Published Sep 06, 2017Thirty years ago, there was a chance – albeit, a small one – that Tori Amos would build a career out of becoming, in her words, a "vapid bimbo." Her band Y Kant Tori Read had signed to Atlantic, recorded with Joe Chiccarelli (Bangles, Pat Benatar) and not only did she use just as much Aqua Net as Poison and Warrant, she looked just like one of their video vixens. Their 1988 self-titled debut album seemed destined for success. Luckily for Amos, Y Kant Tori Read tanked so badly, that it has become one of the biggest punch lines in music history. That she emerged from such a monumental failure to become one of music's most fascinating singer-songwriters is but one of many ways in which she has continued to demonstrate her phenomenal survival skills — because more than anything, Tori Amos is a survivor.
Since she appeared in 1992 as a fiery-haired siren tumbling around in a wooden box, Tori Amos has mystified and enchanted millions of fans with her deeply personal, uncompromising music. The daughter of a Methodist pastor, from a young age Tori learned how to stand for what she believed in, whether it was identifying with her hero Mary Magdalene or listening to Led Zeppelin against the church's wishes. She has continuously battled for her beliefs, questioning religion, sexuality, gender and politics, while fighting for society's underprivileged, namely Native Americans and victims of sexual crime. But her music delves even deeper than protest; it's a vessel for some of the most sensual, philosophical and feministic music of the last quarter-century.
Although Amos is best known for her string of ground-breaking albums from the 1990s, she has sustained an impressive career that has found her dabbling with electronic and classical music, as well as musical theatre. Her 15th studio album, Native Invader, continues to push the envelope and explore pertinent social matters.
1963 to 1967
Myra Ellen Amos is born on August 22, 1963 in Newton, NC to Mary Ellen and Rev. Edison Amos, while visiting Mary's parents. Shortly after her birth, the family, which includes ten-year-old son Michael and eight-year-old Marie, moves back home to Washington, DC. Amos is extremely close to her Cherokee maternal grandparents, Calvin Clinton Copeland (Poppa) and Bertie (Nannie), who instil in her a sense of spirituality, which balances out her paternal grandparents' strict Pentecostal beliefs. The family moves to Baltimore, MD after Edison is named pastor at the Epworth Chapel Methodist Church. Watching her brother and sister take piano lessons, a two-year-old Ellen (as she goes by), begins playing by ear on her own. At the age of four she is playing Mozart and thanks to her Poppa's encouragement, begins writing songs on the piano; in a 1994 SPIN interview, she credits him as her biggest influence. When a six-year-old peer teases Ellen about her age she replies, "Fuck you. I can play Mozart."
1968 to 1973
Her older brother begins to introduce Ellen to his music collection, which includes the Beatles, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, who left the most significant impression. "I just remember listening to them and feeling my body move and going to the piano and moving my body at the piano," she writes in her 2005 memoir, Tori Amos: Piece By Piece. "What their work taught me was how to stay in rhythm, feeling my body move to this rhythm and trying to create a continuation at the piano, just knowing that I had to take this power into my world… The powerful men in the Church didn't want Led Zeppelin records in the house."
At five-and-a-half years old, Ellen auditions for the Peabody Conservatory of Music at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD; she becomes the youngest student ever accepted. She is instructed to learn how to read music instead of playing by ear. "People always toss around the phrase 'child prodigy' to refer to my years at the Peabody Conservatory because I was so young when I started there," she writes in Piece By Piece. "It was assumed that I would go on to become a concert pianist. That's what you do if you're in a place like that – you're not just playing, you're there to be a champion… I had trouble reading music. My ear was good. I could hear and play things back, but I struggled with reading."
She attends public school during the week, and the Peabody on weekends. At seven, she becomes disillusioned with the conservatory, telling the Washington Post in 1994, "I knew it was all over at the Peabody as soon as they gave me a piece called 'Hot Cross Buns.' I wanted to play Hoagy Carmichael! You don't take away a kid's ear with rubbish like 'Hot Cross Buns.' They lost all respect in my eyes when they made me play that." Although the Peabody continually renews Ellen's scholarship, her love for pop and rock'n'roll clashes with the curriculum. In 2012, she tells The Independent, "I came to realize very quickly that I didn't want to be a concert pianist; I wanted to be a composer. They told me: look in your history books, there are not a lot of strong women composers. I said, well, there were, they weren't given the opportunity."
Edison moves his family to Silver Spring, MD, where he takes over as pastor for the Good Shepherd United Methodist church. Ellen continues to attend Peabody while receiving lessons from teacher Paula Gorelkin, and soon discovers the power of her musical abilities. "Everywhere I went, I was asked to play. I was the girl who played piano. I knew my assets," she'll recall to The Independent in 1994. "I'd go, 'God, that boy isn't noticing me much, but when I start to play this tune, he will.' So I got as manipulative as I guess Joan Collins was when she was nine years old and trying on high-cut panties.'"
In January 1973, Ellen's Poppa dies; she sings hymns in his honour at the funeral and for the next three years will visit his grave regularly and sing to him. She begins singing and playing piano at church, as well as weddings and funerals, which paid.
1974 to 1978
Ellen's scholarship at Peabody is not renewed for a sixth year. Speaking with The Globe & Mail in 2011, Amos remembers, "The reason I was kicked out of the Peabody was that my attitude was not suitable. Or so they felt. I wanted to be a composer — I knew that — and they let me know back then that female composers in the classical world didn't do very well. It was a boys' club; it wasn't like the pop world. When I left the Peabody, I turned my back on all kinds of things, including the idea of classical music. I think I had a projection of what it was, that it was very closed to any other forms of music."
Ellen focuses on songwriting and at age 12 begins taking singing lessons. Not long after she begins to send out demo tapes to labels with no luck. She also tries smoking weed for the first time, telling Q in 1995, "I guess that seems young, but this was a different time. We're talking 1974-'75. Led Zeppelin were kicking! It was a different time!"
