How an election changed Tori Amos’s intentions

Tori Amos
Tori Amos

It’s been three years since the inimitably poetic singer-songwriter Tori Amos released an album and went on tour. This, she explained via phone from London, is far too long.

It’s not like she’s been indolent since the release of her 2014 LP “Unrepentant Geraldines.” She produced the cast recording of her original West End musical, “The Light Princess,” recording two songs for it. She also contributed the fiercely hopeful track “Flicker” to “Audrie & Daisy,” a documentary about teenage girls who were sexually assaulted by peers and then became the targets of online bullying related to the attacks.

But Amos, a former rebellious piano prodigy who left the prestigious Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University at age 11, has been recording and touring for decades, with 15 studio albums to her name. She feels most at home “on the road, on the stage, behind a piano,” she says. This fall she returns to that home — including a stop at the Orpheum Theatre Thursday — bringing her contemplative, crystalline new album “Native Invader” as well as some classic repertoire and her own piano-ballad covers of anything you can think of.


On this album, she goes back to nature but does not turn her back on the modern world. On “Up the Creek,” she and her teenage daughter Tash repeatedly chant a favorite saying of her grandfather, “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” anchoring a foreboding song that rises like a king tide. Many faces of motherhood are embraced and shielded.

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The Globe caught up with Amos as she was about to visit her own mother in Florida before embarking on the North American leg of the tour. On the phone, she spoke slowly, as if carefully considering each word before she released it.

Q. Does it feel different every night, or with the long career you’ve had, does it feel the same in every city?

A. No, because I change the set list every night. Part of the reason I enjoy doing that is because no one’s ahead of the story, if that makes sense. For a concert, I think it’s quite collaborative with the audience, because they will have requested songs at the stage door before, or online, or get me messages through people. So I try and really change it up every night. It will start the same, but then a lot of things change within it.

Q, What did your ideas for this album look like before the [presidential] election, and how did that change after?


A. Well, I’d gone to the Smoky Mountains to pick up on an atmosphere that my mother’s father, Poppa, would talk about. He grew up there, and then moved away, but he would tell me stories of his boyhood. And I was just feeling the need to get close to him somehow. So that was the idea. Songs didn’t come right away. I kind of thought they might, but they didn’t. I took that trip in July 2016.

Then, when they started to come it was sort of like a sonic tsunami. It was brewing in December, as I started to hear about friends falling out, families, people unfriending each other on
Facebook. Seeing real crises in relationships, seeing hostilities, anger, division, and so much pain. While I was observing that, Mary [Amos’s mother] had a stroke. And in the aftermath as I was driving up with one of my nieces to see Mary in the hospital, I would read things that people would send me through other people. A lot of them were in the science community. Physics, science, policy. People just reaching out to people that I know who would get it to me. Why? I have no idea. And that started to spur on the songs.

I have a few e-mail friends that I’ve known for years and years, and they’re sending me these messages: You need to read this link. You need to know about this. You need to know the direction the EPA’s going in.

So that was a whole education of what was really going on, and they would keep telling me to stay focused. The record was rolling by then. It was written very quickly. I had ideas about stories from my grandfather, but the whole record changed. He got in there though.

Q. When would Poppa say “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”?


A. All the time. Standard answer for him, with a twinkle in his eye. But that’s because the Creek and the Cherokee were known for their skirmishes. He had a double meaning for everything.

Q. You’ve been singing out against sexual violence for decades now, from “Me and a Gun” to “Flicker,” and also there’s your work with RAINN [Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network]. So, considering the avalanche of accusations and horrible stories about Harvey Weinstein being the next in a long line of men who have power, and then it comes out what they’ve been doing, I wanted to ask you: When this kind of news comes about a powerful man being accused of preying on women, has it ever surprised you?

A. Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me. I feel their pain. I feel compassion, respect, that they’re breaking the silence. Because the type of man we’re talking about, they have destroyed some of these women’s careers. They destroyed them. They had that kind of power.

Is this an opportunity, finally, whereby the conversation must continue, even though people are in deep pain right now? All the corporations need to be articulating behavior in the workplace. And the idea that so many people were complicit in this, this is the thing that’s staggering.

Q. What have you been reading lately?

A. Best book ever. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” [by Yuval Noah Harari]. I’m really liking how he’s telling the story of the last 150,000 years, even though it goes further than that. And his new book, I got it as well at this little bookshop down the street. It’s called “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.” And “A Map of the Invisible: Journeys Into Particle Physics,” by Jon Butterworth. I don’t understand anything about particle physics, but that’s not why I read books.


At the Orpheum Theatre, Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m. Tickets, from $57,

Interview has been edited and condensed. Zoë Madonna can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.