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February 19, 2005
Amos Expresses Herself With New Album, Book
By Barry A. Jeckell
NEW YORK - "At midlife, Tori Amos understands that she cannot rule life's tidal shifts, only navigate them," Ann Powers writes near the end of the new book "Tori Amos: Piece By Piece," which she co-wrote with the artist. "She is a rider of the waves, her sense of the future defined by an undiminished faith in music's power."
Rarely has a summary been so dead on.
"You can't stop time," Amos tells Billboard. "And I think that's why, the thing about songs, and it's always been this way for me, they try and capture time in a way that you can't capture sunlight and hold it."
"Piece By Piece" (Broadway Books, Feb. 8) was conceived over the course of two years of conversations with Powers. What began as a chronicle of the making of "The Beekeeper," her eighth studio album and second for Epic (due Feb. 22, Feb. 21 internationally), along the way became an exploration of what makes this enigmatic artist tick.
"I felt that now would be the time, before I forget my process, to reveal some of the ways that I've been able to continue to create in the music business," Amos says. "Not just as a musician, but as somebody that has to navigate the business side of it and as somebody that wanted to become a mom and wanted to have a relationship."
From her North Carolina upbringing under a strict Methodist preacher father and book-loving Cherokee-heritage mother to her days studying classical piano at Baltimore's Peabody Academy and her struggles with the music business, her story os a fascinating one.
And it's the entirety of her life, as well as a healthy appetite for researching legends, religious texts, folklore, spirituality and art that informs "The Beekeeper."
"The concept is that there are six gardens, no different than that there are six sides to the cell in the beehive, so the hexagon shape is sort of our kind of key," Amos says. "The songs live within these six gardens [that] represent the emotional life of this female character whose voice we hear on the album."
In seeking out a traditional setting for her ideas, Amos needed look no further than the beekeeping legacy that exists around Cornwall, England, where she now lives with her husband, sound engineer Mark Hawley, and their daughter Natashya.
"As I started to trace its history, it began to fit into place," she says. "I was thinking about pollination, and we go back to bees and the pollinating of that female worker bee with that male organ of that flower. I brought in the organ, the Hammond B3 organ, to marry with the piano, so that the music would reflect the concept."
The album is led by the single "Sleeps With Butterflies," which is a top 10 track on Billboard Radio Monitor's triple-A chart. Adult contemporary outlets are next. Amos' songs are published by Sword and Stone (ASCAP).
"For Tori, there is this kind of built-in, fanatical, very passionate fan base that will follow her wherever she may roam," Epic senior VP of marketing Lee Stimmel says.
Beyond access to a streaming version of the single months ago at toriamos.com, anxious fans have been able to preview one song from each "garden" during the six weeks preceding the album's release. They have also been offered excerpts from "Piece by Piece" and the ability to pre-order a special limited edition of the album that includes a DVD and 24-page booklet.
Furthering the intimate connection between the artist and the devoted will be a series of book signings starting with a Feb. 23 in-store at Barnes & Noble in New York's Union Square.
April will bring a U.S. theater tour with Amos and just her Bosendorfer piano and a Hammond B3.
"Tori alone at the piano tours are very popular, which is why we're doing smaller venues so we get back to that intimate setting," her manager John Witherspoon says. "We did the last tour with just drums and bass and Tori, so we're going back to purely solo for the first time since 2001." Amos is booked by Creative Artists Agency.
A smaller European tour will follow, with plans to play some festivals there in June, at which time "Piece by Piece" should be available throughout the continent. A full-scale U.S. tour is slated for summer.
The challenge facing Epic is extending "The Beekeeper" beyond Amos' core audience.
Among the plans the reach younger listeners, Amos will conduct interviews with high-school newspapers. The single's exposure at triple-A and AC radio coupled with the major book release will herald her to the older, more passive consumer. Certain retailers will offer bounce-back coupons for $2 off the album upon book purchase.
Across the last two weeks of February, Amos will appear on "The Late Show with David Letterman," "Weekend Today," "The Carson Daly Show," "Live with Regis and Kelly," "The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch" and "A&E Breakfast with the Arts."
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
In addition to being at the center of all of this activity, Amos is also in complete control. That has not been the case through much of her career, which contributed to a less than amicable split with Atlantic, where she recorded for more than a decade.
Amos lays bare much of her professional trauma in "Piece by Piece."
"I tried to explain the music business animal from my perspective," she says. "From publishing and what you need to watch out for, the power structure, and I walk you though what went down with me and Atlantic."
Discussing the business end of art with Amos evokes a passionate discourse on the need to tip the balance of power away from record labels, managers, booking agents and attorneys in favor of the artist.
Amos, Witherspoon and Chelsea Laird, another member of Amos' management team, are doing their part to foster change through the Bridge Entertainment Group (Billboard, Oct. 23, 2003), a company that offers mangers and artists services on a piecemeal basis.
But taking on other full-time clients beyond Amos will have to wait until activity around "The Beekeeper" diminishes.
Contributing to the workload has been the negotiation of a shift of Amos' Atlantic releases within the Warner Bros. family to Rhino, which in the coming years should unleash a wave of deluxe reissues.
Witherspoon envisions repackaging her releases with substantial bonus material, not unlike Rhino's treatment of Elvis Costello's catalog.
"One of the reasons we formed the Bridge was for me to be able to work Tori now," Witherspoon says. "Tori Amos is a brand, and the idea is at this point in her career to really just make as much out of it as we can now."
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