The next year she auditions to get back into the Peabody by performing Linda Ronstadt's "When Will I Be Loved?" but she is rejected.
She experiences some local press attention when she wins $100 at the Montgomery County Teen Talent Competition with an original composition called "More Than Just A Friend."
Ellen finds a regular gig performing at a gay-friendly saloon in Georgetown named Mr. Smith's every Friday night for a solid year. This opportunity leads to invitations to perform at many local functions, as well as other bars and clubs. "At 14 I started performing on the lounge circuit and learning my repertoire," she writes in Piece By Piece. "That was my father's idea, and though it may forever seem strange that a minister sent his teenage daughter into gay clubs to sing and play, thank God he did. There was nowhere else that would accept me as a performer. The gay community embraced me just as I was working through my own sexuality and gave me a safe place to deal with that."
The family relocates again to Rockville, MD, after Edison gets a job leading the Rockville United Methodist Church. Ellen feels pain in her jaw and is diagnosed with a temporomandibular joint disorder; the chronic condition results in spasms and requires her to wear a brace.
Ellen sings and plays piano on the recording of a song called "It's A Happy Day," written by Camilla Wharton; the song is released as a seven-inch but does not receive any real distribution.
At 15, Ellen discovers the joys of masturbation and doesn't hide it. When her sister arrives home from medical school, she takes Ellen aside and says, "You've got to stop this now. Stop talking about it, and stop doing it," Tori recalls in Piece by Piece. Her sister then warns her that if she continues to masturbate her hand would fall off. When she's 30, Tori will write a song called "Icicle," about a teenage girl who masturbates in her bedroom while the rest of her family sings Easter prayers downstairs.
1979 to 1983
Edison stops chaperoning his daughter during her late-night gigs and Ellen begins mingling with the clientele. "I found myself working with women who were in their late 20s, and chatting to gay men all night, interrogating them about their sex lives," she'll tell Melody Maker in 1991. "I got to see a different side of things. Then I'd go to junior high the next morning and it was a totally different experience. I learned to create these different sides to me to deal with it all."
With a repertoire of about 1,500 songs, at 17 she is earning over $600 a week. Ellen buys a synthesizer and records more home demos to send out to record labels. She finds a mentor at school in her 11th grade teacher Mrs. Barrett, who challenges her to read Sylvia Plath, Tennessee Williams and Virginia Woolf to improve her writing skills.
Ellen manages to balance her blossoming professional life with her schooling. "I was playing in piano bars or hotel lobby lounges six nights a week from six to 11 p.m.," she'll tell Seventeen in 2007. "I had to go to school, rush home, change into a performer's glamorous look. I did homework on my breaks, which were 15 minutes every 45 minutes."
At the end of her senior year, Ellen is voted "Most Likely To Succeed" and to her embarrassment, Homecoming Queen, by her school, for which she'll admit to Seventeen, "I've always said all the nerds voted for me."
Ellen changes her stage name to Tori after it is suggested to her. "I just hated my name," she tells Q in 1998. "If a guy even started to look at me and they heard my name was Myra Ellen, it just created... a limp dick immediately. I couldn't bear it. A friend of mine at the time was dating some guy and she brought him to one of the clubs I was playing and he just looked at me and said, 'You're a Tori.' I just went, 'You know what? I am.' So from then on, I made out my cheques aka Tori. Then of course I found that it meant 'little chicken' in Japanese."
She records a song called "Baltimore," written by her brother, about the Orioles baseball team and releases it as a seven-inch. Though it isn't a hit, the Mayor of Baltimore awards Ellen a citation of merit for the song.
After high school, she takes courses at Montgomery College and regularly plays gigs at local hotels and bars. After seven years of mailing out demo tapes, Tori decides she needs to make a change. She'll later tell the Phoenix New Times, "I had been sending out my tapes since I was 13. You have to understand, seven years. That was almost half my life. So I'd gotten serious rejection, hundreds of rejections. They just kept saying the girl and her piano thing was over, [that] Carole King was the last."
1984 to 1986
Promoting her residency at the Marbury House, the Washington Post profiles Tori, predicting, "Amos, who is also occasionally known as Tori, may very well be a famous pop star someday." Now going by Tori most of the time, she relocates to Los Angeles to make it big. After building a makeshift studio in her apartment, she gets a band together for one gig that goes horribly wrong. Instead she decides to start playing bars and clubs solo.
Tori beats out Square Pegs star Sarah Jessica Parker for a Kelloggs' Just Right cereal commercial, in which she sings and plays the jingle on piano. She also appears as an extra in a Crystal Light ad starring Raquel Welch, however, she does not get the role of a background dancer in Howard the Duck.
One night in January 1985, Tori finishes a nightclub gig and offers a ride to a fan, who kidnaps and rapes her at knifepoint. She'll recall the horrific experience to Hot Press in 1994, saying, "It was a knife he had. And the idea was to take me to his friends and cut me up, and he kept telling me that, for hours. And if he hadn't needed more drugs, I would have been just one more news report, where you see the parents grieving for their daughter... And I was singing hymns because he told me to. I sang to stay alive. Yet I survived that torture, which left me urinating all over myself and left me paralyzed for years. That's what that night was all about, mutilation, more than violation through sex."
Tori regularly performs at the Marriott lobby bar near the airport and the Los Angeles Sheraton, but becomes frustrated with jobs that require performing "Send In the Clowns" seven times a day. She decides to ditch the piano, assume a sexy, hairspray-teased image and form a glam-hard rock band called Y Kant Tori Read, a reference to her struggle to read music at the Peabody. Tori recruits future Cult/Guns N' Roses drummer Matt Sorum for the project, along with guitarist Steve Caton, percussionist Paulinho Da Costa (who will continue to work with her through the years) and keyboardist and songwriter Kim Bullard. Y Kant Tori Read are signed to Atlantic by the A&R rep behind Skid Row and Twisted Sister. Tori later calls the six-album deal "disastrous."
