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Show Monday (US)
from The Orange County Register
August 22, 1994

Tori Amos talks about religion, the piano and other taboo subjects

By Stephen Lynch, The Orange County Register

Her voice very quiet and breathless, Tori Amos is breaking the first rule of etiquette: Never discuss religion or politics with a total stranger.

"Totally awesome," she confides softly. "I'm having a religious experience as we speak."

But to which religion is she referring? The orange-haired pianist, known for her cathartic songs, high-pitched voice and wry grin, also is an avid believer in fairies and elves; a preacher's daughter who once told US magazine, "I'd see the pictures of the 12 disciples and say, 'Where are all the chicks?'"

She's a former heavy-metal singer who says that her mother is both a Christian and a witch. She's a 30-year-old dreamer who penned the grungy song "God," in which she sings, "God sometimes you just don't come through. Do you need a woman to look after you?"

Which begs the question: With two albums filled with eccentric piano melodies and a capella wanderings (1992's "Little Earthquakes" and 1994's "Under the Pink"), why does the techno-sounding "God," "Pink's" first single and inspiration for a eye-popping video filled with rats, sound so different from everything else she has recorded?

"That's what the song asked for," Amos says. "That was just right for that song."

So to what religion does Amos subscribe? You can't be too sure whether it's God, Allah, Mother Universe or Odin she's referring to, but one thing's for certain - Amos worships the music. The music tells her what to do.

"They always mean something different," she says, answering whether her deeply personal songs ever lose their meaning for her. "It depends on where I'm playing them. They change with the setting."

With theology out of the way, Amos explains that her current ecstatic state is because of her surroundings, New Orleans. Ah, the jazz? No. The food? No. The alcohol?

"No," she says, chuckling. "I'm more into watching the people walk by. Good people-watching here."

And you had thought Amos had seen it all by now. Born in North Carolina, she entered the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore at age 5, then was expelled at age 11 for refusing to read music. Then, at her father's urging, she played piano in a gay bar until she was 21, then journeyed to Los Angeles to collaborate with now-Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum on an unfortunate excursion into heavy metal.

The result, "Y Kant Tori Read," is now a collector's item, which Amos finds laughable. "When I was out there, it was very unforgiving," she says of the rock scene.

It was during this time that Amos was raped, an experience she struggled with through "Little Earthquakes" and "Under the Pink." Many of her songs, including 1992's "Me and a Gun" and the current "Baker Baker" deal with living through that pain.

Amos says returning to California, as she will do this week at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles and Saturday at University of California, Irvine's Crawford Hall, brings bad memories, part of the reason she now lives in England.

But "it's definitely changed over the last 10 years," she says. And, referring to the song "Waitress," which criticizes the stereotypical California Valley Girl who allows men to rule her world, "I've found the waitress everywhere," she admits.

Instead, Amos says the music tells her how to cope with her feelings - alone and at a piano. She rejects a backup band as "robbing the music" and uses drum tracks for only two songs - "God" and "Cornflake Girl."

Which is not to say Amos doesn't put on an energetic stage show. The bench kicked back, one leg off to the side, Amos gyrates and moves to the music, playing a Steinway like an electric guitar.

"I just move the way the music tells me," she says. Her music is apparently talkative.

She also continues to play her slow, soulful version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," an interpretation the late Kurt Cobain took with much chagrin.

"I play it as an homage," Amos says, her voice becoming even softer. "Kurt Cobain was a genius. It really hurt me when he died."

While her songs deal with healing and pain, however, Amos says she's learning to deal with happiness. Like a relationship with "Under the Pink's" producer, Eric Rosse, and people- watching in New Orleans. Like reading The Sandman comic book - the character Delirium is based on her. Like figuring new ways to express herself, physically and musically, on a piano.

Like listening to the Led Zeppelin box set.

"I steal from Jimmy Page all the time," she admits.

Really? Led Zeppelin? But isn't that electric guitar?

"You're too conservative," she says, chuckling. "Go back and listen, you'll hear I steal from him."

Tori Amos

Where: Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles; Crawford Hall, University of California, Irvine

When: Tuesday-Thursday in Los Angeles; Saturday in Irvine

Tickets: Los Angeles dates sold out; $20 tickets available for Irvine

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