home / interviews
The Register-Guard (US)
Eugene, Oregon, newspaper
Friday, July 25, 2003
Tori Amos goes in search of America
by Lewis Taylor
If you're wondering what Tori Amos will play when she sits down at her Bosendorfer piano at the Cuthbert Amphitheater on Sunday night, wonder on.
Amos sees herself not just as an entertainer, but as a reflecting pool, which is why not even she knows what songs she'll play until 10 minutes before show time. Only then, when she's taken a temperature reading on the audience, read the local paper, looked at what's going on in the world and checked her own head, does she know what her set list will look like.
She takes her cue, she says, from some of her idols - performers from the past such as Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin - who were able to play music that mirrored the environment in which it was being played.
"The people that motivated me through my life were the people in the late '60s that were able to kind of gather the information," Amos says, speaking by phone from a tour stop in Seattle. "If you go back ... and go to their concerts you would get a sense of what was occurring at that time. ...
"You'll get a sense of what's probably happening from a camera angle (view), and that's what we're trying to do."
Amos, the reigning queen of the eccentric female singer-songwriter genre, has practically made a career out of keeping people guessing.
Her raw debut, "Little Earthquakes" (1992), included the chilling "Me and a Gun," an account of her rape by an acquaintance. Her next album, "Crucify," was a collection of covers; her 1994 release, "Under the Pink," spawned the hit "Cornflake Girl."
Later albums, including "Boys for Pele" (1996), furthered Amos' reputation as a smart lyricist with dramatic and emotional style. She often is compared to 1980s art rocker Kate Bush and 1970s queen Joni Mitchell.
Despite Amos' reputation for eccentricity (she has gone on record saying she believes in fairies), these days she feels more of a need to be au courant . Her latest release is an 18-song concept album (Amos prefers the term "sonic novel") about an imaginary woman named Scarlet and her journeys, exploring the soul of modern America.
Amos was inspired to do the project by her own post-Sept. 11 wanderings. While touring the country, she says, she found shell-shocked Americans, and she found them more willing than ever to share their feelings.
"A lot of times, the mistake that musicians and writers make is that you don't walk the streets anymore, and you don't watch what's going on in everyday life," Amos says. "It's almost like you change your life.
"In some ways, I think that just because you might move into a house you can pay for doesn't mean that you can't keep your ears open."
Eclectic collection of influences
Amos' sketch of post-Sept. 11 America includes her own ruminations on sexuality, spirituality, relationships, patriotism and greed. Along the way, she digs up plenty of American Indian pain, and she wonders what future generations will make of the times we're living in.
The daughter of a musical Scottish Methodist minister and a part Cherokee woman, Amos says her varied background enabled her to express her own beliefs without alienating those she encountered on the road.
"The challenge was to try and build bridges musically," Amos says. "Art is always, I think, putting social events in a form that sort of transcends an argument."
Amos' latest album comes with a map that links each of her songs with a portion of the road trip through a certain area of the country. "Wednesday" - a somewhat schizophrenic tune that dances between jovial, melancholy and funky - represents the North- west.
The song is about a relationship filled with secrets, but Amos doesn't recall the Northwest being secretive at all.
"They (Northwesterners) were very welcoming, and I was intrigued by their concerns, and I found quite a powerful grass-roots movement. But sometimes, they would just be having a cup of coffee and a waitress would bring something up to you.
"I found that this kind of thinking was very integrated in the Northwest. ... It was more instilled, just a concern of what was happening, because there seemed to be a love of the land.
"You can have a love for the land, but not for the policy that the leaders are pushing."
Although Amos has tried hard to be a bridge builder, it's clear that she's disturbed by the current political climate in America.
Her experiences on tour in Europe during the months leading up to the war in Iraq, combined with what she's seen living with her husband and 2-year-old daughter in Cornwall, England, has given her a different perspective on America.
"Maybe becoming a mother also has changed me a lot," she says. "Maybe when you become a mom you begin to think about, when she's 21, she's going to look at me and say, `What did your generation do? Were you thinking? What did you think when you all made these decisions? Were you asleep? Why did you just believe what the leaders told you?'
"Historically, how many civilizations have questioned their leaders: `Why didn't the greatest civilization do that, and where were you, mom?'
"And that haunts me every day."
Lewis Taylor can be reached at 338-2512 or email@example.com
With: Ben Folds
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Cuthbert Amphitheater, Alton Baker Park, off Leo Harris Parkway
How much: $41.50
GuardLine: To hear music by Tori Amos, call GuardLine at 485-2000 from a touch-tone phone and request category 9942
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos