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Dallas Morning News (US)
Sunday, October 4, 1998
cover caption: Tori's Spell: As her audiences and concert halls get larger, Tori Amos strives to maintain her integrity and her intimacy.
Arena-size venues, a band--what's next for Tori Amos?
by Tom Stone
Staff Writer of Dallas Morning News
There's nothing unusual about hearing pop songs played between innings at baseball games. Unless it's a Tori Amos song
But a recent telecast sported Ms. Amos' shimmering "Spark"--a sonic hothouse flower who's loping groove and spacey guitar hook could never be mistaken for such typical ballgame fare as "We Will Rock You" and "Hit the Road, Jack."
At that moment, Ms. Amos' music seemed as out of place in the mainstream as ever. But the 35-year-old singer says she's getting used to arenas and ampitheaters as she tours the country with a band for the first time. The tour stops at the Coca-Cola Starplex in Dallas on Sunday.
This time, the just-Tori-and-her-piano format that's been her concert mode for years gives way to a cluster of musicians and engineers re-creating the rhythmic sweep of "From the Choirgirl Hotel," her fourth album, which opens like an orchid with "Spark."
"It's definitely plugged," Ms. Amos says by phone from Phoenix.
An open-air stage like Starplex provides "a really different kind of vibe than the arenas," she adds. "When you're in an arena, you are encased in sound. It's not about delineating the sound; it's about just getting drunk with it...The arenas become this Dionysian kind of frenzy. You feel like you're in the underworld. Whereas, when you're on the outside, it's much more about the detail."
The new sound is challenging her devoted fans.
"Some of them just like the piano-vocal, and that's what they're always going to like, and they're not moveable in that," she says. "But quite a bit of them like the challenge, because they don't like it so predictable. This has been good for those kinds of people who really like to take different journeys."
Whether it's quiet or crunching, one consistant characteristic of Ms. Amos' music is a piercing intimacy that has kept fans in thrall even as her lyrics have evolved from 1991's graphically diaristic "Little Earthquakes" to the free-form, elliptical ruminations of her more recent work ("Dance with the Sufis/Celebrate your top 10 in the charts of pain").
Whatever their content, Ms. Amos' songs often sound as if they were recorded from within her body, her breathing rushing from over the listener like gale-force winds.
"We try to do that sometimes with the miking technique," she says, noting that on her third album, "Boys for Pele," "you really felt like you were sitting next to me on the piano bench...This record is not really about that, but it goes into that sometimes."
The "we" is the band and the engineering team she assembled for the self-produced "Hotel." The touring version includes long-time guitarist Steve Caton, bassist Jon Evans and former New Bohemians percussionist Matt Chamberlain. Her husband, Mark Hawley, is her live-sound engineer.
For this more complicated excursion, Ms. Amos came into her own as a producer--and boss. "I'm much better about how to tell people, 'We don't have it yet,' without demoralizing everybody," she says. "You demoralize people when you don't trust that you can get it. They're afraid to take chances, and it becomes this horrible downward spiral...Now, usually, when things start getting rough, and I'm up against time, I get people to start taking chances. You inspire them instead of make them paranoid."
She prefers to cultivate the anything-goes atmosphere achieved by her producing idol, the Beatles' George Martin, whose surging string arrangements prefigure her own.
"I've really spent a lot of time studying the Beatles' work," she says. " 'The White Album' was a big study for me."
Ms. Amos boasts a strong background in classical music as well. As minister's daugheter Myra Ellen Amos of North Carolina, she was a child piano prodigy, and inventive pianism remains a crucial component of her songs.
"I'm a big Bartok fan. Always have been," she says. " I can really get into Mozart's operas. And I have a lot of time for the Russians. But not during a romantic moment. When I'm doing negotiations with Atlantic [Records], Prokofiev is always good to have around."
The latest negotiations have involved the follow-up single to "Spark." She's chosen a "double A-side for alternative" radio of "Cruel"--no piano, all deep , grinding bass and Tilt-a-Whirl beat--and the nightmarish dance workout "Raspberry Swirl."
"I think 'Cruel' is my favorite," she says. "Whether anybody gets it or not, I demanded that it have its day in the sun. It's one of those ones that's really that underworld thing."
She's also considering a response to fan requests for a compilation of her B-sides and other non-LP tracks, including her mournful cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
"I'm thinking about, next Christmas, doing a double box set of a live album--this tour--and doing the B-sides," Ms. Amos says. "Some people have a really hard time getting them now...I've got to be very careful, but hell, we can't put 'em all on, so you have to go, 'Hmmm, nobody really likes this one,' and then you get a deluge of letters: 'I hate you!'"
There probably won't be as much demand for the rote dance remixes of her songs--which she usually has little to do with and sound like it ("Fair enough," she says of that assessment). But there's an "ambient" version of "Raspberry Swirl" by programmer Andy Gray that Ms. Amos has been blissing out on lately.
"I just sit there [listening to it] sometimes," she says, "and I'm not even tripping, I'm just lying there with my macaroni and cheese, and I'm happy as punch."
[transcribed by Kathy Martinez]
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