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March 19, 2015
Tori Amos Reflects on Her Seminal '90s Album 'Little Earthquakes': 'I Was Doing Songs to Survive'
By Christa Titus
Rhino is reissuing the breakthrough album and 'Under the Pink' as deluxe CDs and on vinyl.
It's unsurprising that Rhino is reissuing two seminal albums in Tori Amos' catalog, Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink, as two-CD deluxe packages on April 14. It also makes sense that the collections are being given such treatment to honor their 20-year anniversaries. But it's a little confusing that the packages are arriving in 2015 when Little Earthquakes debuted in 1992 (23 years ago) and Under the Pink was released in 1994 (21 years ago).
"I was late," admits Amos with a chuckle, attributing the long delay to being tied up with creating her last album, 2014's Unrepentant Geraldines, and her involvement with the London musical The Light Princess (she wrote the music and is producing the cast album). "[But] who's counting that it's over 20 years? An anniversary is an anniversary."
Amos is celebrating by packing the album's companion discs with B-sides and live tracks. (The discs will also be issued on 180-gram vinyl in the United States for the first time.) Tracks like "The Pool," "Thoughts" and "Sugar" are included with Earthquakes, and one of its live tracks, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," represents the covers she was performing in concert during that time period. Pink will be rounded out with including "Over It," "Black Swan" and "Honey." Amos has previously lamented that she regretted "Honey" being left off of Pink, so the reissue facilitates a long-awaited reunion. "In a way, some of the B-sides were more loved than some of the A-sides, because it was very much a time when people would collect those things," recalls Amos. "Sometimes because they were B-sides they got more love because they were, I don't know, more alternative than the A-side."
Little Earthquakes, whose passages veer from bold rock crescendos to melancholy longing to china-delicate vulnerability, showed Amos wasn't afraid to poke into uncomfortable corners of her psyche on her journey of self-discovery. However, the road to her breakthrough solo debut was a lengthy one that threatened to hit a dead end on several occasions. Her first album, the power pop affair Y Kant Tori Read, was a commercial bust, and Earthquakes endured a few facelifts: Atlantic even recommended that Amos' cascading piano be replaced with guitars. She also had no way of knowing that Earthquakes' "Me and a Gun" -- a song she wrote to help herself start healing from the trauma of being raped -- would become a catalyst for numerous other survivors to start coming to terms with their own sexual assaults. Here, Amos gives her thoughts on topics surrounding the release of Little Earthquakes.
What her current self would tell her 29-year-old self to help her get through the commercial failure of Y Kant Tori Read and the revamping of Little Earthquakes: I guess what I would have to tell myself is, "It's difficult to stay the course when you believe in something [and] everybody's telling you it's not going happen." So after Y Kant Tori Read, I had to realize that I couldn't stay that course. I needed to change course. But then they told me similar things once I turned in Little Earthquakes, that it wasn't going to happen. So I had to go with a different gut feeling, and that's because I was doing songs that wouldn't make an A&R guy happy, or anybody else. I was doing songs to survive.
How then-Atlantic Recording Group chairman/CEO Doug Morris at first didn't "get" Little Earthquakes and how his involvement helped right the course for the album's release: The thing about Doug is that we had a wonderfully explosive conversation when he didn't get it. The suggestion that people had said to him was, "Take all the pianos off and put guitars on it, and bring in commercial producers and make it like it should be." He and I cut a deal, and not a lot of record heads will cut deals with you. But he did cut a deal with me, and I said, "You're not bringing in anybody. I want produce it." He said, "I'm giving you, like, no money," and so we negotiated what that was, and it was under $2,000 to do four songs. I didn't own a recording studio, so it had to pay everything: musicians, recording studio, everything.
But then Doug did something that was really important, I think. Once he got the four tracks, he said, "I want to play this for somebody that I also respect, and his name's Max Hole [then-managing director of East West Records]. He's in England, and I have a hunch. I think Max will know how to take this to the next step, and you should be released in Europe first." He got me to audition for Max. I had to play live in a little room in front of people he brought, and [Max] said, "Are you willing to do whatever you need to do?" I said, "Well, what does that mean?" And he said, "Well, I think we should remix some things, and you need to go out and play live." And so it took another year once I met Max for the album to come out.
Recording "Me and a Gun" for Little Earthquakes while still dealing with the trauma of being sexually assaulted: I think once the response started to happen it was a little too much, because the exposure of that type of attention makes you realize that you don't want to be so exposed, and you don't want your life to be so exposed, so there were certain deflections that I would put up in order to protect myself, and I wasn't prepared for it. I don't know if anybody can prepare you for something like that. Somebody could have tried to talk me through it, and it just happened, so I was responding on the fly, and sometimes I would put deflections up in order to keep it about the song and not go on some talk show and need to have a big reveal about it.
If she remembers what Billboard said in its review of Little Earthquakes. The magazine had stated in its 1988 review of Y Kant Tori Read that the album's marketing packaged it as "bimbo music": I learned a lot by that experience, and I think I made a decision then with one of the press people at East West not to read reviews, because I realized I needed to make peace, and there's a think tank that I call in for each project. Sometimes they can be from all walks of life. They can be writers, they can be painters, they can be whatever, and I'm not asking then about EQ choices or compression or that kind of thing. But sometimes I'm asking them about content and how they feel, so I've always had the little think tank around to bounce things off of so I'm not completely in my own vacuum. Once I make those decisions I can't remake those decisions. I've made them, so what people then think about it or analyze, in some ways it's not my business. You have to allow it, and you can't change it, so you have to surrender to it.
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