Tori Amos - Biography
By Marcus Kagler
The name Tori Amos conjures up all sorts of eclectic adjectives: provocative, other worldly, empowered feminist, impish lunacy, brutal honesty, chameleonic siren, sexual supernova, and earth mother are all accurate descriptions of Amos’ careening career path. Whether she is playing stripped down torch songs on nothing but a piano or concocting wild concept albums utilizing multiple personalities, Tori Amos is continually pushing the envelope to create new and wilder visions of the human condition. Over the course of a near twenty year career Amos has garnered a rabid cult following who hang on her every word and nuance no matter how wild and out there the chanteuse’s musing may be. Simultaneously glorified and vilified, she has made a career of walking the fine of line between art imitating life and life imitating art. As an artist who is too enigmatic for the mainstream yet too beautifully melodic for the literati, Amos has toiled through personal hardship and creative missteps to develop her own niche where fantasy pop and morality tales of ubiquitous truth float from her piano like pearly clouds. Tori Amos has spent her entire career playing by her own rules, earning herself a position as one of the most important muses of the late 20th century.
Born Myra Ellen Amos in 1963 to a Methodist evangelist and his wife, Amos began playing the piano at an early age. After relocating from Washington, D.C. to nearby Baltimore, Maryland in 1965 the young musician was accepted into the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music three years later at the age of 5, the youngest person to attend the conservatory. Amos largely played pieces by rote and never really took to reading sheet music and after falling in love with the rock music of Led Zeppelin she was asked to leave the conservatory. Still in her teens, the young Amos began playing piano bars around the Baltimore/D.C. area while her father sent out demo tapes of original material to various record companies. At age 18, Amos won a songwriting contest and pressed her first 7” single “Baltimore”, which featured her new moniker after a friend told her she looked more like a Tori than a Myra Ellen. Three years later, Amos made the move to Los Angeles to pursue a music career in earnest. After playing a bar one night, she agreed to give a loyal bar patron a ride home. Taking advantage of the situation the man sexually assaulted Amos. The young musician would later recount the event in brutal detail with the song “Me and a Gun”, raising rape awareness around the world. Amos founded the pop metal band, Y Kat Tori Read in 1985 and the group was signed to a six album deal with Atlantic Records the following year. Y Can’t Tori Read’s eponymous debut album was a huge critical and commercial flop and the group soon disbanded leaving Amos with a record contract to fulfill. Given a mandate by Atlantic for another album by 1990, Amos returned to her piano bar roots and began to record raw emotional piano songs with no accompaniment. The album was rejected by Atlantic as it didn’t coincide with the lucrative grunge sound that was quickly dominating the national airwaves. Amos turned to various producers including her then boyfriend Eric Rosse, to rework the album into something more viable. Still not sensing any American success for the record, Atlantic decided Amos would fair better with an English audience and sent her packing for the UK.
After garnering a British cult following, Amos debut full length, Little Earthquakes (Atlantic) was released in 1992 to rave critical reviews. The haunting confessionals struck a nerve with alternative music enthusiasts and Amos soon had a rally cry with the anti-rape song “Me and a Gun”. She became a heroine to rape victims worldwide after going public with her own sexual assault story and urged other victims to receive counseling and medical treatment. During this time, Amos was regularly approached by other rape victims after shows. She would often invite them to sit and share their experiences before helping them find viable treatment centers. After a prolonged worldwide tour, Amos journeyed to New Mexico to begin work on her sophomore full length. Seeking to expand her lyrical content Amos began finding inspiration from the art of Georgia O’Keefe and Salvador Dali. She also expanded her sonic pallet to include drums, bass, and ambient sound effects. Under the Pink (1994-Atlantic) was released to more rave reviews with the infectious surrealist pop song, “Cornflake Girl” receiving international rock radio play. The album was a massive success that cemented Tori Amos as a house hold name in the mid-90’s. The same year Amos founded RAINN (The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network), a toll free help line that connects callers to their local rape crisis center. Seen not only as a pop star but also as an important activist, Amos celebrity increased throughout the world as she continued to raise awareness for sexual assault victims.
After ending her romantic and working relationship with producer Eric Rosse in the summer of 1994, Amos relocated to Hawaii. Enthralled with the story of the Hawaiian volcano goddess “Pele” and other native religious iconography, Amos used the volcano goddess as the theme for her next album. Recorded in an abandoned Irish church, Boys for Pele (1996-Atlantic) found Amos pushing her sound further into more experimental territory using everything from bagpipes to harpsichords to church bells to drum programming and replaced her confessional lyrics with dark obtuse religious themes. Critics were split on the album’s highly experimental overtones but the album was still a commercial success spawning a hit single with the lilting ballad, “Hey Jupiter”. After three hit albums Amos had amassed a huge cult following throughout the world with fans often following her from city to city to see multiple shows. During the Boys for Pele supporting tour, Amos began a romantic relationship with sound engineer Mark Hawley and soon became pregnant. A few days before she was due to take time off from recording and touring, she miscarried and plummeted into a deep depression.
