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Los Angeles Times (US)
September 23, 1999

For Amos, Passion Fuels 'Venus' Voyage

By Natalie Nichols, Special to The Times

Originally, the fifth album from Tori Amos was to feature a long-awaited live disc highlighting last year's "Plugged" world tour, and another disc of B-sides, rarities and a few new tracks recorded with her touring band.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the studio in Cornwall, England: Amos wrote an entire new album.

"It's sort of like when you don't plan a party," says the 36-year-old singer-songwriter-pianist, who released the album "To Venus and Back" this week and who wraps up a tour with Alanis Morissette this weekend at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. "Like there was a snowstorm and [people] are just there, but thank God you've got a good wine cellar."

Searching for a title earlier this year while sorting through the 120 concerts from which the live set was culled, Amos decided, "I have to go to 'somewhere and back.'" A friend suggested Venus, and once the collection was named, "all this music started to come from, it seemed, this sonic realm [of Venus]."

Amos, whose darkly confessional work has one of the most fanatical followings in pop, decided to record it all. "I called [drummer] Matt [Chamberlain] and said, 'Before you get on the plane, just one thing. We're cutting 13 [tracks], not three.' And we had the same amount of time to do it in."

Judging from the video for the new single, "Bliss" - which intersperses shots of Amos and her group onstage and backstage with striking glimpses of fans at her shows - the former solo performer has settled into cozy camaraderie with her own band. That bond, she says, has strengthened the performances. "A lot of it happens because of the conversations after hours on the bus. You cannot contrive that. It's about people hanging out together."

A Few Cups of Tea With Morissette

That experience has continued on the month-plus tour with Morissette - Amos' first as a co-headliner. One big difference? "I have to be on time," quips Amos, who goes on first to ensure that her piano stays in tune. "[Morissette] was very gracious about that," Amos says. "They wanted to do a changeover every night, meaning a swap [of billing order], but pianos don't work like that. Once it's in place, it doesn't move."

Although she and Morissette have had "a good cup of tea here and there," Amos says, each is busy within her respective sphere on the road.

"It's like two beehives," she says. "We're a traveling village of buses and trunks, and it takes a lot of mutual respect... and a great sense of humor."

Amos' sense of humor surfaces occasionally on the new album, whose mood is not quite as bleak as last year's "From the Choirgirl Hotel." Reflecting her growing interest in "what knobs do," as she puts it, the collection is a sound-effects-drenched exploration of, as usual, a central theme, this one being the many manifestations of passion.

Or something like that. Amos speaks of her songs as living entities, which she needs to ponder in order to understand.

Discussing the tune "Lust," she says, "I really got that what lust meant to me in my 20s was very different. I've loved people and not lusted [after] them. But I found that I hadn't experienced lust until I had some kind of trust for someone."

She Almost Shies Away From Dark Song

No stranger to bleak subject matter, Amos still initially thought "Juarez," a chilling, impressionistic song about the serial rape-murders of female factory workers around the Mexican border town, was so dark that it didn't belong on "Venus." Then she realized that it was about what happens "when somebody's severed from their heart. Sexual violence is in the realm of Venus. And the same with seduction..."

If the violence leaves a stronger impression, it's probably because Amos - who recounted her own experience as a rape victim in "Me and a Gun" on her debut album - is particularly skilled at dissecting tragedies and laying blame where she thinks it belongs.

She relates a tale from the crisis hotline at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an organization she founded in 1994, about a teenage girl whose mother didn't believe she had been raped by her father. "She said, 'This will not happen to me again,'" says Amos, "and as she was talking [on a cell phone], she jumped out of a window."

Amos pauses before making her point. "There's a huge role of women here. When they get a sense that something's going on, they are a part of it if they don't address it. We know what the penis is up to; we've known that for a long time. And I'm sick of women copping out."


Tori Amos and Alanis Morissette, Saturday and Sunday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, 7:30 p.m. $25. (949) 855-2863.

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