|August 22, 1963 brought the birth of Myra Ellen
Amos to a Methodist minister and a homemaker in Newton, North Carolina. A year later, the
family relocated to Maryland, where, at age 2˝, little Ellen's love affair with the piano
began. At 4, she was singing and performing in the church choir and by 5 became a prodigy
when she was invited to study piano at the prestigious Peabody Institute in Baltimore,
where she was to be trained as a classical concert pianist.
"I was a freak child who had really good rhythm," Amos declares. "I'd be invited to parties simply because I played the piano. I quickly realized that I had some kind of calling. But, just as quickly, I realized that what was most important to me was following my own path-- and not the one that was laid down by others."
This strong resolve to pursue her heart's desires and not conform, led to her expulsion from Peabody at age 11, after which she began performing in local clubs, continuing throughout her high school years.
In 1980, at age 17, she wrote a song with her brother Michael for the then World Series bound Orioles, called Baltimore, which was released (under her real name, Ellen Amos), as her first single on the MEA record label (named for her initials). Around this time she adopted the name Tori, apparently after a friend's boyfriend remarked that she didn't look much like an Ellen.
After graduating from her Rockville, Maryland high school in 1981 (where she was homecoming queen and voted Most Likely To Succeed), Tori followed her heart to Los Angeles. In time, she became the lead singer of a hard-rock band called Y Kant Tori Read, a name Tori came up with, which referred to her days at the Peabody conservatory, where she could play songs after hearing them once, but wasn't very good at reading and playing from sheet music. Musicians in the band included guitarist Steve Farris (ex- Mr. Mister), Matt Sorum (future Cult and Guns N' Roses drummer), Vinny Coliauta (Frank Zappa), Peter White (co-writer to Al Stewart) and Kim Bullard (ex- Poco). They landed a contract with Atlantic in 1987, but the production and material (primarily co-composed between Bullard and Amos) did little to bring out Tori's natural talent, and their debut album was, commercially and critically, a failure. These days, avid fans and collectors pay over a hundred dollars for a copy of the CD.
Tori went low-profile for a while after this unheralded release, although she did make appearances on albums by Al Stewart, Canadian songwriter Ferron, and Stan Ridgway. Looking back on this time in her life, she has said, "After the trauma, I crumbled. I was very confused about why I was doing music." Nevertheless, the headstrong girl began writing her own, piano-based songs and eventually, a tape of her music found its way to Atlantic Records co-chairman, Doug Morris. Though not oblivious to Tori's talent, Morris decided that her present sound would not be embraced by the average American consumer. He suggested instead that she'd get better reception in the UK.
So off to London in February 1991 went Tori, playing small scale gigs around the capital and eventually landing herself a solo deal. Her acclaimed debut album, Little Earthquakes, was released in January 1992, featuring the moving singles Silent All These Years and Crucify, as well as the disturbing a capella Me And A Gun, which recounts her rape by an armed 'fan' when she drove him home after one of her concerts. The song became an unofficial anthem for rape prevention groups across the nation. Later that year, Tori released her Crucify EP, which features a version of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Much of the following year was spent writing and recording a second album. The result, Under The Pink, released to rave reviews in 1994, includes a guest appearance from Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) on Past The Mission, and was recorded in his home-- the house where in 1969 Sharon Tate was murdered by Charles Manson followers. The first single lifted from it, Cornflake Girl, reached number 4 in the UK charts, and Tori was heralded in the press as part of a new wave of intelligent, literate female songwriters.
Tori's breakup with longtime boyfriend Eric Rosse (who co-produced her first two albums) led to the harsher themes explored on her self-produced third album, 1996's Boys for Pele. Although the breathy Caught a Lite Sneeze received plenty of airplay, the album's artwork, especially a photo of Amos holding a piglet to her breast, ultimately got more attention than the raw, abstract, and complex music the album contains. In January of 1997, Amos headlined a New York City benefit concert in support of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, of which she is a co-founder.
Following the end of the Pele tour, Tori discovered she was pregnant and was, in her words, "over the moon about it." Sadly, she miscarried after three months. In an interview with Wall of Sound, she discussed the tragic event, and how it influenced the making of her spring 1998 release, From The Choirgirl Hotel, which debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard album chart. "The songs started coming not long after I miscarried. The strange thing is, the love doesn't go away for this being that you've carried. You can't go back to being the person you were before you carried life. And yet you're not a mother, either, and you still are connected to a force, a being. And I was trying to find ways to keep that communication going. Along the way on the search, sort of walking with the undead, I would run into these songs. The one thing they kept saying to me was I had to find a deep woman's rhythma. You begin to create where you can. If you can't create physical life, you find a life force. If that's in music, that's in music. I started to find this deep, primitive rhythm, and I started to move to it. And I held hands with sorrow, and I danced with her, and we giggled a bit. And this record really became about being alive enough to feel things, no matter what that is."
In happier news, in March 1998, she married British sound engineer Mark Hawley, at whose Cornwall, England studio she recorded Choirgirl. The pair wed at a medieval castle in the U.K.
For the Choirgirl album and tour, Tori "plugged" in for the first time, opting for electric instrumentation over her usual acoustic. In April and early May 1998 she staged a mini practice tour to acclimate herself to the new style, playing sold out shows in small venues. She undertook a full-scale tour of Europe that kicked off in London on May 19 and ended July 5 in Belgium. And with hardly enough time to catch her breath, on July 28 she embarked upon a full tour of North America where she played at larger arenas. She started out in New York City's Madison Square Garden and made her way across the country to the America West Arena in Phoenix, Arizona at the end of September.
Tori is among contributors to the June 15, '99 released album, No Boundaries, made up of rare and unreleased recordings, to benefit the refugees of Kosovo. Other included artists are Pearl Jam, Alanis Morissette, Rage Against the Machine, Neil Young, Korn, the Wallflowers, Oasis, Black Sabbath, the Indigo Girls, Ben Folds Five, Peter Gabriel, Sarah McLachlan, Bush, and Jamiroquai. Epic Records, which distributed No Boundaries, made a $1,000,000 advance donation to three international aid organizations. Further proceeds from the record will also be donated to charity.
In the summer of '99, Tori joined forces with Alanis Morissette for the 5˝ Weeks Tour, which ran 26 shows, kicking off in the NCR Arena in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and ending up at the Irvine Amphitheater in Los Angeles, California. Sponsoring the tour were Best Buy and MP3.com. The latter partnered with Morissette, who provided the site with live recordings from stops along the way.
"When I was still living in Canada, I remember listening to Little Earthquakes and feeling heartened and inspired by Tori's courage and unapologetic honesty," Morissette said in a statement. "She was like a breath of fresh courageous air. I look forward to playing with a woman whom I will be touched by nightly on a musical, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional level."
"Bringing two visions together to make one show can be tricky," said Amos. "Obviously, it takes a lot of mutual respect and a load of gear. With that in mind, Alanis and I are bringing two trucks just for ourselves: one filled with wine, the other filled with lip gloss."
Morissette's most recent album is Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Tori released To Venus And Back in the fall of '99. The double CD is comprised of one album recorded during her 1998 tour and the other of new studio material.
In September of 2000, Tori and husband, recording engineer Mark Hawley, surprised everyone by announcing the birth of their daughter, Natashya Lórien. Apparently even Atlantic, her record label, had not known she was pregnant. The baby was born on September 5, 2000, weighing in at 7 pounds, 1 ounce and measuring 21 inches. The November issue of Vanity Fair published the first public pregnancy photo of Tori, taken at 7 months. Take a look.