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Baltimore Morning Sun (US)
July 22, 1994
TORI AMOS TAKES THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
By J. D. Considine, Sun Pop Music Critic
Edition: Final Section: Maryland Live Page: 4
Usually, when people in the music business talk about "the big picture," what they're thinking about is long-term sales strategy - how to build a buzz around an artist, how to generate momentum on a project, how to navigate the transition from cult favorite to mass-market superstar. As such, it's fairly easy to imagine what those folks would see as Tori Amos' next move. Thanks to the fan-base she built with her last album, Little Earthquakes, Amos now has all the earmarks of a cult star about to break big. Her concerts routinely sell out, and her current album, Under the Pink, has passed the half-million mark and is still selling steadily.
So what music biz logic would demand is a new album in early '95, with a heavy push on the singles and extensive touring. Amos, though, operates on a slightly different agenda. Consequently, the only thing she plans to deliver next year is a baby.
"I'm targeting the next record for the fall of '96," she says, over the phone from a tour stop in Kansas City. "And I have a couple things on the back burner. I've done something on the Leonard Cohen tribute that I'm very excited about, because you know what an influence his writing's been to so many. Then I did a duet with Robert Plant, which I'm very excited about. It's going to be on the Zeppelin tribute that's coming out in January."
She's also writing the score for a BBC radio adaptation of stories from Neil Gaiman's comic The Sandman. Interesting work, all of it - but hardly the most obvious career move.
"It's funny, because [Warner Music U.S. president] Doug Morris, when he heard that I was going to do this other stuff, said, 'I could have thought of 10 things you would do - like run off with the devil would have been one of them - before having a baby and not doing another record right away.'
"I said, 'Well, it's about making a great record, and I think [what is] going to help me make more interesting work is if I feed myself on a personal level.'"
Keeping things on a personal level is a central part of the way Amos operates. Take the way she talks about her songs. Where other artists might speak of album tracks or singles, Amos thinks of her compositions as "the girls," with each having its own needs and individual character.
For instance, one of the reasons she uses taped backing tracks when performing "God" and "Cornflake Girl" is that the songs don't quite work as solo piano pieces. The piano, she says, "is the glue holding those tunes together, but it is only the glue. It's not like the wood also."
But the other reason she gives has more to do with the kind of personality those songs have. "You know how some songs can have a party on their own, with a little book and a bottle of champagne?" she says. "Well, these two girls have to have loads of people there."
As such, Amos is able to maintain the kind of ongoing relationship with her work that keeps even older material, such as "Silent All These Years" and "Me and a Gun," fresh each night.
"I just think I'm able to understand 'Silent' now," she says. "So the writer side of me is going, 'God, these songs are very current.' They have a power that, at the time, I didn't really know how to translate on tape.
"It's the same with Under the Pink," she adds. "I think I'm doing [songs such as] 'Icicle' better than I've ever done on record, because I'm growing into them.
"So for my next step as a writer, well, I don't know where we're going next, but I'm feeling pieces of it coming together. Whereas Little Earthquakes was more of a diary and Under the Pink is more an impressionist painting, this project is maybe a little bit of both and something completely different. So I know that I need time to make it great, and I won't put anything out that I'm not really proud of."
Fortunately, Amos has some help on that end. "'Silent' is as current to me as anything I'm writing now, and it's leading me by the hand," she says.
"She's saying, 'That wasn't clever enough, Tori. That line isn't good. You can't do that. I won't let it through my door.'"
Amos laughs. "'Silent' is my doorkeeper," she explains. "She's really stroppy about who comes to the party."
Not that Amos has any time to party herself. "I'm a bit in a weird space right now, because my body's so tired," she confesses. Finishing the Sandman score while on tour has made a tight schedule even tighter for her. "I'm having a keyboard brought in, in between waking up, getting a plane, doing interviews, and going to sound check, and doing the show," she says. "So I'm a bit of a lunatic right now."
Fortunately, there's one Tori project she's not in charge of: The Book of Amos. "My father is putting out a pictorial biography, through Music Sales, who prints all my sheet music," she says. "[Pictures] since I was a little kid, of when I was at Peabody, and my recitals and stuff."
Why? Amos says her parents thought it was important "to show an accurate accounting of what really happened. There's so much unclear information, I think because I started so little.
