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Detroit Free Press (US)
April 28, 1998

This time Tori Amos is bringing a band to Detroit

by Brian McCollum
Free Press Pop Music Writer

Let's bill it "Tori Amos: Plugged."

After years going it alone -- and earning a rep as one of the most dramatic, dynamic performers in rock -- pianist-vocalist Amos has added supporting players onstage.

But don't think she gets to take it easy now. Indeed, on this day of rehearsals in Florida, Amos has just swallowed some guarana, a legal South American stimulant she hopes helps her endurance. Pop music's most energetic diva has started working out in the mornings, and steroids are on the menu to shore up her voice for a quick club tour that includes Wednesday's Detroit stop.

"I'm trying to be healthy because this tour's pretty demanding," says Amos, whose sets are marked by a little sultriness, swagger and sweat -- sometimes all at once.

"I don't want to embarrass myself and end up with an oxygen tank by the side of the piano."

While she concedes her solo shows often drained her -- "Truth is, I'd be ready to have a cardiac" -- she insists she didn't add a band to slough off any work.

"I have to play a synth on my right, a piano on my left, so I sort of look like an octopus that ate too many nachos," says Amos, who will hit the road for a full-fledged tour this summer. "When I played alone, I had to be drums and bass. Now there's a drummer and bass player, which means I don't have to do that job anymore. But you can't pretend to the audience that you're not inspired to improve."

Amos' non-musical life has been bustling as well: In February the 34-year-old musician married Mark Hawley, engineer on her new "From the Choirgirl Hotel" album. The disc is due May 5 (Atlantic Records).

With drummer Matt Chamberlain, guitarist Steve Katon and bassist Jon Evans, Amos has scored solid reviews so far on her 12-city sprint -- even if she's still traipsing that fine line between excited and nervous.

"I'm definitely excited," she says, "but if my shoes are yellow, don't tell anybody."

Were there endurance problems in the past?

"If you go without training, you hurt your voice, or you give bad performances because you're not accurate anymore. It's the precision that takes the energy. If I were just singing, it wouldn't take one-tenth of what it's taking. But I wanted to be able to keep up with the other players. I'm not bitching about it, but I still have two jobs onstage."

Why this tour of small clubs?

"More than anything, the sneak preview is just what that is: It's like the audience is watching us sort it all out. We haven't quite sorted it out yet. That's why I wanted to do it in really small clubs, where it's more intimate. People are a little more not-so-mean-and-nasty. I wanted to feel like we were in their living room, like some local band that's trying to figure it out. You know, friends playing in front of friends.

"...The crew is very excited. I've never seen them so chipper. They're so happy -- they love all the rhythm, all the racket. Hopefully it's racket that makes sense, because it doesn't take much to just be loud. It's funny, because one of the guys on the crew, he hasn't been with me since the 'Pink' tour, and has since done Oasis and some other bands. He walked in yesterday, flew in from England, and just sat down with his jaw hanging open. That's a high compliment."

No festival dates for you this summer -- you've got your own tour. Are you down on the Lilith Fair concept?

"We're not down on anybody, but if I'm going to open up for someone, it's going to be Metallica. I guess more than anything, when you play piano alone, it's about content -- the arrangements and what's happening structure-wise. So, I haven't added drums just to have a beat in back, or so people can feel more comfortable. I added it because it makes sense to certain songs. The bridge in (new song) 'Cruel' is like a Radio Afghanistan moment. It's about what's right for the song. If that means military drums, then it's military drums. If that means drums that swirl around you and crawl into every orifice you have, that's what it's supposed to be."

After years being your own boss, was it tough to settle into an ensemble situation?

"I love these players. It's always about encouraging other people. They know that I can have two heads -- a conceptual, arranger's head, and then the artist's head. And sometimes I have to put the artist aside, because what she's doing maybe isn't as good as what the bass player is doing. My commitment is to the best choice. Obviously, somebody's got to make the final decision of 'This lick is better here' or 'This groove is better here,' but I think the musicians and engineers feel a lot of freedom.

"The main thing I want is that the players feel challenged as players, and No. 2 that they're always thinking about the soul of a song. I obviously picked players who aren't about having to make a piece the way they want to make it. We're not U2. That's not what this is. They have a certain respect from me, and they know that's why they're here."

You drive them pretty hard, I'd imagine.

"I piss people off daily, but the truth is, everybody on my crew is a human, and they have bad days, and I know that. But there has to be a commitment to excellence, or you're not gonna be happy here, and I'm gonna drive you insane, and give you a plane ticket within 24 hours."


