs started to come."

So while other artistes often talk of their new albums as their "babies", this, the new Tori album, is as close as it gets. Her eyes are quickly misting over. "When it happened you have to know I asked every question I could possibly come up with."

Asked who? God? (You have to keep interrupting Tori and coaxing out specifics.) Disjointed words tumble out: "You bet. I was dragging God around by the balls. I was saying, like, look at this fucking mother in this mall somewhere in the South, where I was, and she like totally whops the kids, just hits them, and you're going, you know, there's so many people who don't want their kids, don't love them, don't care for them. It's just . . . I feel like you're an under-achiever."

She is shouting now, and pinning me to my chair with an accusing glare. An under-achiever? Me? "No, God. I'm always talking to the Christian God like this. The way I was bought up was 'Thy will, not my will', and I'm always arguing with that."

God may move in mysterious ways, but Tori is dogging his every step. All this by way of explaining why she became Mrs Mark Hawley, and she finishes up: "After all that trauma, you know, Mark said 'Hey, we're in this together'. And we thought about it, and he . . . he asked me. And I just . . . I went . . . I just looked, and it felt like: 'Yes. This is my dear friend . . .' "

So now Tori Amos, a married non-mother, is back in the public arena with from the choirgirl hotel and forthcoming tour. After six years as one woman-and-her-piano, she is now in a band, and where the previous album featured tacked-on rhythm tracks on only six of the 17 songs, this one has beats incorporated throughout. She explains: "You know I'm a huge control freak, but this time I really wanted to interact with other players. Eric (the former lover), of all people, came by and said he knew just the drummer for me." This was Matt Chamberlain. "I met with him and played with him and my jaw just dropped to the floor. Wow, psychic rhythm!"

A guitarist, bass player and programmer were then recruited. "It's a joy to play with them. And its not like they work out a track and I come in and put a vocal on top. It has to be live."

Does the advent of this psychic rhythm have anything to do with the Armand Van Helden dance remix of Professional Widow which took Tori to Number 1 last year, although it featured little more from the original track than her chopped-up vocal line: "Honey, bring it close to my lips?" And has she ever danced to it herself?

"Absolutely. While drinking margaritas on the bus, on tour in the mid-West." Then she gets a little defensive: "Van Helden did an amazing job, but it's not like I'm saying 'Hey, make something of my work please. I'm not waiting for the wizard to come and make it OK for me."

It did, however, spur her on to consider new ways of using rhythm in her own work, a process which began in a most bizarre way. "I would play my body in the shower and then start singing around it. I was writing songs completely around playing my flesh, knowing a drummer would later take it to the tenth power."

This breast-beating concluded in several months of recording in the 300-year-old Cornish barn which Tori (who also has homes in Miami and Ireland) has converted into a studio. Discussion of the resulting album inevitably leads back to the miscarriage, since several songs are about or addressed to the child she lost. She calls it "the spirit."

Disjointed words tumble out again, that faraway look in the eyes: "After it happened, I mean, how do you find? Where do you go and look for souls that are gone? I needed to communicate. I didn't think about what she needed. Then I thought that maybe she didn't choose me as a mom. Then I got pissed off and thought, 'Okay, go and choose Susan down the street then, that right-wing Christian bitch.'"

I put it to her that she is giving herself a hard time again. What does she have to feel so guilty about? "I wasn't really healthy when I got pregnant. I let myself go down - but there are heroin addicts who have healthy babies, so why . . .?

"Look, it was just something I went through and then finally what I went through was surrendering. This is out of my hands. If this spirit doesn't want to come or can't come for whatever reason, well okay. I'm here. I'll keep myself open. Although for a while there I was so angry it was: 'No way - you don't even get a chance to come back.'"

I have to interrupt. You think she will come back?

"I don't know. I don't think so now. But at the time I was so connected to this spirit. I had a deep conversation with this spirit. I was communicating with a being on another plane." This is nerve-racking. Tori, can I smoke?

"Absolutely. I'll be mentally smoking with you." She calms down. I take a deep drag. She starts talking about God again. "The Christian God is alive and well and I usually go out with him every six weeks. Just for a good binge.

"Seriously, there are so many energies out there, and there is some kind of force . . . father, Lucifer, whatever . . . but they've all been made into Disney rides: go on this one, try this one. Which one is better?

"Obviously I believe in The Design but I don't always agree with it. You know, the thing I hated most was when people told me 'it's all for the best.'"

She is back to the miscarriage. She can't talk about anything else. She's shouting. I'm shaking. "Don't tell me it's all for the best. DON'T YOU EVER TELL ME THAT."

Suddenly she is back when it happened and it all pours out. I haven't asked, but she insists on telling, in a trembling monologue, half to herself. "I got in the truck. An hour's drive to the hospital. I'd been at the beach and I started bleeding and I was in pain. I drove myself because, you know, I didn't want anyone driving. I would have crawled out of my skin . . . I had to do something. And, you know, I was asking myself, 'Is there anything I can do to save this life? Stick a cork inside yourself Tori' . . . and then we got there, into the room and the nurse broke down and cried. She put me on the table, gave me this scan. I reached out to her and said 'I'm so sorry.' And I said, 'Let me see it,' and it was just . . . It was just one of those things."

Her tears have dried by the time I give her a long hug and leave. Everyone has their own way of dealing with the tortures God or fate or chance inflict on us. On one track from the album, Tori sings: "Celebrate/you're top ten in the charts of pain." That's Tori's way.

The single, Spark, is released on EastWest on April 20; the album, from the choirgirl hotel, is released on May 4. Tori Amos's British tour starts in Liverpool on May 20.


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