Singer/songwriter Tori Amos gained fame from the piano and such songs as "Crucify" and "A Sorta Fairytale." She has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards and continues to develop groundbreaking music. Performing in bars since she was 13, her live shows over the years have been something not to miss and luckily she hits the road again this fall.
Windy City Times: Hi, Tori. I just listened to your new album, Night of Hunters. What inspired this project?
Tori Amos: Deutsche Grammophon approached me. They are the classical side of Universal Music. Their doctor of musicology, Doctor Alexander Berg, found me out in the world about a year ago. He said, "I think you should write a 21st-century song cycle based on classical themes." I said, "I think I need a drink!"
WCT: [Laughs] Of course, that is a big undertaking.
TA: Come on, Jerry. That is a tall order.
TA: It was huge, very challenging. It was throw-shit time at times. When you start working with the master's works it is very difficult stuff. I knew enough going to Peabody [Institute of the Johns Hopkins University] as a kid it is not fucking one-four-five-one chord progression. It is really complicated.
These are cathedrals because you are talking about sonic structures. It is not like little beach houses that are cute. You are building big stuff sonically. I have a pretty good career and doing something like this could really screw it up. But when do pop songwriters get an opportunity to do this with Deutsche Grammophon? I should be thankful! [Laughs]
WCT: Was there a composer who you connected with personally?
TA: Yes, all the ones that made it on were the big ones but I would say that the Schubert piece "Star Whisperer"the variation of his sonatawas really the key that unlocked it all for me. I always loved the fact that he was probably one of the first songwriters. He wrote, like, 700 songs on top of all of the big works that he did. I knew I didn't want to touch his songwriting material. I wanted to do something that wasn't in that form. I told Doctor Berg not to send me songs that I wanted to make variations on songs that were not in a song form. I wanted him to send me a lot of music because all I knew were the recital pieces that I played in the past.
WCT: As far as classical music, I am a big fan of Franz Liszt, with his piano range.
TA: He came very close and was in the last running! He was with me the whole time and I kind of looked at him and said, "Maybe part two…"
WCT: I will have to wait for that.
TA: Well, yeah if it ever happens. Truly, he was there guiding me through the whole thing, showing me things. That might sound crazy but there were composers whose energy was there in the trenches of this project.
WCT: I told your old buddy Rufus Wainwright that he reminded me of Franz.
TA: I bet he loved that. Franz Liszt was a ladies man.
WCT: Franz was also dramatic.
TA: Yes, very dramatic.
WCT: Describe the various voices on the record.
TA: Okay there are characters on this. Annabelle is the shape-shifting creature and the story is set in Ireland. Tori meets Annabelle on the second song. She shows her things that happened even from a past life. It is really going into the myth of Ireland itself back in time with a lover.
Annabelle works as a representation of nature, as all good song cycles. It affects the protagonist in a way that gets them to see another part of their life that they are not able to see. Annabelle is played by Natashya who is ten and my daughter.
WCT: Talent runs in the family.
TA: She has been accepted into the Sylvia Young School in London. She has been acting at Stagecoach for over three years. I have seen her in productions and she has a real comedic side. She has all kinds of accents and is a certain type of actor. Even though she is a child I knew she could play timeless. Getting a child to say some of the things that Annabelle says is tough, especially singing in pitch and rhythm wise. I knew what Tashya's gifts are I can design Annabelle around her. That was the trick.
With Annabelle I needed to develop the maiden side of the triple goddess because it is Irish mythology. I thought, "Let's bring nature as a child."
WCT: There is another voice, also.
TA: Yes, the fire muse that is in "Night of Hunters." That is played by Kelsey, my niece. Both my daughter and her were on Midwinter Graces so I have worked with them before.
WCT: It's a family affair. What is your live show going to be like this time out?
TA: The live show is with a string quartet who played on the record. There is a quartet of woodwinds as well so an octet. Many work in symphonies so we could only take the quartet out. So we rearranged some of the catalogue for string quartet and piano.
WCT: How do you decide on a set list with this many albums?
TA: Well, the first thing is building the repertoire. Since mine is so big I can really change the shows up. When I hit the American leg we will have the biggest repertoire since we will have more time. I always rehearse at sound check. That is when you work material up.
My sound checks are usually two hours and mandatory for everybody. That is why my live show always gets a reputation because we are always adding new songs in. For September we had to make some pretty tough choices about what gets in the first group. It is not because they are favorites from the catalogue but we have to do ones with a full string section. We will have some that have never had a string arrangement be arranged a piano part that I play.
WCT: I can't believe your album Little Earthquakes will have its 20th anniversary next year.
TA: Crazy, huh?
WCT: Are you doing anything special for it?
TA: Actually I am. I recorded recently with the Metropolitan Dutch Orchestra. The whole 20 years have been rearranged for them. They are a 54-piece orchestra. That was really fun singing songs from the records all together with a full orchestral approach.
WCT: You are so appreciative to your fans. Anything special you want to say to your gay fans?
TA: They have to get involved in this next election. We can't sleep through this one. It is scary times. I know a lot of creative friends, whatever their sexuality, gay, straight, bi, whatever it is, sometimes think it will work out but maybe not this time. We have to be awake and watchful. We all need to vote. We can't just not participate because decisions are being made for our world that we maybe cannot live with. I am just lighting a nice fire, not an awful one. You can roast marshmallows at it. You can sing Kumbaya if you want but get out and vote. I am not being MTV Rock the Vote. I am being much more pragmatic about it and almost threatening. If those of us want to see the world in a more accepting way and don't participate then our world may not look the way we want it to in five years time.
WCT: That is a good point.
TA: The gay coalition is big enough now to make a dent. We don't want to wake up to a world where everyone is as open minded as we all are. It won't be that easy to change later. Once they put laws in different states it is hard to turn it around. The younger generation looks around and thinks what can they do but it can get so much worse! We need a fire in our belly. Our world could change in a way that is creative or destructive to freedom thinking people.
WCT: Your fundraiser, RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), has been a continuing project.
TA: The latest has been to make it Spanish-speaking as well. The good news is there is a lot of passion for that but the bad news is that it is necessary. RAINN is a charity that is needed. With all this technology and accomplishments even in the 21st century, unfortunately, there is still a lot of sexual violence out there. The latest is to propel a Spanish-speaking hotline.
WCT: Since you will be here in December, are you performing anything from your Midwinter Graces album?
TA: It is in the group to be made for the string quartet, yes.
For information on the tour and purchasing the album visit www.toriamos.com . Tickets are on sale now for the Dec. 10 show at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St.