1987 to 1990
Tori begins dating producer/songwriter Eric Rosse, who will become a significant part of her career. She begins writing songs for an album with Bullard, which they finish by year's end with legendary producer Joe Chiccarelli.
Y Kant Tori Read's self-titled album is released on January 6, 1988 and is a commercial disaster, selling only 7,000 copies. "What was most difficult was that some women had been able to keep their integrity while I was sacrificing mine in the name of getting cocks hard," she'll write in Piece By Piece. "When I was making Y Kant Tori Read, my executive producer David Kirshenbaum was across town producing somebody called Tracy Chapman. He exposed me to her, and I couldn't understand — wait a minute. How come I'm the cheap hooker and she's the poet? Then I looked at myself in the mirror and I said, 'Well, you look like a cheap hooker.'"
After a humiliating encounter with an acquaintance that refuses to speak to her, Tori immediately seeks her friend Cindy Marble's shoulder to cry on. She'll tell The Face in 1994, "She had an old piano, and she said, 'Will you play for me? I really want to hear you play. I haven't heard you play in a long time.' And I played for her. Five hours. And she said to me: 'Tori, this is what you have to do. You play your piano and you sing your songs. That's what you do. And you've been trying to get away from it and be Lita Ford or somebody for the past five years, but this is what you do. Doesn't matter if it's hip or cool or not.'"
Tori sheds the makeup, Lycra and hairspray and begins writing songs on the piano with Rosse recording. She gets a job singing backup for Sandra Bernhard's album, I'm Your Woman. Tori records a song called "Distant Storm" for a martial arts film called China O'Brien, though she chooses to use the name Tess Makes Good to avoid any possible future embarrassment.
With help from Rosse and producer/songwriter Davitt Sigerson, Tori finishes recording her first solo album, Little Earthquakes. The initial version is rejected by Atlantic; she replaces some tracks with new ones and they deem it worthy of release. In 1994, she'll tell Dutch magazine Nieuwe Revu, "At first the boss of my American record company hated Little Earthquakes. Half of the staff hoped I'd be a white Neneh Cherry, the other half wanted to make me into a female Elton John. It took a long time before they wanted to accept who I was, and realize I could make them money that way."
1991 to 1992
On the record label's suggestion, Tori relocates to London, UK to work with Tears For Fears' Ian Stanley, but also create buzz for the album in a new, unfamiliar environment. "I needed a change," she'll tell The Washington Post in 1994. "Even though I'd written the record, I was emotionally drained after living in Los Angeles for so long. I needed a new perspective on things, new sights, new sounds. And I needed to get that thing in your belly that says 'I want to play now.'"
Warner affiliate East West signs her to a UK deal immediately after she plays an intimate gig for label exec Max Hole. Thanks to a mutual pal, Tori befriends author Neil Gaiman and the two become confidants. Fans of Gaiman's comic Sandman speculate that his character Delirium is based on Tori, but he shoots that down in a later interview with The Face. "Delirium existed long before I met Tori," he explains. "I have, however, cheerfully and shamelessly stolen some of the things Tori's said to me and given them to Delirium."
Tori sees Thelma & Louise, in which Thelma (Geena Davis) is sexually assaulted by a man whom Louise (Susan Sarandon) ends up shooting and killing. The scene triggers her own horrific assault, and Tori composes "Me and a Gun" during a subway ride to a gig. She tells 20/20, "People had to move away from me in the theater, just because I was, you know, sobbing. I was like a little wellspring sitting there. It's a song about brutality and invasion on the deepest level." The song is released as her first solo single, though fails to spark interest; upon its physical release, it is demoted to the B-side in favour of the more radio-friendly "Silent All These Years."
The move to the UK pays off, as East West works hard to build hype. Upon its release in January 1992, Little Earthquakes reaches #14 on the UK album chart. A North American release follows the next month, and though it doesn't have an immediate impact, the album does eventually sell more than two million copies domestically. When single "Crucify" is released in May, it includes a cover of Nirvana's hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which will become a favourite in her live sets; Tori will end up performing the song more than Nirvana does in their time. While in Vienna, Austria, Tori visits revered piano manufacturer Bösendorfer, which endorses her and gifts her pianos for both the studio and tours.
1993 to 1994
Tori and Eric Rosse leave London for Taos, New Mexico to begin working on her next album in a hacienda situated on hallowed Indigenous lands. Speaking to the Baltimore Sun, she explains, "[I was] just called there, just called to it. The wild west. There was something about it, something really rugged and raw. Obviously it was supposed to happen there. It's funny, because after Little Earthquakes, I really didn't know what I was in for. I didn't think about it."
In the same interview, Tori admits that Atlantic tried to hire a "hotshot producer" to take charge of the sessions, but she stood firm, telling them, "Look, I'm the mother of this, and you won't be able to get to the cubs but through me."
Tori is diagnosed with a cervical pre-cancer, but it ends up benign. However, while polishing a cupboard, she inhales a breath of Pledge and develops a lung infection that prevents her from speaking or singing for three weeks. She is forced to take vocal lessons over the phone to regain her singing voice.
Tori visits her friend and fan Trent Reznor at his Le Pig studio in Los Angeles, where Charles Manson committed the Tate murders in 1969. In an interview with Legends Magazine, Reznor details the visit and how Tori attempted to cook him a chicken dinner. "After six hours in the Tate house oven, it was still bloody and raw. Tori's preferred excuse: 'The spirits of the house wouldn't let it.'" Reznor records vocals for a song on Tori's next album.