"So it's not like you're just getting pictures of two years ago. You're getting recitals from when I was 7 and 8. True press clippings, from when things really came out. And rejection letters that I got from presidents of record companies saying I'd never have a chance." She laughs devilishly. "We're going to print a couple of those."
On July 19, 1994, J.D. Considine interviewed Tori for the Baltimore Sun (July 22, 1994). He shared this unedited transcript of the interview online.
Where are you today?
"I'm in Kansas City. How exciting, eh? Never played here before. Kind of cool."
The big thing that I've been hearing from the Tori circles is that after this tour, you're planning to venture into motherhood for a while.
"Yes. I'm planning that, actually. It's the thing I want to do most. I'm a bit in a weird space right now, because my body's so tired that I can't really think of -- I mean, emotionally I want to do that, but physically, I have 90 shows left, so..."
That seems fair preparation for being a mother.
"Yeah. I'm very excited. I'm working on -- it's like, I'm targeting the next record for the fall of '96, and between then, I have a couple things on the back burner. I've done something on the Leonard Cohen tribute that I'm very excited about, because, what an influence his writing has been to so many. I did 'Blue Raincoat,' just a piano/vocal, which I'm kind of happy about. Everybody else was, you know, doing a big production thing, and I figured, no. Then I did a duet with Robert Plant, which I'm very excited about. It's going to be on the Zeppelin tribute. It's a gem."
Was that the first time you'd met him?
"No. I'd met him at the Q Awards, and I told him -- he was grilling me all about the Jimmy Page project at the time, with Coverdale. 'Did you know he's trying to sound like me?' And I'm like, 'I just met Jimmy, actually. I don't really know what's going on. Why are you asking me? I wanted to tell you that I wanted to give you my virginity when I was 10.' And he laughed, and we got along well."
He's a wonderful guy.
"Oh God, what a mind. He called me up in about March, and asked if I would do a duet with him for the Zeppelin tribute. I said, 'Yeah, are you kidding, of course?' So we went in the studio in London just a few weeks ago. It was the only day that we had in five months that matched. I flew in from the continent to do it. Had to fly out the next morning.
What was the song?
"'Down by the Seaside.' It's very different. We do it kind of like 'Riders in the Storm.' It was a jam, so it's eight minutes. He played guitar, I played piano, and two of the guys that are now in the band that he's in with Jimmy Page, this is the project they're doing together, the bass player and the drummer, who have been with Robert, I think, for a little while. Anyway, it was just kind of neato. I showed up, and we kind of rehearsed, and I threw in a section and he threw in a section that hadn't been in before. I kind of went, 'God, I really want to do this part.' I thought the melody was different from what it was. In the shower, I always sang this different melody. But I was so married to it that I just made it my part. They rolled tape, and we were finished, and we all went and listened and said, 'Where's the Indian takeout? This is finished.' It was kind of like-it was so neat, because I waited all my life for that. So I stored up 20 years of estrogen. But that's coming out in January."
"And I'm doing -- what I'm really excited about is that I'm scoring the music for 'The Sandman' audio series. He's doing an audio with people from the BBC. Mainly because I think Hollywood is going to be jumping in on the movie rights, and Neil wanted to do something that he was strictly in control of. I think he's just so afraid of what they're going to do to it. Just kind of like, 'Eccch.' He wanted to put out something that he felt was really representative of his work. So this is an audio presentation of six... it's the 'World's End' series. I'm doing all the music for that, and so it's quite a challenge, because it's like scoring, a bit."
The stories in that series would seem to lend themselves to the kind of colors in your palette.
"I would like to think so. Let's hope I'm not cast wrongly here. It is a challenge, though. I'm very excited, because I have total carte blanche, which is like totally great. You know me, I'd like ditch a music director in a vat of ketchup if I didn't like him. It's really great that Neil just said, 'Go knock yourself out.' So I'm working on that. That's what I'm doing on the road right now, I'm having a keyboard brought in in between waking up, getting a plane, doing interviews, going to sound check, and doing the show, I'm writing the score for this. That's kind of what I'm up to, until the next record, and hopefully being a mom. But those are my goals, anyway."
No one will accuse you of underachievement.
"For the next record, it's really important that I take everything and do a whole other step again. I think that's what I always loved so much about Beatles records, was it was a constant new frontier. I don't know where we're going next, but I'm feeling pieces of it coming together, whereas 'Little Earthquakes' was more of a diary and 'Under the Pink' is more to me an impressionist painting, this project is maybe a little bit of both and something completely different. So I don't know, but I do know that I need time to make it great, and I won't put anything out that I'm not really proud of."
