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Lessons from Tori Amos

Tori Amos (c) Karen Collins 2009. Press image used with permission from Girlie Action.

I had never identified myself with singer-songwriter Tori Amos.

She had a beautiful voice and an undeniable musical talent, but as a teen growing up in the 1990s, I felt more kinship with the politically active Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries and the angsty Alanis Morissette. Amos, to me, seemed unworldly and untouchable. Some kind of intensity—an intimidation of her musical and emotional power—steered me away.

However, my view of Amos began to change when I received a press copy of her concept album, Strange Little Girls, in 2001. Her interpretation of “Rattlesnakes,” by Lloyd Cole, struck a chord in my core, and I finally recognized a glimpse of genius in the songstress. But it wasn’t until 2007’s American Doll Posse that I would again be introduced to Amos. Although I was put off by her aggressive “Fat Slut” track, the photography of Amos in her five eccentric “muse” costumes gave credibility to her efforts.

Earlier this year, when I formed a band with J, he showed me through his own music skills the brilliant “Amos style” of playing the piano. He showed me videos of her back in 1992 and previous to her solo career, during her Y Kant Tori Read days. It was hard to deny Amos had anything but set the field of music aflame since then.

This summer, I finally listened to Little Earthquakes, seeing traces of myself in “Girl” and “Crucify.” I giggled at the thought that J and I had just finished a song for our debut album called “Crucified,” that unbeknownst to me, so closely resembled the subject matter and title of Amos’ popular single. And when I listened to her recently released tenth studio album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, it’s as if a light went on inside my head and my heart.

I had fallen in love with Tori Amos.

Through my connections as a freelance writer for Nuvo Newsweekly, I was able to secure a phone interview with Amos in anticipation of her upcoming concert at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis, Ind. And so, on the road from her Sinful Attraction tour, the Bössendorfer pianist discussed with me her driving creative forces, spirituality and “not jumping over the edge.”

Here are excerpts from my interview with Tori Amos….

"Abnormally Attracted to Sin" (c) Tori Amos 2009. Photo by Karen Collins. Press image used with permission from Girlie Action.

Abnormally Attracted to Amos

By Leslie Benson, from Nuvo Newsweekly, 7-23-09

Nuvo: You’ve taken us on a journey with each album you’ve released. What does Abnormally Attracted to Sin represent to you at this point in your life?
Amos: “From traveling the world, I’ve learned that women are torn between stepping into their spiritual self or their sexual self. You have to almost segregate the two from each other. This work was about redefining what sin means to you. I invested myself in the idea of erotic spirituality.”

Nuvo: Where has spirituality settled with your daughter?
Amos: “She travels with us on tour. She has her own ideas about things and is very vocal about them. The Native American side is presenting itself to her. That belief system, over the last 10 years, has become somewhat central—you kind of start to find your own way, along with science and other things. I’m not someone who’s a traditional person. Tash is also forming her own view of the world. People will say to her, ‘There is a God,’ and she’ll say, ‘That’s not my God!’ She is being brought up in an open environment, allowing her to pursue her beliefs. She knows, on one hand, that people might call her parents liberal, but at the same time, there’s a lot of solid structure in her life. Things are disciplined out here.”

Nuvo: How do you relate to the woman in your new song, “Maybe California?”
Amos: “I think a lot of people have felt like that. When that song came to me, it was at a time when I was seeing mothers—not just one—asking, ‘If I wasn’t here anymore, would it be better for my family?’ I began understanding the gravity of that statement. These are women who lost everything—whose kids couldn’t go to college, whose husbands had lost their jobs. So many women are so close to jumping over the edge. In songs like ‘Ophelia,’ ‘Maybe California’ and ‘Starling,’ there is great suffering. You have to wonder what it is that’s going to step in to end the suffering. For me, it’s always the songs that step in.”

Nuvo: Some people say they like a “sad Tori” best. How does your mental state affect your ability to create?
Amos: “You have to accept that you’re either a creative force, or you’re not. You have to know where you stand with your work. I don’t know if people understand my state of mind or not. I keep things pretty private. It’s presumptuous of people to try to understand what’s going on in someone else’s life.”

Nuvo: How important is the use of visual art in the context of music, especially through your own photographic portrayal and the visualettes from your last tour?
Amos: “It’s central to my composing. I look to the visual artist quite a bit. I can ‘hear’ things when I see. I also think it pushes me further to interpret something that isn’t my art form, and I bring it into my art form. So, I surround myself with visual art books that I collect from around the world.”

Nuvo: Do you have any hobbies outside music, like art or knitting?
Amos: “No, I’m crap! I can’t do anything else!… You know, I’m always forced to talk to you (press) people, but I’d rather listen. I wrote songs so I didn’t have to talk about myself.”