It might be surprising that an artist like Tori Amos has managed to produce three - count 'em - retrospectives of her work over the past six years. Yet for die-hard fans (and for followers of this siren, entering her third decade as a recording artist, the die-hard bit is usually implied), her latest offering of selected tracks from the past 20 years will probably be seen as new material. It often sounds as though, on her new collection Gold Dust, the 50-year old Amos is trying to answer questions posed by her younger self.
She doesn't quite put it that way, of course. "The idea of a memory box came to mind, a sonic memory box," she tells HuffPost UK on the phone from Florida. "It feels like I'm having a conversation with 56 different instruments, and the pictures that I'm having in my mind while playing these songs are different pictures than I had when I wrote these songs."
Those 56 different instruments form the Dutch Metropole Orchestra, with whom she has already collaborated once since her most recent album, the well-received Night of Hunters. Amos describes her new record as the result of touring with the orchestra, "listening to what they were doing, so I would respond to what they were doing".
Watch 'Flavor' from Tori's new album Gold Dust:
There seems something about her recent switch to working solely with a classical label which has encouraged her to open up, once again. For much of the last decade, her albums have been explicitly concepts, with her infamous self-actualisation occluded in favour of telling someone else's story. Yet recently Amos has seemed ready to open up again. Perhaps she feels the need to re-state who she is.
"Somebody said to me recently, 'How can you sing Silent All These Years when you're not silent anymore?'" she offers. "And I said, 'How do you know I'm not silent any more, about something that happened two weeks ago and I didn't speak up like I should, or was intimidated to say something?' Maybe there are things that I don't speak up about, so that song can still be very current, even to me, but the pictures change."
This seems strange, a sense of being slightly mis-understood, from an artist whose USP has been about being so opaque. "You can be self-empowered and still learning about how you think about things daily," she says. "There are two ways to wake up. You can wake up thinking about what you know, or you wake up thinking and saying 'What can I learn?.' That's a very different approach."
20 Years Ago - Tori Amos In 1992 Launching Her First Album Little Earthquakes
In terms of song-choice, Amos has eschewed tracks which once garnered airplay. Cornflake Girl, Pretty Good Year, A Sorta Fairy Tale , are all absent. It would have been interesting to see how Amos might have turned Professional Widow into an orchestral track, since it's already morphed from its neurotic-baroque original to a Number 1 Ibiza club classic, but no.
Instead the tracklist is dominated by songs which previously had string arrangements, and a few which Amos has decided were fit for orchestral treatment. Slightly Little Earthquakes heavy, it is very much a record for long-standing fans, of whom there still remain huge numbers. For while Amos vanished from the mainstream years ago and nowadays often leaves rock music critics in despair, she still sells out concerts across the world.
Standout tracks include Yes, Anastasia, which has acquired a bullish, almost Roman blast of brass. A reflective tone during Winter features warm, mellow horns. Things have indeed changed, but angst and fear have been replaced by the self-assurance of a woman approaching the afternoon of her life. The production on every track is crisp, meticulous and expansive.
Although it's a record likely to be best appreciated by people who've grown up listening to Tori Amos, she says that the way she constructed the record was partly based on a new generation of (mostly) women who come up to her after her shows. For Amos, her status as a conduit of catharsis for those who've been raped and abused remains just as powerful.
"The internet wasn't really part of the conversation in 1992, but what's worrying is that the idea of abuse and sexual abuse is not lessening," she says. "Even though there seems to be more information out there, so many people come to the shows with stories now, more so, even. And that's worrying, because even though I think a lot of things were more hush-hush in those days, in some ways it's so accepted and prevalent, now. Particularly online. And what I've been finding is that they get involved in situations before they know it.
"It's the shame and the worry that they won't have a family or friends if they speak out. The perpetrators know how to manipulate and have learned the information on how to do it online, I think. There are so many women who are ashamed. I've had judges come to the backstage who are caught up in something - powerful women who are involved in a demeaning relationship, but are too ashamed, worried of the exposure."
The switch from alternative rock to playing with an orchestra seems to have come with pleasure and pain for Amos. "I played with them, which I've never done before." she says. "Usually in the pop world in the last 20 years, you record the master take of the artist separately because it's so expensive having an orchestral date - can you imagine if you're there and you have a terrible performance by the artist? So the idea has been always, get the artist right, no matter how long it takes. Sometimes you only get an hour for each song."
"A band usually can jam," she says, ruefully. "The difficult thing I've had to learn, in front of thousands of people last year, that with an orchestra you would need to build the jams on paper. It slipped my mind.
"The first time we played the programme back-to-back with no stops was a live show," she says. "And at the second song, I thought 'Oh. My. God. I can't just nod my head and start improvising.' So for the live shows now we're building in instrumentals for the orchestra. We look bar-for-bar at each piece and see where does it make sense? How is it fluid? You can't just add bars to bars, or you hear the sellotape."
This from a woman who at the age of eleven was thrown out of the prestigious Peabody Institute for non-conforming. She insists the tale of her being expelled for refusing to learn how to sight-read is apocryphal, but I wonder if there is something in her most recent material which harks back to her experiences at the Peabody?
'You know I met with the Dean, I saw him in New York not so long ago, and he told me they're training musicians differently than when I was a kid," she says. "That's good. But there were things that I did learn, and that was to analyse a work of music, and it's helped me."
The title track Gold Dust is probably the most faithful to the original, and was the most obviously personal track on an album which seemed a social commentary on a post 9/11 America. I suggest to Tori that, since then, her works have become increasingly political. I wonder what her thoughts are on the state of US politics a decade on, with yet another fractious presidential election looming?
"What I find most disconcerting is that certain issues come into it, such as abortion," she says. "The fact that religion plays such a part in how people vote troubles me, troubles me as a minister's daughter. Because I always felt that the separation of church and state was what our forefathers and foremothers really fought for.
"But when I walk to people here, certain issues seem to be determining who they're going to vote for, which I feel should not at all be in the mix. That the church has so much power. Or the idea that what you believe in, it's scary."
Yes, it's political. Tori Amos in an alter-ego during her 2007 tour
I suggest it's because the politicians don't have answers and are focusing on dog whistle politics? "I don't know if the average person really has faith in Washington anymore," she replies. "You used to think those people really wanted to make changes, but they don't make changes. Not for the masses anyway."
Did she have higher hopes for Obama than what the president has achieved? "I voted for Obama, of course. But I think that the country was in a real state when he took over and I understand that you can't make excuses. But so many people from the economic crash, they lost everything. I just see the fallout from those disasters. People who really worked hard, that believed if you work hard, it would somehow be fair. But it wasn't fair that a lot of people who've caused these problems have gotten away with it. So where do you turn to, as a person who believed. Really believed?"
Away from her own music, Amos is in the process of setting up her own label, designed to nurture independent artists. She's still working on a musical which has been struggling to get to the stage. She seems busy. Is she more free creatively, now, than she's ever been?
"Yes," she says, after a pause. "But I've had to work hard for it. The trick with that is you need to surround yourself with people who will push you. And you push yourself. There is an argument that says when you're fighting something, creativity can blossom out of that. But there are different fights, you know."
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