Pianist, composer, and acclaimed singer/songwriter Tori Amos knows what she wants. Since releasing her first album, Y Kant Tori Read, in 1985, Amos has seen public taste and her private life shift and change in ways that not even she could have ever imagined. Between miscarriages, marriage, hit albums, lackluster reviews, and the rise and fall of the female songstress movement of the early 1990s, Amos has managed to survive, both personally and musically, and has come out stronger and more determined than ever. In anticipation of her upcoming tour stop at the Arlington Theatre, Amos recently phoned in to discuss upcoming plans, the recently released American Doll Posse, and her role in a rapidly changing music industry.
How’s the tour going? It’s great. We’re really enjoying it.
And I read a review recently saying that you’re playing shows that are two-plus hours long. How do you prepare for a schedule like that? Well, I started training two years ago. I got off the last tour, and I started writing this work while I was on tour-the very beginnings of it. Well, that’s not true; I was writing a lot of it on tour, and I began to suspect that it would take a lot of energy to bring it to the stage. So, once I got back off tour, even though I was playing every night and it was a one-woman show, I knew, to play with a band, I’d really have to step it up. I did it years ago, and so I started sculpting my body and getting my heart rate up in order to be prepared. You can’t just wake up a month before the tour and think, “Oh, I’m going to get ready now.” Oh no, no, no. It does not work like that-not at my age, anyway.
You’ve taken it upon yourself to start releasing live shows via MP3. As an artist who’s been in the game for so long, how have you seen the music industry change? It’s such a different world than it was ten years ago, as we all know. The changes are obvious as far as the technology. What’s still in question is the relationship between artists and label, and what is their role. : We could upload to the world with our studio. Mixmaster upload to the world. So, you have to ask yourself, “What is the ‘structure’ that I need to put my music out to the world?” This is what’s beginning to change. People who are leaving the record companies are out there, beginning to set up consulting firms and begging to set up multimedia companies. And that’s where it’s going to reshape itself.
I think that, where I am, we know enough to navigate the future without our hand being held. :You cannot hang on to the past and do it the same old way. It’s just not working. I think that those of us who are forward-thinking would like to move in that direction with those kinds of thinkers. But you’ve got people that are holding on to the old form, and you’re not going to see eye-to-eye-there’s just no way.
From the other end, how do you enter into songwriting with this underlying knowledge that this is a business? You know how sometimes you’ll see an artist that has some potential-and they might have some success-but then they just go away? One of the reasons is not because they’re not talented; it’s because they’re misguided, and they haven’t been able to separate the songwriter and protect that side of themselves from the music business. : It’s not for the faint of heart, and it’s not for those that live in creativity land. You have to be able to not take it all so personally. No different than if you’re out in the ocean and you have this massive wave coming your way. You can’t think the ocean hates you. If you get caught up in that, you’re going to sink. But you do have to deal with a 75-foot wave coming your way.
Sometimes, it’s really about having the songwriter side of you, who really has to tear their skin off sometimes and crawl into those places. I don’t let that side into those meetings. It would lead to me saying, “I’m taking my piano and pulling it on its rope and going away.” That’s where I understand why some artists just throw their hands up and say, “I’m just not doing this anymore.” And I think that’s what is so sad; some of them just haven’t developed a side of themselves who can sit there and separate it. : But I chose years ago that being an ignorant musician is not sexy, to me. It’s all about educating yourself about how it works without getting demoralized about it. You have a fantasy about what it’s going to be, and the reality is not what that is. And that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the creative process, but I have to protect that side and shelter that side, and that has taken some doing.
So where do you see yourself in a year? I’ve agreed with the British National Theatre to write a musical with their team. So it’s very different from what I’m doing. And I think we’ve put so much energy into American Doll Posse, knowing that I’m going to put my efforts as a composer in something and the performer is going to stand back and watch and wait; like the lioness on the Serengeti, I’m watching to see what comes on the horizon. I’m watching to see the change and shift before I put out another work. But I am putting out a really complex work-as a composer-so that’s where all my energy and efforts have to go. And that will be up in autumn of 2009 in London at the British National Theatre : if it gets that far. We all know musicals get cancelled. Don’t think I don’t know the statistics about how many contemporary musicians fail [at this]. People remind me everyday. I’m walking in knowing and trying to have a sense of humor about it-but I also know the stakes are high.