Born Myra Ellen Amos on August 22, 1963, in Newton, NC; daughter of Edison (a Methodist minister) and Mary Ellen Amos; married Mark Hawley (a sound engineer), 1998; children: Natashya. Education: Studied classical piano at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, 1968-74. Addresses: Record company--Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.atlantic-records.com. Website--Tori Amos Official Website: http://www.toriamos.com.
After spending years in classical piano training, then experimenting with the Los Angeles rock scene, Tori Amos attracted a popular music audience with her pure talent and honest expression of emotion in the early 1990s. Though Amos's debut album, Little Earthquakes, received only a smattering of college radio airplay, press coverage, and video exposure--MTV could never quite decide whether she belonged on Alternative Nation or VH1--it quietly insinuated itself into more than two million American homes and earned multi-platinum status. Her sophomore effort, Under the Pink, repeated this trajectory in the spring of 1994, vaulting into the top ten and going platinum.
Amos was born Myra Ellen Amos on August 22, 1963, in Newton, North Carolina, the youngest of the three children of the Reverend Edison Amos and his wife, Mary Ellen. Amos grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, where her father had transplanted his Methodist ministry from its original base in Washington, D.C. Her older brother and sister were taking piano lessons, but Amos didn't seem to need them. From the time she could reach the keys, she could play. When she was two, she could reproduce pieces of music she'd only heard once, and by age three she was composing her own songs.
At five she became the youngest student ever admitted to Baltimore's prestigious Peabody Conservatory, where for the next six years she did her best to be the dutiful child prodigy. Amos and the conservatory had a mutual parting of the ways when she was 11. "They know nothing about any other world than their own," she told an interviewer years later. "How can you teach musicians to be all they can be when all they're getting is guys that have been eaten by the worms? Hey, Bartok is amazing stuff; learning that has given me a foundation. But so did Jimmy Page. So did John Lennon. So did Joni Mitchell. So did Patti Smith. To really be a musician is to keep expanding."
Tried Los Angeles Rock Scene
With her father's encouragement, Amos began playing clubs in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. It must have been an odd sight, the 13-year-old girl and the Methodist minister showing up at mostly gay bars. But the audiences were tolerant, and as long as she played enough of what they wanted to hear, they were receptive to occasionally being serenaded by her personal song experiments as well.
By the time Amos was 17 she'd amassed a stock of homemade demo tapes that her father would send to record companies, producers, and anybody else who might be able to help his daughter. Producer Narada Michael Walden responded favorably, and they actually cut some tracks together, but none were released. Eventually Atlantic Records responded to one of the tapes, and when A&R man Jason Flom flew to Baltimore to audition her in person, the label was convinced: Amos was signed to Atlantic.
Then, in a move Creem magazine would later characterize as "a creative running away from home of sorts," Amos decided to reinvent herself as a Los Angeles "rock chick," as she deemed her persona of that time. She formed a band called Y Kant Tori Read that included future Cult and Guns n' Roses drummer Matt Sorum. When the group's self-titled album sank without a trace in 1988, Amos was crushed and withdrew from the music business and even her own songwriting. While visiting a friend some months later, however, Amos sat down at the piano and watched in amazement as unconscious music poured out of her for the next five hours. What she reconnected with that night was a sense of musical self and an inner voice that she could not deny.
Atlantic executive John Carter teamed her with producer Davitt Sigerson (The Bangles, David & David) in 1990, and the six tracks they cut in Los Angeles became the basis for her debut solo album. The emotional power of this new material was undeniable, the intensity of its confessional tone occasionally even discomforting. But Atlantic, not seeing a natural slot for this material in the fragmented American radio market, suggested that Amos move to England.
Gained European Cult Following
Amos's cross-Atlantic move was the turning point for her success. European audiences in the past had been willing to give eccentric American originals--from Joesphine Baker to Jimi Hendrix--a sympathetic ear. They were no less receptive to the offbeat charms of Amos. Her solo piano performances gained her a cult following that had spread so organically that when Little Earthquakes was released in January of 1992 it entered the British charts at number 15.
