At midlife, Tori Amos understands that she cannot rule life’s tidal shifts, only navigate them,” Ann Powers writes near the end of the new book “Tori Amos: Piece By Piece,” which she co-wrote with the artist. “She is a rider of the waves, her sense of the future defined by an undiminished faith in music’s power.”
Rarely has a summary been so dead on.
Amos is an artist driven solely by the creative process, following the music wherever it goes to harness its essence.
“You can’t stop time,” Amos tells Billboard. “And I think that’s why, the thing about songs, and it’s always been this way for me, they try and capture time in a way that you can’t capture sunlight and hold it.”
“Piece By Piece” (Broadway Books, Feb. 8) was conceived over the course of two years of conversations with noted music journalist Powers (New York Times, Village Voice). What began as a chronicle of the making of “The Beekeeper,” her eighth studio album and second for Epic (due Feb. 22, Feb. 21 internationally), along the way became an exploration of what makes this enigmatic artist tick.
“I felt that now would be the time, before I forget my process, to reveal some of the ways that I’ve been able to continue to create in the music business,” Amos says. “Not just as a musician, but as somebody that has to navigate the business side of it and as somebody that wanted to become a mom and wanted to have a relationship.
“I don’t think it’s about having it all, I think it’s about balancing, like the seasons,” she explains. “Some people have felt to be this creative force that you can’t be tied down to a relationship that nobody understands, but I didn’t really want that forever. So, the book, I think, talks about how to try and not juggle, but nurture these different facets, these different OK pieces of your life.”
A STORIED LIFE
Born in North Carolina and raised in Maryland, Amos is the daughter of a Methodist minister raised in the strict Christian sense that entails. Along with a voracious literary appetite, from her mother she inherited a Cherokee bloodline that connects her to spirituality deeper than any church can provide.
Considered a child prodigy, Amos studied classical piano at Baltimore’s prestigious Peabody Academy, and was wooed by the unbridled passion of rock’n’roll. But on the way to becoming the revered artist she is today, missteps in the notoriously perilous music business pushed her to define herself and take control over her professional destiny.
“She’s lived a life unlike anybody else’s life you could possibly imagine, it’s literally like a tall tale,” says Rakesh Satyal, Amos and Powers’ editor at Broadway. “She’s really kind of a superwoman in many respects and she’s every bit as fascinating as you’d expect her to be.”
And it’s the entirety of her life, as well as a healthy appetite for researching legends, religious texts, folklore, spirituality and art that was brought to the table in making “The Beekeeper.”
“The concept is that there are six gardens, no different than that there are six sides to the cell in the beehive, so the hexagon shape is sort of our kind of key,” Amos says. “The songs live within these six gardens [which] represent the emotional life of this woman, call her ‘Tori’ or a female character whose voice we hear on the album.”
In seeking out a tradition envelop her ideas, Amos needed look no further than the beekeeping legacy that exists around Cornwall, England, where she now lives with her husband, sound engineer Mark Hawley, and their daughter Natashya. Its quintessence influenced not only the album’s lyrical foundation, but the musical instrumentation that flavors its overall sound.
“As I started to trace its history, it began to fit into place,” she says. “As I was looking into the garden concept, I was thinking about pollination and how to keep the garden from becoming a wasteland and, of course, we go back to bees and the pollinating of that female worker bee with that male organ of that flower. I brought in the organ, the Hammond B3 organ to marry with the piano, so that the music would reflect the concept.”
Although more rhythmic than the distinct Americana of her 2002 Epic debut, “Scarlet’s Walk,” the new set possesses a similar honeyed tone (pun intended). Accompanying her throughout are longtime compatriots Jon Evans (bass), Matt Chamberlain (drums) and multi-instrumentalist Mac Aladdin.
“This is more of a global record,” she says. “And it’s also about your personal involvement in the world and how your relationships are, not just with the outside world, but your inside world as well.”
Among the 19-tracks that populate the gardens, Amos explores what she calls “original sin-suality” between male and female. The warm tones of the B3 contribute to the earthy funk of tracks such as “Sweet the Sting,” and paired with a choir, the soaring gospel feel of “Witness.” Other highlights include “The Power of Orange Knickers” (a duet with Damien Rice), “Ribbons Undone,” “Cars and Guitars,” “Marys of the Sea” and “Hoochie Woman.”
The album is led by the single “Sleeps With Butterflies,” for which a video was recently shot with director Laurent Brier (Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers).
Beyond access to a streaming full version of the single months ago at toriamos.com, anxious fans have been able to preview one song from each “garden” for the six weeks preceding the album’s release. They’ve also been offered excerpts from “Piece by Piece” and a pre-order opportunity for a limited edition of the album.
