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The Illinois Entertainer (US)
Chicagoland's Music Monthly
Tori Amos: The Gospel According To Tori
by Althea Legaspi
She speaks in metaphors. Her lyrics, her art, and the way she approaches life and her life's work embodies symbolism and a sometimes certain, shall we say, elevated, attitude. Detractors may call it elitism; fans of Tori Amos would expect nothing less than the intellectualism she favors. But within the confines of "Tori Amos" also exists a mother, wife, and a musician that can be as down to earth as it gets. In fact, her soon-to-be-released The Beekeeper (Sony) takes root in the most earthly of things: right down to the tilling of the garden (albeit physically and metaphorically). On The Beekeeper, metaphors splice religion with sensuality, war versus a mother's true responsibility, politics with feminism. Correlations evolve between the personal and the ethereal where the line evaporates between the beauty of lyrical metaphors and the very real issues of the world. It's life and art swirling in one vivid, audible canvas.
At the fine age of 41, Amos is finding balance amid new responsibilities and new projects. In addition to her recent album release, she has penned Piece By Piece in tandem. The novel, in collaboration with music critic Ann Powers, peruses being a mother and wife, the songwriting process, touring, the perpetual challenge of surviving in the business of music (after being ousted from her longtime label, Atlantic, Amos landed comfortably onto Sony with two solid albums under her belt thus far), and tackles more involved issues like archetypes, mythology, and culture; and the modern Christian woman and her relationship with the two Marys (Mother Mary and Mary Magdelene). This is certainly not for the feeble-minded. Like most true art, it challenges, it inspires.
It's also a daunting task, but one that Amos fearlessly meets. As a family woman and promoter of her wares, remaining sane while juggling it all can be trying. "Sometimes I think what falls through is, as we all know if we have families and we're Alpha females, you know as part of the providing team -- so that you and your partner are both providing and you're trying to be nurturing and a creative force -- there's not enough time in the day to give each what it needs," Amos tells us as she is racing to meet a plane at Heathrow bound for Copenhagen, Denmark -- this after a full morning of promotion in her European home of Cornwall, England. "And sometimes I have found that discipline is my friend and I never thought I would be saying this, because my father has been drumming discipline into my life since I was tiny . . . The greatest thing that that taught me looking back is to be disciplined when it comes to being a creative force.
"I had this romantic notion before I had all these responsibilities that as a musician you could get up and create at 2 in the morning, sleep all day, do whatever it was. Well, not when you're a mom. Not when you want to be there for your child. So I've had to find ways to re-frame my day." This includes eating right (she has a private cook, Duncan Pickford, that comes out on the road with her) and setting limits with the business side of things so she can make time for her four-year-old daughter, Natashya (Tash).
Like the title of her book, her songwriting comes to her piece by piece. "There has always been a relationship with the sonic world and that is that I've always believed that it exists. I'm not the only creator. I co-create with this -- call it 'the muse,' call it just 'creativity itself.' And I have to always continually increase my musical vocabulary and the lyric side of things and I look at a lot of visual arts and start collecting these treasures and these ideas I have and I put them in this ever rotating palette." The Beekeeper's "Parasol" was one such song, inspired from Georges-Pierre Seurat's Seated Woman With A Parasol. Amos adds, "So instead of paints I have words and musical patterns that I collect, and this becomes my musical canvas."
Amos is a rarity these days in that popular artists rarely surpass the two-decade mark when making music is their career of choice. It seems even fewer and farther between when you subtract the Y chromosome and add X to the mix. There arguably is a bigger hurdle to jump. "There are times when there's a renaissance for women that happens. Like what happened during the Lilith Fair period where there was a renaissance on at radio. And I'm not talking about quote-unquote 'Top 40 radio,' I'm talking more about your singer-songwriters, your quote-unquote 'musician poets.' And then that door closes a bit, and then it becomes a lot more male heavy. I don't know why this is, but I think that sometimes it just goes in spurts. So you get lucky and you can be a part of one of these periods where women seem to be on the menu," she slyly laughs.
Given her experiences in the industry, Amos has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to taking on the oftentimes patriarchal setup of the music business. For women she knows there's a fine line between marketing art and becoming a throwaway commodity. She gives this advice to females who are called to the craft: "[Women musicians] cannot become objectified, they have to think about what they're putting out there as far as their image because it will be consumed," Amos warns. "The one thing that women have to battle against that men don't as much is the next new gal on the block becomes devoured -- you know, anything and everything about her -- having been there, I do know this much. And once people have excavated you and your mind, then they're on to the next one.
"They think they've sampled everything you have to offer and they're onto their next poet-lover-mistress . . . You must be the subject as far as that goes, and not the object . . . Your songs are your subject for you. And then that way you keep your focus and then what goes on on the outside, if you have your moment, where like I said, you're the one people are ordering, then you understand it. A sense of humor is good, but you have to understand they're gonna move on. Because people get into this devouring the next archetypal female. That just happens.
"Whereas with men, they seem to want to . . .
For the full cover story on Tori Amos, pick up the March print edition of Illinois Entertainer magazine -- available throughout Chicagoland.
Appearing: 4/15 at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress) in Chicago.
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