Genuine, passionate, powerful — that's as much of an introduction as Tori Amos needs. But for the past two decades, she's introduced her fans to plenty. She helped turn the piano into a rock instrument, showed that she can create big hits in different genres and challenged every critic who ever tried to put her in a box. And her 12th studio album, Night of Hunters, is no different.
After signing with the classical record label Deutsche Grammophon, Tori Amos was given a challenge: Create a 21st-century song cycle with variations on centuries-old classical themes. It was a daunting task, even though she was no stranger to classical music, having attended the Johns Hopkins University Peabody Conservatory of Music for five years.
"When you are going to mess with the dead guys, then you cannot take it casually," Amos tells Tell Me More host Michel Martin.
Amos says many things didn't work, and that the process was frustrating at times. But as soon as the first song, Schubert's "Star Whisperer," worked, the rest of the songs started to encircle her, she says.
"I was having love affairs with these composers to the point where truly my husband would come and say, 'Okay, isn't it time for a nightcap and look at the stars with your husband?' And I would say, 'I am still with the dead guys,' " she says with a laugh.
The Story Cycle
Night of Hunters tells a love story about a pair who face a transformational night.
"They've just crossed the Atlantic on his sailboat, and she is from the New World, he is from the Old World, and once they get to the Old World everything explodes," Amos says. "They have a confrontation, and there is glass everywhere and blood everywhere, and he leaves and she is left there with herself, trying to figure out what has just happened and how did they arrive at this place."
At this point, a shape-shifting creature named Anabelle takes the heroine on a mystical journey.
The voice of Anabelle is provided by Amos' young daughter, Natashya "Tash" Hawley, who appears on an album with her mother for the first time.
"She was asking me a lot of things about the story," Amos says. " 'Why do grownups wreck things so much that they do not talk about it and deal with their problems until they ruin the kids' lives?' "
Those conversations with her daughter helped develop the character of Anabelle, Amos says: "She decided that she knew what Anabelle needed to be, so we developed her together."
Hawley's strong vocal performance came as no surprise to her mother.
"I was hearing it in the shower," Amos says, "and one of her cousins said, 'Is Bessie Smith hanging out in the shower now?' She was 9 when she discovered the blues, when she discovered Sam Cooke and Billie Holiday, and that's really her path now."
No matter the album's theme, Amos' ability to connect with her audience is undeniable.
"I get so much information from the people who come to the shows," Amos says. "That's where I get a lot of my information about life, emotions, what people are really going through. [My songs] are energy forces, and they want to reach other people, and I have to try and not get in the way of that."
Amos' next project, The Light Princess, is a musical set to open in London next year.