'From the Choirgirl Hotel'
Tori Amos singing from her spiritual roots
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Her songs don't get much radio airplay, and they don't fit easily into the usual categories of rock, pop, or gospel. What Tori Amos' music does do is inspire great devotion in her fans, who buy millions of her records.
She has a new CD, "From the Choirgirl Hotel," and she's touring again. Amos says she enjoys concerts for the opportunity to interact with fans.
"You're really there to kind of take people to the underworld," Amos says. "That's what you do. And everybody has to be given the liberty to bring whoever they want to bring ... the demons, the passionate sides to themselves that they've cut out, whatever it is."
Listen to Tori Amos' songs and you get a patchwork of mythology, feminism, and personal experience. The self-revelatory lyrics have prompted comparisons to the woman many say started all this, Joni Mitchell, who was once described as a "confessional singer."
"The word 'confession,' to me, means needing to be absolved," says Amos. "I'm not asking for forgiveness. I'm not asking people to understand. I'd like to think that I tell stories and sometimes my life weaves through it."
Despite the fact that most of Amos' offbeat songs are rarely played on the radio, she has sold millions of records, thanks to legions of loyal fans.
"The one thing I've never done is follow the trends on the radio," she says. "I'm really just the Pied Piper. That's what I do."
Amos has always been different. She was a piano prodigy at two. Her father is a Methodist minister and she was raised in a strict Christian household.
But Amos was encouraged to believe in her God-given talent.
"Our whole life revolved around the church, so that the only time I had a break from all that was when I would escape into the piano," Amos recalls. "So I created this whole other world that they couldn't get into."
Today, her music reflects a very eclectic outlook on God and religion.
Where does her religious or spiritual experience fit into her creativity?
"My father is convinced that if I hadn't been a minister's daughter, I wouldn't have anything to write about," Amos says.
'Sunset Strip hair metal'
As a child, Amos studied classical piano at Baltimore's Peabody Institute. But by the time she was 13, she was a rebel who desperately wanted to compose and perform her own music. So her father did something unexpected -- he took her to look for work at nightclubs in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown section.
"I was in, you know, disco gear, polyester pants, and a polyester top, and some platforms, and he would knock on these doors and he would say, 'Hi, I'm Reverend Amos and this is my daughter, and she's really talented, and will you give her a chance?'"
Someone finally did, and in 1988, she released her first record, "Y Kant Tori Read?" It flopped.
"It was very L.A., Sunset Strip hair metal," recalls Craig Marks, executive editor of Spin. "It was a very callow record company attempt to fit her in with what they thought was the signature selling sound of the moment."
Amos worked for three years on her next CD. This time, she insisted on doing things her own way -- original songs performed alone at the piano, with no backup band.
"Little Earthquakes" was released in 1992 to international critical acclaim, and sold more than 1 million copies. Her 1994 follow-up CD, "Under The Pink," was even bigger.
'He's proud of me'
"My dad likes my success," Amos says. "He enjoys it for a lot of reasons. Yes, he's proud of me and so is my mom, but I think that ... he likes it that I stir it up, because he has questioned a lot of the things that he preached about for so many years."
But her success was shadowed by a personal trauma: Amos had been raped in 1985.
"The goal that my shrink had for me was that I could be intimate as a woman again, eventually, and not be controlled by the way I was violated," she says.
Amos has talked openly about her experiences and founded RAINN, The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Her openness about her personal life has led to an unusually intimate relationship with her fans.
"There's nothing that makes you feel better inside than love or communicating," she says. "Sometimes it gets quite fiery on stage. That's when it really becomes kismet -- those moments of freedom, freedom to express yourself."
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