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Scene (US)
Northeast Ohio's Entertainment Weekly
July 16, 1998

tori amos gets another growth spurt

by Rex Rutkoski

Tori Amos had fully intended to put music aside for a while. Then life got in the way.

Amos was preparing to take a rare sabbatical because she and future husband, sound engineer Mark Hawley, whom she married last February, were expecting a child.

"I had been doing music since I was two and a half. I had no idea what kind of record I would make. I was not thinking about making a record really. I was thinking about being a mom," Amos explains.

Then she lost the baby in December of 1996.

"Obviously, we were devastated when that happened, and heartbroken," she says, "but the love doesn't go away, that's the thing. My heart grew. People say being a mother changes you. Well, being a non-mother changes me. I appreciate life in a way I just didn't before."

That appreciation, and coming to terms with her loss, are themes that inform her new album, FROM THE CHOIRGIRL HOTEL. She produced the record and wrote all 12 songs. It was recorded in Cornwall, England in a 200-year-old barn converted into a state-of-the-art recording studio.

Providing musical support were band members Steve Caton and Matt Chamberlain, along with programmer Andy Gray, bassists Justin Meldal-Johnsen and George Porter Jr., guitarist Stewart Boyle, pedal steel player Al Perkins and the Sinfonia of London.

Wanting to stretch, Amos says it was very important for her growth as a musician to play with other musicians instead of having them play around her. It was time, she says, to de-emphasize the girl and the piano. She wanted to be a player with other players, which she'll do when she plays the C.S.U. Convocation Center this Wednesday, July 22.

The album follows 1996's Boys for Pele, an 18-song effort inspired by her relationships with men, and which some consider her least accessible work. It was her third solo album since her 1992 debut, Little Earthquakes, and its follow-up, 1994's Under the Pink.

From her residence in Ireland, the North Carolina minister's daughter, who has been challenging the way pop music can be presented, talks with appealing warmth, humor and honesty about matters of life and music.

SCENE: Does living in Ireland have an impact on your artistry?

TA: Probably. But, you know, I think what happens is it's just being here. There's a freedom I feel when I come here that's different than when I'm in England. Ireland, it's got so much mythology and such tragic history, so you really feel all that from the people and the land. Yet they have a sense of humor, a way of looking at things that makes you kind of want to put your own problems in perspective.

SCENE: Does that filter into your writing?

TA: When I'm here, I think about taking chances. You're so far away from anything, of what is hip, what is underground, what is whatever, what is accepted and it catches the imagination.

SCENE: So another concert tour begins. Are you looking forward to it?

TA: If we weren't doing shows, we would be at one of the guys' houses just playing. Why not invite a few people over?

SCENE: This is a full-fledged band tour, isn't it?

TA: I think if you want to see my other shows repeated, you really won't like this show. I obviously do a few songs at piano because it's part of what I do. But at the same time this really is about -- you want a long time to play with musicians you respect, players I really have to work hard to keep up with. I wanted that challenge, not a gratuitous "Here's a backbeat" kind of thing. It's not like that.

SCENE: What is it about the live experience for you?

TA: I enjoy that more than anything. Making records was always sort of ... you can do so much in a studio. Live, you're much more limited and it really is about playing. It is for us, anyway. Some bands are computerized and nobody is playing [laughs]. Obviously, that's what they feel they need to do. But for us, even if it is a train wreck at a show, I just love the idea of people taking risks as players. We are working musicians. That's how we see ourselves. We have a lot of pride in that. This is our day gig and night gig. It's what we do. We all fought to get to this place.

Sometimes the thing about success that happens so easily to some people, obviously they have other things they will have to deal with. Sometimes they don't know what it's like to work three jobs, and nobody wants to hear your music and you've played piano bars for 13 years. Sometimes I think there is a sense of entitlement for young musicians who haven't had to play much [before achieving success]. They have a whole different lesson that they've got to learn.

I don't know what that kind of shock would be -- to go from playing a couple months in a bar and there you are in the Garden. I have no idea what that would be like. But, for us as players, we all have been playing for years. Just to have the opportunity to play our own stuff and not have some dingbell put 50 cents in a tip jar and ask you to play "Feelings" one more time ...

