By Kristin Zagurski
When Tori Amos sings and plays the piano, she tries to “get as much breath control and power as possible.
“To hit those notes and play at the same time, I treat it more like, ‘How do I get the most support out of my body?'” she says.
Amos gave a demonstration that showed why she sits how she does on the piano bench to a group of college journalists, who before her performance at the Orpheum Theatre Monday night participated in a roundtable interview with the artist.
“Come here,” Amos told a reporter from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Daily Nebraskan newspaper. “Just come here.”
“Me?” the girl asked.
“Yeah,” Amos replied.
“So I’m sitting like this,” Amos said. The tiny redhead shifted in her chair so she was sitting up straight with her knees together. “And just try and push me over.”
The girl complied, and Amos lost her posture without much resistance.
Amos repositioned herself, this time placing her feet – outfitted in Cayenne Pepper-colored fishnet stockings and olive green suede stilettos – far apart to brace herself and make her upper body strong.
“Now try,” Amos said.
The girl pushed again, but this time, Amos did not budge.
“Different,” Amos explained simply.
As with her positioning on the piano bench, Amos takes careful consideration when writing lyrics.
When putting together her latest release, 2002’s Scarlet’s Walk, Amos kept in mind she would have to bring the songs to life in performance.
“The songs are – I can’t get away from them,” Amos says. “They reflect my walk.”
Some of the songs on the album, which Amos told The Gateway last October was inspired by being on the road after Sept. 11, 2001, when she saw people’s relationships with America change very quickly before her eyes, are “hard to listen to,” she says.
But, Amos says, “I couldn’t be here now talking to you … unless I had walked.
“I’d be on Virgin Airlines, throwing sh*t, getting arrested,” she says. “So, unless you do the work – unless you walk – then at 40 years old … you can’t trade the lines on your face for any kind of wisdom.”
When writing the lyrics for Scarlet, Amos says she chose to have a more “classic” songwriting style.
“She didn’t need to write her diary anymore,” Amos says. “She’s done that. What she needed to do is question the moral compass of her country.”
Though Scarlet’s Walk is about “questioning things,” as Amos puts it, the artist was hesitant to say whether performing artists should question things themselves by speaking out with pro- or anti-war statements.
She says she believes it is OK for some artists, whose audiences support that kind of thing, but not for others, like the Dixie Chicks, who are not known for being activists.
“Some artists have audiences that are not about, ‘Be honest. Be who you are,'” Amos says. “They’re saying, ‘You be our fantasy and that’s our deal.’
“I have an audience where the deal is if I challenge myself and stay true, then the majority will stay there,” she says.
But, she says, she still takes what she has to say very seriously.
“I’m trying to hold a space for people to come to where they do not feel emotionally threatened,” she says. ” … But, you know, I come with a warning. Because I am going to play certain songs that question our moral compass.”
Amos says her songs can change meanings depending on what is happening in the world when they are played or performed.
For example, she says, many people interpret the lines, “as long as your army/keeps perfectly still,” from the song “Horses” differently now that the country is at war.
“We put our pictures of what’s happening now onto the songs,” she says.
“That’s why when people say, ‘You know, I don’t know what the f**k you’re talking about,’ well, that can be a very good thing because you can kind of imply anything you want,” Amos says. “You see what I’m saying? Not really, but if the symbology’s there. And that’s what I usually write from.”