At her recent standing-room-only performance at this year's South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Tori Amos premiered songs from her tenth studio album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, due May 19th. It's her first studio LP since 2007's American Doll Posse, and the record finds the singer-pianist exploring familiar territory: power in all its guises, be it sexual, monetary or political. "Before, we used to think power was if you had a job and you had money," she says. "And if that's our definition of success, then very few people have it — the money part anyway. So [I'm] redefining what it means, because power is also an aphrodisiac."
Working once again with her husband, engineer Mark Hawley, Amos says that the album's production is key. "Sound is an instrument," she explains. "It's not just, 'Let's jam.' " But visuals were central to the record, too: the LP will be accompanied by a series of 16 "visualettes," short films that Amos largely funded herself that were directed by Christian Lamb. The footage, captured during Amos' world tour in support for American Doll Posse, actually inspired the songs that would become Abnormally Attracted to Sin.
"I'd see montages of our life on the road," she says, "and I'd shut off the music, realizing this music is not the underscoring for what I'm seeing at all." Near the end of the tour, she started writing the songs because she knew that Lamb's films "needed another story. I said, I wanna give people something that says my favorite thing: If it's too loud, turn it up. I wanna give people creative worlds to walk into so that they are getting a sensory overload. You give people treasures, not 'How can I cut all the costs?' " Though the project took money out of her pocket, it was important to Amos, she says, because "people are just putting out the worst. And I don't agree that music is disposable."
Her own music certainly has staying power — especially for the die-hard fans that pack her shows hoping to hear early cuts. "I'm a different person," she says, "but the songs, the faces, the life experience or the fantasies that you assign to certain songs in order for you to perform them, and to let them live in you, change. So when I perform them now, if I do 'Winter' or 'Silent All These Years' [both from Amos' platinum debut, Little Earthquakes], I've surprised myself what stories, what photographs come up in my mind. And that's why I do insert the catalog, because I don't see it as my past, I see the songs as timeless for me. It's just my perception that needs to change."
Amos' new music will be her first to come out on Universal Music. She landed the new deal after stumbling into a label rep while she was at lunch — with other, smaller distribution companies. The rep passed her table, said hello and took a phone call from "my boss' boss," Amos recalls: Doug Morris, the Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group. As Amos was finishing lunch, she noticed the woman still outside the restaurant, pacing and talking on her cell. "And in that moment, my life flashed before my eyes," she says. "I thought, Doug Morris. He's right there. We haven't talked in 14 years. I miss Doug Morris. We didn't always agree, but he's still passionate about music.
"I put all my mother's training of manners and everything I know to be right and good in the world, and I walked up and I looked at this woman who I'd barely met and interrupted her call, and said, 'Would you send Doug my love?' And she looked at me and said, 'Right now?' I said, 'Now would be good.' "