Created by Amos and Epic, the specially designed package comes with a DVD offering an extensive interview with the artist and footage of the recording process. A video-only single of the new song “Garlands” is another included bonus, as is a 24-page booklet with artwork and a “Beekeeper” packet of wildflower seeds.
CREATING A BUZZ
From Epic’s standpoint, “The Beekeeper” is seen as an opportunity to expand Amos’ audience beyond her ardent fanbase.
“There are a lot of great artists that range from the Sarah McLachlans of the world to Norah Jones and everything in between, and there is a large appetite for smart, thought provoking music,” Epic VP marketing Lee Stimmel says. “And this record is rich with that.”
Helping to spread the word will be a series of special events that begins with a Feb. 23 in-store appearance at New York’s Barnes & Noble Union Square and “An Evening of Conversation” with Amos and Powers the next night at the city’s 92nd St. Y.
A U.S. book signing tour will open March 14 in Los Angeles and visit San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Boston. April will bring a U.S. theater tour with Amos alone onstage with just her Bösendorfer piano and a Hammond B3.
“It’s always been a fan’s favorite,” says Amos’ manager, John Witherspoon. “Tori alone at the piano tours are intense and very popular, which is why we’re doing smaller venues so we get back to that intimate setting. We always like to change it up a little. We did the last tour with just drums and bass and Tori, so we’re going back to purely solo for the first time since 2001.”
A similar European tour will follow, with plans to play some festivals there in June, at which time “Piece by Piece” should be out throughout the continent.
A push of promotional appearances coinciding with the album’s release reflects the attempt to reach both segments. Across the last two weeks of February, Amos is booked on “The Late Show With David Letterman,” “Weekend Today,” “The Carson Daly Show,” “Live With Regis & Kelly,” “The Big Idea With Donny Deutsch” and “A&E Breakfast With the Arts.”
Amos will return to the United States for a summer tour of larger venues with a full band. That run may see Amos joining the growing trend of offering sanctioned instantaneous live releases of all of her performances, according to Witherspoon.
CHANGING THE WAYS OF BUSINESS
In addition to being at the center of all of this activity, Amos is also in complete control. That’s not been the case through much of her career, which contributed to a less than amicable split with Atlantic, where she recorded for more than a decade.
In an almost instructional manner aimed at burgeoning artists, Amos lays bare much of her professional trauma in “Piece by Piece.”
“Whether you are an artist in the industry or running one of these labels now, I think that you can glean something out of chapter eight, which is ‘Surviving the Music Industry,'” she says.
“I tried to explain the animal, the music business animal, from my perspective. From publishing and what you need to watch out for, the power structure, and I walk you though what went down with me and Atlantic, which people need to know.”
Despite the unflinching examination of many unpleasant details, Witherspoon is not concerned about offending former associates. “She’s always been fairly open about her opinion on certain facets of the music industry,” he says.
Discussing the business end of art with Amos evokes a passionate discourse on the need for sweeping reform that will tip the balance of power away from record labels, managers, booking agents and attorneys and in favor of the artist.
“The face of the industry is changing,” she says. “But I think that it’s not going to be what it could be unless everybody sort of steps up and says for us to make this work we all have to give a little bit.
“But the one question that needs to be asked is not being asked: Where do we all give a bit so that we all gain?”
Amos, Witherspoon and Chelsea Laird, another member of Amos’ management team, are doing their part to foster change through the Bridge Entertainment Group (Billboard, Oct. 23, 2003). Founded after Polly Anthony abruptly exited her post as president of Epic less than a year after “Scarlet’s Walk” was released, Amos has been the company’s chief client.
“We’ve consulted on a few artists,” Witherspoon says. “That’s one of the things that we wanted to do, to be out there for artists who have young, inexperienced managers who don’t want to tie themselves into a management deal, but need assistance. And rather than being the traditional managers, ‘OK sign on the dotted line, we want your firstborn,’ we can help you out piecemeal.”
Taking on other full time clients beyond Amos will have to wait at least until after activity around “The Beekeeper” diminishes. “We’ve had a lot of people calling us and wanting us, wanting our involvement,” Witherspoon says. “We’re at the point right now with Tori where we’re kind of having to say, ‘OK, we can help you on a limited basis,’ just because we are so busy.”
Contributing to the workload has been the negotiation of a shift of Amos’ Atlantic releases within the Warner Bros. family over to Rhino. It’s a move that should excite her fans, as the coming years should unleash a wave of deluxe reissues of her earlier works.
“We’re just in the very, very early stages of talking about what and the best way to work with the catalog,” he says, envisioning repackaging with substantial bonuses, not unlike Rhino’s treatment of Elvis Costello’s back catalog. “And there’s a lot of material,” Witherspoon says. “A lot of material.”
This is an expanded version of an article that appears in the Feb. 5, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.
For information about ordering a copy of the issue, click here.