Amos returned to her home in Cornwall, England where she and Hawley converted their old barn into the Martian Engineering Recording Studios. The couple suffered a second miscarriage while recording Amos fourth full length album before marrying in February of 1998. Delving even further into a full rock band sound while mixing in various electronic elements, From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998-Atlantic) was another hit album with lyrical content that bounced between the despair of her miscarriage to the redemption found in her new marriage. After another successful world tour, Amos settled down to compile a two disc compilation of b-sides and live cuts from her last tour. Rather than release rough demos, Amos began to re-record old material and rewrite lyrics. As momentum gathered new songs were composed and Amos ditched the compilation idea in favor of issuing a new album with a second live disc. To Venus and Back (1998-Atlantic) showcased Amos going back to her more familiar and softer piano driven songs. The album faired moderately well but didn’t attract many new fans as most thought the album was still a rarities/live album rather than a work of new material. Amos supported To Venus and Back by embarking on a short five week promotional tour with Alanis Morrissette followed by a solo tour called the “To Dallas and Back Tour”. Just as the Dallas tour kicked off however, Amos suffered another miscarriage. More trouble brewed when Atlantic forced her to resume the tour after only two days off. It was the beginning of the end for the Amos/Atlantic partnership.
After two back to back albums and constant touring, Amos returned to Cornwall to take some time off. After enduring three miscarriages she gave birth to a baby girl named Natashya in 2000. While caring for her infant daughter, Amos became inspired by listening to modern radio hits. Still owing Atlantic one more proper album, Amos decided to not give Atlantic the satisfaction of releasing an album of new material. Instead she began recording a covers album with her interpretations of the songs coming from a female perspective. Strange Little Girls (2001-Atlantic) received favorable reviews and featured multiple cover artwork of Amos posing in different costumes and wigs that represented the various “characters” who sing the individual covers. Although this was the first time Amos dabbled in various physical personas it would not be the last. She signed to Sony/Epic the following year and began work on her seventh full length. Still inspired by the idea of “concept records”, Amos developed an alter-ego named Scarlett for her next album. Scarlet’s Walk (2002-Epic) is the tale of Scarlet’s cross country North American journey as sung by Amos, who delves into themes ranging from the treatment of Native American Indians to American homophobia. The album was a moderate success with critics praising Amos for creating her most musically cohesive album in years. The following year the first Tori Amos greatest hits compilation, Tales of a Librarian (2003-Atlantic) was issued with Amos hand picking all the tracks from her back catalogue including two re-recorded b-sides and two new tracks.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Amos threw herself into crafting her next album. Influenced by the art of beekeeping, the Gnostic gospels, and politics The Beekeeper (2005-Epic) was the most polished and sunny album of her career. This time Amos took on the role of “beekeeper”, who (according to the liner notes) is tending six different gardens representing six different themes with all 19 tracks falling into said gardens. Critics found the concept obtuse and confusing although Amos was praised for her continual experimentation no matter how far fetched. Just before the album’s release, Amos younger brother suddenly passed away and she recorded the last minute addition, “Toast” in his honor. Before commencing her “Original Sinsuality Tour” of 2005, she announced that bootlegs of certain shows from the tour would be made available from her website for a nominal fee. By the end of 2005 all six bootlegs were compiled in a 12 disc box set titled, The Original Bootlegs (2005-Sony), which was made available at retail outlets throughout the world. The following year a five disc box set appeared, A Piano: The Collection (2006-Rhino), which compiled all of Amos hits from the past 15 years along with rarities, live cuts, and b-sides.
Amos ninth full length took the concept album to new and interesting heights. Conceived around five different personalities (the street hustler, the photographer, the voodoo priestess, the hippy, and the Nordic model) based on Greek and Roman goddesses all personified by Amos, American Doll Posse (2007-Epic) was the most ambitious and political album of her career. Self described as a “rock album” the collection of 23 songs showcased Amos at her most politically livid, sexually provocative, and lyrically blunt. On a supporting tour, Amos would change costumes to take on the persona of one or more of the five characters. A DVD of various American Doll Posse tour performances along with interviews is slated for a 2008 release.