Tori Amos is Super Normal for Being Super Famous
She's 14 albums and one musical deep! We talk to Tori about trucking, tarot, and the return of Kate Bush.
After dabbling with classical music—2011's Night of Hunters—and musical theater—last year's The Light Princess production at London's National Theatre —Tori Amos is back making her assertive yet anguished trademark chamber pop on her fourteenth studio album, Unrepentant Geraldines. Recorded sound engineer Mark Hawley's studio in the wilds of the Cornish countryside, (Hawley is also Amos' husband), it features guest vocals from her daughter Tash and proves that Tori's still very much the queen of the twisted alt-piano ballad. Now take this as your cue to bow down and genuflect. We Skyped the singer to talk trucks, tarot, and fangirling for Frampton.
Noisey: Hey Tori, where are you in the world right now?
Tori Amos: Berlin, I played here last night. I think it went really well, it was fun to play in front of people again. I haven't played for a year and a half in front of people, just in the studio.
People get very emotional to your music, but what artist do you put on to get emotional to?
There are quite a few, I mean come on, loads that I get emotional to. Judy Garland "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" would get me at Christmas time, every time, but because my mum loved it, it was special to her. I think for me, Joni Mitchell Blue, that was a record that I found incredibly moving, and "Hounds of Love" by Kate Bush.
Are you excited about Kate Bush's return?
Yeah, how exiting! I think it's really thrilling that she's going to be playing live.
Will you be going?
I'll be in the States touring.
What a shame!
Why do you think she's playing again after all these years?
I don't know. It's not an easy task, to not have played live for 35 years, and to go out at 50-something and go do it. I think that takes a lot of bravery and commitment. I tour pretty much every other year and I'm telling you right now, it's quite something to get prepared for a show, whether you do one or 80, you still have to prepare for that, so the fact that she hasn't done it for so long, and that she is going to do it is motivational for everyone and women of all ages.
Have you ever wanted to do a Kate Bush and retreat from touring or go into hiding almost?
I guess my husband kidnaps me to Cornwall after every tour for a while, where I don't see the sun. It seems like I always arrive in Cornwall for the Cornish rain season, and then I'm allowed to pop out. Then I get to the States and somehow I end up in the rainy season in Florida. But I'm a road-dog. I have to be on the road. I love to drive. I like driving a truck in a Jimmy Choo. Come on, there's nothing like kicking open that truck door and then down you come. I have a truck in the States, a really cute Toyota that I love.
When did you last go on a truck trip?
With Tash, it wasn't that long ago, we were there over Christmas. I drive everywhere when I'm there. Mark doesn't really like driving in the States, he will, but he'd rather me drive in the States and he usually drives in Cornwall. I mean I can do it alright, but they're very narrow those little back country lanes and when there's a big huge tractor coming your way you don't want to be in a truck!
Which part of the States does Cornwall remind you of?
Tricky... it's a very unusual place. It reminds me a bit of New Zealand. I was about ready to say parts of Oregon because of the rolling hills, but then the tree life is different. Possibly Virginia because of the rolling hills, but then the moors are here and then you've these rock shapes and cliffs dropping into the ocean. In the old days the people that were trying to land their ships with contraband would have a very difficult time because it was impossible to land in parts of Cornwall and you'd get smashed up on the rocks. It's unforgiving in some ways.
Do you like Cornish pasties?
Have you tried them?
Yeah, but I appreciate it. They're gonna get mad at me now! They're really gonna get mad. I can enjoy a thin pizza in Rome, but I'm not going to be able to do an 80-city tour if I'm enjoying pasties. But there are things that I love from there, the fish is gorgeous, the mussels are wonderful when its in season. A lot of people grow their own vegetables there and there's some great butchers. If you're not a vegetarian or a vegan then you will appreciate that they support local farmers and farmers that are really looking out for their animals and letting them run free and have a life.
You turned 50 last year—how did you mark the occasion?
I was with The Light Princess cast in London. I was sung to in beautiful harmony Happy Birthday by an amazing group of people who really became The Light Princess family. That was a really magical experience for me, because it was my first cast.
