Tori Amos takes road less traveled

July 22, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Usually, when people in the music business talk about "the big picture," what they're thinking about is long-term sales strategy -- how to build a buzz around an artist, how to generate momentum on a project, how to navigate the transition from cult favorite to mass-market superstar.

As such, it's fairly easy to imagine what those folks would see as Tori Amos' next move. Thanks to the fan-base she built with her last album, "Little Earthquakes," Amos now has all the earmarks of a cult star about to break big. Her concerts routinely sell out, and her current album, "Under the Pink," has passed the half-million mark and is still selling steadily. So what music biz logic would demand is a new album in early '95, with a heavy push on the singles and extensive touring.

Amos, though, operates on a slightly different agenda. Consequently, the only thing she plans to deliver next year is a baby.

"I'm targeting the next record for the fall of '96," she says, over the phone from a tour stop in Kansas City. "And I have a couple things on the back burner. I've done something on the Leonard Cohen tribute that I'm very excited about, because you know what an influence his writing's been to so many. Then I did a duet with Robert Plant, which I'm very excited about. It's going to be on the Zeppelin tribute that's coming out in January."

She's also writing the score for a BBC radio adaptation of stories from Neil Gaiman's comic "The Sandman." Interesting work, all of it -- but hardly the most obvious career move.

"It's funny, because [Warner Music U.S. president] Doug Morris, when he heard that I was going to do this other stuff, said, 'I could have thought of 10 things you would do -- like run off with the devil would have been one of them -- before having a baby and not doing another record right away.'

"I said, 'Well, it's about making a great record, and I think [what is] going to help me make more interesting work is if I feed myself on a personal level.' "

Keeping things on a personal level is a central part of the way Amos operates. Take the way she talks about her songs. Where other artists might speak of album tracks or singles, Amos thinks of her compositions as "the girls," with each having its own needs and individual character.

For instance, one of the reasons she uses taped backing tracks when performing "God" and "Cornflake Girl" is that the songs don't quite work as solo piano pieces. The piano, she says, "is the glue holding those tunes together, but it is only the glue. It's not like the wood also."

But the other reason she gives has more to do with the kind of personality those songs have. "You know how some songs can have a party on their own, with a little book and a bottle of champagne?" she says. "Well, these two girls have to have loads of people there."

As such, Amos is able to maintain the kind of ongoing relationship with her work that keeps even older material, such as "Silent All These Years" and "Me and a Gun," fresh each night.

"I just think I'm able to understand 'Silent' now," she says. "So the writer side of me is going, 'God, these songs are very current.' They have a power that, at the time, I didn't really know how to translate on tape.

"It's the same with 'Under the Pink,' " she adds. "I think I'm doing [songs such as] 'Icicle' better than I've ever done on record, because I'm growing into them.

"So for my next step as a writer, well, I don't know where we're going next, but I'm feeling pieces of it coming together. Whereas 'Little Earthquakes' was more of a diary and 'Under the Pink' is more an impressionist painting, this project is maybe a little bit of both and something completely different. So I know that I need time to make it great, and I won't put anything out that I'm not really proud of."

Fortunately, Amos has some help on that end. " 'Silent' is as current to me as anything I'm writing now, and it's leading me by the hand," she says. "She's saying, 'That wasn't clever enough, Tori. That line isn't good. You can't do that. I won't let it through my door.' "

Amos laughs. " 'Silent' is my doorkeeper," she explains. "She's really stroppy about who comes to the party."

Not that Amos has any time to party herself. "I'm a bit in a weird space right now, because my body's so tired," she confesses. Finishing the "Sandman" score while on tour has made a tight schedule even tighter for her. "I'm having a keyboard brought in, in between waking up, getting a plane, doing interviews, and going to sound check, and doing the show," she says. "So I'm a bit of a lunatic right now."

Fortunately, there's one Tori project she's not in charge of: The Book of Amos. "My father is putting out a pictorial biography, through Music Sales, who prints all my sheet music," she says. "[Pictures] since I was a little kid, of when I was at Peabody, and my recitals and stuff."

Why? Amos says her parents thought it was important "to show an accurate accounting of what really happened. There's so much unclear information, I think because I started so little.

"So it's not like you're just getting pictures of two years ago. You're getting recitals from when I was 7 and 8. True press clippings, from when things really came out. And rejection letters that I got from presidents of record companies saying I'd never have a chance." She laughs devilishly. "We're going to print a couple of those."

Tori Amos live

When: Monday, July 25, 7 p.m.

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

Tickets: Sold out

Call: (410) 783-8000

Hear 'Under the Pink'

To hear excerpts from the Tori Amos album "Under the Pink," call Sundial, The Sun's telephone information service at (410) 783-1800. In Anne Arundel County, call 268-7736; in Harford County, 836-5028; in Carroll County, 848-0338. Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6113 after you hear the greeting.

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