In fall 1993, Tori finishes her second album, Under the Pink, a more aggressive, nuanced batch of piano-based confessionals, instilled with the spirit of punk rock. In an interview with Performing Songwriter, she explains, "This record is working through not being a victim anymore. I had to sit out there in the desert and listen to what my inner being was really saying, not what I wanted it to say to me."
According to Tori, Atlantic tries to bring in another producer and take control of the recordings; she threatens to burn the tapes. The album features a guest appearance by Trent Reznor on "Past the Mission," which was recorded during the making of Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. In an interview with CFNY 102.1, Amos discusses the collaboration, saying, "I always loved what he did. So 'Past the Mission' said to me, 'I want Trent to sing on me.' And I said, 'I'm sure you do.' And, so, I made the call, and he was, uh, 'open to that.' And we, uh, did it at his house, you know, the old Tate House."
Released on the last day of January 1994, Under the Pink debuts at #1 in the UK.
In February, Mark Hawley joins Tori's sound team.
Tori is involved in the founding of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an anti-sexual violence organization and toll-free hotline seeking to prevent sexual violence, help victims and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. She receives the State of Maryland Governor's Citation Award for her work with RAINN.
Tori discusses her desire to become a mother following the tour for Under the Pink in multiple interviews. Tori and Eric Rosse break up after a seven-year romance. Later in the year she tells the NME, "The new songs I'm writing are about my making a choice that I wanted to live. Maybe that's why such a long relationship ended. Because if you stop having adventures, stop growing, stop exposing yourself, then I don't think you have anything to say. Or anything to write songs about, come to that."
During an interview with The Face, Tori discusses the pressures of touring, admitting that she felt like throwing herself from the window of a Chicago Ritz Carlton hotel room, and then sought advice from Trent Reznor, who told her, "I'm not worried about you. I've already tried it and you can't open the windows."
After a gig in Los Angeles, director John Singleton asks Tori to write music for his new movie, Higher Learning. She first declines due to a busy schedule, but eventually finds time to contribute the song "Butterfly" and a cover of R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion."
Tori takes a week-long vacation and visits a friend in Hawaii, which plants seeds for the theme of her next record. She tells Noisey, "My friend lived in Oahu, so we didn't get to the big island that time, but I spent about a week with her, and that's how I started hearing about the mythology of Pele. I started to resonate with her energy and researched some of the more ancient goddess mythologies that I hadn't been exposed to. And so it started to open me up to seeing that I had a side of myself that I had been hiding from. A shadow self, possibly. And so I began getting to know that side through the songs that were coming to me."
After a show in Madison, WI, Tori collapses and is rushed to the hospital. She is diagnosed with costochondritis, an inflammation of the chest cavity wall caused by ingestion of peanut butter. Tori begins dating her sound engineer, Mark Hawley.
1995 to 1996
Tori moves into the Canal House in London, a century home that forms the bridge over a canal. She turns it into a home studio and begins writing her third album there. In June she relocates to Ireland to record at a church in County Wicklow and a house in County Cork. "We realized that the best place to record the album was in Ireland, for all kinds of reasons," she'll later tell Noisey. "There was an essence about it. I love being in Ireland and I couldn't get the crew into the States in the time frame I needed to make the record. We eventually sorted everything out, but we needed to start pre-production." She also records at a church in New Orleans, LA.
Without Eric Rosse as a co-producer, Tori decides to self-produce the album, despite the label's insistence she find someone else. She later tells Vulture, "I decided not to go and find a producer. I decided, no, I'm going to pull the engineers together. It was Peter Gabriel who encouraged me to do it. For good or ill, he said, 'Look, you're working with these engineers. Build your own team. Be smart.'"
Part of the recording finds Tori performing inside a box. "My engineer came up with the idea that instead of blanketing the instruments to improve the acoustics, we'd blanket Tori, put me in a box," she tells the New York Times. "I had to stand up to do it, because in the box I couldn't swing my feet around. And this was not about cutting tape together; the space in between, the time it took me to turn around, you could never duplicate that."
In December, Tori's song "Caught A Light Sneeze" becomes the first single ever to be released as a free download on the internet.
On January 22, she releases her third album, Boys For Pele, which she describes as the final part of the trilogy that began with Little Earthquakes; it reaches #2 in both the U.S. and UK. Despite commercial success, the album is a considerable departure, focusing more on a raw, experimental approach towards both songwriting and production. One song, "Father Lucifer," came after Tori delved in the psychedelic drug ayahuasca with a shaman, where she claims she met the devil.
Controversy arises from the album's artwork — in one photo Tori is suckling a piglet with her breast. She explains the image's significance to Time: "It was about nurturing that which had been rejected from going back into the fold; the idea from Christianity of embracing that which we judge to be non-kosher, non acceptable. That was my Christmas card, my Madonna and Child."
Fans assume the pig, as well as the line "made my own Pretty Hate Machine" in song "Caught A Lite Sneeze," is a slight to Trent Reznor.
In July, Tori releases the harpsichord-heavy single "Professional Widow," which contains the word "starfucker" many interpret as a dig at Courtney Love, who reportedly messed up Tori's friendship with Reznor. (He keeps the mystery alive in 1999 when he releases a song called "Starfuckers, Inc.") In an interview with Spin, Reznor addresses the situation, confessing, "We're not that close now. Some malicious meddling on the part of Courtney Love. But I still feel the same feelings for Tori." Tori does claim that she has never met Love and based it on imagining herself as Lady MacBeth. However, during a 2003 TV interview, when a co-host introduces the song and says it is based on Love, Tori interjects with, "allegedly."
House producer Armand van Helden remixes "Professional Widow" and it becomes a massive club hit.
Keeping the intrigue alive, Tori covers Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" on tour, though demeans it by changing the intense song's words to "I hurt myself today to find a jelly bean."
