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The Free Lance-Star (US)
Fredericksburg, Virginia, newspaper
Thursday, April 14, 1994

Painting musical pictures: Tori Amos talks to the mountain

By Mary Campbell
Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK - Singer-songwriter-pianist Tori Amos, whose new "Under the Pink" album follows her first LP, "Little Earthquakes," says she feels like a pioneer, searching and gathering her inner territory.

"I'm trying to find pieces of myself I've left scattered all over the place. I discover more all the time. There is so much to discover," she says.

"I feel like I'm in a wagon. I never knew over this hill I'd see 200 miles. I can't worry about getting to that hill. I've got to check this place out for a while."

Her first album has been described as "plaintive, piano-based ballads of abuse and betrayal." The new one is less victim-oriented and less stark. Her music can be ethereal. Her conversation, like her lyrics, slips out in images rather than flows like a succession of facts.

But there are facts. She was born in North Carolina, daughter of a Methodist minister. She started playing piano as a youngster and went to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore from ages 5 to 11. She left because the school didn't approve of playing by ear.

Amos, who has a 250-date tour this year in the United States, Europe and Asia, composes mainly at the piano. She lives in London and recorded the new album on Indian land in New Mexico.

"I knew I wanted to work with [producer] Eric Rosse and I didn't want to be in a city in a studio," she related in an interview. "He found this place. I loved it, of course. It was very humbling, the whole Pueble vibe being really heavy there. They have a saying, 'The mountain spits you out if it doesn't like you.' It was spitting me out 50 times a day. The gardener asked why I thought the mountain didn't like me. I didn't know. He said, 'Talk to the mountain.'

"It is not a relaxing place. It is very challenging. What happened was, I asked the mountain why it didn't like me. The message I got back was, 'You think you know so much, young waif, and you've really accomplished a lot. So pat yourself on the back. Then let's move on. Let's not wallow where we are. Let's now take the next trail.'

"I think 'Little Earthquakes' was really about looking at things I had to look at, my first door opening up to things I'd closed off since I was a little kid. I'd numbed parts of myself so they wouldn't get hurt."

One song on that album was "Me and a Gun," about being raped.

Now, she said, "I have an amazing man in my life who has really helped me work through not equating sex with violence."

After that album, which sold well, and the 14-month tour that followed its 1992 release, Amos wasn't in the mood to write songs right away. But a muse visited, with a message much like the mountain's.

"She has contact with me between my waking and sleeping world," Amos says. "She is my unconscious. She said, 'There are some babes here who want to talk to you. Willingly or unwillingly, some things need to be looked at by you now. You find you like being a victim; let's admit it. These girls are tools for you to see how you really behave. You need to deal with what you're hiding.'

"I said, 'When is this going to stop?' She said, 'Well, never. Why should you want it to?'

"All my songs are living thoughts. They have birth certificates. They're alive."

Some listeners find Amos' songs obscure, but she says themes are boring without magic.

"The listener has to see the pictures, smell the room, be there experiencing it. That's what a true songwriter wants."

However, Amos says, her songs contain signposts to meaning. "In every song there is a moment of complete clarity. But it is not a linear journey. This is not TV. You've got to work for your supper here. The listener has to be involved.

"If you go from an analytical viewpoint, you're going to be lost. Your mind will not allow you to get to those places that make you feel this. I'm giving you a feeling, little piles of feelings. I'm not telling you a message."

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