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BBC News (UK, www)
May 8, 2009

Tori Amos feels fans' earthquakes

by Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

Like all famous faces, Tori Amos often gets stopped in the street or in shops by fans who want to say hello, shake her hand or grab a photo.

Unlike most fans, though, Amos' followers do not just engage in nervous small talk, but often feel compelled to tell the soul-baring singer-songwriter about their own lives.

"Sometimes -- not every day -- you get a story," she says. "I never see them again. They needed to tell somebody. I'm not going to tell anybody that's going to hurt them."

The stories she has heard over the past two years have provided the inspiration for Amos' new album. There is one in particular, which keeps cropping up, about the personal impact of credit crunch job losses.

The story she has heard from fans, she says, is the following: "There's nothing I can do to fix this thing that's driven a wedge between our marriage.

"I can't give my husband back his job, I can't give my husband back his belief in himself. I can't quit my job because it's the only way we're making any money.

"We're living shells in our home. And I just figure that if I just went away, if I just became nothing, if I just drove off that cliff, then they'd have to give him his job back and he'd find somebody else..."

The album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, is the story of women -- maybe one woman, maybe lots of different women, maybe Tori herself -- struggling to survive emotional typhoons.

Referring to "Maybe California," track six of 18, Tori says: "At the core of the record there is a woman, a mother, who is ready to jump off a cliff.

"And I think it's the apex."

The women in the songs are mothers, she says, who most people assume are always fine. "Well the ones I was seeing weren't fine. Many. And I began to really feel that, and understand it myself.

"We've all been in that place at different times for different reasons, where you have huge upheavals. And so that is the pivotal place, where you feel as if you're willing to leave everything you have because you feel so unable to fix something."

And on the cliff edge, something comes to the central figure, the singer says: "Is it a part of herself? Is it another force? Or does she jump off that cliff? That has to be left to the person listening.

"Because within the whole record, there are different short stories of successes and failures and survival."

One song is about the Native American tradition of The Smoke, which aims to drive out the thing that is keeping you from moving on in life.

Another is about a woman who left the right man to follow her career, realises she has wronged that man, that it is too late to turn back, and throws herself into her music and a tour.

She talks about the women in the songs in the third person. To what extent are they characters, or are they really about her?

"I have to protect my private life, and I do," she replies. "And I'll do anything to protect it. I'll lie through my teeth if I have to.

"I can't write about this stuff unless I've been exposed to it or experienced it in some way. You don't write 10 albums by just writing a journal every day. It's just so narcissistic. It's disgusting. I'm sorry."

It is a mixture of experience and observation, she explains. The question, in any case, is sexist because it would never be asked of a male singer-songwriter or a playwright, she insists.

Sexism, inequality and gender roles come to the fore often in Tori's discussions about the world and her work.

Religion is also a powerful motivator for this minister's daughter, who is still railing against the influence of her upbringing.

"Strong Black Vine," another song, is about religious intolerance, and sees Amos repeatedly sing of an "evil faith."

"All of them can be evil, right?" she says.

"When you're brought up a certain way and you're exposed to the church, some people want to be compassionate and be understanding of other peoples' paths.

"But then other people believe that if others don't believe what they believe, why should they exist? But that's not just Christianity. That's Islam as well. Judaism. It's all over the place."

Abnormally Attracted to Sin, the 10th album of Amos' career, comes 17 years after her stunningly intimate and vulnerable debut Little Earthquakes.

The earthquakes created by new album are unlikely to be as widely felt as that original release.

But as the self-confessed "mistress of the darkness of feeling," she is more concerned with navigating and charting the inner worlds of herself and her fans, rather than the charts themselves.

And those fans are likely to want to shake her hand even harder next time they see her in the street.


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