Tori Amos (born Myra Ellen Amos; August 22, 1963) is an eight-time Grammy Award–nominated American singer-songwriter, pianist and composer. She is a classically trained musician and possesses a mezzo-soprano vocal range.
Amos originally served as the lead singer of short-lived 1980s synthpop group Y Kant Tori Read before achieving her breakthrough as a solo artist in the early 1990s, becoming one of the world’s most prominent female singer-songwriters. She was also noteworthy early in her solo career as one of the few alternative rock performers to use a piano as her primary instrument. Some of her charting singles include “Crucify”, “Silent All These Years”, “God”, “Cornflake Girl”, “Caught a Lite Sneeze”, “Professional Widow”, “Spark”, “1000 Oceans”, “Flavor”, and “A Sorta Fairytale”, her most commercially successful single in the U.S. to date. Amos has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide. She has been nominated for and won several awards in different genres, ranging from MTV VMAs to classical music with an Echo award in 2012.
Tori Amos in 2007
|Birth name||Myra Ellen Amos|
|Born||August 22, 1963 (age 50)
Newton, North Carolina, United States
|Genres||Piano rock, alternative rock, baroque pop, electronica, classical|
|Occupations||Musician, singer-songwriter, record producer, composer|
|Instruments||Piano, harpsichord, clavichord, Hammond organ, harmonium, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Kurzweil, clavinet, vocals|
|Labels||Atlantic, Epic, Universal Republic, Deutsche Grammophon, Mercury Classics|
|Associated acts||Y Kant Tori Read|
Amos is the third child of Rev. Dr. Edison and Mary Ellen Amos. She was born at the Old Catawba Hospital in Newton, North Carolina, during a trip from their Georgetown home in Washington, D.C. Her maternal grandparents were of mixed European and Eastern Cherokee ancestry; of particular importance to her as a child was her grandfather, Calvin Clinton Copeland, who was a great source of inspiration and guidance, offering a more pantheistic spiritual alternative to her father and paternal grandmother’s traditional Christianity. When she was two, her family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where she began to play the piano. By age five, she had begun composing instrumental pieces on piano and, while living in Rockville, Maryland, she won a full scholarship to the Preparatory Division of the Peabody Conservatory of Music. Her scholarship was discontinued at age 11 and she was asked to leave. Amos has asserted that she lost the scholarship because of her interest in rock and popular music, coupled with her dislike for reading from sheet music. In 1972, the Amos family moved to Silver Spring, Maryland, where her father became pastor of the Good Shepherd United Methodist church. At the age of 13 she began playing at gay bars and piano bars, chaperoned by her father.
Amos first came to local notice by winning a county teen talent contest in 1977, singing a song called “More Than Just a Friend”. As a senior at Richard Montgomery High School, she co-wrote “Baltimore” with her brother Mike Amos for a competition involving the Baltimore Orioles. The song won the contest and became her first single, released as a 7″ single pressed locally for family and friends during 1980 with another Amos-penned composition as a B-side, “Walking With You”. Before this she performed under her middle name, Ellen, but permanently adopted Tori after a friend’s boyfriend told her it suited her. At age 21, Amos moved to Los Angeles to pursue her music career after several years performing on the piano bar circuit of the D.C. area.
In 1986, Amos formed a music group, Y Kant Tori Read, the name of which was a reference to her days at the Peabody Conservatory, where she was able to play songs on her piano by ear, but was never successful at sight reading. In addition to Amos, the group was composed of Steve Caton (who would later play guitars on all her subsequent albums until 1999), drummer Matt Sorum, bass player Brad Cobb and, for a short time, keyboardist Jim Tauber. Following several phases of writing and recording, during which Amos has since asserted that the band lost their musical edge and direction due to interference from record executives, in July 1988, the Y Kant Tori Read’s self-titled debut album was released. Although its producer, Joe Chiccarelli, has stated that Amos was very happy with the album at the time, it is now out of print and Amos has expressed no interest in reissuing it. Following the album’s commercial failure and the group’s subsequent disbanding, Amos began working with other artists (including Stan Ridgway, Sandra Bernhard, and Al Stewart) as a backup vocalist. She also recorded a song called “Distant Storm” for the film China O’Brien; in the credits, the song is attributed to a band called Tess Makes Good. It was the only song recorded by the band, and its only commercial release was in the film.
