Tori Amos: ‘An angry 40-year-old is a scary thing’

Published Aug. 29, 2003/Scripps Newspapers


Tori Amos recently celebrated her 40th birthday, and the singer/songwriter says it was no big deal. She’d already had her rites of passage.

“Thirty-five was really hard for me,” Amos says. “Because I wasn’t a mom, I’d had two miscarriages, and in the end I had three, and I wanted to be a mom. I was ready.”

Known for her sometimes painfully intimate songs that combine elliptical poetry with bold expressions of sensuality, Amos – the daughter of a Methodist minister — had been one of the fearless “angry young women” of the musical ’90s. She was a piano-pounding bundle of steely nerves.

Today she’s married to sound engineer Mark Hawley, and daughter Natasha is nearly 3 years old. They share a nice, quiet home, with garden, in Martin County.

Tori Amos has grown up.

“Thank God,” she says. “Let’s be honest with each other, an angry 40-year-old is really, really a scary thing. I’ve been able to stay in this business, and I’ve walked through raving and ranting at the church, and the patriarchy, and the guys who are getting 15,000 boys to chant ‘Die, Bitch, Die’ at their concerts. I’ve gone after them.

“And now I’m going after it in a way that isn’t with anger, but hopefully with a sense of humor. I don’t have the knives out, I’ve got the pen out. And that’s different.”

Her “Lottapianos” tour winds down Thursday at the Sound Advice Amphitheatre. The show is being filmed for a live DVD.

Amos considers “Scarlet’s Walk,” her 2002 release, to be the opening chapter in the second book of her life chronicle.

It’s a musically challenging work, less starkly confessional than vintage Tori; her lyrics are framed by lush aural landscapes. “Scarlet” is the work of an artist who’s come a long way from the bristling canvas of the early days.

“When I was writing (the albums) ‘Little Earthquakes’ and ‘Under the Pink,’ I liked being in that place,” Amos says. “I had embraced the piano again.

“And then, after those two records, relationships were unraveling, I was in a different world. I had moved from the south on the Native American medicine wheel to the west. I was finding out what kind of woman I wanted to be. I got involved in all sorts of relationships with people where I realized I didn’t want to be treated like that, but sometimes it’s a very harsh teaching. And that’s what ‘Boys For Pele’ was about.

“And then I fell in love with this engineer, and it turned my life upside down. I didn’t expect it would be that way. Then I got pregnant by surprise and we miscarried, and that was the beginning of that dark walk.

“So I think now at 40 I kind of see myself more as a lighthouse than one of these ships on the wild ocean. I’ve done that, and it’s better to be a nurturing force.”

Amos’ legions of fiercely faithful fans know her as a woman unafraid to discuss anything in her lyrics, and for her histrionic, sexually charged live performances.

She says she’s comfortable with the changes in her life.

“It’s about power, it’s not about passion. You’ve been in that place and you’ve played ‘Coquette,’ and you’ve done all that. Now it’s time to move. And some women get stuck in that place. Especially in the entertainment industry, and you try and hold onto that place.

“Because I physically wasn’t becoming a mother, the process kept dying. I was in a dark place, and I think that writing the records ‘From the Choirgirl Hotel’ and ‘To Venus and Back’ helped me to move. And then I, surprisingly, got the stomach flu and that became Natasha.

“For me, there’s life B.T. and A.T. Before Tash and After Tash.”

Amos and her family live for part of each year in the Sewall’s Point home they bought in 1995. “I come to write there, and I come to get away from it all,” she explains. “But the husband won’t allow a studio system in the house — he said ‘We have to have a break from the records.’ So I have a piano there, but there’s no work done there. Writing, but it’s more of a creating space and a rejuvenating space.”

Amos records at her other residence, in Cornwall, England. “My husband is British, and he’s difficult,” she laughs. “So we have to be there for football season. My daughter could practically say ‘Arsenal’ before she could say ‘Mom.’ Which I’ve had to come to terms with.”

Her parents, originally from North Carolina, live in Port St. Lucie. “My mother picked the house out for me,” Amos says. “I wanted her to. I was in Europe at the time, touring.

“I’ve always loved my mother’s taste. I just said pick something with a view, and don’t worry about the house because I’m gonna gut it anyway. It doesn’t matter, because I’m gonna make it my own.”

The house, Amos explains, doesn’t exactly have a living room. “I built a treehouse in the middle, which is our entertainment center. It’s a mixture of Alice in Wonderland and Paul Bowles’ ‘Tea in the Sahara.’

“I just had this picture of a treehouse with a white canvas tent and wood, and stone steps. One of the architects in town came and helped design everything.”

She says the treehouse had to be large enough to contain her grand piano.

Thursday’s concert in West Palm Beach will be her last for a while, Amos says.

“It’s not that I’m tired of touring,” she explains. “What’s got to happen, as a mom – she starts school in September. They start them young over there. She’s starting ballet, and she’s starting piano lessons, and she wants to learn the drums. She wants to dance. And she wants to go to school and learn to read. So this is what we have to do this fall.

“We can’t go out on the road for a while, so there’s no touring even being considered until possibly 2005.”

What’s next is a “Best of Tori Amos” CD, with the most popular tracks from life B.T., plus two newly recorded songs. “That’s kind of chronicling how I saw things from 1990 to 2003,” she says. “And I’m interested in scoring some music for the visual arts side. I won’t say films, because it’s hard to know what that’s going to be yet.”