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Times of London (UK)
Friday, January 21, 1994

Confessions of a cereal killer

By Paul Sexton

Only Tori Amos could write a song about women being cornflakes, and have a hit with it.

The Top Ten of this week's singles chart has an intruder aboard. In there among exhortations to "shake it up, baby" and "come baby come, baby baby come come" by the likes of Chaka Demus and K7 stands a catchy little number about betrayal among women, based on a book by Alice Walker and featuring a piano solo heavily influenced by jazzmeister Keith Jarrett. Not exactly the stuff of Top Of The Pops.

The vertiginous debut at number seven of "Cornflake Girl" by Tori Amos is but the latest triumph in a career that has been at warp drive since she debuted two years ago with Little Earthquakes, a startlingly original work of cerebral songsmanship that captured British ears before it bent anyone else's and went on to sell a million worldwide. Amos, the North Carolina native turned adopted Londoner, looked to have exceeded all reasonable expectations when no fewer than three of the delicate and artful pieces from that first album, "Winter", "Crucify" and "Silent All These Years", found room for themselves in the Top 30. The even greater success of "Cornflake Girl" tees up the release at the end of the month of Under The Pink.

Rarely can the hit parade have housed such deep and dark sentiments. "I'm thrilled that people are opening up to that song," she says of "Cornflake Girl," which was inspired by Walker's novel Possessing The Secret Of Joy.

It is built on the premise that women fall into one of two categories, the cornflake girl or the raisin girl. "I've set up two factions that are at war with each other," Amos says. "Of course I would like to think I'm a raisin girl, because in my mind they're more open-minded. Cornflake girls are totally self-centred, don't care about anything or anybody."

Such complex imagery is typical from an artist whose unabashed individuality means she is often suspected of knitting with only one needle. Whether the average 12-year-old singles buyer will fully grasp the lyrical ramifications matters not to Amos, who is happy for her songs to be customised by each individual who hears them. "What they hear is: 'This is not really happening earthquake in LA or you just got fired from your job, it's the shock of an experience. Some people get things on every level, some people never will. I do respect the listener's point of view, because they come up with things I'd never thought of before.

"When I listen to, say, the Beatles' 'A Day In The Life', I don't know what people got out of that, but it affected me on a deep, deep level. It changed my life. There's a lot in that song, but a lot of people maybe only heard one phrase. At the end of the day, though, I don't know if it matters, because, consciously or sub-consciously, you're getting it."

Under The Pink also confronts such laugh-a-minute themes as organised religion, in "God" ("Will you even tell her if you decide to make the sky fall") and violence, in "The Waitress" ("I believe in peace believe in peace"), and their often tense, coiled energy might lead one to imagine an artist wearing an ingrained frown.

Instead, Amos is gregarious, unpretentious, friendly to a fault and clearly loved by all about her. If songwriting were therapy, it could be said to have worked wonders for the child prodigy with the classical piano training and Methodist preacher father. But therapy is not the word she would use.

"Driving a four-wheel-drive is therapeutic for me. I wouldn't say making a record is. I kind of feel I'm an archaeologist when I'm making a record, I'm digging to discover things. I can't write something if I don't crawl in and sit behind your eyes and feel that." The album, co-produced with her boyfriend Eric Rosse, was recorded in a 150-year-old hacienda in New Mexico, yet another relocation for an artist who moved from North Carolina to Los Angeles and then to London when her American record company said that perhaps its UK counterpart would understand Little Earthquakes better than it did.

Of the months spent recording the new album, Amos says: "I wanted to be in another world. I didn't want to be in the city, didn't want to be around other people's ideas and comments. Who needs them? I've trained myself to be very present, even during a nine-month process, when you can easily lose focus. I'm very disciplined in that way. Disciplined is not what other musicians would necessarily call me, they might call me obsessed and relentless and really out of control."

Sure enough, the fresh environment conjured up fresh ideas. "The feeling for this record was: 'How can I go more internal and yet bring a few different paints with me?' There was a part of me, from the lyric side, that wanted to have a few different ideas happening at the same time. For instance, when 'Past The Mission' started to come, it was just my feeling of being around all the missions and what they represented to me, because in New Mexico there are so many missions and that's where so many of the native people were corralled and their beliefs broken. What I started to feel was an understanding of how my own belief system was controlled by the church."

Such relentless self-examination is part of the Amos character, but without any trace of an analyst's couch. This week may be the only occasion when she appears in the same list as "Twist And Shout", but she is rather enjoying the company. "It's a neat feeling," she says. "Everybody told me this 'girl on the piano' thing was never going to work."

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