There’s something beautifully bizarre about Tori Amos. Cult goddess, independent icon and fairy flower child - she’s all these women and more. With a career of fifteen years plus, cult following, and with over 12 million sales, she’s still burning with artistic energy. Now, her offbeat output is about to turn a page - with the release of her official bootleg box set titled simply ‘Piano’.
A collection of 86 songs remastered and unreleased, selected by the lady herself from her nine studio albums, ‘Piano’ is retrospective on a career that redefined the singer songstress. The 43-year-old’s confronted both female sexuality, personal trauma, forgotten mythology and identity, while constantly disregarding creative confines - only she could rework Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’ as a post-coital gasp for air, as seen on covers collection ‘Strange Little Girls’.
Married to English sound engineer Mark Hawley, with a five-year-old daughter Natashya, the once unhinged part Native American icon is firmly settled - spending September to April in Florida, and the other in her Cornwall home, complete with studio. Via phone call from the south west, Amos may have just got up, but she’s open, lucid and warm, gushing about mother hood, music biz battles, touring and a political new direction.
So, why did you decide to release ‘Piano’?
In my life I’ve really enjoyed certain box sets, especially Led Zeppelin’s. So when Rhino Records approached me, I decided here was a chance - before I get too old and senile - to make a collection of my songs, add some unreleased tracks and remaster everything, but still hold true to the original recordings.
How did you choose those songs? Nine albums is a lot to choose from...
I tried to pick what I thought was still holding up after all this time, including the original ‘Little Earthquakes’, which was rejected in 1991. They said that I had to take all the pianos off and put guitars on, because piano players weren’t ‘happening’. So, a battle started between those in power and myself – and I continue to war with them now. But their faces change: they get their golden handshake, they leave the company and someone else comes in.
How did you fight back?
You have to do more than stay confident because they can really fuck you up. They can withhold promotion money, bury your record. You have to play this chess game and understand that there are consequences to everything. Sometimes I’ve gotten it right, like with my debut record in 1988, and sometimes I’ve pushed it too far. But I was always fighting for the music and the right reasons.
Is this easier now you’re older and wiser?
That’s a trick question, but a good one, because you can’t leverage. When I tour I take no money – I have no tour support - but that’s so the label can’t make any demands on the music, the band or me. Sometimes I feel like I’m in Easy Rider – a road dog mama (laughs). I do have this autonomy because I’ve been touring for fifteen years, but I still have to communicate with people; if you alienate everyone there is no upside.
Is it hard balancing being a mother and a solo artist?
Music isn’t a nine to five job - it’s something that is in you, a state of being. Before I was a Mom, I was a musician first, a woman second and a girlfriend third. Then I became a Mom. You can’t stop the fluidity of the creative muse, but I have to be present with whatever she’s doing – forget my agenda to just be there and listen. Before I had a child I didn’t do that. Musicians can be very selfish; you have to fuel the fire, find inspiration and research. Being a mum is the biggest change I’ve ever faced in my life.
Would you have any more kids?
I was always fighting for the music and the right reasons.
No way. It isn’t in me. It has to be ok for women to realise that they are not a career Mom - for some women having kids becomes their job. I have a lot of respect for those women but it’s not easy and you have to have a certain personality to do that. Women who don’t are made to feel guilty; they want to have a child but they also want more. Sometimes you have to say if I don’t work I’m going to wither and die – which I refused to do.
How do you manage touring?
Bringing a kid on the road is a very different thing to leaving your kid back with the spouse or the grandparents. It’s an adventure and not something that I would change. When you’re just breaking as an artist there is a romance that the public have with you and you have with the world. But once you’ve travelled the world for fifteen years many times over you have to find new ways of enjoying it, make it fresh - not be a cliche of yourself.
How has touring changed for you?
You can get a good crowd in any country but you can also get a dead one. It depends on what is happening in the world – events surrounding an audience can really affect them. You have to learn how to gauge that.
Have you noticed this recently?
Definitely - I played Rome the night of the bombs in London, and even though it didn’t happen there you could sense a change. I was in Manhattan on 9/11 – when you’re there you have an understanding that the outside world, whose interpretation is from the media, can’t have. In Rome, on stage in this festival, I played ‘Imagine’ and the crowd raised their voices to sing all the words. When you have 50,000 people singing with lighters aloft, there was a solidarity - towards London. When you play enough concerts when these tragic events happen, you realise being around others can be almost healing.
When will you tour again?
In 2007 we’ll tour again with the new record that we’re working on now. The box set is the end of an era – it’s very much about pulling everything together over the last fifteen years before I jump ship. You have to sense what is going on in the world – it’s a really disturbing place right now. A few years ago I had more confidence that people would make the right choices for our leaders in America and they didn’t. So therefore it’s time to take the gloves off.