Despite the disappointing reaction to Y Kant Tori Read, Amos still had to comply with her six-record contract with Atlantic Records, who in 1989 wanted a new record by March 1990. The initial recordings were declined by the label, which Amos felt was because the album had not been properly presented. The album was reworked and expanded under the guidance of Doug Morris and the musical talents of Steve Caton, Eric Rosse, Will MacGregor, Carlo Nuccio, and Dan Nebenzal, resulting in Little Earthquakes, an album recounting her religious upbringing, sexual awakening, struggle to establish her identity, and sexual assault. This album became her commercial and artistic breakthrough.
Amos traveled to New Mexico with personal and professional partner Eric Rosse in 1993 to write and largely record her second solo record, Under the Pink. The album was received with mostly favorable reviews and sold enough copies to chart at No. 12 on the Billboard 200, a significantly higher position than the preceding album’s position at No. 54 on the same chart.
Amos performing on her Dew Drop Inn tour in 1996
Her third solo album, Boys for Pele, was released in January 1996. The album was recorded in an Irish church, in Delgany, County Wicklow, with Amos taking advantage of the church recording setting to create an album ripe with baroque influences, lending it a darker sound and style. She added harpsichord, harmonium, and clavichord to her keyboard repertoire, and also included such anomalies as a gospel choir, bagpipes, church bells, and drum programming. The album garnered mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising its intensity and uniqueness while others bemoaned its comparative impenetrability. Despite the album’s erratic lyrical content and instrumentation, the latter of which kept it away from mainstream audiences, Boys for Pele is Amos’s most successful simultaneous transatlantic release, reaching No. 2 on both the Billboard 200 and the UK Top 40 upon its release at the height of her fame.
Fueled by the desire to have her own recording studio to distance herself from record company executives, Amos had the barn of her home in Cornwall converted into a state-of-the-art recording studio, Martian Engineering Studios.
From the Choirgirl Hotel and To Venus and Back, released in May 1998 and September 1999, respectively, differ greatly from previous albums as Amos’s trademark acoustic piano-based sound is largely replaced with arrangements that include elements of electronica, dance music, vocal washes and sonic landscapes. The underlying themes of both albums deal with womanhood, and Amos’s own miscarriages and marriage. Reviews for From the Choirgirl Hotel were mostly favorable and praised Amos’s continued artistic originality. While not her highest chart debut, debut sales for From the Choirgirl Hotel are Amos’s best to date, selling 153,000 copies in its first week. To Venus and Back, a two-disc release of original studio material and live material recorded from the previous world tour, received mostly positive reviews and included the first major-label single available for sale as a digital download.
Motherhood inspired Amos to produce a cover album, recording songs written by men about women and reversing the gender roles to show a woman’s perspective. That idea grew into Strange Little Girls, released in September 2001, one year after giving birth to her daughter. The album is Amos’s first concept album, with artwork featuring Amos photographed in character of the women portrayed in each song. Amos would later reveal that a stimulus for the album was to end her contract with Atlantic without giving them new original songs; Amos felt that since 1998, the label had not been properly promoting her and had trapped her in a contract by refusing to sell her to another label.
With her Atlantic contract fulfilled after a 15-year stint, Amos signed to Epic in late 2001. In October 2002, Amos released Scarlet’s Walk, another concept album. Described as a “sonic novel”, the album explores Amos’s alter ego, Scarlet, intertwined with her cross-country concert tour following 9/11. Through the songs, Amos explores such topics as the history of America, American people, Native American history, pornography, masochism, homophobia and misogyny. The album had a strong debut at No. 7 on the Billboard 200. Scarlet’s Walk is Amos’s last album to date to reach certified gold status from the RIAA.
Amos in concert in June 2005
Not long after Amos was ensconced with her new label, she received unsettling news when Polly Anthony resigned as president of Epic Records in 2003. Anthony had been one of the primary reasons Amos signed with the label and as a result of her resignation, Amos formed the Bridge Entertainment Group. Further trouble for Amos occurred the following year when her label, Epic/Sony Music Entertainment, merged with BMG Entertainment as a result of the industry’s decline. Amos would later hint in interviews that during the creation of her next album, those in charge at the label following the aforementioned merger were interested “only in making money”, the effects of which on the album have not been disclosed.
