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Daily Mail (UK)
May 21, 2009
Tori reform: Her kooky image has helped her sell 12m albums, but Tori Amos insists she isn't a 'strange little girl' any more
By Adrian Thrills
She has been dubbed the queen of the confessional and her spookier songs have made her a pin-up for mystic goth-girls everywhere. But while the self-styled 'strange little girl' undoubtedly has her eccentricities, Tori Amos is nothing if not a trouper.
Two decades after leaving a synth-pop band to embark on her solo career in Los Angeles, the 45-year-old daughter of a Methodist minister is still going strong and planning some bold new moves.
Now a wife and mother (she married English sound engineer Mark Hawley in 1988), she tours constantly, releases a new album roughly every two years and is working on her first West End musical.
Despite this - and her 12 million album sales - she still feels the urge to set a few things straight.
'People struggle to describe me, so they fall back on words like tragic, trashy or kooky,' says Tori, speaking softly but deliberately as she peers out from under her long, orange locks in a hotel suite overlooking Hyde Park in London.
'But those people don't have a lot of tricks in their pocket dictionaries. Their words aren't big or clever. If I'd become too sidetracked by stuff like that, I wouldn't have lasted for 20 years.
'According to my husband, one thing that is often overlooked is that I can be a really good laugh. He's not saying that I'm particularly witty, more that I know how to have a laugh.
'Just because I sing about some serious issues, it doesn't mean that I don't have a sense of humour. I do.'
This week sees the release of Amos's tenth solo album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin.
A sprawling but varied collection - its title is lifted from a line in the musical Guys and Dolls - the record reiterates her talent for inventive songwriting and virtuoso piano.
Unlike much of her recent work (where she has often hidden behind kitsch, hammy alter-egos), it finds her lowering her emotional guard and returning to the intimate approach of the early Nineties, when she paved the way for a new generation of female singer-songwriters, such as Alanis Morissette and Dido.
'At times, I have used made-up characters to keep the media at bay,' she admits.
'My songs might be confessional, but I don't like giving away too many details. One of the reasons I've made ten albums and maintained my family life is that I respect my own privacy.'
Tori admits that writing songs has helped her to overcome pain and adversity. Me And A Gun, from her 1991 debut album Little Earthquakes, was inspired by an incident in which the singer, then 21 and living in LA, was raped at knifepoint after performing in a piano bar.
Before giving birth to her daughter, Natashya Hawley, in 2000, she also suffered three miscarriages, the first two of which were dealt with in harrowing detail on 1998's From The Choirgirl Hotel.
'Those songs were there to hold their hands out to me when I was at my lowest ebb. It was my way of turning a destructive situation into a positive one. My mantra has always been that the best way to beat hardship is with creativity.
'After my miscarriages, the only way for me to carry on was to get back out on tour. It was the only thing I knew how to do. Back then, I felt like a musician first and a woman second.
'Now, things are different. I'm a mother and that's really important. Today, the mother and the musician can sit next to each other. Even when the musician is out there in full swing, the mother doesn't get switched off.'
The Amos clan divide their time between Mark's home in Cornwall, where they have a fully equipped studio, and a house in Florida.
Most summers, though, are spent on the road. With Mark working as Tori's live sound engineer, Natashya, eight, accompanies Mum and Dad on tour.
Tori's own childhood found her developing her musical talent from an early age.
Raised in Baltimore, Maryland, she won a scholarshipto a prestigious local conservatory, the Peabody, at the age of five. Despite her devout religious upbringing, her father, the Reverend Edison Amos, encouraged her artistic ambitions, chaperoning his daughter around the jazz joints and gay bars of nearby Washington DC.
'My father was strict, but he recognised my ability and got a lot of flak from the church for supporting me. He's 80 now. He writes poetry, and he and my mother have been running my publishing company for years.'
Moving to London in the Nineties, Tori blazed a trail for stripped-down, piano-based music at a time when radio playlists were dominated by dance, grunge-rock and Whitney Houston's power ballads.
Since then, her sense of adventure has seen her release a series of ambitious records that have embraced folk, jazz and electronica. And her reputation for charting her own idiosyncratic path will only be reinforced by her next project.
With playwright Samuel Adamson and Nicholas Hytner, artistic director at the National Theatre, London, she is working on a musical adaptation of The Light Princess, a 19th-century fairytale by George MacDonald. She is hoping a production will be on the London stage by the end of next year.
'Our goal is to have a second draft of the musical written by Christmas,' she says.
'Sam will fly out when I'm on tour in the States in July and we'll keep writing on the tour bus.
'The aim is to come up with something that will appeal to both British and American audiences. That's why The Sound Of Music and Chicago are so great as musicals.
'This is something I've wanted to do for years, and we've been working on it for a while. I want to create something that Natashya's grandchildren will be able to listen to.'
Abnormally Attracted to Sin is out now on Island. Tori Amos starts her UK tour at Manchester Apollo on September 6. For more details, visit www.toriamos.com
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