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Potluck with Tori Amos

Tori Amos, at 50, appreciates belly-laughs and finds wisdom in her teenage daughter.
Tori Amos, at 50, appreciates belly-laughs and finds wisdom in her teenage daughter.

Back into the mystic, back with new album Unrepentant Geraldines, back into the presence of her adoring fans, and back touring solo, Tori Amos, who performs here July 24 at Humphreys by the Bay, doesn’t mind so much, because travel fans her creative spark. Taking a break in Istanbul, she bounced a few questions off the satellites.

Is your audience more on fire than for previous tours?

I haven’t toured alone in a long time, since 2005, and when you tour alone, it becomes very interactive, because you can change things easily. With an orchestra or a band, it’s not as easy to just stop and change the whole show, sitting right there at your piano. It drives the crew a little crazy, but, you know...you can respond to the dominant mood of what you’re feeling. So each night is different, and that’s a lot of fun.

The song titles are given in one order through the booklet, another order on the album, presented in a circle on the back, and one track is left out of the booklet. What was your methodology?

Yeah, there’s a methodology. I had to turn in my artwork before I knew the order, and I wasn’t going to be forced into an order. So I decided to make it potluck.

Do you go on knowing what covers you’ll play?

Covers are usually requested at the stage door, or they’ve been requested the night before by people who are gonna be at the show that night through the internet. So people find people who are going and say, “When she plays San Diego, can she play this?” So that gives me 24 hours to try to find [a given tune]. I usually am backstage furiously learning something before I walk on.

Which have been your most challenging covers?

“Extreme Ways,” by Moby. If you’re alone at a piano, you have to try...I guess you could do a really low-key version of it, but that wasn’t the choice I made. I wanted to give a very sultry version that had rhythm to it and energy. So to do that on your own, you have to figure out how to achieve it.

A friend of mine wondered if you ever covered Tom Petty?

That’s a really good idea! I haven’t. But, see, this is how the live show’s working. You’re talking to somebody, you’re in a line at a coffee shop somewhere, and somebody goes, “Hey, have you done...?” and you think, Oh my God, good idea!

Neil Gaiman said the most surprising thing about you was “how sensible she is.” Do you think you’ve become more or less sensible over the years?

Sillier, maybe. I have a teenage daughter, and she’s British. Although she was born in America, she’s British — education and sense of humor. When you have a teenage daughter who really likes to laugh, is ever-so-polite in most circumstances but then can really make you completely lose it at the most inappropriate times, when you’re belly-laughing because she’s funny... It’s something I didn’t have 20 years ago. I certainly didn’t have a teenage daughter, and I didn’t know I would have one that could make me laugh so much.

What other surprises did she have for you?

She told me when I was 49 last year — 50’s great, 49 wasn’t so good — and she just said to me, “Look, you have to get your head around this. And you gotta go rock. And you gotta go out there on your own. Because you can. No band, no orchestra, just go out there and play like I see you play all the time. Just be as strong as you were 20 years ago, and you have to do it for yourself.” And I just looked at her and said, “Thank you. Thank you for your wisdom.”

Is your daughter the most important thing in your life?

Well, of course. But also...my mother has taught me, she’s the most loving person I ever knew. My mother has a love that is unconditional. And that love, it’s hard to describe it, because I know that having felt it, there’s nothing like that type of love. And my mother always told me, “You won’t really understand that type of love as a child.” It took me a long time to see what a gift I’ve had. Not with conditions, loving me because I made a good performance or a bad performance. She doesn’t care. She cares that I care, but she’s there to make me soup and give me a hug and tell me she loves me. Whether I want to play or not.

What are three sounds that you love?

My husband and daughter laughing together, giggling, when they’re up to something. The morning chorus of the birds. And thunder.

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Tori Amos, at 50, appreciates belly-laughs and finds wisdom in her teenage daughter.
Tori Amos, at 50, appreciates belly-laughs and finds wisdom in her teenage daughter.

Back into the mystic, back with new album Unrepentant Geraldines, back into the presence of her adoring fans, and back touring solo, Tori Amos, who performs here July 24 at Humphreys by the Bay, doesn’t mind so much, because travel fans her creative spark. Taking a break in Istanbul, she bounced a few questions off the satellites.

Is your audience more on fire than for previous tours?

I haven’t toured alone in a long time, since 2005, and when you tour alone, it becomes very interactive, because you can change things easily. With an orchestra or a band, it’s not as easy to just stop and change the whole show, sitting right there at your piano. It drives the crew a little crazy, but, you know...you can respond to the dominant mood of what you’re feeling. So each night is different, and that’s a lot of fun.

The song titles are given in one order through the booklet, another order on the album, presented in a circle on the back, and one track is left out of the booklet. What was your methodology?

Yeah, there’s a methodology. I had to turn in my artwork before I knew the order, and I wasn’t going to be forced into an order. So I decided to make it potluck.

Do you go on knowing what covers you’ll play?

Covers are usually requested at the stage door, or they’ve been requested the night before by people who are gonna be at the show that night through the internet. So people find people who are going and say, “When she plays San Diego, can she play this?” So that gives me 24 hours to try to find [a given tune]. I usually am backstage furiously learning something before I walk on.

Which have been your most challenging covers?

“Extreme Ways,” by Moby. If you’re alone at a piano, you have to try...I guess you could do a really low-key version of it, but that wasn’t the choice I made. I wanted to give a very sultry version that had rhythm to it and energy. So to do that on your own, you have to figure out how to achieve it.

A friend of mine wondered if you ever covered Tom Petty?

That’s a really good idea! I haven’t. But, see, this is how the live show’s working. You’re talking to somebody, you’re in a line at a coffee shop somewhere, and somebody goes, “Hey, have you done...?” and you think, Oh my God, good idea!

Neil Gaiman said the most surprising thing about you was “how sensible she is.” Do you think you’ve become more or less sensible over the years?

Sillier, maybe. I have a teenage daughter, and she’s British. Although she was born in America, she’s British — education and sense of humor. When you have a teenage daughter who really likes to laugh, is ever-so-polite in most circumstances but then can really make you completely lose it at the most inappropriate times, when you’re belly-laughing because she’s funny... It’s something I didn’t have 20 years ago. I certainly didn’t have a teenage daughter, and I didn’t know I would have one that could make me laugh so much.

What other surprises did she have for you?

She told me when I was 49 last year — 50’s great, 49 wasn’t so good — and she just said to me, “Look, you have to get your head around this. And you gotta go rock. And you gotta go out there on your own. Because you can. No band, no orchestra, just go out there and play like I see you play all the time. Just be as strong as you were 20 years ago, and you have to do it for yourself.” And I just looked at her and said, “Thank you. Thank you for your wisdom.”

Is your daughter the most important thing in your life?

Well, of course. But also...my mother has taught me, she’s the most loving person I ever knew. My mother has a love that is unconditional. And that love, it’s hard to describe it, because I know that having felt it, there’s nothing like that type of love. And my mother always told me, “You won’t really understand that type of love as a child.” It took me a long time to see what a gift I’ve had. Not with conditions, loving me because I made a good performance or a bad performance. She doesn’t care. She cares that I care, but she’s there to make me soup and give me a hug and tell me she loves me. Whether I want to play or not.

What are three sounds that you love?

My husband and daughter laughing together, giggling, when they’re up to something. The morning chorus of the birds. And thunder.

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