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Irish Daily Mirror
October 29, 2021

BIG INTERVIEW Child prodigy Tori Amos is still making waves with her songs

American singer's latest album Ocean to Ocean is up there with the best of her 16 solo releases

by Jason O'Toole

A CEREAL SUCCESS Cornflake Girl Tori Amos is still producing great music

The last time I spoke with the ultimate Cornflake Girl was the first time such songs as Flying Dutchman had her jetting over to our corner of the Atlantic Ocean to promote the Little Earthquakes album.

Tori Amos laughed when I mentioned that whirlwind visit here to appear on Gaybo's Late Late Show, followed by a signing at the old Virgin Mega Store on Dublin's Quays, and a sold-out gig at Whelan's.

"1992! A blast from the past," Tori chuckled down the crackling line from her home in Cornwall where she resides with her English husband of 23 years.

Our latest conversation -- some 29 years since I bumped into Tori in that record store and she stopped to chat with me about her cover of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit -- certainly brings a whole new personal meaning to Silent All These Years.

The American singer-songwriter has always had a real gra for Ireland.

Our little island was her home from home for 25 years. She only sold her spiritual retreat in Co Cork shortly before the pandemic.

Tori -- who recorded her third album Boys for Pele (1995) at an 18th century church in Delgany, Co Wicklow -- also has a nice habit of name-checking Ireland in songs.

"I guess I have," she remarked, laughing at the observation.

And Tori continued this nice tradition for us Irish fans on her superb new album Ocean to Ocean, which is worthy of a five-star review. She mentions Dublin and Skibbereen on the track Spies.

"I had the place in Kinsale for a long time and because of family circumstances and stuff, I let it go," she explained.

The sprawling property, which is located at a picturesque spot on the Bandon River, about 6k upriver from Kinsale, even looks like A Sort of Fairytale. It was put back on the market during the summer by the new buyer who reportedly wanted to flip it for more than double what he originally forked out for it.

"I spent a lot of time driving around (Ireland) in the last 25 years," she added.

It was presumably in a Saab, which was the car model she referenced in her song Ireland.

Tori may know this place like the back of one's hand at this stage. Yet -- surprisingly enough -- she never supped a pint of plain with Bono.

"That's one thing I haven't done in my life," she said.

"But I have been to many an Irish pub and had many a good conversation with some pretty amazing people in my years of being there. I've had great times in Ireland."

It'll be what you could call -- to reference the U2 song -- A Sort of Homecoming when she performs at the Cork Opera House on Saint Patrick's Day.

It has been a Pretty Good Year for Tori with critics and fans singing the praises of her new album -- and I include myself in both categories there.

I'm a lifelong fan that has been to all her Dublin gigs and even the tape cassette she signed for me all the way back in 1992 still has pride of place in my record collection.

But in order to record the new album Tori needed to muster up the type of fortitude she sings about on her song Jackie's Strength after falling into a deep depression during the lockdown.

"I haven't been out of England since the pandemic started," said Tori, whose elderly father lives in Florida.

"It's the longest that I haven't been to the States to see family there.

"On the third lockdown here, I just don't know what happened -- I kind of lost the plot.

"And I was doing all right in the first one, like a lot of other people, just trying to get on with it and not go to too many dark thoughts in your head. "That whole 'chin up' type of thing. "By the third one I just don't know what happened. I just thought, 'When is this nightmare going to end?'

"So then new songs started to come.

"The music basically said, 'Write from where you are and if you're in the mud and in the muck come from that place'.

"And so that's really where the song Metal Water Wood began to come and find me and then pull me out of that place."

Tori was also still processing the passing of her mother Mary Ellen, at age 90, in May 2019 when the world was plunged into this terrifying tailspin.

"I started really feeling her loss, it just crashed in at the same time," said Tori who spoke about how grief "comes and goes" in emotional waves.

Tori was able to drag herself out of the deep end of the emotional abyss to start work on Oceans to Oceans after an uplifting heart-to-heart with her own 21-year-old daughter Natashya Lorien Hawley (circled with mum), who has appeared on her last four or five albums.

Tori holds a mirror up to her heartache on the poignant song Speaking to Trees.

She sings about the "emptiness" inside, adding: "Since you left/i've been hiding your ashes under the tree house. Don't be surprised/i cannot let you go."

It's hard to believe this is her sixteenth album since Little Earthquakes in 1992.

The prolific songwriter also released an album back in the late with the synth-pop band she fronted called Y Kant Tori Read, which included Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum and guitarist Steve Caton who played on her first few solo albums.

This new album struck me as being -- thematically, musically, and lyrically with its vigorous visceral vibe -- an older and wiser spiritual sister to her first three records from the 1990s.