Boys For Pele proves to be a hit with younger fans. She tells Stereogum in 2016, "Yeah, the audience got a lot younger. A lot of teenage girls started showing up. A lot. Before, I had a lot of heterosexual men in their 30s, and some women of course. But something with this record really kicked in. And the gays were always there. They have always been there. Without the gays, I am nothing."
Atlantic gives Tori her own imprint she calls Igloo Records; the label only releases one album by a band called Pet.
Tori becomes pregnant with Mark Hawley's child, but she miscarries three months into the pregnancy. She tells She, "I already had a name for the baby — Phoebe. I remember having a scan and the nurse was in tears. She said, 'I'm very, very sorry.' This was three months into my pregnancy and I had suspected that something wasn't right. It finally hit home that I couldn't continue carrying the baby. When I miscarried Phoebe, I went to the outer reaches of anything that I know, I suffered so much grief. I'd dream about searching for her so that I could bring her back — I was willing to cut any deal with God, but I know that God doesn't cut deals." The experience inspires Tori to start writing music for her next album.
1997 to 2000
Tori begins the year writing a new album in Florida, while she waits for her new studio to be built next to her home with Mark Hawley in Cornwall, England. She christens the 300-year-old converted barn studio Martian Engineering, and begins recording her next album there in September. She spends her spare time racing around in her 14-foot speedboat.
Tori miscarries for the second time in May. The experience once again becomes a major focus for her songwriting.
On February 22, 1998, Tori and Mark Hawley are married at a church in West Wycombe. She tells The Times, "I tried to find a place that was very sacred. This place was an ancient site since the Bronze Age, and a pagan one before it was a church, and the vicar honoured that."
From the Choirgirl Hotel is released on May 5, 1998 and goes gold and platinum in the UK and U.S., respectively. In an interview with Billboard she explains the difference between it and her previous albums. "I'd taken the 'girl and the piano' thing as far as I could, and I really wanted to be a player with other players. It was very important for my growth as a musician to play with other musicians instead of having them play around me."
The song "She's Your Cocaine" is widely considered to be about the rift with Courtney Love over her friendship with Trent Reznor.
For the "Plugged" tour, she assembles a three-piece band — Steve Caton, Matt Chamberlain and Jon Evans — to flesh out the album's more complex arrangements and primal rhythms. She decides to turn the shows into a live album, and originally imagines it as a companion to a B-sides album. Instead she gets the itch to write brand new material. "It became quite exciting, because we had no idea we were cutting a new record," Tori says in the album's bio. "It just grabbed me by the throat, really. We ended up working around the clock and putting it together pretty quickly." She describes it as her "Cindy Sherman album," in reference to the influential photographer.
Once again recorded and self-produced by Tori at Martian Engineering, To Venus and Back is released on September 20, 1999, and features two sides: venus orbiting, an album of new material, and venus live: still orbiting, a selection of songs recorded during the Plugged tour.
Right before the album's release, Tori embarks on a co-headlining tour with Alanis Morissette called "5 ½ Weeks." In a statement, Tori says, "Bringing two visions together to make one show can be tricky, so obviously it takes a lot of mutual respect and a load of gear. With that in mind, Alanis and I are bringing two trucks just for ourselves: one filled with wine, the other filled with lip gloss."
In November, Tori miscarries for a third time. "Those were my darkest days," she tells the Sunday Times. "There's just a grieving process that you have to go through. It's a tough journey because it's so intangible." Two months later she becomes pregnant for a fourth time. Months later Tori is featured in a Vanity Fair pictorial seven months pregnant; two months later, on September 5, 2000, she gives birth to a healthy, baby girl named Natashya Lórien Hawley — her middle name is inspired by The Lord of the Rings character Lothlorien. Tori's management sends out a press release that states, "Upon feeding her daughter for the first time, Tori noted that 'an ounce of breast milk is even more potent than the finest tequila.'" She names Neil Gaiman as Natashya's "fairy" godfather.
2001 to 2004
In Piece By Piece Tori writes, "I felt like Natashya's birth was a complete gift that came out of Venus. At this point, I was communicating with friends online, and people were talking to me about how popular music was getting more violent. I felt I had to respond to Venus's pillaging. Male artists were saying these really malicious things — and I'm not talking about tongue-in-cheek statements, I'm talking about men wanting to rip women's clits out. I needed to answer that. Once I had Natashya, the idea really started to take root."
In February, Tori begins recording an album of songs written by men but reinterpreted from a woman's perspective. Released in September, Strange Little Girls features covers of songs by Depeche Mode, the Velvet Underground, Neil Young, Slayer and, most curiously, Eminem. The album is named after the Stranglers' "Strange Little Girl," which she also covers. Each song is given its own persona, which Tori plays up in the album's sleeve. Accompanying each photo is text from Neil Gaiman, which will later appear in his 2006 short stories collection, Fragile Things.
The album is a hit in the U.S., charting at #4, though it's her first to receive mixed reviews. Tori explains her concept to Cosmogirl: "I wanted to go to some of the great poets of my generation, like Neil Young and Lou Reed, and crawl behind their eyes to see what they were thinking. I really felt like, as a songwriter, the only way to explore the power of the word was to use men's words. It fascinates me, the things men say and how women hear them. There are a lot of things being said by young guys that intrigued me."
Tori is in New York on 9/11 and the tragedy becomes a focal point for her songwriting. She later tells Rolling Stone, "I was in New York, when the Twin Towers collapsed and I had to decide whether I should cancel the tour. I didn't do it because people needed distraction, affection. At least the ones that wanted to come."
Tori begins writing her next album at home in Cornwall. After 15 years on the label, Tori severs ties with Atlantic Records, though her contract still requires her to deliver a greatest hits collection. She begins 2002 by signing a deal with Epic Records, which isn't announced until July.
