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Rolling Stone (US)
October 31, 2002

Tori Amos
On how she arrived at her musical combination of Mary Poppins and Sylvia Plath


by Jancee Dunn

It's odd, when you think about it: Who are Tori Amos' contemporaries? Who, for that matter, are the younger Amos wanna-be's? There really aren't any. Amos stands alone, an intense, piano-pounding, mythology-steeped force unto herself. She phones from her house in Cornwall, England, which she shares with her husband and two-year-old daughter. Amos has been holed up in her home studio, polishing her new album, Scarlet's Walk, a sonic road trip through America's past and present. She's fun on the phone: intimate, funny and confiding, conjuring up memories of your best girlfriend from seventh grade.

Who are your heroes?

Well, let's start with the really important answer, which, of course, is Mary Poppins. How can you not love her? I mean, I'm a mother, and I'm so out of my depth on this one. My daughter just runs circles around me, and I'm just learning how to say no without her completely laughing at me. So Mary Poppins is on my altar right now, because -- do you know what she says? "I am kind but extremely firm." And my mother was such an influence. Through her, I was exposed at an early age to Emily Dickinson and other writers she loved. She would always read Pippa Passes to me, by Robert Browning, that whole love story. She'd have tears in her eyes, and I'd be with her before kindergarten, crying. She worked in a record store, and she'd bring me home her favorites, like Nat "King" Cole. And then I had an eleventh-grade teacher called Mrs. Barrett, who kept giving me C's on my writing. I'd say, "Why are you giving me C's?" I was really demoralized. And she said, "Because you can do better. Go read Sylvia Plath."

How about your earliest musical memory?

I remember my grandfather singing to me all the time. That was my mother's father, and he was part Cherokee. I would sit on his lap, and he would smoke his pipe, and he had perfect pitch. He would tell me stories in song -- he'd just make 'em up. And some would be hymns. There was a lot of that from my mother's side of the family. Books and singing, stories were very important.

How have things changed for women in music in your lifetime?

I think people are more open to women as composers. There's been room for divas for a long, long time, but composers, that's a very different thing. That was a boys' club.

Do you think the industry is more open to older female artists than in the past?

Surgically repaired? Well, no. It's open if you look youthful. It's not open if you don't. It's a dangerous game. Harrison Ford, Sean Connery -- all those men have these twenty-something co-stars. Well, what does that say? Because don't think it doesn't translate into boardrooms and MTV and magazine spreads. Don't ask me what I'm going to do, because I don't know yet. I mean, you have to make peace with yourself on that one. But talk about a Faustian pact.

When did you first know you wanted to be a musician?

I knew I was a musician before I was potty-trained. I just always remember playing the piano. I don't remember not playing it. I remember I was five years old and I was at the Peabody Conservatory [in Baltimore], watching the little girls in their ballerina tutus and thinking, "What would it be like to feel like a girl?" Instead of sitting at this huge piano -- I don't get to wear a pink tutu or anything cute like that. I was just a five-year-old fashion wanna-be who just didn't look cute in a tutu on any day. I didn't have that kind of a body, let's face it. So it was kind of a heartbreak. But then I would just go write a song about it.


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