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The Boston Globe (US)
August 14, 2014
photo: Britta Pedersen
Tori Amos, up close and very personal
By Sarah Rodman, Globe Staff
Tori Amos has spent the last few years immersed in the worlds of classical music and musical theater, working on her 2011 album "Night of Hunters" and her 2013 collaboration with the London National Theatre, "The Light Princess."
When she headed back to the studio to reclaim her pop identity, the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter had a cache of songs, which became her splendid new album "Unrepentant Geraldines."
She's out supporting the record with a solo show, which stops at the Opera House Friday, and fans have Amos's husband, sound engineer Mark Hawley, and 13-year-old daughter Natashya -- who also contributes lovely vocals to one song on "Geraldines" -- to thank.
Why her daughter? Last year, Amos was lamenting turning 50 and worried about going back out on the road.
"Tash and I had this conversation, and she said, 'You just have to pull all the power and strength of your whole life and you have to go out there and rock, Mom, as hard as you did when you were 30.' And so that's why I'm out on my own playing," says Amos, on the phone from a St. Louis tour stop.
And why her husband? "I had this conversation with Mark, I said, 'I think I can still do it.' He said, 'Of course you can still do it.' Can you still play on your own, a two-hour show with that power at 65? I don't know because it's a different thing, it's about energy. It's really hard to look people in the eye and say, 'Buy a ticket' if you can't really say you're as strong as you were. I have morality issues with that. But," she says with a laugh, "I can today."
Q. I read recently that you are doing something on this tour that you never have: playing tunes from your notorious, short-lived '80s synth-pop group Y Kant Tori Read. I almost can't believe it.
A. I know, right? Oh my God. I can't believe it either. [Laughs.] The kids were requesting it. A whole bunch of them dressed up as pirates! [A reference to a song on the self-titled album.] They had wigs, they had brandishing swords, the whole thing, like 20 of them. And I thought, oh my goodness what a presentation, I cannot deny them.
Q. I'm amazed you were able to just whip them up all these years later.
A. Well, there's a lot of work that goes into whipping them up, there's a lot of discipline. We have a sound check every day, it's mandatory, it's two hours, and that means you can work up new songs but you've got to really use that time and focus. I have an amazing crew, so they're there getting me sorted, the lyrics and everything. I have the catalog [at the] side of the stage so my guys, they're ready to remind me and my menopausal mind of most of my songs, which I don't remember on a daily basis. [Laughs.]
Q. Even back then, when you returned under your own name a few years later, it was hard to believe it was the same person.
A. I know. Believe me, I've heard from my daughter. When she sees that [album] cover, she comes up to me and says "Whoa, Mom."
Q. It's great that you're putting your arms around it and reclaiming those songs for yourself now.
A. At 50, yes, I can do it.
Q. There are lot of things as we get older that we're kinder to ourselves about and stuff we won't put up with anymore.
A. I'm so glad you brought that up because at 49, I was just having a tough time. We don't need to go into it, but you're aware that there are more men 50 and up getting signed with those major record contracts -- I'm talking about Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Dave Grohl -- brethren who I love and adore -- Tom Petty, Robert Plant, and on and on and on. But in the pop-rock business, 50 and up as songwriters, we're not getting the same contracts. I mean a proper record contract, not you're funding it yourself and putting it out and it's upstreamed. So I had real issues with that, and I was talking with some of the record guys over at Universal, and they said, "Well it's true." And I said, "Why?" And they said, "We just supply the demand, the culture isn't demanding it." And I said, "Well that sucks." So they said, "Well, go change the demand, here's a record contract."
Q. You are really mixing up the set list; there hasn't been an identical one yet. Are you having fun curating the show?
A. I'm having the time of my life. I can say that to you today. I couldn't say that to you a year ago. But part of that journey was how the album got created and those songs that walked with me and got me through it. So "Unrepentant Geraldines" wouldn't be here and I wouldn't be out here doing it if I hadn't walked that journey.
Q. Many of the projects you've done in the last few years have had a theatrical element. Was there anything from those experiences that you brought back to your pop songwriting to inform "Unrepentant Geraldines"?
A. I think so. The narrative. Storytelling. Being aware of how music tells a story in both of those projects and crawling into the structures of the masters and learning from them. As well as working with everybody on "The Light Princess," my writing partner Sam Adamson and Marianne Elliott, the amazing director. She was on us all the time about the dramaturgical line, and that does have an effect on you as a writer. So the storytelling on "Geraldines" was influenced by all of that training.
Q. Many of the songs are very personal, including the duet with your daughter on "Promise." You had said that these were the songs that just got you through life the last few years, not necessarily intended for public consumption. But since you released them, I'm guessing you're glad you shared?
A. I am glad I shared. We had talks about this, Mark and I, because we knew [it was a] very personal story of me and Tash. It began with us making promises to each other, about listening to each other. . . . She made me promise to stop saying I was getting old. It's a personal thing, but she seemed OK that we shared it. She said, "I think it's important. It's something my friends talk about all the time, their moms. Some get along and some don't, but it's talked about either way."
Q. What do you know now for sure at 50 that you wished you knew at 25?
A. So many things, my God. I know that truth is tricky and we all sometimes believe what we want to believe, so when a gal says, "Do I look nice in this dress?" in that moment you just need to look in her eyes and say, "You're absolutely beautiful."
Interview has been edited and condensed. Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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