When was the last time you did karaoke?
Well, I played piano bars for many years of my life. I was the piano player while people would get drunk and sing "Don't Cry For Me Argentina." And "MacArthur Park," "Send In The Clowns."
Is that something you still do, get people around the piano for a big singalong?
Around Christmas I've been known to be the one playing the Christmas carols, yes.
Are you aware that there's an online Tori Amos tarot called the Tori Tarot?
Are you a believer?
Yeah, I've had it read by different people at different times of my life and I decided that I didn't want to know. It doesn't mean I haven't had good tarot readings, because I think its been accurate but, how do I say this, unfortunately they've been very accurate—so I decided OK, enough tarot for now.
Your fans seem to be very devoted, but what's the most fan-ish thing you've ever done?
Oh wow, all kinds of things. I had poison ivy really badly and I know this makes no sense, I understand, but I was 11, and I wanted to go see Peter Frampton. I was visiting an aunt in Tennessee and my mom was there and I had a cousin who was 16 or 17 and they were going to take me poison ivy and all, but my mother said, "I'm sorry, but you look like you have the plague, number one, and number two you're not going to a Peter Frampton concert at 11, poison ivy or no." I was willing to risk looking like a mummy just to show my devotion to Peter Frampton. I don't know what I was thinking.
Did you ever get to see him play?
No. Never seen him. But I did get to see Elton John at 11. It was at the Cap Center in Washington and I went with a girl from the church, she was a little bit older. It was general admission so I got to run down to the front and we squeezed our way, I was not far from the front of the stage. He was throwing his water and I jumped up and it touched my left hand. One day I met him backstage in 94 and I told him the story and he said, "I want that left hand back!"
When you're on your own, what do you put on and dance around the house to?
Probably Motown. Aretha maybe. I've loved it from a very young age. It's something my older siblings would play around the house and it was on the radio when we were in the Baltimore/Washington area.
]Who is your favorite lyricist?
Oh there are a few. Who's yours?
Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits. Nick Cave…
Yeah yeah, great. I might steal them. Keep going! They're all good. Lennon and McCartney are pretty good too, as a team. Its how the lyrics and the music go together—the fact that they can tell a story and yet emotionally unarm you. I love that about their work.
Finally, what's the truth to the internet rumor that you were considered for the love interest part in the film Groundhog Day?
Oh, I didn't know about that. Nobody told me about it!
Leonie is a writer living in London who really loves karaoke and she's on Twitter - @LeonieMayCooper.
Urepentant Geraldines is out on 5.13 on Mercury Classics.
Tori Amos Tour Dates
7/16: Vancouver, BC @ Orpheum
7/17: Seattle, WA @ Paramount Theatre
7/18: Portland, OR @ Oregon Zoo Amphitheatre
7/21: Oakland, CA @ Paramount Theatre
7/23: Los Angeles, CA @ Greek Theatre
7/24: San Diego, CA @ Humphrey's
7/25: Mesa, AZ @ Mesa Arts Center
7/27: Denver, CO @ Paramount Theatre
7/29: Dallas, TX @ Winspear Opera House
7/30: Austin, TX @ Long Center
8/1: St. Louis, MO @ Peabody Opera House
8/2: Kansas City, MO @ Midland Theatre
8/3: St. Paul, MN @ The O'Shaughnessy
8/5: Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theatre
8/6: Detroit, MI @ Fox Theatre
8/7: Cleveland, OH @ Cain Park
8/8: Toronto, ON @ Massey Hall
8/10: Philadelphia, PA @ Verizon Hall
8/12: New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
8/13: New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
8/15: Boston, MA @ Opera House
8/16: Washington, DC @ DAR Constitution Hall
8/18: Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
8/19: Atlanta, GA @ Cobb-Energy PAC
8/20: Durham, NC @ Durham PAC
8/22: Clearwater, FL @ Ruth Eckerd Hall
8/23: Orlando, FL @ Bob Carr PAC
8/24: Miami, FL @ Fillmore at The Jackie Gleason Theatre