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April 14, 2015
Tori Amos Gets Nostalgic With Re-Release Of Little Earthquakes
By Anne T. Donahue
In 1992, Tori Amos delivered Little Earthquakes, her first full-length album that would eventually catapult her into the spotlight and lead to 1994's Under the Pink.
For that, we are all very thankful.
On top of reclaiming the piano and rejecting the guitar-centric sound of the era, Amos embraced her right to tell her story in her own way, articulating and sharing her specific experiences. Her honesty and bravery resonated: Songs like "Silent All These Years" (one of her singles off Little Earthquakes) helped listeners feel safe to share and examine their own stories, and Amos went on to cofound RAINN, an organization that works to fight against sexual assault, while supporting survivors.
Getting there was a challenge, though. Following the dissolution of her band, Y Kant Tori Read, in the late '80s, Amos found herself fighting for the sound we now align her with -- with executives at her label going so far as to reject Little Earthquakes when they first heard it. Fortunately, they saw the light (after some compromises), and the singer-songwriter set out on her path.
Today -- nearly 25 years after establishing her grip on the industry -- Amos is re-releasing Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink to give another generation a chance to listen, as well as a chance for us to hear previously unreleased material, including live performances and B-sides.
We talked with Amos by phone to learn not just about what went into recording these two records, but how to stay true to yourself -- even if it means you might not get as many Facebook Likes.
When you were recording Little Earthquakes, did you have any idea that it would be such a big deal? What was it like?
"There was a risk with it, because it wasn't like anything else happening at the time -- because the piano wasn't embraced by the music industry. I wasn't signed to do what I did, I was signed for something very different, and [then] I went back to what I'd been doing since I was two-and-a-half. So, I already had a record deal, and they chose not to drop me. But, I didn't get a record deal by doing what Little Earthquakes was. I came through the back door, and therefore when I was making it, by no means was it an obvious win. When I turned it into the label, they rejected it. And, Doug Morris, [who] famously said he didn't get it, he and I had a negotiation that if I turned in two new songs, he wouldn't take the piano off and put guitars on the first incarnation of Little Earthquakes. And, he didn't. I turned in four songs, and the rest took a while. We went to England, and I started to play live for about a year, and it took a long time for it to get out [into] the world.
"And then, when it did get out [into] the world -- because it took so long -- I was very appreciative that people wanted to come hear me play those songs live."
Which makes a lot of sense, because you fought for those songs.
"Yeah, I fought for those songs, and when I turned in my record I had to go back to playing [the] piano bar to pay my rent! Even though I had a record deal, I had to go back and play the Sheraton -- play piano-bar music, not my own music. It gave me the opportunity to play my own songs, and I was very appreciative."
So, by the time it came to Under the Pink, was that recording experience different because you'd proved yourself or did you find yourself fighting again?
"My life seems to have been a fight all along. There are different questions that happen. When you have a success and people around you say to you that you can work with this producer, that producer, I was afraid. I was nervous that I would pick a path that wasn't genuine for me at the time. And, so I chose not to work with the commercial producer, and I made the right decision for myself. That isn't necessarily the right decision for everybody, but I was learning how to be a producer as well. I didn't want to just have to have a producer in my life to make a record -- I didn't want to be dependent. That was what was driving me at the time."
Do you still feel like that person? Somebody who fights?
"Well, I have a sense of humor now -- better than it was. But, you're fighting for different things. If you're working on new projects and in different mediums, then you find the battles are different. You have to choose your battles. I think I've become a better listener, over the years, where you listen to people's perceptions of things and opinions and then apply that to make the work better. So, over the years, I had to learn to be a better listener. And, that took time -- it takes time."
Absolutely. Being a listener is a very underrated quality. Listening is very hard.
"It is. You have to be willing. You have to stop the chatter in your head because a lot of the time, people will give you ear service, but they're not really listening. They're just waiting until you shut up, so they can say something."
In terms of these re-issues, what are you excited about in terms of new listeners? What's exciting about this re-release?
"Well, stories over the years from other generations have affected me; of people confronting their demons or making a change in their life and deciding what kind of person they want to be -- not who their family wants them to be or their friends want them to be, but who they feel they really are. These are the albums about individuating, and not just being the person my parents wanted me to be and my friends wanted me to be, or falling into that role, but about blowing that up... throwing a grenade at that, then saying, That's not who I am, and I might be letting people down because I don't fit into that character in this story. So, these records were my time to find out who that person was. And, I would say, during the '90s that's what those records were about.
"But then, when I became a mother, it wasn't the time to ask that question. I needed to know that already, and then decide who I wanted to be as a mother and as a musician, and how to grow as a woman. That was from 2000 on. So, the '90s were very much about [being] still thought of as a young woman, and then you realize that I'm not the image I've been presenting to everybody -- that's not who I am. I didn't want to disappoint anybody, but that's not who my spirit wants to be. I might lose some friends here by deciding what that is, but that's okay because I can't live like that anymore. So, this is very much what those records were. I don't think that quest changes from generation to generation; I think that quest is always happening."
Especially with the millennial generation.
"Well, yeah! I guess, sometimes, you think about how people look at the responses on Facebook -- how many Likes they get. There's a moment you have to say, I might not get a lot of Likes here if I'm being true to who I feel I need to be. So, you have to make a decision: Do you just want to be popular, or do you decide to stand for certain things? And, your beliefs can change [and] not everybody's going to agree with you. That's okay! You're not going to be invited to everybody's party. If you're taking a stand in your life, you're not supposed to be at everybody's party."
You're not! You can't get along with everybody; it's impossible.
"There's only one thing that should be at everybody's party, and that's ice. Even if it's freezing out, everybody needs that... But, you're a woman thinking for yourself; there'll be some parties where your ideas are not welcome -- embrace that! I don't think your generation has encouraged [anybody] to be an individual, and the badge of honor that comes with that. You can't be everybody's cup of tea. You might not even be tea!"
You might be coffee.
"That's right! Not everybody wants that. You think everybody does, and not everybody does, and not in the same way. So, think to yourself: It's not about how many Likes I get, but do I like what I just said? Do I like my intentions? Can I stand by what I'm doing? These are the questions that those records were asking me. To make me stand by believing in something."
Thank you for writing these records. And, thank you for being so engaging and easy to talk to. Bring ice!
"Well, I've enjoyed talking with you, Anne. Go rock the world!"
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