Transcript of interview with Tori Amos
April 28, 1998

Were there endurance problems in the past?

"If you go without training, you hurt your voice, or you give bad performances because you're not accurate anymore. It's the precision that takes the energy. If I were just singing, it wouldn't take one-tenth of what it's taking. But I wanted to be able to keep up with the other players. I'm not bitching about it, but I still have two jobs onstage.

"It takes a lot, so I'm really trying to work on the cardiovascular end of things in the morning, and that's part of idea to keep being able to do these shows."

Why this tour of small clubs?

"More than anything, the sneak preview is just what that is: It's like the audience is watching us sort it all out. We haven't quite sorted it out yet. That's why I wanted to do it in really small clubs, where it's more intimate. People are a little more not-so-mean-and-nasty. I wanted to feel like we were in their living room, like some local band that's trying to figure it out. You know, friends playing in front of friends.

"They're some of the best musicians. You dream of this when you're a little kid.... You wish you could play with people you can marvel at, and I'm lucky enough to have that opportunity. I'm also hearing some of the old songs transform. I'm doing songs from the other records, like a trance version of "Horses."

"...The crew is very excited. I've never seen them so chipper. They're so happy -- they love all the rhythm, all the racket. Hopefully it's racket that makes sense, because it doesn't take much to just be loud. It's funny, because one of the guys on the crew, he hasn't been with me since the 'Pink' tour, and has since done Oasis and some other bands. He walked in yesterday, flew in from England, and just sat down with his jaw hanging open. That's a high compliment."

No festival dates for you this summer -- you've got your own tour. Are you down on the Lilith Fair concept?

"We're not down on anybody, but if I'm going to open up for someone, it's going to be Metallica. I guess more than anything, when you play piano alone, it's about content -- the arrangements and what's happening structure-wise. So, I haven't added drums just to have a beat in back, or so people can feel more comfortable. I added it because it makes sense to certain songs. The bridge in (new song) 'Cruel' is like a Radio Afghanistan moment. It's about what's right for the song. If that means military drums, then it's military drums. If that means drums that swirl around you and crawl into every orifice you have, that's what it's supposed to be."

After years being your own boss, was it tough to settle into an ensemble situation?

"I love these players. It's always about encouraging other people. They know that I can have two heads -- a conceptual, arranger's head, and then the artist's head. And sometimes I have to put the artist aside, because what she's doing maybe isn't as good as what the bass player is doing. My commitment is to the best choice. Obviously, somebody's got to make the final decision of 'This lick is better here' or 'This groove is better here,' but I think the musicians and engineers feel a lot of freedom.

"The main thing I want is that the players feel challenged as players, and No. 2 that they're always thinking about the soul of a song. I obviously picked players who aren't about having to make a piece the way they want to make it. We're not U2. That's not what this is. They have a certain respect from me, and they know that's why they're here.

"To do as many shows as we're talking about doing, everybody's got to feel valued. So that's what (tour manager) Johnny and I try to do, and yet at the same time, when you get so many people who are so good at what they do, a lot of hairs can get up on a lot of people's heads."

You drive them pretty hard, I'd imagine.

"I piss people off daily, but the truth is, everybody on my crew is a human, and they have bad days, and I know that. But there has to be a commitment to excellence, or you're not gonna be happy here, and I'm gonna drive you insane, and give you a plane ticket within 24 hours.

"Didn't you, when you were little, want to do something where the biggest turn-on was to wake up and have self-respect? That's where this is at."

Does that require being a bit neurotic about running things, perhaps?

"Neurotic is something that is not part of my musical life -- it's part of my dealing with the outside world. Are you familiar with the Chinese horoscope? I'm a Leo Cat.... If you understand that creature, you know it's really about refinement and things being achieved at a level where you go, 'OK, we've achieved yumminess here.'

"You have to know when your crew's exhausted. You have to know, 'OK it's tea time now.' I think that's the balance. You and I both know you're not going to be perfect on every song, so it's in the striving, in the journey, knowing that everybody's committed to getting there.

"Playing all the notes right has never been my goal -- it's trying to capture the soul of a piece. Of course, you want to drop as few clunkers as possible.

"There's also a huge respect for the muse around here. Even the most cynical Brits around here know the muse won't come if she's dishonored.... There's a lot of philosophy that goes along with the tours. We don't do this all by ourselves -- there's a universal force out there. They've seen it happen onstage. When I'm just walking around, I'm not plugged into this force. But when it's time to take the stage.... The other musicians know this, because they believe in this force. If you sing to the mermaids, they come when you're drowning."


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