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El Dominical (Spain)
January 16, 2000
[translated by Cheefooska Juan]
Pieces of reality
Tori Amos is part of a new group of electric singer-songwriter girls who dominate the US market, artists who belong to a same generation but have an individual discourse. Amos ponders over personal, raw, polemic, and intimate facts. She portrays in her songs a good part of what she has lived, from a rape she suffered some years ago to the ferrous religious discipline that she was brought up in and sexual experiences of all kinds. Much see her as one of the most sincere singers of the actual pop scene. Others, however, think that all she wants is a slice of the money. Her latest record is 'To Venus & Back' (1999).
"Violence is always violence. The circumstances might vary, but what I felt when I was raped is surely the same thing the people affected by the old Yugoslavia war felt," she gives her opinion.
Women are sharing a good slice of the US record industry cake. And amongst them stands out a remarkable group of electric singer-songwriters. Girls who, despite being of the same generation, the one that many insist on calling X, show between them differences more than evident: they all have their discourse, a defined style, a personal image and a past, tormented in some cases, that they can draw from. The list includes, amongst others, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Ani DiFranco, Fiona Apple... and, of course, Tori Amos.
The next lines resume part of the life of this last singer-songwriter (35 years of age), sincere like few to some, pretentious to others. And it's just that she is someone that allows everyone who listens to her music to fabricate their own image of her. Her songs, usually very raw, ponder over personal experiences: affective relationships, masturbation, religion, and even a sexual assault that she suffered not so many years ago. She is what many would call the musical version of a TV "reality show", in that all that you would have to do would be substitute the depressive and harsh images by sensible words about wounded people. That is how all her discography as a solo artist is (and very probably will be) from her debut in 1991 with the magnficent Little Earthquakes to her last recording, To Venus and Back, which was released to the market last year.
Tori Amos -- Myra Ellen Amos is her real name -- was born in Newton (North Carolina). From a very young age she gained interest for music, first classical and then pop, with a stop included in the heavy metal of Led Zeppelin. Her father, a Methodist preacher from whom Tori inherited her preaching tone- in her meetings with the press she talks out of her elbows, like she was giving the Sunday preaching-, needed quite a while to accept the artistic inclinations of her daughter. But not even that was an obstacle for Tori to pack her bags and move, first to L.A. and then to Washington. By the late 80s, being a teenager still, she cheered up with her voice the nights of some renowned bars of the US capital and even had some time to make a record with Y Kant Tori Read, her customary band of those years that went by with neither shame nor glory. But her staying in Washington was actually for a short time. One night, coming out of one of the concerts, Tori was raped in her own car. The fact left a mark so strong on the singer that she decided to leave the city and seek refuge in the country. Specifically she found it in an English town near London, where she has installed her headquarters.
In 1992, her first record surfaced, the before mentioned Little Earthquakes. Confessions, many of them from a first person viewpoint, caused an impact amongst the record industry executives (they saw a gold mine in her), the critics and the audiences. Amos affirms that her interest in such raw texts is rooted on wanting to offer something different to the people. "The audiences are starving for other viewpoints on things. They are tired of so many anonymous characters". And, in her opinion, in this gearing it's decisive to be "authentic and sincere. The artificiality drives you away from the people".
Amos believes that in order for a feeling to be received in a general way it has to be something that was experienced individually. "The violence is always violence" - she points out- "The circumstances might vary, but what I felt when I was raped, and what the people that were affected by a war like the one of old Yugoslavia have lived is surely the same".
One of the lyrics that caused a greater impact amongst the listeners of her first record was Me and a gun, a self reflection about rape. "I did it sort of like therapy. The worst thing to do in these cases is to lock yourself inside and cry". She even organized a phone line for raped women with funds that were supplied by her record company Atlantic Records. "The experience was very positive. Lots of girls called and so I think we did something good. In my case I had music to tell what I felt. But, other persons don't have anyone or anything to hold on to." she declares. But there are ones who, in all this discourse and her way to present it, want to see a commercial exploitation. Like it or not, the polemic sells and a story with a dark past and problems usually fits in the pages of many magazines, something that turns out to be actually free publicity for the artist. Tori Amos has been criticized for some of her statements like "I am a sort of Mary Magdalene, half prostitute and half mother superior" that she said during the promotion of her third record, Boys for Pele, that was edited in 1996. She has also been reproved for the contents of many of her lyrics, polemic and hurtful, according to part of her public and critics, and for speaking of themes like masturbation on such a direct way and approaching religion without much respect.
