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Detroit Free Press (US)
August 5, 2014

Tori Amos takes up daughter's challenge to hit the road alone

By Brian McCollum
Detroit Free Press Pop Music Writer

No need for surprise when Tori Amos tells you she's doing things exactly the way she wants.

Amos was certainly following her own muse when she burst onto the early-'90s scene with her compelling, often challenging piano rock, and she chalks up any radio success ("Crucify," "Cornflake Girl") to a right-place-right-time serendipity.

She was still doing it when she veered away from rock in the '00s for a series of orchestral recordings and other projects.

And now Amos, who will turn 51 this month, is at it again, returning to vintage form with "Unrepentant Geraldines," an album with more emotional and musical layers than you have a right to expect from one songwriter at a piano.

The record includes the lovely "Promise" featuring her 13-year-old daughter, Natashya, who sang on two previous Amos albums. Tash, as Amos calls her, was also the inspiration for hitting the road old-school style -- solo with piano and keyboard -- after years of performing in various band and ensemble situations.

"My daughter kind of laid down the gauntlet," says Amos. "She told me if I were going to turn 50, then prove to myself I could do it. It's the hardest thing to do, actually, to hold a stage for two hours by yourself. It's tricky. It takes a lot of energy and power. She looked at me and said, 'You've got to go rock. Prove to yourself can do it.' I said, OK, got it."

Amos elaborated in an interview with the Free Press ahead of Wednesday's Fox Theatre show.

QUESTION: Was it also a case of your daughter wanting to witness this for herself? At 13, she wouldn't have experienced too much of that side of your career.

ANSWER: She hadn't really seen that. She knows a lot of young piano player females out there. She said, "Mom, come on, they're all doing your moves!" She's not stupid. I said who cares, it doesn't matter. She said, "It does matter. You're not 84. You need to prove at 50 that you can rock."

We were talking Hollywood, too. George Clooney, Brad Pitt -- the leading men might age ... but you see them paired with women much younger as love interests. The idea that men of that age won't go for women of that same age -- that's usually what we see culturally. ... I was talking with a Universal (Records) guy about the women, and what's happening. A lot more men get signed 50 and up. It's supply and demand. He said, "Go change the demand."

Q: You mentioned the physical exertion of playing solo. I recall you citing that factor in '98 when you decided to go out with a full band for the first time. Have you been feeling strong up there for the two hours?

A: Yeah, I am. The audiences are really buzzing. They're in top form, globally. They come and cheer me on. It's very much a conversation that happens, and I'm doing a lot of requests that people field at the show, and because their requests are being done, they feel their show is different from the shows before. So it's personalized, and you can do that a lot easier when you're on your own, because you can expand that repertoire.

The camaraderie is great when you're with other musicians. But the camaraderie is now with the audience. It's all coming together on this tour, as far as that energy.

Q: You built such a devoted core following so long ago, people who are very emotionally invested in you and your music. Does any sense of obligation come into play when you're creating?

A: No. You're either an artist that's chasing the commercial puzzle or you're not. If you're not, then you're following a different muse. You need to be very clear on your intentions -- one isn't bad and one isn't good. But you can't do both equally. You have to make the choice.

Sometimes that commercial thing will line up at the right time for you. You and I both know the game. Things have to line up. I decided not to walk down that commercial road, but to stay true to the music all the way, challenge myself, and write about things I really want to write about. Once in a while you get played on the radio. Once in a blue moon. The Internet has been the way that I've had a long career.

A lot of people coming (to the shows) have been with me for 20 years. Some have been with me for two years. There's a whole bunch of twentysomethings coming to shows. Things go in cycles. Some fans have kids now, and can't drop everything to come to the show.

That was the conversation I was having with my 13-year-old. If you're (writing) about different things, all kinds of issues, you're going to relate to people of all cultures and ages. And there are songwriters who do that, who appeal to different types of people at different times.

Q: You've been sitting at a piano pretty much your entire life. Are you still making new discoveries with the instrument? Is there still new territory to be mined?

A: That's an interesting question. If you really think about it, in the late '60s, early '70s, when those artists were coming up, I think Elton was really pushing the structures in a big way at the time. Not just Elton John, but Freddie Mercury, some of the piano work on David Bowie's stuff, Stevie Wonder. And the structures these days in contemporary music are much more basic. It's a much more basic form as far as a pop song now, for what the public is open to. If you look at (Queen's) "Bohemian Rhapsody," it was much more exploratory.

So when you think about all the structures explored by these great artists, and you're writing songs in the early '90s, they're inspirational, but they've covered that ground. If you want to be an artist pushing boundaries, you have to realize they got there first. If you come later it's always more challenging.

So yes, I think it's tricky and challenging to find new ground in music, but you can find it. It might be a mixture of using technology as well.

Q: A big part of the narrative around your career in the '90s was the revolutionary nature -- that you were an important trailblazer for women in rock. We are now in the future that was being trailblazed toward. Do you look back and see that anything has changed?

A: Well, there are a lot more women playing piano than there were, and that's accepted. That's a reality. I think it's exciting and really great that it's happening, because it's a great instrument and needed to be embraced again. For a while the industry had turned its back on it. It had died and wasn't seen as cool. So it's very exciting that piano is very much a part of our lexicon. Kids are coming up to me all the time saying they play piano and it's part of their lives.

I'm talking about menopause. That's all I know -- being true. I don't look back and analyze. That's for you guys to do. I'm doing what I've done all my life: Look ahead at what's in front of me. I'm very aware of what's in front of me. Past history isn't for me to deal with. It isn't. A legacy is never for the artist to deal with. Right now, I'm talking with (you). You have to focus on the moment, be an artist in the now and match it. That's where the music is.


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