Her seventh album, Scarlet's Walk, is released on October 28, and although it charts at #7 in the U.S., it doesn't do as well commercially elsewhere, despite strong reviews. Discussing the album with Pulse, Tori explains that she was visited by a Native American woman who was sent to deliver her a message: "'When the white brother came, he took and took, but he only took the land in the end. This greed has created a hunger for something that nobody can name.' And she opened her arms, and there were tears running down her face and I understood her commitment to Earth, to America, to holding a vigil for her soul, to being a caretaker, to being a mother force, a safe harbour, an abundant source that can give, even when so much has been taken. It was very humbling. It was like I came home. And the story began to write itself."
She uses the character of Scarlet to travel across the country's 50 states in order to "ask questions, to see how other people saw things, and to find out what I believed in." During one stop in Georgia she stumbles upon a KKK rally. "There were Ku Klux Klansmen on the streets inviting people to a barbecue in broad daylight. That was pretty chilling," she recounts to Blender.
One song, "Amber Waves," is a tribute to Julianne Moore's character in Boogie Nights, while "A Sorta Fairytale" fantasizes about smacking Oliver Stone.
After the Scarlet's Walk tour, Tori takes a break, then heads out back on the road with Ben Folds for the "lottapianos tour."
Tori, along with regular collaborators Matt Chamberlain and Jon Evans, re-record and re-mix some of her songs for a compilation she owes to Atlantic. Released on November 17, 2003, Tales of a Librarian is described by Tori as a "sonic autobiography" that is chronicled in accordance with the Dewey Decimal System, to play up the librarian theme. Tori calls it "the closest thing to an autobiography of this woman's life. It's about how she grew up in a religious household and then started playing the Washington circuit in the hotel piano bars for congressmen, lobbyists, their rent boys and their call girls."
Tori makes her big screen debut in the Julia Roberts film, Mona Lisa Smile, playing a wedding singer; she also contributes two songs, "You Belong to Me" and "Murder, He Says," to the soundtrack.
Tori releases her first live concert DVD, Welcome To Sunny Florida, featuring a concert from West Palm Beach, FL during her Scarlet's Walk tour.
Tori's brother Michael dies at the age of 50 from a car crash in Southern Pines, NC. She issues a statement about his death that reads: "Michael was the one that brought Led Zeppelin into the house, he introduced me to all that was great about music... I will miss his presence on this planet, but he will forever be on my shoulder whispering in my ear, 'energy energy.'"
2005 to 2008
Piece By Piece, a memoir co-authored by Tori and writer Ann Powers, is published on February 8, 2005. The book is described as "a portrait of the artist: her thoughts, her conversations." Two weeks later, she releases her eighth full-length, The Beekeeper. The title is a reference to Tori's latest fascination, which she reveals to Q: "I've always been drawn to beekeeping, the culture of honey, the sensuality of how it is created. If I see beekeepers, I pull over." The album features a guest appearance by Damien Rice, the London Community Gospel Choir and a mysterious person named Mac Aladdin on guitars. Fans speculate that Mac Aladdin is a secret pseudonym for Tori herself, but two years later during a show she reveals it to be her husband, Mark Hawley. The Beekeeper debuts at #5 in the U.S., which makes her one of nine female artists to have five top ten albums ever.
The album's theme finds Tori continuing to trace her familial roots. "I approached the last record [Scarlet's Walk] from the Native American part of my bloodline," she says in the bio. "The only way to address the severing that was happening in America itself was to go into myself as a Christian woman. If Jesus's teachings are being hijacked and manipulated by politicians, then I must therefore go back as a daughter of the Christian church into that system and that symbolism and those allegories."
In September 2006, Rhino releases a five-disc, career-spanning set called A Piano: The Collection packaged in a piano-key shaped box. The compilation includes alternate mixes, remixes, live tracks, demos, B-sides and unreleased material.
On May 1, 2007, Tori releases her ninth studio album, American Doll Posse. Once again the album reaches #5 in the U.S., making it her sixth to reach top ten. The album features Tori singing from the perspective of five distinct characters — Isabel, Clyde, Santa, Tori and Pip — who combine to make one complete woman. According to the press release, "They each have their own personalities and even their own blogs. After centuries of being dismembered, literally and figuratively, by the ruling patriarchy, the feminine essence has reassembled to take back the power. In the album's artwork Tori portrays each character.
Tori explains the concept to Mojo: "This record is rebelling against the two extremes of how the world currently views American women. From female vulgarity — the types who flash their panties and release sex tapes — to women who take on male personas to compete in business and politics. These are the type of women the world sees as the American female. The record is an opportunity to reclaim the segmented pieces of the female psyche that were cut up within them centuries ago, and reunite them."
The album's first single, "Big Wheel," is kept off a number of radio station playlists because of the song's repetition of the letters "M-I-L-F," however, some add it once a censored version spelling "M-I-M-I" is submitted as a replacement. She tells the Colorado Springs Independent, "I think it's so funny. Doesn't it just justify the whole point? The whole point that there are so many things played on the radio. Cutting people up, shocking violent stuff and even shocking sexual stuff — and yet MILF is shocking. This goes back to the idea... that the Christian side of advertising cannot accept the idea that the Mother Mary and Magdalene can unify in women. That's how we've been not as powerful within ourselves for centuries. So you bring the mother image in with the sexual image, which is liberating. All mothers should look at themselves in the mirror and say, 'I'm a MILF.' It's just not accepted. That's why I did it."