The album's most celebrated song was "Me and a Gun," Amos's unvarnished account of the kidnapping and rape she had endured in Los Angeles a few years before after giving a stranger a ride home from one of her concerts. The writing of the song was not only a brave act, but an essential one. "Yes, it was painful to go through," she told Paul Zollo of Musician. "But it's about passing through to the other side. Sometimes writing songs is the only sense I can make out of anything.... This particular issue was something I had buried for six years. While writing it, I was caught up in the trauma and the euphoria. I was finally able to cry about it. When you're walking around tripping over your intestines you've got to do something, and writing songs is it for me." Amos also dealt with the ordeal by helping other victims. She co-founded the nonprofit RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), which, by the end of the 1990s, was the largest such organization in the United States.
Little Earthquakes was released in America in February of 1992 and slowly but steadily began to attract listeners. It was helped along by a breathtaking video for the single "Silent All These Years," though the power of her words and music was such that it created its own visuals. Brook Hersey, writing in Glamour, pinpointed the appeal of Amos's music: "People don't just discover Tori Amos, they become obsessed.... Listeners who've felt unimportant or powerless, who've gone through the emotional struggle for self-worth, seem to feel she is telling their long-overdue story." Amos had created her own audience, with Little Earthquakes selling a million and a half copies worldwide.
Another Platinum Record
Under the Pink, Amos's follow-up album, released early in 1994, was also well received and enjoyed quick commercial success as well, with the first single, "God," selling over a million copies within months of hitting the shelves. Amos told Bill DeMain in Performing Songwriter, "When I wrote 'God' I was having a complete conversation with the concept of what God is.... To me, it's the root of all problems, that song right there. For me, [it is] one of the most important things I've ever done. You can call it my prayer if you want." Greg Sandow of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Measured simply by her raw ability, Tori Amos is a phenomenal talent. Few pop artists ever offer such variety or such richness of musical detail." Marie Elsie St. Leger of Rolling Stone noted: "The album is focused, the lyrics quirky and personable, the melodies eccentric enough to entice and simple enough to be catchy. Those qualities--and her emotional fearlessness--make Tori Amos a musical find to treasure."
Her third album, Boys for Pele (named after the Hawaiian volcano-dwelling goddess to whom men were sacrificed), came out in 1996. Though it debuted at number two on the Billboard pop chart and quickly reached platinum status, many critics called it a "difficult" album, not easily understood by a casual fan. Amos defended the album, telling a Billboard interviewer that though she is pleased to have a wider audience, she wasn't going to compromise her songwriting or "dumb down" her lyrics. "It isn't about trying to be 'Tori light'.... I didn't change what I do." Boys chronicled Amos's self-discovery as a woman in a man-dominated world and was written after the end of a seven-year relationship.
Amos took 1997 off, spending much of her time coping with a miscarriage by pouring her emotions into her songwriting. These songs formed the basis for her next album, From the Choirgirl Hotel. Time reporter Christopher Farley called it "the best and boldest of her career ... [the listener is] swept up in the force and energy of her music." Many songs, including the single "Spark," deal with the pain and loss she dealt with when she miscarried the previous year. "You realize, 'I can't create as a woman-mother right now, but I can create as a musician,'" she told Farley.
Amos married Mark Hawley, her sound engineer and father of the child she miscarried, in early 1998. "The sound was so amazing [on the last tour], I looked up and said, 'Who's doing the sound?' And my heart was lost," Amos told Time. The couple had their first child, a daughter named Natashya, in 2000. The family lives in southern England when not on tour, raising their daughter in the English countryside.
