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BBC News (UK)
September 30, 2012

Tori Amos revisits her past on Gold Dust

Tori Amos: "The image people had of a woman and a piano was so out of touch with what I wanted to do"

by Tim Masters
Entertainment and arts correspondent, BBC News

How risky is it for artists to revisit their best-known songs? Tori Amos is doing just that with Gold Dust, an album marking her 20th anniversary as a solo artist.

Tori Amos burst onto the music scene in 1992, with a series of soul-baring songs that were unlike anything else at the time.

The album was Little Earthquakes, on which the piano-playing Amos sang about religion, sexuality and - on a capella track Me and a Gun - sexual assault.

To celebrate the two decades since that seismic arrival, the American singer-songwriter has recorded Gold Dust - an album of re-imagined songs played with a full orchestral backing.

"I'd never played with an orchestra," says Amos. "Any strings that I've had on a record have been applied later."

But it was an invitation from the Metropole Orchestra in the Netherlands for Amos to play with them in 2010 that sparked the idea for Gold Dust.

While not a greatest hits collection, the album includes a number of Amos's best-known songs - like Silent All These Years, Winter, Precious Things - alongside more recent tracks like Flavor and Star of Wonder.

Last year, Kate Bush - an artist to whom Amos was compared in her early years - did a similar thing on her album Director's Cut, re-recording and re-mixing tracks from her albums The Sensual World and The Red Shoes.

But is it ever a good idea for a songwriter to revisit past glories?

"I think it's dangerous," admits Amos, "because if you get it wrong, people can feel as if you've lost the soul to the song."

Amos, who speaks of her songs as female personalities, says some of them "wanted to dress up" while others shied away from a "complete makeover".

"The exercise wasn't to see how shocking I could make these rearrangements. The goal was how to bring together 20 years of songs - not necessarily the ones that people know the most."

One song that didn't make make the final cut was Cornflake Girl, from 1994's Under the Pink.

"Cornflake Girl might have entertained a big band, but not an orchestra," admits Amos. "She's not designed and built to do that. Certain songs really lent themselves because of their sonic architecture."

In a return to her classical roots, Amos's last album was 2011's Night of Hunters, a song cycle based on classic music themes for the German label Deutsche Grammophon.

Asked how she views her current relationship with classical music, Amos says: "My attitude with classical music hasn't been the problem.

"It's been my attitude with the professors and teachers I think are completely out of touch with the emotion and spirit of the whole thing."

She adds: "It's taken me a few years, and Deutsche Grammophon had to come knocking, before I opened up to it again."

Composers like Wagner were the "rock stars" of their day, says Amos. "They were really pushing the bar - they weren't stuck in a rut."

'Very blessed'

The daughter of a Methodist minister, Tori Amos was born in North Carolina and grew up Maryland where she began composing songs on the piano by the age of five.

She won a scholarship to the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music, but left aged 11 and began playing in bars as a teenager, chaperoned by her father. She later moved to Los Angeles where she formed rock band Y Kant Tori Read.

But the band's 1988 debut album flopped and Amos sought a new career as a solo artist. Her record company sent her to London in the early 1990s where she put the finishing touches to the songs that would make up Little Earthquakes.

Amos doubts whether Little Earthquakes would have got off the ground in 2012 due to its "challenging subject matter".

"Now things are a bit safer, as far as what the majors will sign, because there's a lot less money around."

Even in the early 1990s, she recalls, there was little commercial interest in "a woman at her piano singing songs about emotions and some dark stuff".

"It wasn't commercial, it never has been and it still isn't, but people have opened to it, and I've been very blessed.

"Radio at the time would say, 'Girl and a piano? No. Synthesizers - fine, but a piano - no way.'"

Gold Dust is released on 1 October. The Gold Dust Orchestral Tour takes place throughout October.

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