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Q (UK)
December 1999

Primitive Instinct

She thinks she's a wolverine and she knows how squids have it off

by Peter Kane

Tori Amos - Key Arena, Seattle, USA, October 7, 1999

"Do you know how squids mate? The male does this little tentacle thing. (cue wiggly finger) Then he reaches into his pocket like he's going to give her a joint, pulls out of a pouch his stuff and just sticks it right in there. That's really clever, guys." Tori Amos picked up this aquatic tidbit while cruising a local bookstore that very afternoon, she tells the crowd at Seattle's Key Arena. She wasn't allowed to buy the book though. Apparently it would have given her nightmares and kept the whole bus awake at night. Having got that off her chest, she launches into Cornflake Girl.

The bland parameters of modern pop have never been for Tori Amos. She has always operated at the sensual, moist end of the rectangle, fearless of the consequences. As the new To Venus and Back album demonstrates, she is still probing away, never sounding stronger. A self-confessed "road hog", she actually likes touring too. Well, probably.

"I think it's either in your blood or not. When you're out there you've got to own the room. You can share it with all of them, but it's got to be yours. You have to be like a wolverine in her territory. She knows every nook and cranny. She knows where all the rabbits are hiding. She doesn't eat them all, but she has to know or she can't be a wolverine."

Sitting backstage, sipping herbal tea and flanked by scented candles, she looks as if she's spent the last couple of hours doing nothing more taxing than having her toes delicately nuzzled rather than, as she pits it, "kicking some serious ass at the piano". Does she want more?

"There has to be a Dionysian frenzy -- in that there has to be a place in any experience where, um, whether it's in a church service, in a theatre or the fire ceremony, if you're with the medicine women, you cross over to the other side. If you don't take people there, you haven't done your job. Some audiences refuse to go with you for whatever reason. Some people choose not to take them. There's an arrogance that some have when they perform. That doesn't impress the crowds I play for. Maybe I'm a good waitress and I serve good wine," she chuckles.

Whatever, she gets the vintage supplies out for the 7,000 Seattle-ites determined to sup at her particular table. The days may have gone when she seemed to be playing her stool as much as her piano, yet every grind of her haunches is greeted with huge cheers as, jammed in at the front, young girls swoon and drop like ninepins. A few blow bubbles; others smoke a little grass. ("It really smells good in here," she notes approvingly from the stage.) This is her flock and they are totally devoted. Nor is it hard to figure why.

From the dramatic swoop of her voice to the way Amos seems to taste every syllable with her tongue, she exerts an undeniably mercurial power. Her three-piece band aren't bad either, shifting easily from the subtleties of Suede to the glorious swirl of Waitress, while their boss goes through her auto-erotic routine of vocal spasms and writing mantras.

The drum-looped Juarez is all spooky tension. Blood Roses quivers hypnotically thanks to Matt Chamberlain's beat-keeping and the eerie howls Steve Caton coaxes from his wires. Not to be outdone, Jon Evans adds a few deft touches by applying bow to (a previously unemployed) double bass for the ultimate Pretty Good Year. It's an indication of how far Amos has traveled since 92's Little Earthquakes, that the charges solo triumvirate of Take To The Sky, Smells Like Teen Spirit (yes, that one) and Cooling can now seem almost out of place in such company. It's all gone rather well.

"There is no weak link on my ship, or they don't stay on it," she later maintains with just a glint of steel.

Indeed, as far as working for her in any capacity goes, there is but one rule: no underage girls.

"I'll know about it if they're underage. I would chew their balls off".

You'd find out about it?

"No. I'd know. You can smell it. Smell it on them; you know, young girl."

Maybe those squids have got something after all.


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