Amos released two more albums with the label, The Beekeeper (2005) and American Doll Posse (2007). Both albums received mixed reviews, some of which stated that the albums suffered from being too long. The Beekeeper was conceptually influenced by the ancient art of beekeeping, which she considered a source of female inspiration and empowerment. Through extensive study, Amos also wove in the stories of the Gnostic gospels and the removal of women from a position of power within the Christian church to create an album based largely on religion and politics. The album debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200, placing her in an elite group of women who have secured five or more US Top 10 album debuts. While the newly merged label was present throughout the production process of The Beekeeper, Amos and her crew nearly completed her next project, American Doll Posse, before inviting the label to listen to it. American Doll Posse, another concept album, is fashioned around a group of girls (the “posse”) who are used as a theme of alter-egos of Amos’s. Musically and stylistically, the album saw Amos return to a more confrontational nature. Like its predecessor, American Doll Posse debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200.
During her tenure with Epic Records, Amos also released a retrospective collection titled Tales of a Librarian (2003) through her former label, Atlantic Records; a two-disc DVD set Fade to Red (2006) containing most of Amos’s solo music videos, released through the Warner Bros. reissue imprint Rhino; a five disc box set titled A Piano: The Collection (2006), celebrating Amos’s 15-year solo career through remastered album tracks, remixes, alternate mixes, demos, and a string of unreleased songs from album recording sessions, also released through Rhino; and numerous official bootlegs from two world tours, The Original Bootlegs (2005) and Legs & Boots (2007) through Epic Records.
In May 2008, Amos announced that, due to creative and financial disagreements with Epic Records, she had negotiated an end to her contract with the record label, and would be operating independently of major record labels on future work. In September of the same year, Amos released a live album and DVD, Live at Montreux 1991/1992, through Eagle Rock Entertainment, of two performances she gave at the Montreux Jazz Festival very early on in her career while promoting her debut solo album, Little Earthquakes. By December, after a chance encounter with chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, Doug Morris, Amos signed a “joint venture” deal with Universal Republic Records.
Abnormally Attracted to Sin, Amos’s tenth solo studio album and her first album released through Universal Republic, was released in May 2009 to mostly positive reviews. The album debuted in the top 10 of the Billboard 200, making it Amos’s seventh album to do so. Abnormally Attracted to Sin, admitted Amos, is a “personal album”, not a conceptual one, with the album exploring themes of power, boundaries, and the subjective view of sin. Continuing her distribution deal with Universal Republic, Amos released Midwinter Graces, her first seasonal album, in November of the same year. The album features reworked versions of traditional carols, as well as original songs written by Amos.
During her contract with the label, Amos recorded vocals for two songs for David Byrne’s collaboration album with Fatboy Slim, entitled Here Lies Love, which was released in April 2010. In July of the same year, the DVD Tori Amos- Live from the Artists Den was released exclusively through Barnes & Noble.
After a brief tour from June to September 2010, Amos released the highly exclusive live album From Russia With Love in December the same year, recorded live in Moscow on September 3, 2010. The limited edition set included a signature edition Lomography Diana F+ camera, along with 2 lenses, a roll of film and 1 of 5 photographs taken of Tori during her time in Moscow. The set was released exclusively through toriamos.com and only 2000 copies were produced.
In September 2011, Amos released her first classical music album, Night of Hunters, featuring variations on a theme to pay tribute to such renowned composers as Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Granados, Satie and Schubert, through the Deutsche Grammophon label, a division of Universal Music Group. Amos recorded the album with several musicians, including the Apollon Musagète string quartet.
To mark the 20th anniversary of her debut album Little Earthquakes (1992), Amos released an album of songs from her back catalogue re-worked and re-recorded with the Metropole Orchestra. The album, titled Gold Dust, was released in October 2012 through Deutsche Grammophon.
On May 1, 2012, Amos announced the formation of her own record label Transmission Galactic, which she intends to use to develop new artists. One of the first artists signed is singer/songwriter, Lawrence Casey.
In 2013, Amos collaborated with The Bullitts on the track “Wait Until Tomorrow” from their debut album They Die by Dawn & Other Short Stories. She has also stated in an interview that a new album and tour will materialize in 2014 and that it will be a “return to contemporary music”.
