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Rolling Stone Online (AOL) (US, www)
August 8, 1998

One-Woman Choir

Tori Amos unravels a bit of her mystery

Back when she first emerged as a solo artist in 1991, Tori Amos quickly established herself as pop's new reigning Trauma Queen, with the jarring confessional of "Me and a Gun," an a cappella tune about her own rape. She stuck to the intimate lone-woman-with-piano format for seven years, during which her songs became increasingly veiled in cryptic free-associations and abstract imagery.

On the new From the Choirgirl Hotel, as well as the tour she's mounted in support of it, Amos is backed for the first time since her days fronting the L.A. pop metal band Y Kant Tori Read by a full band. But at the center of the album and the tour, it's still Tori, her piano, and lyrics like "If the divine master plan is perfection, maybe next I'll give Judas a try/Trusting my soul to the ice cream assassin."

On a short break between a just completed four-date swing through Europe and the beginning of the American leg of her "Plugged '98" tour, she talked about how her songwriting has evolved over the years.

Q: It strikes me that over time, your lyrics have become increasingly cryptic, and you've gotten further and further away from the autobiographical nature of a song like "Me and a Gun." I wonder if you ever regret having revealed too much of yourself to the public and the press?

Tori Amos: I have a rule that I don't read my press, but then somebody in the crew will be reading it and of course it's right there, so what do you think I do? And there are times when what I've said has been very turned around. A lot of times I'll remember having a conversation with a journalist -- especially when you do the long interviews, the two-day ones for a major story -- and then I'll be reading it going, "this is not what I remember at all, I don't remember this tone to the interview, I don't remember it feeling like this. I thought we had a very open minded conversation about stuff." An interview will seem very sane to me, and I'll find out that the journalist was laughing out of the side of his mouth half of the time. I think the humor tends to get lost. What I thought was a nice couple of days with somebody, even though it might have gotten heated, will turn into something where the journalist missed a lot of the depth and the humor. I get painted quite a bit as a tragic figure because of some of the stuff that's happened in my life. But people don't realize that I'm a really good margarita buddy.

Q: Listening to your songs I get the sense, even when I'm not really sure what the song is about, that the tone is usually a little traumatic. Your lyrics tend to come across as vaguely disturbing recovered memory fragments.

Tori Amos: That's true. I've always been really fascinated about that part of people, including myself, that is hidden. Some people hide more than others, and it does intrigue me. I write about the dark night of the soul, because I feel I have ticket there -- an access ticket like you get to the Underground. I think I have a permanent Underground ticket to the subway ... it's much cheaper than taking taxis.

Q: I think a lot of people listen to your songs and think that they are all autobiographical, and it sounds like a lot of them probably aren't.

Tori Amos: Well it's both. I think it has to be both. If you're going to purge other people, you have to purge yourself. It's tricky to sneak in an all-access code to somebody else's psyche, you have to knock first. With yourself, even though I think nobody has complete access to their own psyche, well, you do have the right to plunder yourself. So I'm in a lot of my material. But I might not necessarily be the character you think I am. I let you think I'm the good guy just because people like to think of me as the good guy, though sometimes I'm the villain.

Q:You certainly have fans who are devoted, who are listening really closely to your songs. Are the cryptic lyrics a way of addressing your real fans without revealing too much to outsiders?

Tori Amos: I think the last album, Boys for Pele, was very much like that. That record was very much about trying to understand a serious break-up that I had with someone I had been with for a long time. I was trying to find parts and pieces of myself that I had never claimed. I'd been living through other people in my life, particularly the men in my life. So, it was a really tough record, very depressing, but in the end it gave me a lot of strength. It was a real tough journey -- one of those where you think you're going to bite your own arm off. And you just hope somebody is there to put a muzzle in your mouth. But nobody put a muzzle in my mouth and I made Boys for Pele. After that, I think that this record, as far as lyrics go, is not as abstract. Even though there's a lot of symbolism in it, there are moments when I turn around and I say something like, "she's convinced she could hold back a glacier/but she couldn't keep baby alive." Really clear. There are moments when it gets really clear and it goes back into symbolism again - "ballerinas that have fins that they'll never find." Which makes a lot of sense to me, because it's obviously a mermaid reference, but it's more than that. Maybe you'll be a mother and you'll never have that physical experience - like you'll never have the experience of being a mermaid. But even though you might not be a physical mother, it doesn't mean you can't have that kind of maternal love.

Q: It sounds like you're talking about revealing yourself without revealing yourself to everybody. You are only revealing yourself to the people who are playing really close attention.

Tori Amos: I've already done that. As you grow, in your writing, you don't want to repeat yourself, and you sing about different things in different ways.

Q: One last question. Who is the ice cream assassin?

Tori Amos: Who do you think that is?

Q: I have no idea

Tori Amos: Well, people have been praying to him for a very long time and more wars have been fought in his name. The big guy. Think about it.

MATT ASHARE


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