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Tori Amos: 20 years after her solo debut

By Abbey Goodman, Special to CNN
updated 4:34 PM EDT, Wed October 5, 2011
Tori Amos returns to the piano for her newest album,
Tori Amos returns to the piano for her newest album, "Night of Hunters."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Her newest album, "Night of Hunters," was released on September 20
  • The ablum is a fable about one woman's lost love and her emotional journey
  • "Night of Hunters" uses Amos' familiar themes of spirit guides and magical elixirs

(CNN) -- "I'm very at home working with mythology, " Tori Amos says.

No kidding.

Amos' newest album, "Night of Hunters," is a fable about one woman's lost love and the emotional journey over the course of a night that helps her let go of a man and recapture her fire. Along the way, she meets a shape shifting fox named Anabelle who acts as her guide to help navigate her through the predatory forces that lie within and around us.

While "Night of Hunters" uses Amos' familiar themes of spirit guides, magical elixirs, forces of nature and reclaiming female power, making this album was a new undertaking for her. Instead of the electronic sound and production that marked her last few releases, "Night of Hunters" is stripped and essential. Amos returned to the piano and used the classical music format of a song cycle, where there is a common theme to the collection of songs and they are intended to be performed in sequence, to present her supernatural tale.

Twenty years after her groundbreaking solo debut, "Little Earthquakes," Tori Amos talked to CNN about the irony of her getting kicked out of classical music school, women's sharp and deadly tongues and why she has no desire to be 30 again.

CNN: "Night of Hunters" is such an elaborate concept album. How did this story unfold, not just musically, but in your own head?

Amos: I was traveling about a year ago through Europe and the one thing that I began to hear from people is how much their lives could change in a day. Really what this is about is a woman's psychological experience and the shattering of a relationship. It's about her emotional breakthrough that happens from dusk 'til dawn.

I've been working on a piece for the National Theater for, like, 5,000 years, but that's different because you have scenes with text. Song cycles work on a poetic level, not like a play or musical. I wanted there to be a poetic level to this (album), where the poems come to life, and the emotion, but the plotline isn't necessarily in the songs themselves. For a song cycle to work, you have to feel these things when you hear them and you either have an emotional reaction to it or you don't. The plotline is something that gets woven together in the backstory.

But when (classical music label) Deutsche/Grammophon approached me and said, We heard you're working on this musical, what about if you did a 21st century song cycle based on classical themes? I said, "What about if I (don't)?"

CNN: You obviously came around.

Amos: Yeah, but I mean, Jesus Christ, it's a tall order!

CNN: Weren't you kicked out of the Peabody Conservatory when you were 5 for being too radical and not adhering to their classical norms?

Amos: Yeah, that's kinda funny. It's true.

CNN: You hadn't thought about it before?

Amos: I have, but it's true. I was kicked out because they didn't think I could embrace the classical path. The dean that is there now has reached out in the last few months to my dad and has said that the Peabody is a very, very different place of learning than it was in the '70s. It would need to be because they weren't anywhere near where Deutsche/Grammophon was and this is one of the greatest classical places of all time.

CNN: The musical you talked about for the National Theater is 'The Light Princess,' based on the book by George MacDonald?

Amos: It was, but we changed it because our story became very different.

CNN: What happened? Are there any aspects that remain?

Amos: She floats. That's about it. I didn't really like her in the book. I felt it was from a man's perspective and I had no idea about how she felt that she had this incredible ability, but was treated like she had a disability. It was very much through the eyes of the patriarchal male force and I never got a sense of her, her friends, her perspective and what her life would have been like. So it's a very different world, our world.

The key things are about power and about growing up and realizing as you grow up that there are consequences for the choices you make, especially when you get seduced by power.

CNN: You have a daughter, Natashya Hawley, who is a preteen. What do you say to her about nurturing herself and cultivating her interests and being aware of her own power?

Amos: I think the big thing for her is the peer group, which inspired some of the musical and seeing how important the peer group is for that age. A comment from a friend, especially things about weight or appearance, how they look, can be so damaging that, as a mother sometimes, you have to think, OK, how am I going to say something that is going to neutralize what a friend said who seemed to want to wound? Sometimes they do want to wound each other because you know how it is with girls. I don't know how it happens, but they know how to flay somebody just by licking their lips.

CNN: But there's also a great sense of community that girls and women have when there's not a sense of competition or jealousy.

Amos: That's right. And yet all of us have sometimes begrudgingly looked at somebody else and said, Well, I'm happy things are going well for them but I've worked just as hard! We've all had that moment of, Yes I'm happy for her and wouldn't it be great if Lady Luck would smile on me because I've been an elf working at Santa's shop for years.

CNN: The track 'Carry' stood out sonically because, even without knowing that it was the closing track on the album, you could really get a sense of a dawn breaking and a wholeness that had been restored.

Amos: I hope women can take that away. As the sun sets, we've all had those nights where you question your choices and where your life is going. Sometimes it seems like we're closer to our manicurists than we are our own souls. We have to find ways to get in touch with that and to listen to it and to hear it.

CNN: It has been 20 years since 'Little Earthquakes' was released. Do you have any different opinions or reflections on that album today?

Amos: Twenty years ago, you don't really think about the self-worth challenges that you'll have becoming 50. I don't mean a successful person or intelligent person, I mean a desirable person. And I don't mean in a tight dress, I'm just talking about walking with each step and having a wonderment and wanting to be exactly where you are.

Some people say, I'd give anything to be 30 again. Well, I really wouldn't. I didn't enjoy being 30. Making 'Little Earthquakes' was great, but I didn't have a calm and I didn't know how to laugh. I think becoming a mom is the greatest gift that ever happened to me. I say that's one of the key shifts in my life that has gotten me to this place today. But with each year, you always have to be listening, be listening to your own soul, be growing.

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