Filling the airwaves with her signature dove-like croon since the late ‘80s, Tori Amos still finds herself cemented in a place of peaceful relevance, spinning pop music into a completely new realm once again. This was her year of 50, an age painfully dog-eared with crotchety terms like ‘slowing down’ and ‘settling.’ Amos hasn’t ducked and covered, but instead embraced the unstoppable progression of age with poise and ingenuity.
On a startlingly clear line from London, the eight-time Grammy nominee spoke of change and staying inspired.
“Over the years, you begin to decide, ‘Where am I in my life?’ I have a daughter now. We have deep conversations about things, and you think, ‘The choices that I make affect my daughter.’ I’m a mom and I’m a wife and I’m a romantic, so yeah, there’s certain ways that you choose to project yourself with all the factors in your life.”
To say Amos is experiencing many factors is putting it mildly. She’s a lady comfortable in the state of organized chaos, flooding her schedule with challenging projects that seem too vast for most to have a shot at completion. She’s been consumed in a five-year endeavor producing and composing her very first musical in England called The Light Princess, instantly studded with rave critical reviews. Easter weekend saw the beginning of an orchestra recording that will soon be followed by a full cast of the production, a gradual process spanning the length of an 80-city tour supporting Amos’ own album, Unrepentant Geraldines. The cast recording will include all 33 tracks from the musical and has an anticipated early 2015 release date.
“I just decided that I wanted to do a proper recording of it,” says Amos. “A real record; not this make-a-recording-that-you-sell-in-the-foyer-of-the-theater. I wanted to make a proper front line record. For cast recordings, sometimes they just pile them into a studio for 24 hours and do a couple performances and that’s what it is. I’m much more interested in making records and the joy of a sonic experience and the record-making tradition.”
Amos all along was interested in combining the world of musical theatre with the record practice. It’s a long lost art form because of its time-intensive nature. “Most people won’t embark on it, but I’m driven to do it,” she says. “You only do your first musical one time.”
The Light Princess is what Amos describes as a feminist fairy tale, delving into complex subject matter she has built a reputation around exploring: sexual awakening, grief and the ultimate chase for love. It premiered at London’s Lyttleton Theatre in October where it won teenage star, Rosalie Craig, a London Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Musical Performance in 2013. “People who know anything about the London scene will know [Rosalie’s] is one of the greatest performances they’ve seen in 10 years, so I wanted to capture her and the amazing cast at this time,” says Amos.
The story was adapted from a 19th-century fairy tale from George MacDonald, not a surprising fact due to Amos’ recent intrigue with turn-of-the-century visual arts. Over the years, she has been given Paul Cézanne books from people she’s met across the globe who told her to “sit with it,” and Amos claimed she would just roll her eyes. Finally, she sat with the French Post-Impressionist painter and began hearing rhythms and music and melody. “That was a real development for me, and he’s been a huge inspiration to this record.”
Amos was struck by a particular detail about a Cézanne painting with a palate that contained 16 shades of blue. This metamorphosized into the song of the same name on Unrepentant Geraldines, her 14th studio album. With the involved orchestrations and arrangements in The Light Princess, Amos was able to carve out space to retrace her roots and the simplicity of the piano once more. The title song on Geraldines, a nearly seven-minute ballad, is broken partway through with classical trills reminiscent of older cuts like Under the Pink’s “Pretty Good Year.”
“There was some breathing room for me to construct contemporary pop songs and explore that world again while I was immersed.” Storytelling also became a renewed focus after working with writing partner Samuel Adamson and War Horse director Marianne Elliott, “the great director of our time in theatre,” who instilled the importance of narrative and dramaturgical lines that harkened back to her earliest musical instruction.
As a child of the 1960s, Amos was inspired by the energy harnessed by artists like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. “There was a freedom that they were expressing, breaking away from society. Breaking old change,” she says. This led to her interest in the structure of songs and pop music.
One of Amos’ concerns today is the amount of writers getting signed compared with the entertainers, fearing the scale is tipped more toward the latter. “I think being a songwriter is different than being an entertainer. Being a woman that can’t dance to save people’s lives—if I could dance and move like Beyoncé, God knows what I would be doing down the streets of London. I have what I have, and all kidding aside, you have to recognize what your artistry is. You’re seen in a different light when you’re a writer. An entertainer, that’s a different pass up the mountain.”
She continues, “I would suggest to you that if you are a writer at your core, that it is not acceptable to overtly sexualize yourself. Covertly maybe. It just wasn’t part of being taken seriously, and it wasn’t something that was sexy or interesting or fascinating for the women that were my compatriots: PJ Harvey, Björk, Sarah McLachlan. All of us in the early ‘90s were exploring all kinds of things, but there was a different code, and I would suggest that poets today follow that code.”
Amos is currently in the midst of her 80-city Geraldines tour, hoping, as always, to stir up a shared connection with her crowds. She tries to work in an old favorite,“Take to the Sky,” a B-side track that has a way of collapsing concert halls down to the size of living rooms. When Amos can create a conversation, she has done her job. As for the future, she and Adamson have begun early discussions of other stories, and there is hope that another musical will come to fruition.
“Time is a creative force,” Amos says. “Now’s the time.”
Catch Tori Amos on tour:
7/17/14 Seattle, WA @ Paramount Theatre
7/18/14 Portland, OR @ Oregon Zoo Amphitheater
7/19/14 Jacksonville, OR @ Britt Festival
7/21/14 Oakland, CA @ Paramount Theatre
7/23/14 Los Angeles, CA @ Greek Theatre
7/24/14 San Diego, CA @ Humphrey’s
7/25/14 Mesa, AZ @ Mesa Arts Center
7/27/14 Denver, CO @ Paramount Theatre
7/29/14 Dallas, TX @ Winspear Opera House
7/30/14 Austin, TX @ Long Center
8/1/14 St. Louis, MO @ Peabody Opera House
8/2/14 Kansas City, MO @ Midland Theatre
8/3/14 St. Paul, MN @ The O’Shaughnessy at St. Catherine University
8/5/14 Chicago, IL @ Chicago Theatre
8/6/14 Detroit, MI @ Fox Theatre
8/7/14 Cleveland Heights, OH @ Cain Park
8/10/14 Philadelphia, PA @ Verizon Hall
8/12/14 New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
8/13/14 New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
8/15/14 Boston, MA @ Opera House
8/16/14 Washington, DC @ DAR Constitution Hall
8/18/14 Nashville, TN @ Ryman Auditorium
8/19/14 Atlanta, GA @ Cobb Energy Performance Arts Centre
8/20/14 Durham, NC @ Durham Performing Arts Center
8/22/14 Clearwater, FL @ Ruth Eckerd Hall
8/23/14 Orlando, FL @ Bob Carr Performing Arts Center
8/24/14 Miami Beach, FL @ The Fillmore Miami Beach at The Jackie Gleason Theater