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The Times (of London) (UK)
September 21, 1999
Happily married she may be but, says Nigel Williamson, Tori Amos is as charmingly loopy as ever.
A bride stripped bare
We are walking along the cliffs of the aptly named Crackington Haven on a hot July afternoon and Tori Amos is talking about her newfound contentment. Far below us the waves crash dramatically on the secluded coves of the north Cornish coast but in Amos's once troubled world all is currently tranquil. "My life has become a fierce calm," says the 36-year-old singer who once appeared on an album cover suckling a pig.
We had last met a year ago, just two days before her marriage to Mark Hawley, whom she also employs as her sound engineer. I had asked if she thought married life would mellow her. "I don't know. Ask me again in 12 months' time," she had replied.
The answer, it seems, is a very definite yes, but it has clearly not affected her muse. Many tortured artists have found domestic bliss a bad career move. Even if the songwriting impulse does not dry up, singing about loving your spouse and the honeysuckle around the door is not nearly as interesting as those dark explorations of the inner psyche.
Yet the experience has clearly had the opposite effect on Amos. Her record company was not expecting any new material from her this year (it was preparing a compilation of b-sides and out-takes). Then, to its complete surprise, she delivered a double CD, To Venus and Back, featuring 11 sharp-edged new songs and an album's worth of live material.
They have not come much more tortured than Amos over the years and she has chronicled her torment with unflinching honesty. Her last album, From The Choirgirl Hotel, dealt with her desolation following a miscarriage and there has been an almost Gothic quality to her life. The daughter of a southern Methodist minister and a Cherokee mother, as a child prodigy she won a music scholarship to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore at the age of five but was expelled at 11. Despite a turbulent adolescence, she continued conducting the choir in her father's church until she was 21, when she took off for Los Angeles. There she was raped at gunpoint by a man to whom she had given a lift.
The shocking account of her ordeal appeared in song as Me and a Gun on her first album, Little Earthquakes, a record obsessed with the dual themes of sex and religion. The 1994 follow-up, Under the Pink, continued in similar vein. One song said that God needed a woman to look after Him and another, Icicle, was about masturbating while her family were "all downstairs singing prayers".
The album went to number one, as did Boys for Pele two years later, a collection of songs mostly about her traumatic split with long-time partner Eric Rosse, although she still found time to claim that Jesus was a girl. Then there was the miscarriage and her interviews became peppered with references to fairies and the spirit world.
Now with To Venus and Back it seems that the demons have finally relaxed their hold. She admits that the themes of sex and religion are "less obvious" and calls it her "heart record". One song, 1,000 Oceans, a ballad of heart-rending beauty, is possibly the most moving she has ever recorded, with its refrain about crying oceans of tears, "if that's what it takes to sail you home". Eat your heart out, Celine Dion.
We last met in a London hotel and perhaps it is simply the change of setting, but there is a different aura about Amos. "I love this path. I come here to clear my head," she says as we walk. It was her English husband who introduced her to Cornwall and, although she has homes in Miami, near her parents, and in Co Cork, the 300-year-old farmhouse near Bude is now her main base. "I love being away from the city. I spend as much time here as I can. I can go back and tour like a road dog because I can come to places like this when I'm not working."
She admits that married life has surprised her. "There are things I didn't expect. I'd lived with people before for a long time, thinking we were really together as a pair. And yet nobody told me about the trust." She tells of having a bad nightmare in which she dreamt she lost her voice because she was screaming so loud. She had to go to London the next day and when she returned, she saw that Mark had a black eye. He explained that she had punched him when he had been trying to calm her nightmare.
"He didn't tell anybody. He knows those kinds of secrets and doesn't use them against me... that kind of trust leaves me gobsmacked. I feel like I'm having an affair with him."
After the miscarriage she is now thinking about trying again. "I'm touring again heavily and that places a great demand on you physically but I'm kicking the idea of motherhood around in my head." Earlier I had asked her why she had produced a new album when people least expected it. "Sometimes when you really want to write, it refuses to come. Other times when it really isn't convenient, all this material shows up. I've heard women talk about having a kid when it wasn't a great time to have one but they wanted the child anyway. I feel a bit like that with this album."
Just as unplanned was the tour she has embarked on in America, co-headlining with Alanis Morissette. "Performing is the best high there is and I hardly do drugs any more. I've experimented like most people - a bit of acid here, a bit of Ecstasy there - but there is nothing like when you plug in on stage. I don't know what it does but it feels like having an affair with 5,000 people. Or like 1983 Margaux is flowing through my veins. That's my scene these days. I'm really into good wine. And I have to look after my health. It's a bit unglamorous crawling to the bathroom after some of those drugs."
It has taken many years but she thinks the horror of the rape is finally beginning to fade. "I have a really good shrink but I find I don't need her as much. When I was working with her, it was like beading a necklace. One little bead at a time. The idea that you just have a couple of sessions and brush the dirt off your hands and say 'all right, that's taken care of' doesn't work. Sometimes I go to see her, just like a check-up at a regular doctor. It's good knowing there is someone you can talk to. She knows things other people don't know."
Five years ago Amos helped to set up Rainn, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. She funds a telephone helpline and she plays benefit concerts. "I don't get involved with counselling on a one-to-one basis although I do talk to some of the women when they come to the shows. They are wonderful people. Real survivors," she says.
Amos is notorious for making provocative statements, but she says her more outrageous comments are often a form of self-defense. "You get a feeling when you think the interviewer has the daggers out so I say these things. You know, pussy can become cheetah real fast, and if I have to go for the jugular, I have no problem doing that." As if reminded of her reputation, she suddenly seems worried that she hasn't said anything peculiar enough to make good copy. "I'm a daughter of a minister and I love chasing the dark. That which is hidden. I like licking it like an ice cream," she tells me for no apparent reason at all. Then she tries to insist that the numbers which are printed in white lettering on her brown leather skirt have a deep numerological significance. When I point out that they are probably nothing more than a fashion accessory, she laughs and admits it. "It's so easy to create soundbites. It's really hard to create beauty," she says, concluding our interview with another neat little nugget.
To Venus and Back is released on EastWest.
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