home / interviews
Fun, Fearless, Female
Gutsy singer Tori Amos shocks again with a surprising confession, a new outlook on love, and the loss that she's learning to live with.
By Matt Hendrickson
Depsite getting only four hours of sleep the night before, Tori Amos looks relaxed and ready to dish about her latest life saga. "I feel like I've taken a quaalude or something," the 36-year-old singer coos with a dreamy grin. "I don't know if I'm tired or relaxed."
It's probably a little of both. The previous night, Amos was up until the wee hours filming a commercial with her pal Alanis Morissette for the pay-per-view version of the pair's recently completed tour. Coupled with the fact that she's still tweaking her new album, to venus and back, Amos is in career overdrive. But of course, it's nothing new for this rock icon who has been busy in the past decade recording four CDs that together have sold more than 10 million copies.
It's a good things she can keep up, since Amos has attracted some of the most rabid fans in pop music. With her breakthrough 1991 album, Little Earthquakes, her girl-and-piano shtick blazed the path for other female singer-songwriters like Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, Joan Osborne, and Jewel by writing raw diary-like lyrics. Most notably, she struck a chord with the song "Me and a Gun" -- her stark account of being raped after giving a stranger a ride home from one of her concerts. She's gone on to tackle subjects like religion, guilt, and miscarriage in her anthem-filled follow-up albums. To her fans -- who dissect her musings on hundreds of Web sites -- Amos is the den mother to the lost souls' club, and she reaches out to them by being a dogged road warrior: On her 1998 tour, she played more than 150 shows, and she's hitting the road Across Americfa again this winter.
But, despite the seemingly permanent professional tornado, Amos retains a certain calm -- even when talking about the earthquakes that have become her life.
The Rebellion Begins
Born Myra Ellen Amos in North Carolina and raised in Maryland by a Methodist-minister dad and a homemaker mother, Amos was brought up very religiously from day one. She's joked in the past, "I've grown up with the church in my bathroom, my bedroom, in my underwear drawer." And while she has bitterly rejected organized Christianity, she's incredibly spiritual and loves to read and debate religious philosophy. "If I hadn't gone into music, I would have been a theology student," she says.
But into music she went, starting to bang the ivories by age 3 and earning a spot at Baltimore's prestigious Peabody Academy at 5, the youngest student ever accepted. (She was kicked out at 11 for "insubordination" -- she liked to improvise too much.) To keep up with her passion for improv, Amos began playing piano bars -- before she was even of legal age to be on the premises.
At 17, Amos changed her name permanently -- more for the sake of her Saturday nights than her musical career. "I just hated my name," she has said. "If a guy even started to look at me and then heard my name was Myra Ellen, it just created... a limp dick immediately." She went through a few ideas ("Sammy Jay -- that was my Dallas period) before settling on Tori, a name suggested by a friend's boyfriend.
A week after her 21st birthday, Amos picked up and moved to Los Angeles to pursue her musical dreams. She spent several tough years as a teased-hair metal-punk rocker in the group Y Kant Tori Read -- and even released an album. But it wasn't until she moved to England in 1990 that she found her niche as a solo artist with her highly personal songs of pain and individual plight. A year later, Earthquakes was released.
Living in Love
While Tori was putting her mark on music, she was equally determined to keep her personal life unconventional. "I wasn't going to get married," she says now. "I grew up in the church -- I went four times a week. I didn't want the institution in my bedroom." That was until she met sound engineer Mark Hawley. Amos married Hawley in February of 1998, a welcome celebration after a tough year for the couple.
About a year before, Amos had suffered a miscarriage. The pair worked through their grief by spending nights sitting on the dock by the lake near their home in southwest England -- talking or mourning in silence. "Loss can make you pull together or start blaming each other," she says. "But then, one night he looked at me and said, 'I want to know what you're like when you're 80.' I dropped my teacup. And to this day, I look at him and say, 'That was such a good idea.' Married life is fascinating -- the passion has surprised me," she says, making intense eye contact as she talks. "It's given me this fiercely calm feeling that I find incredibly sensual. To be able to share that with someone is really great."
Sounding Off on Secret Vices
Her newfound love is the thread that runs through the lyrics on to venus and back, which is her first double CD. One disc is live and the other is chock-full of new studio material. It's only her second album recorded with a full band (her previous efforts were mostly just her and a trusty piano), creating a richer sound filled with trippy beats and eerie effects. What was the experience like? "It was great," she says, pausing slightly. Just when you think you've hit a safe topic that couldn't harbor any shocking, in-your-face remarks, Amos strikes again. "We would all just hang out, doing a bit of blow." Amos stops, contemplating the impact of the comment she's just made. It's obvious she still relishes her no-holds-barred attitude. "I'll get so many letters for that statement, but I don't care," she says with a carefree shrug. "The PC thing, that's not my scene. I lay it on the table. If someone is gong to take their lithium, do a line, or read the Bible, go for it. As long as you don't hurt anyone else, it's all the same to me."
Which is not to say that drugs figure largely in her life. "Music is the best drug, but I have to know when to quit," she says when pondering the future. "Just because I want to do another show does not mean the audience wants to see me. I see myself as a writer first, so when the songs stop coming, I'll quit. I won't be doing the Vegas circuit."
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos