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Wall of Sound (US, www)
September 1999

Sound Off

by Gary Graff

In the not too distant past, Tori Amos spoke of fairies that inspired her songs and brought her ideas and melodies. Now she's hearing the clarion call of Venus. Amos' new album, to venus and back, is actually a happy accident, an intended B-sides collection that spun out of control and became a full new set of songs -- in addition to a second disc of live recordings from her 1998 tour. Coming relatively hot on the heels of 1998's from the choirgirl hotel, venus is again produced by Amos and engineered by her husband, Mark Hawley, and Marcel van Limbeek. The project was recorded with the four musicians who accompanied her on the road after choirgirl was released. That's a far cry from the solitary figure that Amos emerged as seven years ago, a former piano prodigy from Maryland who had a brief flirtation with late '80s spandex rock (Y Kant Tori Read) before finding her voice in inventive, ethereal paeans that can often be tough to decipher, yet always seem to get their point across with sheer feeling -- and surely don't want for guts. With another set of these swirling, poetic creations at hand, Amos seems comfortably ensconced in the most fertile period of her career.

So what's the real story about how you "fell" into a new album?

"Well, we knew the live album was going to happen, and we thought the B-side record was in place; we were going to mix pretty much everything on that and cut, like, three new tracks. But the songs started coming pretty furiously, and the engineers started looking at me and said, 'Theoretically, this does not work in a B-side context.' Now, they're engineers; they're out of their minds. But they do understand that realm. I began to see they had a theory, and what they were saying was valid. The B-side thing became just so hodgepodge. It became clear it was a new studio work and a live work, so we went that way."

It's another compelling title, too. What's Venus got to do with it?

"Venus could be anybody; she could be Cindy Sherman. The strange thing is I knew it was called to venus and back before we started working on it, because I had been hanging out with a couple of girlfriends. I knew I wanted to go somewhere and back from somewhere, and after a nice bottle of wine, one of them said, 'You'd go to Venus, Tori, if you could.' Well, once I decided I was calling this to venus and back, it was almost as if the songs from Venus decided to say, 'These are fragments of Venus she's willing to show you at this time,' and I felt like I climbed up on this little satellite and started roaming around her heart."

Were you surprised to have another album follow so quickly after from the choirgirl hotel?

"I was. This is the fastest one we've ever done. Sometimes it just takes you longer to do something; you can't hear it or see it, and you're kind of half-present. But we were very tweaked, and we were very present, and this record was demanding us to be very present. She was so seductive none of us could sleep -- none of us wanted to. It was like some Dyonisian frenzy. We didn't want to stop. It was a fierce calm."

You produced this album, too. Do you enjoy that aspect of recording?

"I think I'm getting more comfortable with it. I was really open to what all those knobs did in the studio. I opened myself up to it on choirgirl. It's like synchronized swimming; you work with a team and, after awhile, it becomes improvisational, sonically. You trust that it's all gonna shift and change, and that doesn't frighten you. That fascinates you. And I'm an ant-fucker -- somebody who goes right in there, all the way. You can see the intestines of the ant, microscopic, every little detail. But the engineers are that way too. They're really hard-core, audio pornography obsessed."

On your tour with Alanis Morissette, do you feel a synergy or has it been more like an intersection of two separate worlds?

"Oh, yeah. It's about the differences. It's two fully rotating spheres, each one on its own, that have decided to hang out together for a few weeks. I say it's like two pirate ships in the cove. Some people came over on hers, others came on mine. But if you came on hers, you hear there was some good wine on mine, so you come over and try it and you might find something you like. That's what we hope is going on, at least."

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