During a European tour, Tori throws her shoes at a security guard after an interaction with a fan. She explains to Popmatters, "That was a security guard who was really laying into a fan. I just thought, 'Don't hold a whole audience hostage.' And so everybody was turned around watching this scuffle so I just said, "Excuse me! Can you *bleep*?' And he didn't stop. And then when I called him a cocksucker, I realized he couldn't speak English and I needed to learn how to say cocksucker in Bratislavian. Actually every language is different. And then that didn't work so I had to take off my high heels." Fans proceed to take Tori's shoes, but her bodyguard manages to rescue them.
For the North American tour, Tori releases official recordings of her shows for download just hours after the performance ends. She calls it Legs and Boots. "I try and create a concert that's somewhat different every night and I wanted to do the bootlegs," she says in a statement. "The effort that it took from the crew was just... beyond. I don't think Mark slept on that tour. I barely saw him sometimes. He would just be uploading stuff at four or five in the morning from hotels in the city and then getting to the next gig and the crew was all very supportive of that. My bus would roll ahead and I would sleep. The effort to do that in that way was a huge commitment, but I think everybody on our side really wanted to achieve that."
At the San Diego show, Tori kicks two fans in the front row out after they continually proceed to get out of their seats and mess with their phones during her performance of "Code Red." She tells Spin about the incident: "There were some girls who were given front-row seats as a courtesy and then were incredibly rude. One was on the phone, and even I could hear her — I mean, it was during a ballad. And I saw that everybody around her was being held hostage. You just think, 'You've got to get taught a lesson.' So I said, 'Get the fuck out of my show.'" During the tour, Tori begins writing her next album.
In May 2008, it is announced on Billboard.com that Tori has left Epic after three studio albums. Her manager John Witherspoon issues a statement, explaining, "After 22 years of being in the shackles of the major label system, Tori has chosen the path of independence for her next work. As with many of her contemporaries, Tori is devising new and exciting ways of getting her music to the masses without the boundaries and limitations of the major music companies."
Comic Book Tattoo, an anthology graphic novel of 51 stories inspired by the music of Tori Amos, is published by Image Comics in July 2008. Tori's friend Rantz Hoseley serves as the comic's editor, while Neil Gaiman writes the introduction. About the project, Tori writes on her website, "I have been surprised, excited and pleasantly shocked by these comics that are extensions of the songs that I have loved and therefore welcome these amazing stories of pictures and words because they are uncompromisingly inspiring. It shows you thought is a powerful formidable essence and can have a breathtaking domino effect."
During a visit to Comic-Con, Tori finishes writing her next album. She uses the trip to California to revisit her old stomping grounds, which includes meeting with her old mentor, Doug Morris. She tells Out, "… a whole second part of the record got written and developed when I came back to the states for Comic-Con [in July 2008]. And I was on my home ground where I wrote Little Earthquakes and there was a metamorphosis that happened. I passed by that little house where I wrote it and I thought, 'I took on a lot back then — I can take this on. I can fight.' But I had lost how to fight. I had to change everything to fight — all kinds of people had to change. The one thing that kept me going was the love that Tash and Mark had for me. I just saw that I was becoming totally devastated and beaten."
Before the end of the year, she inks a joint venture deal with Universal Republic, as a result of her rekindled friendship with CEO and chairman Doug Morris.
2009 to 2010
Tori's tenth album and first for Universal Republic is Abnormally Attracted to Sin. It charts at #9 in the U.S. She explains the album's concept to Popdose: "The whole world has changed in the last year-and-a-half. Globally, there seems to be such an unstable world where people don't know if they're going to have a job or a home, or be able to go to college. There is very little security anymore of what my life will be in a week from now, or month from now. So this record is really maybe a snapshot, or moving picture, of what our world is in a time of paralysis and, hopefully, finding ways to survive. The record talks about ideas and concepts that are about control and how to have power over a person. So I'm trying on myself other women."
The album is released with a bonus DVD called The Road Chronicles, which features documentary-style vignettes shot by Christian Lamb for each track. In an interview with The Coast, she says, "They're abstract. It's super-8 footage, and it's traveling the world, and just getting a feeling. There's a rawness to them. I think they work together. My work is a lot more akin to, I would say, the visual art world and sonic art world, so it's the sonic installation thing. As opposed to they're films. It'd be more like silent films, with the song giving you part of the story."
Six months later, Tori releases her first seasonal album called Midwinter Graces, which features both traditional carols and new, original songs. Suggested by both her father and Doug Morris, she tells Music Radar, "My dad has been after me to do a Christmas record since I was two years old… I wanted to make something that was part of tradition and variations on a theme. It's an old baroque tradition; it's part of the classical world that's been going on for hundreds of years, and that's what the people who did variations on the carols we sing today did. So, really, I'm just part of that tradition in the 21st Century."
Tori contributes vocals to two tracks on Here Lies Love, the 2010 collaborative album by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim.
2011 to 2013
On September 20, 2011, Tori releases her 12th studio album, Night of Hunters. Released by Deutsche Grammophon, the album is described as "21st Century Song Cycle Inspired by Classical Music Themes Spanning Over 400 Years." In the album's press release she explains her decision to release a classical record as well as the theme, saying, "I have used the structure of a classical song cycle to tell an ongoing, modern story. The protagonist is a woman who finds herself in the dying embers of a relationship. In the course of one night she goes through an initiation of sorts that leads her to reinvent herself allowing the listener to follow her on a journey to explore complex musical and emotional subject matter. One of the main themes explored on this album is the hunter and the hunted and how both exist within us."
The album features arrangements by regular collaborator John Philip Shenale as well as contributions by Poland's Apollon Musagète Quartett, who also perform with her on tour. Tori's daughter Natashya and niece Kelsey both provide guest vocals.
The next year she once again works with Deutsche Grammophon, which releases Gold Dust, a collection of hand-picked songs from her catalogue re-imagined with the Metropole Orchestra and conductor Jules Buckley. The album is the result of a 2010 performance she did with the orchestra. Featuring tracks from each of her albums, Tori says in the press release, "My relationship with all of these songs has changed over the years and they have changed my life. So it wasn't just about capturing the past it was about realizing that the songs had a new narrative now — ten or 20 years later than they did when I originally recorded them."