"It's funny, because Doug Morris [the president of Tori's record company], when he heard that I was going to do this other stuff, he goes, 'I could have thought of 10 things you would do, like run off with the devil would have been one of them, before having a baby and not doing another record right away.' And I said, 'Well, it's about making a great record, and I think all these things are going to help me make more interesting work, is if I feed myself on a personal level.'"
It's struck me how, between the first time and the last time you were in Washington, you seem to be visited by different aspects of the songs.
"Yes. I feel that every night."
Very few people do that
You remember how your instructors at Peabody taught you how you should approach a score? They were liberals compared to some of the rock bands out there now.
"Oh Jesus Christ, you're not serious."
People make a record, and they do their damndest to make a performance that sounds exactly like the record.
"Well, I think the most important part of my live performance is my phrasing. I've always felt that that's what separates the performance tonight from last night. Because I play alone, I have that kind of freedom. Obviously when I do 'God' and 'Cornflake,' I don't, because I'm doing it to a track, but I made a conscious decision that I wanted to play to those tracks. I just felt it was not really what the song wanted to be. Those two songs -- you know how some songs can, like, have a party on their own, with a little book and a bottle of champagne? Well, these two girls have to, like, have loads of people there."
There's a lot of rhythmic stuff you wouldn't be able to do without the tape.
"The piano was a color, actually. It is the glue holding those tunes together, but still, it is only the glue. It's not like the wood also, whereas in something like 'Icicle,' it's completely there. Where I'm working is within the phrasing. But the phrasing has always been where I feel -- some musicians, I think, go out and think of a set as, 'I have to get from this song to that song.' And that's how they look at it, you know, kind of like if you're a car race driver, you're hitting your marks.
"Well, with me, I've made the decision, especially on this tour, to hit my marks on measure to measure, so I'm not going song to song, but measure to measure, that the whole world exists within that measure, not within that song. Which is very exciting, because you have to be focused for the whole piece instead of, well, if I get through 'Precious Things,' then done that, now I'm on to the next tune. It's more like, 'I have to hit this phrase in "Precious Things." How do I want to approach this? No, I kind of actually want to add a couple extra measures here on the piano,' or 'I want to totally change my approach to this note.' No, all that's going on because of the different point of view that each song takes on each night. That's what keeps me challenged during a show."
I remember in the show in Washington I saw, there was one moment in 'Silent All These Years' that gripped at my emotions in a way the song had not done before. That kind of stuff doesn't happen unless you've got a real live performance. It must make this tour triply exhausting for you.
"Well, I'm a bit of a lunatic right now. I called my friend Trent Reznor -- I was lying on the marble. There's this marble little sit place at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago, with the windows, and I was just losing my mind a little bit. Don't think I was thinking of anything so cliche, right, but you know, I was thinking of at least throwing my ice cream out the 26th floor, or the telephone. And he said, 'You can't, Tori. I've been in that Ritz Carlton in Chicago, and the windows are inverted, so I'm not worried.' So there's kind of something wonderful about having friends that go through what you go through. You have your buddies that understand. Obviously Robert Plant can't understand, because all he says to me is, 'Why are you touring? Just come to Wales and we'll watch the butterflies and talk about great Welsh stories.' I was going, 'Yeah, a legend can say that, you know?'"
I fully expect that, given the fervor of your fans, to walk into a bookstore and see three Tori Amos unauthorized biographies.
"Oh, is that happening?"
Looking at the number of Morrissey books that are out there -- you do seem to inspire that kind of fervor among your fans.
"Well, my father's going to beat them to the punch. He's putting out, through Music Sales, who prints all my sheet music, they're going to put out a pictorial biography since I was a little kid. Just to show accuracies of when I was at Peabody, and my recitals. They wanted to do it before something happened to them, or whatever. They have all these photos. They felt like it was good to just show an accurate accounting of what really happened, instead of there's so much unclear information, I think because I started so little, that it's not like you're just getting pictures of two years ago, you're getting recitals from when I was seven and eight. They thought that that was far more interesting than somebody, like, rambling on about stuff.
