For a generation “fed on small meals with cheap ingredients,” Tori Amos says her tenth studio album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin (AATS) is an antidote to crash-and-burn fast food records.
The flame-haired balladeer hits Australian shores in November for her Sinful Attraction Tour to beguile audiences with some new tracks and her familiar unbridled intensity and kook.
Although the lofty days of fame may be behind her, Amos still has a special place in the hearts of her queer audience and is determined good music will always stand on its own two feet.
With the vicious chew-up and spit-out music cycle these days, it would seem the collective attention span is waning by the second, but Amos said it doesn’t affect her work one bit.
“[The music industry] has changed, but that doesn’t mean I’m choosing to look at it the way the masses look at it,” Amos told Sydney Star Observer.
“I choose to look at it like J K Rowling looks at it. She doesn’t write a shorter Harry Potter book because people’s attention span has gotten less.
She writes the story as long as the story needs to be. Tt’s just gotten longer from the first one, and that’s right. I respect that.”
In recent interviews Amos — who’s now spent over two decades in the music business — has questioned the longevity of some of today’s pop chart toppers.
Musically gifted from an early age, Amos is an undeniable talent. The problem is, she says, as long as you have a good ProTools editor, you can hit well above your station.
So how does Amos cope with a batch of less-talented ‘it’ musicans saturating radio airwaves?
“I find it amusing because I’m in a place in my life, I’ve been around a long time, so it doesn’t really affect me, but I think there are a lot of new artists who might write and perform and might not be as physically attractive as some of these other young things who are on television but they’re not getting an opportunity,” she said.
“I know I can play real live. You don’t see a lot of the Nickelodeon, Disney people going out live,”
Although her performances on the Sinful Attraction Tour in the US and UK have so far been praised, AATS has had a lukewarm reception among critics.
The album features the ethereal, piano-driven line-up you’d expect from Amos and was recorded in her hometown Cornwall (UK) studios with the help of husband and music producer Mark Hawley.
The rather sombre lead single, Welcome to England, is classic Amos and wouldn’t be out of place as an English folk song.
The album, while subtle and graceful, seems to lack the punch of earlier work, Little Earthquakes, Boys for Pele and 2007’s American Doll Posse.
Amos said listening to critics is not something that keeps her up at night.
“I work independently to that, and that’s the reason I’ve been around as long as I have. You have to know what your work is. What people think now doesn’t really matter when you talk about it historically.
“If you and I are talking about what the critics of the time are thinking about a work, just go back to the Impressionist artists in the late 19th century, and think about what was said then, and now what we think of them, and it’s very very different.
“Sometimes the people who have a voice in the media, they might be seeing it through a very myopic perspective, they can only see it based on what they agree with at the time… as a musician you’ve got to know this.”
A preacher’s daughter, religion has featured prominently in Amos’ life. She’s used it to great ends in her past work and her current album.
Amos’ career has been built on provoking religious conservatism and its stranglehold, however, she said it doesn’t stop her parents coming to her shows.
“They come along and my Dad still has certain issues with what I do. He has a big issue with a rendition of Strong Black Vine right now. He’s a little cold on it, but that’s okay. If he were to embrace it then I would know I got it really wrong.”
How does he feel about being the yardstick of offence?
“I haven’t told him that,” she said with a laugh.
Amos remains elusive about meaning in her songs. This led to something of an obsession in the press, with interviewers trying to crack the real story behind the song.
“I’m very elusive about it and [the media] want what I won’t give them, so I reject them on that front — and everybody gets seduced by rejection.
“I don’t mean for them to get seduced, because I wish they would get distracted and talk about something else.”
Distraction for well-known artists often means an enormous camera lens shoved in their face, a circus Amos has left well alone.
“I don’t show up in any of those magazines and [husband] Mark and I work very diligently at making sure anything private… is dealt with in closed ranks.
“There’s no way I’m going to become fodder for people’s entertainment. My life is not entertainment for people and Mark and I are ferocious about that. There’s a reason he chose a place in Cornwall that has no streetlights — these choices were very conscious.”
A warrior for women cracking the music industry, Amos’ influence in empowering a new generation of female talent shouldn’t be underestimated, but Amos said the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“There are a lot more women getting up on the stage now, that’s true. What hasn’t changed is that the music business is still very much a boys’ club. There are not a lot of women calling the shots behind closed doors. I’m talking about real power, not just a head of department.
“So that means there have to be men within the boys’ club who are believers in women performers who are equal to male performers.”
Doug Morris, head of Universal Records, is one of those people. He has worked with Amos since Little Earthquakes and was instrumental in putting a woman, Sylvia Rhone, in the top chair at Universal Music Group’s Motown Records.
“I’ve known him for over 20 years, probably about 25 years and he’s 70 now,” Amos said.
“He’s seen a lot in his life and he is one of those guys… he does put his money where his mouth is and doesn’t see power as a sex, he sees power as a mind and a talent.”
info: Tori Amos plays the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, November 16 (sold out) and 17. Book through www.ticketmaster.com.au She plays the Canberra Theatre in the ACT on November 15. Tickets through Canberra Ticketing.