Born Myra Ellen Amos, singer/songwriter/composer Tori Amos changed her name at 18 and embarked on a three-decade-long musical journey that has been fascinating to say the least. Amos' music can be filled with as much pretension as beauty, but it is always interesting. After a few neo-classical releases, Unrepentant Geraldines, Amos' most recent effort, returns the singer to more pop-friendly territory.
From a tour stop in San Francisco and in anticipation of her show this Tuesday at the AT&T Performing Arts Center, Amos talked with DC9 about changing her name, challenging her father's religion and mellowing out, a little, at 50.
DC9 at Night: Who gets to call you by your real name, Myra Ellen?
Amos: No-fucking-body does. Why would they want to do that?
When did you start using Tori?
I was 18 and I am 50 now. I've been Tori longer than the other. This is the thing: Say you wanted me to call you "Sugar." I would call you what you want to be called. Why would I want to force another name on you unless I wanted to have a power trip on you? What is it to me? Listen, I find people who force names on other people. It's manipulative. Now, my mom can get away with it. I'll let her do that. I won't let other people cross that line. I'm usually bored.
You mention turning 50. Is there anything magical that happens when you turn 50?
I think being 50 has been a huge inspiration, but I had to get there. I needed to embrace it and I needed to realize a few things. There's no excuse for not being on top of my game. It's an opportunity to be really sharp. Also, it's an opportunity to listen and learn from other people. I think it is an amazing age. My mother thinks it is the golden age. She told me that from 50 to 60 is an amazing time. It is time to be appreciative. It's taken me a little time to realize that. I feel a lot of gratitude for being able to experience 50.
With your most recent album, Unrepentant Geraldines, was it your intent to move back to pop song forms after a few releases of classical music?
It just sort of happened. I was writing these songs about what was going on in my life the last five years. They were about conversations I was having. I wasn't intentionally building a record. These were songs that were walking with me that became a record.
You produced the album yourself.
Well, my name is on it. Mark Hawley, whom I'm married to, produced the record, but he just doesn't want the credit. We work together very mentally. Even though my name is on it, Mark and I work very closely together.
The album, like many you have made, has gotten great reviews. At this point in your career, do you even care what the critics say?
Well, that is a double-edged sword. It doesn't suck when people are saying good things about your work. On the other hand, if you think of someone like Stravinsky, he got brutally mixed reviews. It was some of the worst things ever written. And it was concerning one of the most important works of all time. You may write something or create something that some people don't like. But years later, people discover it. You can't let it affect your work, whether people like it or not.
Your father is a minister. Is it a stereotype to say that children of ministers are often rebellious?
No, probably that is fair.
How did your father's occupation influence your music?
My music allowed me to escape religious indoctrination. Whatever your faith system is, you are expecting your kids to believe what you believe. You are not allowing for your child to develop his or her own belief. There is indoctrination going on. Music was a place where I could be myself. I get along with my dad better now than I ever have. I've always had a great relationship with my mom, but with my dad, it took a little work. He doesn't feel the need to convert me anymore.
Your music can be very spiritual. Do you attend any religious institution?
Look, I went to church five days a week until I was 21. I've done it. I did my time. I've done my dues in a traditional church setting. It is something I'm not drawn to. I would rather sit outside in nature and listen to the birds. That is what I would rather do. That is closer to the Native American sense of spirituality. That type of spirituality has spoken to me over the years.
Do you think some people feel compelled to claim being a Christian?
I ask my dad about this all of the time. Very few people who call themselves Christian walk the compassionate path of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I would rather not be called a Christian and try and walk the path of compassion. I found more hypocrisy in church than almost anywhere else.
Have you channeled that thinking into your music?
I want to reflect back onto the audience their gifts. When I walk around, I do hear people putting other people down. It seems almost an easy thing to do. I was to focus on the good things. You and I are having this discussion about religion. I think Jesus is a huge inspiration for all of us. But Jesus wasn't a Christian. That's the point. What was created around this person isn't about what this person really believed.
Is it part and parcel of being on a major label to have difficulties with record executives?
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I don't know. I don't have problems with the executives I am working with now. It was men who gave me this opportunity to make this record, not women. I was talking with them about turning 50 and how there are many more men over 50 who have record contracts than women over 50. It is all about supply and demand and we supply what the population demands. I thought that sucked.
You've never shied away from those issues over the years.
There were probably some times where I could have had Champagne with these people and been a little more clever in how I got what I wanted. Not everybody wants to hear the truth. As I have gotten older, I've thought that if I could go back in time, I could find other ways of resolving things. Age tells me that always being direct in dealing with an issue isn't always the best way. As a 30-year-old, I couldn't hear that.