Little Earthquakes reached a significant level of sales, mostly in the US. Her particular was of writing like a diary- "I do the same thing as many other people, give shape on a paper to important aspects of my life", she notes- had continuity in 1994 with Under the Pink and, specially, in 1996 with Boys for Pele, which got to be number one in her country. Songs like Father Lucifer and Professional Widow were then her therapy to get over her sentimental break up with Eric Ross (sic), the producer of her first two records. "I needed serenity", she explains. And this she only acquires composing and recording with her piano. "It is the instrument that I started playing as a little girl. The piano and me are one. When I sit in front of it and lay my hands on the keys, I calm down", she assures. She was 3 years old and so short that her head wasn't that far from the ground but little Myra Ellen was capable of interpreting many great composer pieces. And she remains by the piano but now she uses it to compose heart-rending melodies, close in her vocals to Kate Bush. In 1996, life, very tough on occasions, had another blow prepared for her. Towards the end of that year, when she was close to ending the Boys for Pele tour, Tori lost the child she was expecting. As the singer explained months after that terrible experience, "the pain caused by the death of a loved person and the discovery of a strength that I didn't thing I had in me" were useful for her as a base to fabricate From the Choirgirl Hotel, a record more dramatic and intense than its precedent ones. It saw ligt in 1998 and, for the first time in her career, Tori recorded with a powerful rythm base formed by the bassists George Potter (sic.) Jr. and Justin Meldal-Johnsen, the guitarist Steve Caton and drummer Matt Chamberlain.
From the Choirgirl Hotel shows a disjointed and estranged Tori Amos, it portrays an existential crisis that, by the tenor of what is heard in To Venus and Back, the double record with which the singer said farewell to 1999, is still there. Venus orbiting, the first of the two CDs, includes 11 new songs, pretty realistic and depressive, while the second, Venus Live. still orbiting, was recorded during the Plugged tour that took place in 1998 and is a journey to some of the titles in her intense discography. One of her last declarations defines which is her actual mood: "I dedicate all my efforts to being free. I practice piano to forget the keyboard. I always wanted to be a ballerina to forget the ground. I live in the country to forget the public, the producers and the journalists".
Real Name: Myra Ellen Amos
Date and birthplace: August 22 1963, Newton North Carolina US Family: Her parents are, methodist reverend Edison Amos and Mary Ellen Amos, descendent of a Cherokee tribe. Tori has a brother Michael, and a sister Marie. Studies: She graduated in 1981 from Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland. She studied piano several years in a conservatory. Debut: Her first professional appearance was with the group Y Kant Tori Read in L.A. and Washington. With this group she made a record which went by without shame nor glory. Resides in: a small English town, from 1991. She also has a house in London and another in New Mexico. Basic Discography: Little Earthquakes (1992), Under the Pink (1994), Boys for Pele (1996), From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998) and To Venus & Back (1999). Hobbies: she likes reading in general but above all poetry. Her favorite writers are William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams.
Tori Amos made her debut with this record in 1992. The lyrics are depressive and realistic, many of them are written from a first person viewpoint. Stands out: 'Me and a Gun', a reflection about the rape she suffered.
Boys for Pele
Third record of her career. Edited in 1996. Most of the songs are written on the piano. The texts were useful for Amos as therapy to get over her sentimental break up with the producer Eric Ross (sic.).
From the Choirgirl Hotel
For the first time in her trajectory, Amos made this record (1998) with a rythm base formed by a bass, drums, and guitar. Once again direct lyrics. This time the loss of her child.
To Venus and Back
the last work of the US' singer is a double record. The first 'venus orbiting' made up of 11 new songs, and 'venus live, still orbiting' is a journey to some of the most significant titles of her previous works.
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos