By Matthew Breen
Originally published on Advocate.com November 10 2009 4:30 PM ET
During her summer tour for her last album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, firebrand musician Tori Amos spoke (at that time off the record) about her upcoming seasonal album, which comes out today. This is part 1 of the interview. Part 2, in which we discuss sin, touring, and gay marriage, will follow next week.
Are you particularly experimental when you’re recording?
the sonic side, my interest in [experimentation] has grown over the
years. I think before, when I was only a singer-songwriter, you think
of the musicians as backup surrounding you and your songs. After a
while of doing this, if you’re still passionate about making music,
maybe you think, If [the] composer is really energized by these
amazing musicians, why don’t I compose things that aren’t always just
around the piano player?
I realized that [my] records have
not centered on the piano for a while. I think that if they would have,
I wouldn’t have the career that I have. I wouldn’t have grown as a
composer. I will do a record [again] where the piano is the center, but
I needed to grow as a composer, because at a certain point my
structures started becoming repetitive. And I recognize this. So I
started to infiltrate my brain with George Martin arrangements, all the
Beatles records, and others… all kinds of records from all kinds of
times. I always thought of myself as a composer first, never a pianist.
I mean, I’m good, I’m OK. And so I didn’t just want to write piano
music, I wanted to write compositions for the musicians where Jon
[Evans, bass player] and Matt [Chamberlain, drummer] and John Philip
[flute, strings] would turn around and say “Wow.”
Sort of like an
architect with these plans to build the World Trade Center. You’re
stepping out of your safe zone when you’re not just building beautiful
houses. You say no. You build these places that have many rooms
that interconnect, and as a composer, I began to see, OK, I’ve been
building planets, then you build solar systems, and then you want to
build a galaxy. And it has to interweave with each other. That’s what a
double album is, it’s building a sonic galaxy, and if you don’t
appreciate that form, then there’s no way you can analyze what it is.
Some people will say, “Well, I don’t like novels that are longer than
200 pages.” Well then, if you’re given a 500-page novel, you shouldn’t
even read it. Because I studied the double-album form now for about,
intensely, for four years, it’s been burning in my soul. Abbey Road -- it
was one of the most important records of my life. It’s why I fought the
professors at the Peabody [Conservatory of Music, where Amos studied as
a child]. So yes, the arrangements, the production, the composition,
all of that, in a double-album form, has been my goal my whole life. To
write a double album that I can turn around and say, yeah, that’s
right. This might sound crazy, but next project that I do -- I might do
something else. I might do a different form.
You seem to be very happy.
had to go through some tests in the last couple of years. You know,
lots of changes. I think leaving Sony [in 2008] was maybe the beginning
of that kind of…I don’t know, what do you call it…wake-up call? Or
emancipation? Or to say, "Look, you need to be in control of your life
and make sure that everything is running really efficiently." So I’m in
a good place now, but maybe that’s because something you asked me
before, that’s because I’ve chosen to not just hand everything over.
I’m more aware of the consequences of things in my life. Just, you know,
being more responsible. Not just as a creative artist, you know. I
mean, I delegate a lot, but I don’t know. I’m realizing the
consequences of things.
Tell me about this project -- The Light Princess?
Yeah, that’s a musical [I’m writing, based on the short fairy tale "The Light Princess"
by George MacDonald]. I think we’re doing it in the right way. There’s
a lot of work that’s gone into it, and more work has to go into it to
make it great -- not good, but great. I have an entitlement vibe. I want
it to be great. I want it to hold up against other musicals, not
because of who’s doing it, but because the work is powerful. That takes
a lot of woodshed time. I’m working with people who do a lot of
musicals. Tim Leavy’s the producer working on Broadway now. And
Samuel Adams is the playwright. He did the adaptation of All About My Mother,
coming to Broadway. Really great playwright. But really, it’s a work in
progress. At the earliest it would be out late autumn 2010.
an attractive person. What would your career have been like had you looked
different, had you not been interested in fashion, had you not been
photogenic? And would your feeling about being yourself have been
I’ve put a lot of effort into the whole person.
That includes the physical side as well. Because I’ve realized that the
truth of the matter is that a lot of people become marginalized and
judged because of what they look like. I’ve put a lot of effort into
it. It’s taken a lot of awareness. And there was a time when I could’ve
really let myself go. I think there was a period if you go back and
look at photographs from that early ’98 period -- I mean, I look back and
cringe a little bit because I did not listen to my stylist. I went
against her. It’s the only time I’ve ever gone against her.
Binns, yeah. And she said, “You cannot just walk out like you’ve been
hanging out with your husband having a doughnut.” And I said, “Why not?”
Well…because. There is a level of artistry and performance and respect
that you have to take to the stage. People are coming to see a show.
And you might get away with it for a tour, but I then became very… I
was rebelling, I think. But then I became very interested in fashion. The
possibilities. Not just walking into an expensive store. I’m not
talking about that. I’m talking about the art form.
going to Barneys and buying very expensive things. No no no. All kinds
of women who don’t have a lot of funds choose to express themselves.
It’s an extension of how they present themselves. It’s an extension,
how they dress. And they make it an art form. And that began to inspire
me, the possibilities. So I think I grew to love my body, and that was
a big step. Being pregnant, I began to really love it. And then after I
had Tash, my body changed and it became more what it is today. I got
really active and I changed shape a bit so that I had the energy as I
got older to tour. But yeah, I think if I didn’t, I think
unfortunately, you get judged by it.