A double CD, To Venus and Back, was released to coincide with a tour with Alanis Morissette. The CD contained one disc of live music and one disc of new studio tracks. Amos followed that up with 2000's Strange Little Girls, an album of songs originally written by males, from a male point of view, deconstructed and rewritten by Amos. Critics and fans especially liked her haunting take on Eminem's "Bonnie and Clyde" and her reworking of Slayer's "Raining Blood."
New Album, New Label
In 2002, Amos released Scarlet's Walk on her new label, Epic. The concept album, written in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, follows a fictional women, Scarlet, on a journey around America and the liner notes come complete with a follow-along map outlining the journey. "The songs just started coming quickly because I was out in the land at a time when the masks were down, when people were talking about things they might not talk about today," Amos explained to Isaac Guzman of the New York Daily News. On her journey, Scarlet meets a host of characters, and the songs chronicle the differing lives each experiences in different American cities. All Music Guide reviewer Stephen Erlewine praised Scarlet's Walk, calling it a return to form after several years of difficult, obscure albums that only the "rabidly devoted" could like. "[Scarlet's Walk] is confident, alluring, and accomplished, luring listeners in instead of daring them to follow."
Amos cherishes her audience as much as they do her. "Some of the most interesting, growing conversations I've had," she told an interviewer, "and some of the most incredible wisdom I've gotten, has been backstage from the people who come to see me play. They all have a story to tell. And most of them are really working on consciousness; there is a commitment to the idea that the earth is going to the next stage of development. I just try to strip myself, peel myself like an onion. At different layers I discover stuff. I do it publicly, and if it helps to inspire somebody else, which inspires somebody else, which inspires somebody else ... then we're talking about a really exciting world here."
by Ben Edmonds
Tori Amos's Career
Played clubs in and around Baltimore and Washington, D.C.; signed by Atlantic Records; formed hard rock band Y Kant Tori Read and released self-titled album, 1988; embarked on solo career; moved to London, early 1990s; released debut solo album, Little Earthquakes, 1992; released Under the Pink, 1994; released Boys for Pele, 1996; released From the Choirgirl Hotel, 1998; toured with Alanis Morissette, released To Venus and Back, 1999; released cover album Strange Little Girls, 2001; signed with Epic, released concept album Scarlet's Walk, 2002.
Tori Amos's Awards
BRIT Awards, Best New International Artist, Best International Solo Artist, 1993; recipient of numerous reader poll awards from publications including Rolling Stone, Q, and Keyboard.
- Selected discography
- (With Y Kant Tori Read) Y Kant Tori Read , Atlantic, 1988.
- Little Earthquakes , Atlantic, 1992.
- Under The Pink , Atlantic, 1994.
- Boys for Pele , Atlantic, 1996.
- From the Choirgirl Hotel ,Atlantic, 1998.
- To Venus and Back , Atlantic, 1999.
- Strange Little Girls , Atlantic, 2001.
- Scarlet's Walk , Epic, 2002.
- America's Intelligence Wire, November 14, 2002.
- BAM, March 11, 1994.
- Billboard, March 28, 1992; February 20, 1993; December 4, 1993.
- Business Wire, September 6, 2000.
- Cosmopolitan, November 1999.
- Creem, March 1994.
- Details, November 1992.
- Entertainment Weekly, February 4, 1994.
- Europe Intelligence Wire, October 26, 2002.
- Glamour, August 1992.
- Keyboard, September 1992.
- Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, October 10, 2001; October 23, 2002.
- Metro Times (Detroit), October 28, 1992.
- Musician, May 1992.
- New Statesman, November 11, 2002.
- Performing Songwriter, March 1994.
- Rolling Stone, April 2, 1992; April 30, 1992; February 24, 1994; June 30, 1994.
- Spin, March 1994.
- Time, May 11, 1998.
- "Scarlet's Walk," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 14, 2003).
- "Tori Amos," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 14, 2003).
- Additional information was obtained from Atlantic Records publicity material, 1992 and 1994, and from interviews with Amos in December of 1993 and January of 1994.
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