Posted July 27, 2014 by Jeff in Tunes

Tori Amos: Trying to be present wherever she is

Tori Amos
Tori Amos

Singer-songwriter Tori Amos admits she doesn’t really have a home. “I just bop around,” she says via phone from New York, where she was  “I do have a place in Cornwall, which is where the studio is. It’s not my home. I’m a guest there, but’s beautiful.” Earlier this year, Amos released Unrepentant Geraldines, marking her return to the pop/rock world. (She had been dabbling in classical and working on The Light Princess, a musical). She talked a bit about the new album and how her daughter encouraged her to return to her roots.

Talk what made you return to the pop rock world for Unrepentant Geraldines?
Well, the songs came first, I guess. They became my sonic panic room in order to deal with all the other projects I’ve been involved with, which were exciting but really involved. Some of them are still going. The Light Princess, which I’m producing, will be out next year. It’s 33 songs and an orchestra and a cast of actors. We’re doing that between tours. That project has been going on for years and is in its next phase. The songs came to me quietly and privately to survive all those other experiences.

You said you wrote the songs “in secret.”
Yeah, oh yeah. It’s the only thing I could do in secret. I’m surrounded by an orchestra on the one hand for Deutsche Grammophon. For The Light Princess, I’m surrounded by the British National Theatre and my writing partner Sam Adamson, who is great, and this collaborative team of thespians. There are hundreds of them. They’re an army.

The only place to escape is with these songs that would take my hand and steal me away.

Do you write them on piano?
Sometimes you write them on napkins and bills. You write them on credit bills, which are good to write on.

Does it anger you when reviewers say it’s a return to form?
I don’t get into that. I don’t define what it is that I do.

What was it like turning 50? Was that a big moment for you?
Oh yeah. I’ve been pretty vocal about it. Forty-nine was not good. It was really not good. Basically, my daughter confronted me about it and told me that I had to get my head around it and if I didn’t, the message I was telling her was an awful one and that I was done. She said that I was telling her that in the music industry, if you’re a woman and you’re 50, you’re done. I said, “It isn’t great.” She said, “Mom. That sucks.” She said, “You’ve dealt with other things in your life, go figure this out.” She said, “There’s all these other piano players so you need to prove it to yourself.” I said, “I’m not competing with people in their twenties.” She said, “No. Go compete to yourself.” She said I needed to go and find the fire. That was enough to shake me awake. This is before we recorded the album.

Recording the album was part of that whole crawling back to survive.

She sounds pretty mature for her age.
Yes, she is. I think a lot of them are. I think a lot of teenagers have a real perspective.

Trouble’s Lament” is my favorite song on the album. What inspired it?
Um, wow. I think there’s a whole kind of Southern Gothic storytelling that fascinates me. It goes back to listening to old Johnny Cash, I guess, and just hearing old stories. I think my husband was playing Cash and Stevie Ray Vaughan and it might have filtered through my brain, just the memory of that kind of energy.

That song is about being bad. Is that accurate and are you the central character?
Sometimes, you have to look who’s less bad in the story. Ultimately the corporate, top-of-the-food-chain people in society are seen as well-connected and socially acceptable, but they’re probably as bad as it gets. They’re good and bad. My character decided she was going to help trouble out. She knows Satan herself.

I also like “16 Shades of Blue.” Talk about what you were going for with that track, which features a bit of electronic blips and bleeps.
Everything is breaking down in a way. Time is breaking down and different ages are having different conflicts with time. That was the idea. Cezanne has a painting called The Black Marble Clock. It has no hands on the clock. I started hearing music when I stared at the painting. It eventually became “16 Shades of Blue.” That came out of the fact that Cezanne would have 16 shades of blue on his palette at times. In those days, that was something to achieve because they made their own pigment.

Talk about how visual art inspired the songs?
“Maids of Elfen-Mere” comes from a wood engraving by Dante Rossetti. There were other artists that were inspiring at the time. Also photographers from the 20th century. Sometimes, as a musician, you go to different works and you begin hear in different ways because you’re throwing yourself into a medium that is not your own. Not that I want to paint. I have no interest in being a painter. When you come back your sonic world you’re painting sonically.

How did you discover Diane Arbus?
Realizing that she had a tragic end to her life in her late forties and being aware of that, I immersed myself in all her incredible work and realized she was an artist who left us a lot. But I started thinking that if she had lived, what she would have left us? Through her work and her story, both compelled me to immerse myself in her work, which led me to other painters and artists and that took me back decades and decades, tracing it way back.

Your career stretches back to 1979. Talk about how you’ve evolved as an artist.
I guess, you know, when you realize that listening to people helps you gain a lot of ideas. It’s where you can grow. In my twenties I might have thought there’d be a day when you get it and it all comes together. The more you live, you more you realize that’s not what happens. If you stay a student, you’re there with other students walking around and exchanging what is learned. You’re not trying to get somewhere. You’re trying to be really present where you are. That changed over the years.

The current tour is a solo tour. You’re on piano and keyboards. What inspired that?
This goes back to the conversation with my daughter. She said, “You have to do this because you can. And happy 50th.”

Upcoming 2014 Tour Dates

Dallas, TX – Winspear Opera House
Austin, TX – Long Center
St. Louis, MO – Peabody Opera House
Kansas City, MO – Midland Theatre
St. Paul, MN – The O’Shaughnessy
Chicago, IL – Chicago Theatre
Detroit, MI – Fox Theatre
Cleveland, OH – Cain Park
Toronto, ON – Massey Hall
Philadelphia, PA – Verizon Hall
New York, NY – Beacon Theatre
New York, NY – Beacon Theatre
Boston, MA – Opera House
Washington, DC – DAR Constitution Hall
Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium
Atlanta, GA – Cobb-Energy PAC
Durham, NC – Durham PAC
Clearwater, FL – Ruth Eckerd Hall
Orlando, FL – Bob Carr PAC
Miami, FL – Fillmore at The Jackie Gleason Theatre


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].