SCENE: You said last time we spoke that Boys for Pele was about striving for wholeness. What was From the Choirgirl Hotel striving for?

TA: I think Pele was such a depressing record, but at the same time I really became a different person because of it. I really kind of started looking to myself for things that I used to look to other people for. Since I miscarried, I have a deep respect for life. This little soul taught me. I'll never know this being in physical form, but it taught me things very few people in physical form have taught me.

So when the music started coming again, it came on many levels. Obviously, there was the grief, and an incredible sense of [understanding]. Some people will lose their babies. Obviously the angels didn't split. Sometimes people are going to lose their kids, or somebody they love, and things happen. In this record, I questioned things. I questioned every philosophy I was taught, every belief system, and I don't have any answers.

But the good thing is I have more of a sense of humor about the workings of the universe than I used to, and I think the Christian God sometimes is just having a Margarita and can't do a whole lot for you that day.

The way I was brought up is if you pray hard enough, fear God enough, everything will be OK. That's a real manipulated lie. All these feelings were brought up. I just think it would be so much easier if we were taught these expectations.

SCENE: You must have some interesting debates with your [minister] dad ...

TA: Yes. Because I'm interested in different mythologies and how they looked at death and life, I just think sometimes these religions set us up for these incredible disappointments, because that's not how the universe works, obviously.

SCENE: Do you enjoy the ways in which people interpret your music?

TA: It's strange, because someone will come up to me and go, "Do you remember when you said this?" I'll go, "Did I say that?" I'll have an interpretation of a song, but it's only my interpretation. I might never have thought of someone else's interpretation before, and that's valid. People will tell me interesting stories.

As the years go on, I see I own the copyright, but I'm not the sole writer. The songs, they exist somewhere and I'm able to see them. Because of experiences I'm having, I'm finally able to see them and then I start interpreting them through the colors that I see because of my life experience. I believe in that creative force. It's constant. Just because I can't write songs sometimes doesn't mean that creative force isn't going. It's cheating on me. It's with Jewel [laughs].

SCENE: Are you surprised sometimes at where your interest in music has brought you, and the attention it has received?

TA: It's weird, because when I was growing up, it was no different than like an athlete. I was trained to, if we can compare it to the sports world if this makes any sense, to be a champion, or to be one of those bloody studs running in the Kentucky Derby. When you are in music school at five, like I was, you're not there to hold hands and sing [campfire songs]. You are there, and it's no different than those little gymnasts going in. The only problem is you are sitting on the pianos tool all day and your hips get big [laughter]. But it's no different.

The tough thing is you sometimes forget about the music and you're trying so hard to be good enough, but you're never good enough. Athletes are the same thing when you train from the same age. It's always about the next thing and the next performance. If you give a bad performance or can't play well that night, that's really tough. I came from the classical end. When you come from the pop end, you're not judged the same way. When you're coming from the classical, the Polish judge give you a "5.2".

That's what it feels like all the time. I'm always trying to get that voice out of my head that I've heard since I was a little girl -- that I didn't do good enough. I try to get to a place where it's about the music, and at the same time being with players I respect. And it's about striving, always hunting for that groove. The great George Porter Jr. of the Meters has really done a lot of teaching me stuff. He told me, "You find the pocket and that's good enough."

SCENE: Is the Tori who is in the public eye much different from the one who is off stage?

TA: Yes. Well, I'm trying when doing interviews and stuff to be honest and open with people. Sometimes some of these journalists miss the humor. The three days I sometimes spend with a journalist on big pieces, sometimes I'll read them and it's not the three days I remember.

SCENE: What haven't you done but still want to do artistically?

TA: I'm not really sure where the Pied Piper is going to lead me next. I don't really know. I think that to do the shows and trust that something will happen, some inspiration will come.

SCENE: Where are you on your spiritual journey?

TA: Just drinking good coffee, hanging out with my friends, just kind of letting the days happen. Somebody said to me the other day, "I'm waiting for that time a few years from now when it all makes sense."

Tori Amos laughs heartily.

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