How Tori Amos followed her heart and fell in love with us
The confessional singer on Miley, her love of Cork and her latest album.
Published 06/05/2014 | 02:30
Tori Amos can't bring herself to say the 'M' word – Miley Cyrus, that is – out loud. She has strong thoughts on the Duchess of Twerk, that much is obvious. But using the media as a megaphone isn't her style.
"I don't think anyone is being forced to do anything – people are making a choice. They can see the effect it is having," says the singer, as she contemplates the sexualisation of pop music. "The guys have been throwing it about for years. If women are equalling things ... well that's what they are doing."
You might not imagine a great deal of common-ground between Miley and Amos, a confessional songwriter whose hits bear such darkly inscrutable titles as Cornflake Girl, Father Lucifer and Silent All These Years. Yet the parallels exist if you look deeply enough.
Twenty years ago Amos was to the fore of a new generation of female artists – articulate, ambitious, not afraid to imbue their songs with smart sexuality. The North Carolina native's stance was perhaps best surmised by the headline accompanying a May 1994 Q magazine cover featuring Tori, Bjork and PJ Harvey: hip, tits, lips power.
"We weren't compromising. I don't know if these women – and we don't need to mention names – are compromising either. No more than some of the guys in music – the rock guys are all over the place [in terms of letting it all hang out]."
Amos is releasing a new album, a collection of dirges, gothic lullabies and pop laments called Unrepentant Geraldines. The title – referring to women through history who have unapologetically faced down male hegemony and taken control of their lives – was inspired by a painting by 19th century Cork artist Daniel Maclise. She stumbled upon the image in Kinsale, where she has kept a house since the 1990s.
"I first came to Ireland to record my album Boys for Pele," says Amos, referring to her chart-topping 1996 LP. "The original plan was to make it in America. We wanted to do it in an old southern type house, but the realtors knew who I was and when we tried to rent a house, everybody was out to fleece me.
"I was following a religious energy and my father's family are Scottish-Irish. I felt I needed to trace it back. I went to the old world."
She had already fallen a little in love with the country.
In 1994, Amos performed at the National Stadium in Dublin, several weeks after Kurt Cobain's suicide. She had found success with a cover of Nirvana's Teen Spirit and, on her tour, was offering it up it as homage to the grunge icon.
"I had played it in a church in Germany the night before and was met with a grieving silence," she recalls.
"In Dublin the audience started to sing it with me – over 2,000 people joining it. All my crew remember – it never happened anywhere else. It was probably the most powerful moment of my entire performing career. The Irish were 'keening'."
Amos recently turned 50 and, like many in the entertainment industry, appears to have a heightened awareness of her age.
She is particularly struck by the different ways in which the business treats men and women as they grow older.
"There is a culture in the [industry] that worships youth. Compare it with the movie industry – there are a lot of women in their 50s in cinema who are getting roles.
"Whereas in music, it's not as if they are signing [older women]. There are male contemporaries of mine who I adore ... they are still getting frontline record contracts. It's a different story for women. Am I fortunate to still have a record deal? Yes, there's a little bit of luck. A lot of hard work but luck too."
As a young woman Amos's ambitions were almost derailed thanks to an unconvincing 'rock babe' persona cooked up by her record label.
"I can't even describe that project as a big failure – because nobody cared," she says. "It changed my life. I vowed never to make the mistake ever again of listening to the suits. I was 23.
She has, you suspect, been fighting ever since.
- Tori Amos new album is released on Friday. She plays Dublin's Olympia tomorrow and Thursday.
Celebs who love Ireland
Tori Amos' new album was inspired by a visit to her holiday home at Ballywilliam, Kinsale. She isn't the only celebrity with a soft spot for Ireland.
The Rolling Stones bassist has an impressive pile in Kildare.
The American songwriter has a longtime love affair with Ireland, which he channelled into the song, Galway Girl. He lives mostly in New York, but has a place in Connemara.
How do you escape the bustle of Manhattan? By heading for the hills of Donegal, where SJP and husband Matthew Broderick have had a holiday home for many years.
Not one for cautious understatement, English actor Irons is custodian of a pink-tinged castle in West Cork.