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What (Canada)
February 1996

Tori Amos: Roasting Men and Sweet Bikers

by Chris Yackoboski

"I've been hanging out with some of the Hell's Angels in England," says Tori Amos, seemingly out of the blue. "They're some of the sweetest people I've ever met."

The gifted singer/songwriter/pianist, who is known for challenging both herself and others, seems intent on breaking down the stereotypes around her. Her third record, Boys for Pele, offers 18 songs and an array of characters that veer far from dull cliches.

"These stereotypes of people, they don't hold up. You know you're not going to be an interesting writer if you're stuck in that. Interesting characters have multi-levels to them," she explains.

With this new record, Amos says she's pulled far away from preconceived ideas that held her down, looking instead for things she wanted to know more about.

"For whatever reason, for quite awhile I pulled men into my life that were very fascinating and had access to things that I felt I didn't." Amos speaks clearly, confidently and forcefully ; it's clear she's done a lot of self-analyzing. "We're talking about energy, or the ability to allow oneself to experience things that I wanted to and didn't know how to get there. There was no map."

Amos explains Boys for Pele is a novel about a woman descending, looking for fragments of herself and being suppressed. Although she stops short of saying her lyrics are autobiographical, Amos is clear about one of her main inspirations.

"The whole record is about stealing fire and stealing fire from the men in my life. I wasn't able to admit that at first, I had to kind of have my head held down to it. You know how when you've just thrown up, it's right in your face and you go I couldn't have eaten at Burger King, I'm a McDonald's person!'"

Amos swings back and forth from a happy, laughing interviewee to one who is ultra-serious about her work. She doesn't mind giving details about herself, talking openly about a relationship falling apart and her "soulmate walking out the door." In trying to explain where the album title comes form, she keeps coming back to her personal revelations and realizations.

"Pele is a volcano goddess and the idea is that, pyro that I am, I seem to be lighting myself on fire and not able to find my passion. The men in my life and what they gave and didn't give brought me to that."

It seems a little confusing at first, but Amos is basically saying that she had to be heavily influenced by men around her before she could find her own spark. But some bitter and vengeful thoughts about torching men came before she found that spark.

"First I wanted to sacrifice all these guys to the volcano goddess and roast them like marshmallows," Amos laughs. "Then I decided they gave me a really wonderful gift."

It seems Amos had no shortage of creative sparks; the album ranges from the heady pop of "Caught a Lite Sneeze" to the quietly beautiful "Putting the Damage On" and back to the dark, beat-heavy "Professional Widow." Other tracks, such as the rhythmically-layered rock of "Talula," complete the picture of variety.

"I wanted diversity on this record," confirms Amos. "So there are over 75 musicians, from the London Symphonia to Caribbean percussionists to gospel choirs to different Louisiana brass bands.

"I just kept pulling it together. Working with all these people... it's going from an instinctual place and getting all the musicians to know the sounds and tastes and smells, know the characters. I'm translating for them; it's like getting to know your lover, what's in their underwear drawer in the little jack-in-the-box, the make-up case, the perfume they wear... you guys better know!"

Even though she's making such highly personal music, Amos is not worried about her ability to translate, not only to her musicians but also to music consumers.

"I just trusted that, God, if I'm so consumed by this, someone else is going to want to come to the party too. And if they don't, well, it's a party I had to go to."

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