You can take that as high praise because both Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink are often cited by the likes of the music bible Rolling Stones magazine as being amongst the best records from that decade. I'd include Boys for Pele.

"It was time to take stock. It was an opportunity to look at the things you want to change in your life," she said about the new album.

"What I think is important as songwriters is that you visit the places that are difficult. Write from where you are and if you're in the mud and in the muck come from that place.

"You write about things that are difficult to cope with, to deal with, to work through.

"And sometimes that's the way of healing, I believe. It's part of the healing, in a way, to acknowledge what you're going through."

After the third lockdown Tori "just surrendered" and told herself, "I have to write about this experience."

"On one hand," she continued, "I wanted to document it.

"And on another hand, I wanted to transform out of it to try and shift whatever we went through into something that had light, magic."

Tori -- whose direct quotes are sometimes as descriptive as the creative metaphors in her lyrics -- wanted people to be able to "drink in the sonic liquor", as she put it. "Hopefully," she added, "that is comforting."

What does Tori herself think when she looks back on those first three albums?

"They're trying to document a time. I mean, all of them -- all 16 -- are trying to somehow document a time through song," she answered.

"And I try to be true to what I'm observing.

"And, of course, at the same time, I'm living my life and engaging. So it crosses over observations with my own personal experiences. And together they reflect a time."

As someone never afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve, Tori was also ahead of her time on those albums from the 1990s. She was something of an early foremother to the #Metoo movement when she sang about her own harrowing ordeal of being raped on her a capella song Me and A Gun.

"I think when you put your head above the parapet sometimes you're going to get arrows slung at you," she said. "And I empathise with other artists who want to avoid that. I get that it's not everybody's calling. And I respect that.

"Some people just really want to create escapism. And there's a place for that. And I get that there are all kinds of different artists out there."

The sexual assault Tori suffered three decades ago is addressed on the new song 29 Years.

"I had the time in the lockdown to just go over the last 29 years and think about what I've learned," she explained.

Tori -- who mentioned she needed therapy back in the late-1990s to mid2000s -- added: "I don't want to keep living from my damaged place.

"I don't want to stay in victim consciousness. I've been fighting that monster for a long time.

"And sometimes I feel, as writers, we have to face some of those experiences we don't want to face. But that's our calling."

It's hard to believe this flame-haired songstress -- who looks a decade younger than her age of 58 -- has been playing the piano for over half a century now.

Tori selftaught herself how to play piano from the first moment she could reach the keys. She was even composing her own songs from age three.

"I don't know if I taught myself, I was just able to do it. I don't know why," she said.

"My sister thinks it's terribly unfair. But, then again, she has a scientific brain and I don't know anything about science.

"It's just way over my head. I appreciate it and respect it. But she got all that and she turned out ( fine) -- bless her."

At age five Tori became the youngest student ever admitted to the prestigious Peabody Institute at John Hopkins University.

She laughed off the inaccurate stuff online about her coming up with the band name Y Kant Tori Read because she was apparently so hopeless at reading sheet music that she was booted out of the institute.

"No, I'm sorry to break your heart on that, Jason. But you had to read if you went to the Peabody; that was mandatory -- no pun intended," she explained.

"But it was absolute. You have to read it. Just how it was taught was a bit draconian.

"So I could play scores of musicals and all this music.

"And then they taught me to read by learning Hot Cross Buns and that kind of stuff.

"So, it just felt like punishment and regression until they brought in Bach.

"And once they started with Bach, like Preludes and things like that, it was a struggle because I wasn't a fast reader.

"There are people who can just put music in front of them they've never seen, and they can sight read like crazy. I always had to really work at it. But I could read.

"The reason I got kicked out is: I wanted them to teach in theory, to analyze, (The) Beatles music. Because I thought it was important.

"And somebody said to me, some professors, 'that in 30 years time nobody will know who The Beatles are'!

"And you can imagine at elevenyears-old, I was probably very sassy and a bit (of) the 'eye-roll' emoji at that time, just looking at the adults, thinking: 'You guys are mad! You just lost your mind'.

"So we weren't talking the same language. I couldn't communicate. I think they thought I was a bit... disrespectful.

"But I just couldn't wrap my head around the logic of the ill logic of that. So we just got out."

I'd well imagine this (not so) Strange Little Girl from those Peabody days, who then checked into the "Choirgirl Hotel" along her travels to "Venus and Back" on her Long and Winding Road to success, would've been chuffed if she knew she would grow up to become such a talented musical "Bee Keeper" with songs like Sugar.

Tori Amos has fished out from "The Pool" some wonderful "Gold Dust" on Ocean to Ocean.

The new Tori Amos album Ocean to Ocean is out today via Decca Records.


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