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Rocky Mountain News (US)
Saturday, November 24, 2007

Singer Amos shows character

American Doll Posse takes on authority via pantheon personae

By Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News

Tori Amos is no stranger to concept albums or taking risks, but American Doll Posse trumps anything she has ever done. It's a double-disc concept album railing against patriarchy and calling out the president by name. It's sung in the voices of various characters, each reflecting a feminine archetype from the Greek pantheon (look it up, kids).

Her show Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Theatre will have a first act with Amos singing as one of the characters from the new album (she chooses which one about an hour before show time). Act two will be the Amos catalog, with hits and deep cuts that change every night. It keeps the band and crew on their toes, she joked. "They can't do too much crack."

I read that your recent box set, A Piano, was a goodbye to the first part of your career. Is that true?

"It's a good little sound bite. In some ways yes, but that's just because with this show we've never done anything quite like it before. It's more of a theatrical performance or piece. I've done a lot of singer-songwriter records in the past. This (album) took an incredible amount of work on everybody's part. It took two years to develop. It's been exhilarating. I think everybody was pushed to different styles of music."

Was it hard to let go of that control, or were you afraid of stagnating in your usual mode of writing?

"I don't know if stagnating is the right word. When you've done a lot of records you're either the type of composer that only likes to compose one kind of music or you're the type of composer who doesn't want to be defined by one type of music. I fall in the latter."

You've done lots of theme projects. Is it like writing a novel instead of a lot of short stories?

"Maybe being a fan of Dickens. I love a good story. I loved the White Album as well. I like complex works. They just keep me on a more magical carpet ride. I'm into not leaving the planet, but really traveling. Music can do that if it's done right. Some records do that for me. I love Queen, Freddie Mercury, these great performers, David Bowie when he was in his Ziggy period."

What was your plan going in with these characters?

"You can use yourself as a canvas and allow any woman to take over. You just use your flesh and your face as a canvas. I started sculpting my body about two years ago knowing what everyone had to work with would be kind of crucial for my stamina for doing the live shows."

That sounds like an actor preparing for a role.

"I guess so in a way. The difference is for me it's not fiction. All women and all men have ancient character types in their DNA. It doesn't just have to be these silly stereotypes -- the career woman, the nurturing mother. I thought, well, let's go back to where the character types were more complicated. I chose the Greek pantheon. All these women live inside. This is how Athena looked when applied to Tori. On someone else it's going to look completely different. But we all carry the warrior somewhere. We all carry the sensual Aphrodite somewhere, though some women have buried it or cut it out of their lives."

What was the impetus?

"I was really concerned about my fellow sisters. I didn't understand how we as women in the 21st century were not standing up to the patriarchy and saying, 'Hang on a minute.' Women before us have fought very hard to try to get equal status. The patriarchy since the beginning sees women as being subject to them. When they got back in I couldn't understand how the woman hadn't voted against it . . . something that was against them. When you talk about what is the impetus for something? Well, that was it."

Patriarchy has always been a topic for you, from Little Earthquakes to the sexual shame in The Beekeeper. It's often overlooked, though.

"And accepted. Similar to racism. They accept it because it's part of the culture. It doesn't mean that it's right. But we get desensitized. The sad truth is there are a lot of women who are part of the patriarchy. . . . I'm thinking, 'What has happened here?' Gloria Steinem wouldn't have gotten very far with us if we were what she'd had to work with. As a minister's daughter it seems to me you fight off ideology with ideology. We know . . . white heterosexual male authority, the thing they abhor is a female authority. That's what they're scared of. They're scared of Hillary. This is a male/God group of people. They don't uphold the teaching of Christ, the compassionate half of Christ."

Your fans are very intense. How have they accepted this?

"If you make a record and it's nice -- and I've made those records before -- they're lovely and blah, blah, blah. But when you make a work that's supposed to push people's buttons and you do push people's buttons, you can't get nervous. That's where being around a long time comes in, the experience comes in."

In a time of artists giving fans less, you're giving them more -- box sets, downloads, etc.

"It seems to me that there is a hunger for that which is unusual. Can you imagine if we were only releasing a chapter of Charles Dickens' work at a time? I write sonic novels, that's what I do."

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