"I've heard of some unauthorized things coming out, you know, and it's always just good that people have some accurate information, just true press clippings, when things really came out, rejection letters that I got from presidents of record companies saying I'd never have a chance. We're going to print a couple of those.
"But it's funny, back to the 'Silent All These Years' thing, if I can just jump in and say, it's made me look at the fact, I just think I'm able to understand 'Silent' now, and some of those songs, 'Me and a Gun,' so that my writer side of me is going, 'God, these songs are very current for me now,' and they have a power that I didn't really at the time know how to translate on tape. It's the same with 'Under the Pink.' I think I'm doing 'Icicle' better than I've ever done on record. I'm, like, growing into them. So for my next step as a writer, I don't know, 'Silent' is as current to me as anything I'm writing now, and it's leading me by the hand, saying, 'That wasn't clever enough, Tori. That line isn't good. You can't do that. I won't let it through my door.' 'Silent' is my doorkeeper, a bit. She's really stroppy about who comes to the party."
"There are two ways to convey information. One is to sort of say what it is you think it means, and the other is to tell a story. The thing about telling a story is that usually, the story says more than the words themselves could, but also, a story gets stronger by being retold.
"Then your opinions change anyway, and the story is the story. Yeah, I think that's all that bard influence."
Was there an album that you listened to and suddenly, the world was different for you?
"Yeah, there are a few, and I'll tell you what they are. 'Sgt. Pepper's,' Zeppelin, all of them. I kind of heard them all at the same time. Obviously I, II and III I kind of heard all at the same time, because I jumped into Zeppelin around '73, when I was about eight, nine. When I heard Zeppelin, it was like, OK, now I get it. Now I know why I'm not doing well on my classical piece, because Jimmy Page was the bridge from acoustic to electric music. He was the bridge, and he showed me what I could do. I always felt like they tapped into this passion that Mary Magdalene understood about, and was the only one in the Bible that represented it. Everything is mythology, whether it's music mythology or theological mythology, it's all the same. So if we're going after that energy, which is what I've always been going after, musically Zeppelin understood that, that goddess energy. Joni Mitchell, 'Blue.' Then as things progressed a little bit further, Sex Pistols. When I heard that, I dropped my teacup, to be quite honest."
Those Sex Pistols singles -- I was a jazz fan, until I heard them.
"Right. I didn't know what to do with myself. Do I cross my legs, do I uncross them, what do I do? I only have two choices, and I couldn't figure it out. And believe it or not, 'Pretty Hate Machine,' Nine Inch Nails, when I was writing. That's why we met, because after I had heard 'Pretty Hate Machine,' it had been such an influence, I began reading the Sandman comics and listening to 'Pretty Hate Machine.' I had given this young man, who had been the lover of the girl I used to babysit in Rockville, a place to crash on my floor in Hollywood. They had had a falling out -- I was 20 -- and I was like his older sister. I gave him a place to crash, and he brought in the Sandman comics -- he was a dropout of Parsons Art School -- and Nine Inch Nails. Just imagine, I'm reading the Sandman, listening to Nine Inch Nails, reading 'Calliope,' going, 'Where have I been?' Playing at the Marriott. So yeah, these are some landmarks in my life.
"Then I heard the Bolero in some toilet somewhere. I don't remember. Swanky joint where I was playing. And I was like, 'Yes, that is bordeaux and burgundy right there.'"
Every time I listen to 'Cornflake Girl,' I hear the introduction, I think of Ennio Morricone. The little whistling bit.
"Yes, of course."
I take it that was a million miles from your mind at the time.
"At the time, yeah, it was, actually. Originally, Steve Caton, who played mandolins and guitars on the record, came up with this little line on the mandolin, and that was the 'Ding ding-a ding ding' with the strumming to it. Everybody really liked that. And even in the mix studio, I was screaming at the top of my lungs that it had to be a whistle. I want the cowboys coming over the hill. Eric was laughing his head off, and the mixer, Kevin Killen, said to me, 'This whistle is naff, Tori.' And I said, 'Well, guess what, Kevin. When you make your own song, you can put your own mandolin on it. This is a whistle. Fucking put it in. Put the sample in.' So I got my whistle, and I'm happy as a clam to this day. May I beg you one thing? No exclamation points. I've been getting them lately, so I'm afraid it's contagious. It's like the measles or something."
People like giving women exclamation points. Even Q did it on the triple cover you were on.
"I know. Can you imagine?"
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