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CNN Online (US, www)
September 29, 1999

Tori Amos' gods and monsters

By Donna Freydkin
Reporting for CNN Interactive

(CNN) No one's likely to call singer-songwriter Tori Amos' music frivolous or flimsy. In fact, she'd consider that a grave insult.

This is a woman who, with one failed ensemble rock album under her belt, returned to her piano roots. She used her 1991 solo debut "Little Earthquakes" as a forum to recount the experience of being raped.

In her breakthrough follow-up, the 1994 "Under the Pink," she suggested that perhaps God needs a woman to look after him. In the 1996 CD booklet for the somewhat puzzling album "Boys for Pele," she was seen appearing to breast-feed a piglet. And on 1998's "From the Choirgirl Hotel" - particularly in the single "Spark" - she detailed the miscarriage of a much-wanted baby.

Now, on her September release, the double-album "To Venus and Back," this daughter of a preacher man continues her quest for her version of musical enlightenment. Initially, Amos went into the studio to record a few new tracks to add to what was supposed to be a collection of B-sides and oddities. Instead, she ended up stepping out with a behemoth of an album.

Half these songs are live tunes culled from her "Plugged 98" world tour, her first trip with a full band. The other half of the album's tracks are new studio material.

More than a month before the album was to arrive in in stores, the single "Bliss" was available as a digital music download. The album already has garnered a four-star review in Rolling Stone, with Natasca Stovall writing that "Complicated is a word for Tori Amos... 'To Venus and Back,' testifies to just how wide and deep her river runs."

And on the traveling front, Amos just wrapped her "5½ Weeks Tour," a roadshow with fellow soul-searcher Alanis Morissette. No rest for the road-weary: Amos and her band - guitarist Steve Caton, drummer Matt Chamberlain and bassist Jon Evans - are back out already on a slate of headlining dates, starting with a Wednesday date in Dallas.

But while touring with Morissette, Amos - who peppers her conversations with myriad mystical and sexual references - chatted about the muses behind her music. She's one of those rare conversationalists who's willing to touch on any subject, with the single exception of her marriage. Her husband, says Amos, doesn't like being discussed.

CNN: You've been busy this year, both with the new album and now touring. Why did you hook up with Alanis?

Amos: I've never done a tour like this before - with somebody. It was actually (Morissette's) idea. She had come to see me at Jones Beach (on Long Island, New York), and we had a cup of tea and a giggle and got along really well. We share a lot of the same philosophies of putting on a show, which is important.

CNN: As far your end of the tour goes, were you eager to be back on the road with a full band?

Amos: Wanting to play with these guys again was really a burning desire. I enjoyed playing with them (on the last tour). That's not to say there weren't rough spots. Because I have to play and sing at the same time, when you play alone, you cheat a lot. You can stretch bars and stuff. But when you're having to hit the marks as a player as well as a singer, you try to drool, find your note, breathe and wiggle, all at the same time. And not lose your lunch. That's a tall order for me.

CNN: Your shows are pretty personal affairs. Was it tough adjusting to sharing a stage and losing some of that intimacy?

Amos: There are things you can't do with a band that you can do on your own. There's not going to be the same intimacy. That's like saying an orgy is as intimate as a honeymoon. But there is a sensuality that a band can have because there's tension between and among people, as opposed to tension between one person and her instrument.

CNN: Is that what inspired the studio album?

Amos: Well, I'd been playing and living with them for nine months. I think the songs started coming to me knowing the ground I was going to plant the seed in. I know where it's fertile and moist.

CNN: And the title? Where did "To Venus and Back" come from?

Amos: I was having a great bottle of wine with two girlfriends, and I said, "I have to go to somewhere and back somewhere." So we went from everywhere to everywhere. Sonically, I was going a bit more galactic, so one of them said, "Do you have to go to Venus?" And I knew that's where I was going.

CNN: Where were you going musically on the album? Were you trying for a specific sound, or just trying to let it flow?

Amos: I don't sit down and try for something. It just sort of happens. I just like working with different sounds right now, instead of everything being so stripped. I'm into producing now. I produced the last three albums.

"Lust" has a really strange effect on the piano and in the voice, so it feels like she's in a shape she can't get out of, but it's a shape that's able to bleed in to itself. Creating sounds like that - it's pretty intangible to try and talk about it.

CNN: When does your songwriting muse hit you?

Amos: For me, you're always writing, even if you're storing. I'm always writing and storing. Aren't there spiders that do that? Like camels store water. You kind of have to put it in a holding tank and save it for later.

CNN: You must have a pretty amazing memory. Mine is like a sieve.

Amos: Most of it gets lost. Sometimes it comes in two bars at a time and I bang my head against the wall, I don't know what I'm going to do. Then I start diving into books, reference and mythology books.

CNN: You seem to throw everything into your songs, making them almost these glimpses into your psyche. Do you ever regret getting so close and personal?

Amos: Sometimes, but I don't look back. I think, "Hold it - no regrets about that one." At the end of the day, it's really difficult to look back. I made decisions at the time, and I am who I am because I made those decisions.

CNN: But do you ever try to hold back, to contain the emotion in your songs? Is that an issue for you?

Amos: I didn't really understand that until a few years ago - how to contain the emotion that was running through me at the time. That doesn't mean it isn't going out in a flash flood, but at least there's an attempt to control it instead of it drowning you. It takes a lot of focus to keep an emotion revving.

It's an issue, a question: can you feel that much? Can you restrain that much? Can you observe that well? Can you hold, can you contain? Or can you unleash it like pain? You can start to see when you have or when you haven't, and find your objectivity within that. Usually what happens when you don't hold it well is there's a hole in your blood. For some reason, somehow, your hand didn't know how to hold it.

CNN: Are you ever worried about your music being too heavy, about turning listeners off?

Amos: No. That light stuff just doesn't hold cream, and spit, and grapes, and really good tobacco. It's just not fragrant. It's safe and it's very mannerly. I'm into good manners, but not in art. I'm into elegance in art, but that's a very different thing.

CNN: Are you happy with how "To Venus and Back" turned out?

Amos: There's always something on every album that I wished had slipped through. This album has just gone to the glass master. It's just down the street with its lunch box, although it has a bottle of Krug in it. I wouldn't be releasing it if I weren't happy with it, but if you talk to me nine months from now, there will be other things I'll have discovered.

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