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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (US)
Friday, November 8, 2002

As alter ego Scarlet, singer holds mirror to America on tour

by Nick Tate
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer

Concert Preview: Tori Amos. 7:30 p.m. Sunday. $38. Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center, 395 Piedmont Ave. 404-658-7159, www.ticketmaster.com.

Caption: Singer-songwriter Tori Amos says the birth of her daughter helped inform the raw sound and emotionality of her new album, "Scarlet's Walk."

"I think it's changed me in ways that sometimes I don't even know," says Tori Amos. She's talking by phone about the impact of her daughter's birth on her life and art.

It's an uncharacteristically direct statement from Amos, the reigning queen of art-rock weirdness. Now 2 years old, Natashya Lsrien -- named after Lothlsrien, the kingdom of the elves in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" -- is more than just a physical presence on her famous mother's current tour, which pulls into Atlanta on Sunday.

Amos says Natashya's arrival helped inform the raw sound and emotionality of her new album, "Scarlet's Walk," released last week. The concept album -- built around Amos' alter ego, "Scarlet," as she treks across America in search of its soul, and her own -- isn't a dramatic departure from such arty platinum-selling releases as 1992's "Little Earthquakes" and 1994's "Under the Pink." But it's mellower, with more songs about love and resolve than the rage and pain that have earned her a cult following.

Amos' first album of original songs since 1999's "To Venus and Back" -- and since she left Atlantic for Epic Records -- "Scarlet's Walk" is a "sonic novel" (Amos' description) partly inspired by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, which the North Carolina native witnessed firsthand in New York. The music marks a return to the spare piano-and-voice style that first made her famous.

In a typically baroque chat from New York -- where she spends much of her time when not in the studio or at home in Cornwall, England, with her husband, British sound engineer Mark Hawley -- Amos discussed the impact of 9/11, Natashya's birth and the new album.

AJC: Congrats on the birth of your daughter. How old is she now?

Amos: Thank you. She's 2 and she'll be touring with us.

AJC: How do you manage time with her on the road?

Amos: We have story time, it's really the center of our relationship. We sit down together and make up things. Like we'll put our hands on a radiator when we're in a cold room. And she'll say, 'Play a song for me, Mommy.' So I put on the radio.

AJC: "Scarlet's Walk" seems a bit of a departure from the last few albums you've made with a full band.

Amos: I was listening to the album last night at 3 in the morning. Scarlet's Web [Amos' Web site, www.toriamos.com/scarletsweb] goes up today. The CD becomes a key to get to the site, like the key in "The [Lion, the] Witch and the Wardrobe." And the Web site opens up, like in Tolkien, with maps and all the different writing forms I'm applying to it. So the journey continues online.

The theme that I have for the tour is threads; that's my subtext. That's what I'm working with the musicians. And each stop on the tour is different, as I travel from Melbourne to Atlanta.


AJC: "Scarlet's Walk" has very little of the rage and anger in so many of your other songs. Is that a conscious thing?

Amos: That's a conscious thing, yes. Scarlet's not angry, not in that way. I think that she realizes there's a sinister force and power working through the country, as every country has.

Angry is a fascinating term, because you're not really in a powerful position when you're too angry, are you? You can't play chess when you're really angry. But Scarlet's angry because of what she sees happening to [America]. Maybe when we smelled her burning that day in New York and the death of so many people, we saw her in a new way. And are our leaders really protecting our true mother, now? This is the question she's asking.


AJC: You were in New York on Sept. 11?

Amos: Yes. I was in Midtown.

AJC: Was that a catalyst for "Scarlet's Walk"?

Amos: It was already in the works before that because Scarlet was in trouble before this day, clearly. But maybe by being [there]. . . . You don't get your information secondhand. When you walk down Fifth Avenue and smell the burning and you want to go to the wound and help.

AJC: Do you think your fans expected you to respond in some way, since you were there?

Amos: The thing about the art and music community, if they don't have their finger on the pulse, then you need to get rid of us. But this is not just 9/11-based. If you're talking about American history, you've got to include 9/11, but you've got to go further than that. It's about betrayal and that goes back hundreds of years. It's how we took the land. As this old Native American woman told me on tour, "Sadly enough, child, the white brother only took the land. It's time that he take more."

AJC: Meaning?

Amos: Listen to the album.

AJC: The new music seems be more rounded. The songs are more about seeking solace or love than about expressing rage and hurt.

Amos: I think maybe by being a mother, you begin to look at responsibility to your own mother.

AJC: And by "your mother" you mean. . . .

Amos: My physical mother, of course. But also, my spiritual mother, which is my country. But it's other things, too.

AJC: You knew I'd have to ask this question, in a town like Atlanta: Why Scarlet?

Amos: Of course, you do. I love the idea. Scarlet is a fabric before she was a color, which takes us to Scarlett O'Hara, and the immigrants. But just up the road you have the Native Americans. All women bleed; Scarlet can be any woman.

AJC: Your concert draws lots of teen girls, wearing black eye makeup and T-shirts that say things like "Recovering Christian," who seem to be very affected by your music, who cry through your sets. Does that ever concern you; that all that might get in the way of the music?

Amos: People have to have their own experience with the music. Once you put it out there, it's between them and the songs.

AJC: I'd read that Atlantic dropped you because they wanted to focus on artists who were selling millions of records.

Amos: That's not true. They didn't drop me. I asked to get off Atlantic years and years ago. It was a bad relationship, a bad marriage. And they wouldn't be gracious and let me go. So I maneuvered my way and found people that were of like mind [at Epic].

AJC: Do you have any special plans for Atlanta?

Amos: I won't know until two hours before I go on. . . . Each stop on the tour is different.

AJC: Some of the review copies of "Scarlet's Walk" were shipped inside glued-shut CD players to keep the album from being bootlegged. Why?

Amos: Well, the album is out today and it wasn't bootlegged, right?

AJC: Why is that a big concern for you? Loss of royalties? Not being able to control the release of the music?

Amos: We know people have this consciousness that they think it's OK to take music for free. And I say if you really can't afford it, then you should be able to have it for free. But if all you're doing is taking and taking and not giving anything back, then all you are is a taker. I mean, you're not writing this story for free, are you, Nick?


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