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November 24-30, 1999
Tori Amos: Interplanetary, most extraordinary.
It takes a lot of stamina to be Tori Amos - and a whole lot of hot chocolate. This year has been a particularly busy one for her, with the recording of her fifth studio album, To Venus and Back, an exhaustive major theatre tour of the United States with Alanis Morissette and her ongoing B-sides collection project. At the time of this interview, she's "freezing her arse off" in Brussels, halfway through a promo tour of Europe - and she orders four hot chocolates and a bowl of cherries and a bowl of strawberries during the course of the conversation.
The origins of To Venus and Back, which sees Amos foray deeper into electronic territory, lie in a B-sides and rarities record she began work on this year and in the live set of songs - from 1998's Plugged world tour - which form the album's second disc. As she tells it, the tapes were coming in when her muse arrived.
"We had 'em flying in from all over the world," Amos explains in her easy drawl. "And we were working on the live album at the time - we were listening to 120 DATs and selecting the songs. The songs just kept coming when we were taking a break from that. And once the title was there, then the songs really started turning up fast and furiously."
Once her "Dionysian frenzy" hit, the B-sides compilation had to be put on the backburner.
"Once I get a sense of it, a fragment, a piece of the essence, that's kind of strangling me, then I have to start scoping it," Amos says. "I then have to start tracking her down. Because a lot of the time it comes in a two-bar phrase; usually, it's just a motif or something like that. But you get a sense that there's vitality here, as opposed to when you get ideas in your writing and you know it's crap. Sometimes you have thoughts, but it really needs to stay in your journal. It's a whole different thing than, okay, this is a character here that's developing and it needs to be reckoned with and it needs to be respected.
"You always have to be listening to the song itself and to the soul of the song. Because sometimes there were different directions I could have taken the songs into and it's not where the song itself wanted to go. It's funny, during Concertina, the band all looked at me and said, 'Oh, just do it like you played it this morning on the piano'. But I cut it to a loopy click track and said, 'Get in there and pick up your instruments and we'll find it'. I wanted those electronic drums that Matt was playing with because particle by particle, she slowly changes, and I wanted the sense of the acoustic piano with the electronic drums. That also re-occurs in 'Lust'. So there was this dichotomy going on and I'm really drawn to that."
While Amos led the way, she's quick to acknowledge the role of musicians from her Plugged touring band in forming the songs on To Venus and Back.
"When I work with musicians, you always want to get the best of them and to get the best of them, you've got to give them some head, which is a dangerous phrase," she says. "Let's think of horse racing - you've got to give them room to experiment. And sometimes you walk out of the room and you come back and you go: 'Erase all that'. Sometimes it's talking to them about who you are in this piece, and what is your role? And sometimes you just hang out with them and they get a sense of the soul of the piece and who she is and what she's up to. That's the producer's side of my gig, where you truly want the musicians to feel like they can trust you, they can trust the engineers, that there's a place where they can try different things."
So what happened to the album Amos didn't make?
"Well, they're all here," she says. "They love being B-sides. They want to have their own quadruple box set. Because you can't really separate them anymore, meaning B-sides exist on their single package. If you're on a single package, you're not going to want to show up anywhere else again and be divided. I don't know how many B-sides there are, but it's a lot - over 50.
"You can only put 74 minutes worth of recorded music down and to make choices about what B-sides represent the B-sides, there started to be a mutiny going on. And it was like, if I'm going to do the B-sides, I need to put them out as a whole collection. And I'm not ready to take that on board."
Barring second comings, Amos says she may tour Australia again next year.
"It's been too long," she says. "I think I'm waiting, like a lot of people, to make sure that the Christians don't blow up the planet and then we'll see what happens."
To Venus and Back is out now on Warner.
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