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INsite (US)
local Atlanta publication
December 1998

Coming Down

by Brendan McNamara

There isn't too much to say about Tori Amos that hasn't already been said. She has been called passionate, original, self-indulgent, flighty, crazy and powerful. She has been labeled a fairy princess, and egomaniacal artist, and a warrior poet. Her artistry has long since reached epic proportions in the hearts and minds of her devotees, and has caused detractors to shake their heads and roll their eyes in derision at her every antic and quirky revelation. Still others will never forget or forgive the awkward hair-metal stylings of Y Kant Tori Read, her regrettable debut. Regardless of your perception of Amos as an artist, a woman, or a musician, she's undoubtedly one of music's most provocative individuals.

As for her music, Amos' impact is undeniable. Through four scathingly personal albums, Amos wields her piano like a weapon of war -- sometimes in vibrant, violently sweeping strokes, at other times sliding it gently along until she finds the most vulnerable spot, then piercing at exactly the right moment. Her work has expanded its scope with each release, and her lyrics, which first hooked listeners with their deeply revealing personal content, have increased in poetic depth. INsite recently talked with Tori about her latest album, From the Choirgirl Hotel, the end of her tour, her recent marriage, celebrity and -- just so you don't think she's become too normal -- ayahuasca journeys.

How's the tour going for you?

It's good. We've been out since April and we finish in early December.

How has married life been treating you?

Well, I don't really talk... He doesn't like to be talked about, so we have a bit of a cat-and-mouse thing -- or I should say a cat-and-cat thing -- going on. Obviously, people are aware of it, but he doesn't really like to be part of that, which is interesting because my work gets scrutinized and people wonder what it's about and if there's been a fight or... Do you see what I'm saying? So it's a bit tricky sometimes, but I'm glad I took that step.

Has it affected your writing? Your feelings on touring?

It's hard to tell for the way I write, because Choirgirl was written and finished before I got married, so I really don't know. I'm not writing a lot now. What I'm doing now is making a live album and putting all the B-sides together. So it's not like I'm writing a next album. That'll be at least a few years away.

Are you planning on taking a break after this tour, not worrying about where the next album is coming from?

I'm not worried about that. You've got to figure, we're recording every night, and then we have to compile [all the songs]. We have to go through 150 shows to make a live album of about 20 songs, which takes as long as making a proper record. So mix time, post- and pre-production, [those things] will be as long as it takes to make a work from beginning to end. It just takes a long time to do something like this.

I've read that you're a lover of a great meal. Had any of those recently?

We have our own cook on the road. We have a chef, and he's been making lots of Mediterranean-inspired foods. That's always exciting. [There has been a] mixture of cultures going on on the bus. We have a really good wine cellar on the bus.

You have a wine cellar on the bus? That's pretty impressive.

Well, as you tour long enough, you learn what you need to get through it. This is our fourth world tour-- about 150 shows each time -- so you begin to learn how to stay alive out here. You have to have a life out here. The big thing is, I think, that you're not in your bed, and there's nothing of home that's with you. You have to create a sense of life around you, and I always think that's good food and good wine and...

Good company?

Good company, a good library on the bus, things like that.

So what have you been reading on this tour?

Lots of mythology books on the bus, lots of comparative religion stuff, more informational books. I have two British women traveling with me, and they're really into the novel side of things. They're reading loads of stuff like that. I'm usually reading information books. I'm not a big novel reader-- I'm a slow reader, so I fall asleep and I can't keep up. I do better with information books, where, if you fall asleep, you can get up the next day and you don't lose the plot too much.

How are you planning to spend your down time when you end this tour?

We have a few plans. Sometimes I can't just go to whatever we're calling "home" and plop down: I have to travel without working. You know, you have to decompress. I'm really comfortable traveling; traveling without having to do a show so that I can work into ending up in one place without getting jitters.

Any places in particular?

Probably overseas. I do actually like touring a lot in the States. I enjoy playing here, but we'll probably travel overseas. Probably Europe -- Eastern Europe.

A lot of people have been saying that, as you've expanded outward both sonically and lyrically, the music has gotten more dense. Is that something you've been conscious of?

People were saying that more on Boys for Pele, which is more of a hallucinogenic sort of record anyway. That's really about, I'd say, almost like an Iowaska journey, which I was doing a lot before then...Not a lot, but I'd taken quite a few journeys with this elixir from the Amazon. It's like an 18-hour journey where you have to really go, and you don't know where you're going to go. It's an emotional trip that I think takes you into parts of your psyche that... well, shocked me, anyway. It's really about facing hidden things in yourself. Pele was really about becoming a woman, and it is symbolic. Choirgirl, I think, is pretty direct, so I don't think that I'm getting more cryptic. I think some works are intentionally symbolic and some aren't as much. So it's not like every work is going further away from being direct, just that some should be and some shouldn't be.

When I saw you on the MTV Music Video Music Awards, I realized how little you're caught up in the whole artist-as-a-celebrity scene. Do you intentionally pull away from that, or do you just not find yourself there very often?

I don't find myself attracted to that, but sometimes you have to pose. That's just the way the game gets played. You try and not pose as much as possible, but then somebody asks you, and those that have asked you have been respectful and have done things that have been creative and respectful to what you do. So sometimes there is an exchange. That's just how it works.

These days, there seems to be a certain consumer lust for the "power collaboration" -- the union of two musical giants, often for soundtracks and the like. You seem to have been very selective in your collaborations. Any reasons for the relative dearth in that area? Have you just not been approached much?

Probably everybody gets approached at a certain point, because, as you said, it's an obvious thing to do. I think you have to be kind of careful and you can't get drawn into the fact that just because you're successful and they're successful, that doesn't mean it's a wise thing to do. Sometimes it works, and sometimes you do it for a laugh. Sometimes it's just... I don't know... there's just chemistry there, where you've always wanted to work with that person and you really don't care whether people like it or not, you just really wanted to do it. I think a lot of the times, the reason bands work and musicians work is because it's a chemistry. There's an internal chemistry, you see what I mean? It's not based on what the public's fantasy is, but it's based on real relationships with people. Just because you're well-known and they're well-known doesn't mean it has the magic. You've got to stay objective. Sometimes it just works. I've worked with a lot of really wonderful people. It's not like I haven't collaborated. I've worked with Robert Plant. I've worked with Peter Gabriel. I've worked with Michael Stipe and Trent [Reznor]. It's not like I haven't done it, but I'd like to think that we did it for the right reasons.

Any artists you'd like to work with nowadays?

Yeah, but it's not always about the star of the band. Sometimes it's the drummer or the arranger. You're always fascinated with other players. I usually don't mention names because you just don't like to. [Music is] a very small community, and you don't want to insult people, because that's really not what I'm about -- the "in" club and the "out" club...

Photo with caption: "Tori Amos checks out of the Choirgirl Hotel"
(black and white, she's lying on the floor, reflection mirrored on the floor, wearing pale tank top and sweatbands on the wrist)

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