Tori Amos: Fairy-tale endings

Personal torment once inspired Tori Amos. Not any more, she tells James McNair
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The Independent Culture

As you might expect, Tori Amos is sorted for real estate. She owns a Georgian pad in County Cork, and a beach house near Miami. Today, though, we are at her 19th-century cottage near Bude, in north Cornwall, dining at the kitchen table. The cottage overlooks Amos's studio complex and her English recording-engineer husband, Mark Hawley, is here too.

It is almost 12 years since the North Carolina-born singer and pianist released her debut album, Little Earthquakes. In 1994, she helped establish the rape and incest charity Rainn, and in 1997, Armand Van Helden's chart-topping remix of "Professional Widow" helped reinvent her briefly as a dance artist. More recently, Amos's 2002 album, Scarlet's Walk, yielded "A Sorta Fairytale", her biggest US hit. She has just released Tales Of A Librarian, a best-of-and-bonuses collection she describes as her "sonic autobiography".

"My whole life with songs has been about chronicling time," Amos says. "I would write a piece of music so that, six months later, when everybody had forgotten about, say, our glossing over of that embarrassing incident at church [Amos's father is a Methodist Minister], I could remember what actually happened."

Amos and Hawley have worked hard to ensure that Tales Of A Librarian has real life and spark. Featuring two new songs, and reworkings of the rare B-sides "Mary" and "Sweet Dreams", the collection also finds Amos revisiting classic tracks from her career. These new versions of familiar gems emphasise different aspects of the original mixes, restoring "lost" backing vocals and instrumental overdubs.

With lunch over, Amos suggests a snug, downstairs room for the interview proper. How had it felt, then, to listen back to her younger self singing songs such as "Crucified" and "Me and a Gun"?

"Mostly, I really enjoyed revisiting the songs. But 'Me and a Gun' [the Little Earthquakes track which documents Amos's real-life rape] was the one where, once we'd checked the multi-track, I wanted Mark to deal with it alone. At the mastering stage, I lit a candle as I always do, and I heard her voice and she touched my heart. When I'd made my peace with it, I said, 'OK, I'm gonna go now.' I've worked very hard to move on from that song so that I'm not a victim of it.

"With 'Crucified'", Amos continues, "it was completely the reverse. I could enjoy being with the girl who sang that; enjoy hearing her piss and vinegar as she took on the patriarchy. My approach now is very different to how it was then, though. If you're angry at 40, it's not attractive. But being angry and writing a song like 'Crucified' when you're 26 - well there's something sort of delicious about that."

The new Amos song, "Angels", might please the George Bush-baiting author and film-maker Michael Moore. Still, the song's lyric takes some deciphering. When I confess bewilderment, Amos explains that the angels she sings of represent the votes "lost" in Florida during the last presidential election. "It's getting better by the day, but it's been a tough two years", she adds.

"I think about the war in Iraq, too, and the depressing fact that we're still in it", Amos continues. "If you try and speak out in America, people say you're not supporting the country, but it's the administration you're not supporting. It's funny, because Christians talk about people being possessed, but they're attempting to possess the voice of the land. So 'Angels' is partly about the 'lost' votes, and partly about a mass of people who could not see that they had the strength to stand up to everything that followed."

As our interview winds down, I confess that I have been tipped-off about Amos's alter-ego, Mrs Paris. This, she confirms with a giggle, is the old lady she pretends to be while teaching her three-year-old daughter, Natashya, the piano. So, is there a special outfit? "No, it's more of an imagination thing," she laughs. "Besides, it was the only way I could get 'Tash to take lessons from me."

'Tales of a Librarian' is out now on Eastwest

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