September 2013 saw the launch of Tori Amos’ much anticipated musical project adaptation, George MacDonald’s The Light Princess, along with book writer Samuel Adamson and Marianne Elliott. It premiered at London’s Royal National Theatre and ended February 2014. The Light Princess and its lead actress Rosalie Craig were nominated for Best Musical and Best Musical Performance, respectively, at the prestigious Evening Standard Award. Rosalie Craig won the Best Musical Performance category. Plans of bringing The Light Princess to Broadway theatre are underway, and a cast recording release in 2015 via Universal.
In November 2013, it was announced that Amos’ 14th studio album would be called Unrepentant Geraldines with a May 12, 2014 release date. Its first single, “Trouble’s Lament”, was released on March 28. The new album will be supported by the Unrepentant Geraldines Tour starting May 5, 2014 in Cork and heading across Europe before touring North America in July/August 2014. Her tour will also include South Africa. The new album will be released on Mercury Classics internationally and on Mercury Classics/Universal Music Classics in the US.
According to press release, Unrepentant Geraldines is a “return to her core identity as a creator of contemporary songs of exquisite beauty following a series of more classically-inspired and innovative musical projects of the last four years. [It is] both one further step in the artistic evolution of one of the most successful and influential artists of her generation, and a return to the inspiring and personal music that Amos is known for all around the world.”
Released in conjunction with The Beekeeper, Amos co-authored an autobiography with rock music journalist Ann Powers entitled Piece by Piece (2005). The book’s subject is Amos’s interest in mythology and religion, exploring her songwriting process, rise to fame, and her relationship with Atlantic Records.
Image Comics released Comic Book Tattoo (2008), a collection of comic stories, each based on or inspired by songs recorded by Amos. Editor Rantz Hoseley worked with Amos to gather 80 different artists for the book, including Pia Guerra, David Mack, and Leah Moore.
Additionally, Amos and her music have been the subject of numerous official and unofficial books, as well as academic critique, including Tori Amos: Lyrics (2001) and an earlier biography, Tori Amos: All These Years (1996).
“Tori Amos: In the Studio” (2011) by Jake Brown features an in-depth look at Amos’s career, discography and recording process.
In 2011 Adrienne Trier-Bieniek, a sociology graduate student at Western Michigan University, received her PhD for a dissertation entitled “All I Am: Defining Music as an Emotional Catalyst through a Sociological Study of Emotions, Gender and Culture”. Trier-Bieniek focused on Amos’s female fans and the emotional support they receive from listening to Amos’s music. Along with Patricia Leavy, Trier-Bieniek contributed a chapter to the book “The Art of Social Critique” which addressed Amos’s later albums and songwriting skills.
“Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos” (2013) by Adrienne Trier-Bieniek detailed Trier-Bieniek’s research with women who have used Tori Amos’s music as a means to heal from trauma. It also discusses the feminist themes in Tori Amos’s songwriting/persona.
Amos in 1993 Alexandra Palace, London
Early in her professional career, Amos befriended author Neil Gaiman, who became a fan after she referred to him in the song “Tear in Your Hand” and also in print interviews. Although created before the two met, the character Delirium from Gaiman’s The Sandman series (or even her sister Death) is inspired by Amos; Gaiman has stated that they “steal shamelessly from each other”. She wrote the foreword to his collection Death: The High Cost of Living; he in turn wrote the introduction to Comic Book Tattoo. Gaiman is godfather to her daughter and a poem written for her birth, Blueberry Girl, was published as a children’s book of the same name in 2009.
Amos married English sound engineer Mark Hawley on February 22, 1998. Their only child, a daughter named Natashya “Tash” Lórien Hawley, was born on September 5, 2000, a few weeks after Tori’s 37th birthday. The family divides their time between Sewall’s Point in Florida, Kinsale (County Cork) in Ireland, and Cornwall in England.
In June 1994, Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), a toll-free help line in the US connecting callers with their local rape crisis center, was founded. Amos made the ceremonial first call to launch the hotline. Amos, herself a survivor of sexual assault, became the first national spokesperson for the organization. In the summer of 2006, when RAINN received its one millionth caller, Amos had been a supporter of the organization for 12 years. On August 18, 2013 a concert in honor of her 50th birthday was held, an event which raised money for RAINN.