ASTRANGE smile tugs at the corners of Tori Amos’s mouth. “Fifty is great. From where I’m sitting today, it is fantastic,” the singer says of her recent milestone birthday. “This time a year ago, I didn’t see it quite like that. I was still getting my head around it. A lot of my new album is about me wrestling with those emotions.”
As a woman in the entertainment industry, Amos can’t ignore age. But making her latest LP, Unrepentant Geraldines, she realised she was not unique.
Women of every generation face challenges. From a certain perspective, she was privileged.
“I’m as wrapped up in my own world as everyone else is,” she says. “I’m obsessed with myself, I have that narcissism. As an artist, on the other hand, I need to get beyond that. I need to listen.
“So I would go out and talk to people and what I heard was that women of every age have crises: teenagers are worried about body image, women in their 20s about getting a job. And in your 30s, there’s that decision: should you start a family and perhaps suffer in your career?”
In the late 1990s, Amos faced that latter dilemma. By her third album, 1996’s Boys for Pele, she was one of the world’s biggest female artists (she had sold 10m records). And yet she was torn: she and her husband wanted children, but could she afford to ‘get off the train’ long enough? Would the loss of momentum destroy what she had worked so hard to achieve?
“I had a few miscarriages,” she says. “That got me into a place of realising I needed to change things. If I really wanted a child, I had to do that. I needed to get off the road — I was putting too much strain on myself. My sister is a doctor, so I was surrounded by lots of good medical advice.”
The experts told her she had a protein deficiency that prevented her carrying a child to term. “They put me on a baby aspirin a day. They didn’t allow me go to IVF. A doctor said: ‘I could make more money off you if we do IVF. I’ve known your sister a long time and I’ve seen your schedule and I don’t believe you are giving yourself the best chance [of having a child]’. Before I knew it, I thought I had stomach flu, and I was pregnant,” she says.
Amos lives in Cornwall with her husband Mark (also her sound engineer) and 13-year-old daughter Tash. She keeps houses in Florida, near her 86-year-old mother, and at Ballywillia in Kinsale, Co Cork, which she discovered when recording Boys for Pele. She is a frequent visitor: haunts include Jim Edwards seafood bar in Kinsale, and the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork.
“We’d gone to Ireland because we couldn’t find anywhere suitable to make the album in America,” she says. “The plan had been to do it somewhere in the old south, so let that atmosphere drip into the record. We wanted to rent a big old house for the ambiance. However, the rents were too high — they knew who I was by then and couldn’t find a way to be reasonable. Instead, we went to Ireland.”
Amos has written several songs about Ireland (none, as yet, about Kinsale). She composed ‘Walk to Dublin’, a Pele b-side, after a particularly frustrating day recording at a church in Delgany, Co Wicklow (“I wanted to get out of there, walk to Dublin). And ‘Ireland’, from 2005’s The Beekeeper, is a straight-up valentine. “It’s about being in America and wanting to get to Ireland,” she says. “My daughter Tash feels that pull, too. She’s spent time at Ballywilliam. She understands it.”
Kinsale inspired her new LP in an unexpected manner. An artist friend in Cork brought Amos’s attention to a piece by 19th century Leeside painter, Daniel Maclise, entitled Geraldine: it depicts a woman giving penitence for an act of sin. This got Amos thinking: what about all the women who are ‘sinful’ and not sorry about it? The seeds of the album were sewn.
We meet at the rooftop bar of the Marker Hotel in Dublin where Amos has started her European tour.
On stage the previous night, she playfully mashed up Miley Cyrus’s ‘Rooting For My Baby’ and Sinead O’Connor’s ‘Three Babies’. In view of the much-publicised Twitter spat between Cyrus and O’Connor, was Amos making a point?
“It was a way of integrating two great artists,” she says. “When you have been in the business as long as Sinead, you will see things with a different lens than a 20-year-old. I don’t think any 20-year-old has the same outlook as a 40-something. You don’t. I have a lot of time for Sinead.”
Does she have an opinion on Cyrus’s foray into twerking? Some commentators regard it as sexist pandering. Others see a strong young woman seizing control of her career.
“I’ve never met Miley. I think she is very talented. As an artist, you make your choices for all kind of reasons,” Amos says, trailing into silence. “For, all kinds of reasons…”