Born as Myra Ellen Amos in Newton, North Carolina (USA) on 22 August 1963. Her maternal grandparents each had an Eastern Cherokee grandparent of their own. Of particular importance to her as a child was her maternal 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 years old, her family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where her father had transplanted his Methodist ministry from its original base in Washington, D.C. From the time she could reach the piano, she taught herself to play: when she was two, she could reproduce pieces of music she had only heard once, and by the age of three, she was composing her own songs.
At five, she became the youngest student ever admitted to the preparatory division of the Peabody Conservatory of Music. She studied classical piano at Peabody from 1968 to 1974. In 1974, when she was eleven, her scholarship was discontinued, 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 thirteen, Amos began playing at gay bars and piano bars, chaperoned by her father. She won a county teen talent contest in 1977. 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 in 1980 with another Amos-penned composition as a B-side, ‘Walking With You’. Before this, she had performed under her middle name, Ellen, but permanently adopted Tori after a friend’s boyfriend told her she looked like a Torrey pine, a tree native to the West Coast.
By the time she was 17, Amos had a stock of homemade demo tapes that her father regularly sent out to record companies and producers. Eventually, Atlantic Records responded to one of the tapes, and, when A&R man Jason Flom flew to Baltimore to audition her in person, the label was convinced and signed her. Amos moved to Los Angeles in 1984 to pursue her music career after several years performing on the piano bar circuit in the D.C. area.
In 1986, Amos formed a musical group called Y Kant Tori Read, named for her difficulty sight reading. In addition to Amos, the group was composed of Steve Caton (who would later play guitars on all of her albums until 1999), drummer Matt Sorum, bass player Brad Cobb and, for a short time, keyboardist Jim Tauber. The band went through several iterations of songwriting and recording; Amos has said interference from record executives caused the band to lose its musical edge and direction during this time. Finally, in July 1988, the band’s self-titled debut album was released. Although its producer, Joe Chiccarelli, stated that Amos was very happy with the album at the time, Amos has since criticized 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.
Despite the disappointing reaction to Y Kant Tori Read, Amos still had to comply with her six-record contract with Atlantic Records, which, in 1989, wanted a new record by March 1990. The initial recordings were declined by the label. The album was reworked and eventually resulted in Little Earthquakes, an album recounting her religious upbringing, sexual awakening, struggle to establish her identity, and sexual assault. The album became her commercial and artistic breakthrough, peaking at number 14 in the UK and Australia and number 54 in the USA.
More albums followed: Under The Pink (1994) was significantly more successful, debuting at the top of the albums chart in the UK and reaching number 12 in the USA.
In June 1994, the 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, who was raped when she was 21, answered the ceremonial first call to launch the hotline. She was the first national spokesperson for the organization and has continued to be closely associated with RAINN.
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’s acoustics. For this album, Amos used the harpsichord, harmonium, and clavichord as well as the piano. The album garnered mixed reviews upon its release, with some critics praising its intensity and uniqueness while others bemoaned its comparative impenetrability. Still, it peaked at number 2 in the UK and the USA.
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 the state-of-the-art recording studio of Martian Engineering Studios. From the Choirgirl Hotel (1998) and To Venus and Back (1999) became intricate recordings, featuring more instruments than just the piano and including elements of electronica and dance music with vocal washes. The underlying themes of both albums deal with womanhood and Amos’s own miscarriages and marriage.
Shortly after giving birth to her daughter, Amos decided to record a cover album, taking songs written by men about women and reversing the gender roles to reflect a woman’s perspective. That became Strange Little Girls (2001), the album that also fulfilled her contract with Atlantic. 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.
Amos moved to Epic Records in 2001, and released Scarlet’s Walk a year later. Not long after, Amos 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 released two more albums with the label, The Beekeeper (2005) and American Doll Posse (2007). 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. 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. 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.
In September 2011, Amos released her first classical-style music album, Night of Hunters, featuring variations on a theme to pay tribute to composers such as Bach, Chopin, Debussy, Granados, Satie and Schubert, on the Deutsche Grammophon label, a division of Universal Music Group. Amos recorded the album with several musicians, including the Apollon Musagète string quartet.
During her live tour in 2011, Tori performed her own song ‘God’ in combination with Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ and Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill. Amos was often compared to Kate Bush but she maintains that she was not influenced by her as much as the media suggested she was.
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.
September 2013 saw the launch of Amos’s musical project adaptation of 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 in February 2014. The Light Princess and its lead actress, Rosalie Craig, were nominated for Best Musical and Best Musical Performance respectively at the Evening Standard Award. Craig won the Best Musical Performance category.
Amos’s 14th studio album, Unrepentant Geraldines, was released in May 2014, via Mercury Classics/Universal Music Classics in the US. It was followed in September 2017 by the album ‘Native Invader’. Two events deeply influenced the record: in November 2016, Donald Trump became President of the United States of America; two months later, in January 2017, Amos’s mother, Maryellen, suffered a stroke that left her unable to speak. Shocked by both events, Amos spent the first half of 2017 writing and recording the songs that would eventually form Native Invader.
In November 2020, Amos announced the release of a holiday-themed EP entitled Christmastide on December 4, digitally and on limited edition vinyl. The EP consists of four original songs and features her first work with bandmates Matt Chamberlain and Jon Evans since 2009. Amos recorded the EP remotely due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Written and recorded at home in Cornwall, Ocean To Ocean became Tori’s sixteenth studio album, released in 2021. A tour in support of the album finally happened in 2022 and 2023 in Europe and the United States.
Tori Amos about Kate Bush
When I was about 17, I was playing clubs and people would come up to me and go, “you sound like Kate Bush” and at the time I would say, “I don’t know that, but I’ve heard of her.” So eventually of course, I got a record and I didn’t really think that I sounded like her but maybe there are moments… we could probably do each other and nobody would know, unless you really have a good ear… but ummm… she smokes a little more weed than I do! So I’d have to catch up.Really Deep Thoughts [Tori Amos Fanzine], 1994
I love the second side of [Hounds Of Love]. I was in Los Angeles when I heard this record for the first time. I was hanging out in the rock chick scene. Thigh-high boots, gigantic amounts of hairspray, and everything. I had encountered nothing but rejection for months, nobody liked my piano stuff. And I was in a band that did something completely different. Then I found this record, and put it on, listened to side one, liked it OK, listened to side two, listened to side two again, and again, and again and again (sings): “You can’t hear me, you can’t hear what I’m saying, you didn’t hear me come in, you won’t hear me leaving.” This turned me inside out. It changed my life. I decided to leave the man with whom I shared an appartment; I left the man I was living with because of this record.Musikexpress (Germany), April 1998
- Tori Amos. Wikipedia, retrieved 23 September 2018.