Tori launches her own label, Transmission Galactic, which she will use to develop new artists; her first signing is a band called the Adventures Of…
After a two-year delay, Tori and Samuel Adamson's musical adaptation of George MacDonald's fairy tale The Light Princess has its premiere at the Royal National Theatre in London. Speaking to Vogue, Tori says, "We wanted to create a musical fairy tale that spoke directly to modern concerns. We steeped ourselves in fairy tales that had vivid female protagonists — women put in predicaments by their societies, women who take on the challenges of entering the woods." Tori also produces the original cast recording of the musical, which includes two original songs of hers.
2014 to 2017
Tori moves to another label for her 14th album. Mercury Classics releases Unrepentant Geraldines, a return to the contemporary pop songwriting that she made a name for herself with. Speaking to Fader, Tori explains the return to pop after dabbling in classical: "There were times when I would just have a moment where a song would escape; I've kind of called it a secret moment, a private moment, because all these other projects are very collaborative and happening simultaneously. It's really busy … there were armies of people involved at the musical. I kind of jumped in at the deep end. But there were just times when a song would visit, in a moment by myself and I would really just keep it to myself. I wasn't contemplating writing a pop album; songs were just being expressed. There would be something that was happening in my life and I would just write. I was really writing songs just to live, to express."
The album includes "Promise," a duet with her now-teenage daughter Natashya. Both the song and a solo tour supporting the album were the result of her daughter issuing challenges. "She knows a lot of young piano player females out there," Tori tells the Detroit Free Press. "She said, 'Mom, come on, they're all doing your moves!' She's not stupid. I said, 'Who cares, it doesn't matter.' She said, 'It does matter. You're not 84. You need to prove at 50 that you can rock!'"
Unrepentant Geraldines debuts at #7 in the Billboard U.S. album chart.
In April 2015, Rhino reissues Tori's first two albums – Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink – as remastered, deluxe packages featuring unreleased material, B-sides and live tracks; Rhino does the same for Boys For Pele the following year.
Tori embarks on a road trip through North Carolina's Smoky Mountains, where she reconnects with her mother's familial roots. The experience inspires writing for her next album.
Netflix sends Tori the film Audrie and Daisy, a documentary that focuses on two teenage girls who are sexually assaulted by male friends, then humiliated and harassed by their communities. As a victim of rape, it resonates deeply with Tori, and she writes an original song for the doc called "Flicker." She also pens an essay for the Los Angeles Times about her own experience dealing with sexual assault and why the stories of victims like Audrie and Daisy need to be heard. "The film hit me to the core," she writes. "I found myself walking a thought through, a thought I hadn't really given proper attention to, despite my motherhood and constant interaction with the community of sexual-assault survivors. By that I mean the filmmakers helped me confront what is happening to 12-, 13-, 14-year-olds by their peers and their communities. It's the same old mechanisms of shaming and bullying, but amplified by digital footage, social media and moral attrition."
In January 2017, Tori's mother suffers a stroke that leaves her unable to speak. That, combined with the disastrous results of the U.S. election shift the focus for her next album. "It wasn't going to be a record of pain, blood and bone when I began," Tori writes in a fan newsletter. "It wasn't going to be a record of division. But the Muses 9 insisted that I listened and watched the conflicts that were traumatizing the nation and write about those raw emotions. Hopefully people will find strength and resilience within the songs to give them the energy to survive the storms that we are currently in."
On September 8, 2017, Tori releases her 15th studio album, Native Invader, via new label Decca. In a press release she explains that the songs "are being pushed by the Muses to find different ways of facing unforeseen challenges and in some cases dangerous conflicts. The record looks to Nature and how, through resilience, she heals herself. The songs also wrestle with the question: what is our part in the destruction of our land, as well as ourselves, and in our relationships with each other? In life there can be the shock of unexpected fires, floods, earthquakes, or any cataclysmic ravager — both on the inside and outside of our minds. Sonically and visually, I wanted to look at how Nature creates with her opposing forces, becoming the ultimate regenerator through her cycles of death and re-birth. Time and time again she is able to renew, can we find this renewal for ourselves?"
Essential Tori Amos
Little Earthquakes (Atlantic, 1992)
The world almost never met Tori Amos, solo artist, thanks to her disastrous attempt to cash in on hair metal with Y Kant Tori Read. But the stars were aligned for Tori to fulfil her true calling as a piano virtuoso and with Little Earthquakes she experienced a long-awaited breakthrough. By baring her heart, soul and skin, she discovered that all the world ever wanted from her was that heavenly, empowered voice and piano playing such raw and cathartic hymns as "Girl" and "Me and a Gun."
Under the Pink (Atlantic, 1994)
Expanding on the blueprint she laid with Little Earthquakes, Tori pushed herself to reach new boundaries on its followup. On Under the Pink she was no longer the "new age fruit loop" behind the piano, but a bold and ferocious songwriter-producer exploring darker terrain with "God" and "The Waitress," while also perfecting her bread and butter on "Yes, Anastasia" and "Pretty Good Year."
Boys for Pele (Atlantic, 1996)
Although it's the third part in a trilogy, Boys for Pele marked a momentous step forward for Tori Amos. Written after her long-term relationship with boyfriend/collaborator Eric Rosse ended, Tori used the Hawaiian volcano goddess Pele as her muse, embracing her own womanhood while putting her relationship with men under the microscope. As the album's producer, she ignored her label's requests and took the necessary creative risks to carry out her vision — all 70-plus minutes of it. While it still remains to be her most challenging work, Boys for Pele is also her masterpiece.
Purchase, download or stream Native Invader here.