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The Toronto Star (Canada)
Monday, February 21, 2005

Changes, or, who's Tori now

Once introspective singer takes wider view of the world Adapts songs on tour to mirror local current events

by Vit Wagner
Pop Music Critic

If Tori Amos had been in Toronto last week for a concert, rather than a promotional tour to drum up interest in a new album and book, the show would have in some way mirrored her take on local events.

In Tori Amos: Piece by Piece, a recently published memoir written with former New York Times pop music critic Ann Powers, the 41-year-old singer/songwriter talks about how her set lists and the general tone of her performances are tailored to each tour stop along the way.

During the recent Toronto stop, for instance, Amos immersed herself in news stories about the Jonathan mistrial, the court case involving the murder of a 12-year-old boy.

"I was reading about that in the paper this morning, so if I were performing tonight there would be a thread of that in there," says Amos, during an interview at the Four Seasons.

"I do my research. It's my passion. I'm always reading about the place I'm going to. As I'm travelling on the bus, I immerse myself in the place I'm going to. I want to know what's gripping the city."

Although it touches on Amos's upbringing in a devoutly Christian household in Maryland and other events of her life, the 350-page volume is an unconventional autobiography that is intended to offer readers a window into her creative process.

Since successfully launching her solo career in 1992 with the confessional breakthrough Little Earthquakes, Amos has built a devoted following for her distinctive brand of keyboard-based, mystically inflected pop, while amassing sales of more than 12 million and spawning a legion of Lilith Fair progeny. The book is in some ways a complement to her eighth full-length disc, The Beekeeper, which arrives in stores tomorrow.

"I made a decision to involve the book in my process," says Amos, who is about to embark on a tour that will bring her back to Toronto in August. "I decided to expose my process as I was writing The Beekeeper. Expose, as in give someone a backstage pass to understand what goes on. Naturally, it's going to have a piece of me in there. But while I can still remember my process, I like the idea of being able to talk about creativity, especially in the face of so much destruction."

Amos, a classically trained pianist influenced by a formative passion for the music of Led Zeppelin, stresses she is no longer the 28-year-old behind Little Earthquakes, which famously included a song, "Me and a Gun," which dealt autobiographically with the harrowing subject of rape.

A resident of England, where she lives with her husband and daughter, Amos says she is more inclined these days to look outward than inward, which affected the songwriting on both The Beekeeper and its 2002 predecessor, Starlet's Walk. The new album, an 18-song, 90-minute magnum opus divided into six, thematically linked sections that touch on familiar subjects such as Christianity while referring to recent events in her native land.

"There is some subject matter I'm only beginning to cover," she says. "Maybe some of that has to do with living in England and beginning to see how the macrocosm affects the microcosm, rather than focusing on your own little world and your own little problems.

"This leadership
(in the U.S.) is very good at aligning itself with the mass consciousness. They have used the biblical parables, they have used the symbolism and they have used Christianity as a beacon, as a light. And they have become fishers of men. It's a very clever marketing campaign."

Amos understands that songs informed by the writings of Gnostic Gospels scholar Elaine Pagels might not stir the music industry's blood with the same force as raw testimonials to abuse, but she takes comfort from the example set by some of her elders.

"Neil Young is still creating. I find that exciting. There are quite a few others. Bruce Springsteen. Joni Mitchell. Songwriting is not attached to a period in your life. It's like breathing. It's what you do. I've been doing it for as long as I can remember. And I'll be doing it until I'm a granny or even until I'm dead."


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