Born August 22, 1963, as Myra Ellen Amos in Newton, North Carolina, Tori fell in love with the family’s piano before she turned three years old - even though she couldn’t quite yet reach the keys.
“I would grab a phone book and somehow crawl up and sit,” she recalled later. “And my mom said she would find me there, just happy as a clam, playing that piano.”
As a young girl growing up in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Rockville, Maryland, Amos was heavily influenced by her family’s musical tastes, from her mom’s beloved Broadway show tunes to the Beatles’ and Rolling Stones’ albums her brother brought home from the record shop. At the age of five, her performance of the musical score Oliver helped make her the youngest person ever admitted to the prestigious Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore.
In search of her first professional gig, a thirteen-year-old Amos enlisted the help of her minister father, who went calling on bars dressed in his clerical collar and with a Bible in hand. The unlikely pair landed Amos an unlikely first gig at Mr. Henry’s, a D.C. gay bar. Amos continued to perform locally throughout her teenage years.
At the age of 21, Amos headed west to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams of a recording career under her new, adopted name, Tori. She landed a record deal with Atlantic in 1987. At the label’s urging, Amos marketed herself as an ‘80s rocker girl, replete with permed hair and a back-up band called Y Kant Tori Read. When her first album received very little attention, Amos fought the label to create an album that more accurately reflected her own musical style. The result, Little Earthquakes (1992), was the first Tori Amos album that would feature the artist’s signature style. Her hard work paid off, and the album went gold in both the U.S. and U.K.
Little Earthquakes also included the song “Me and a Gun,” a deeply personal account of Amos’s kidnapping and rape at knifepoint in Los Angeles years earlier. The song gave strength to countless other survivors of sexual assault, many of whom approached Amos after her shows to share their experiences. With them in mind in June 1994, Amos co-founded the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, a crisis hotline for sexual assault victims. The hotline received its one-millionth caller in 2006, and has frequently been cited as one of the top charities in the U.S.
Amos released the albums Under the Pink in 1994 and Boys for Pele in 1996. These albums, with their dense, metaphoric lyrics, feminist themes and complex piano melodies, established Amos (in the words of various reviewers) as “the ‘90s’ most essential musician besides Kurt Cobain” and “the wizard queen of alternative rock.”
Growing increasingly frustrated with corporate record labels, Amos converted the barn of her home in Cornwall, England, into a recording studio and founded her own business, Martian Recording Studios. She transformed her classic solo-piano sound to a more varied one, and began recording with a band and experimenting with electronic production. In 1998, she released From the Choirgirl Hotel, her bestselling album to date.
In her later albums, Amos continued to experiment musically. In 2001’s Strange Little Girls she covered songs like the Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” from a female perspective. Her 2002 album Scarlet’s Walk (the first released under her new label, Epic) drew on themes ranging from Native American history to pornography. For her 2007 album American Doll Posse, Amos performed songs from the perspectives of five different female personalities conceived for the album.
In 1998, Amos married Mark Hawley, an English sound engineer. She gave birth to their daughter, Natashya, in 2000. Amos and her husband divide their time between England and the U.S. She continues to write and record music, always striving to push the boundaries of what people expect of the musical artist.
Night of Hunters (2011) is a 21st century song-cycle, inspired by classical music from the last 400 years. Following the idea of the classical song-cycle, the all-new songs from Night of Hunters tell an ongoing contemporary story. Its central character is a woman ending a long relationship, allowing the listener to follow her on a journey over the course of one night to explore complex musical and emotional themes With this album Tori Amos carries on the classical tradition of variations on a theme - taking the inspiration from works of other composers, not to copy or replace the originals, but to create an entirely new work out of them, which is also a tribute to the mastery of the original compositions. For the first time in years Amos has decided to place the piano once more at the center of an album. All songs on Night of Hunters were recorded entirely with acoustic instruments, focusing on the piano and an ensemble of strings and woodwinds.
Amos shares, “I have used the structure of a classical song cycle to tell an ongoing, modern story. The protagonist is a woman who finds herself in the dying embers of a relationship. In the course of one night she goes through an initiation of sorts that leads her to reinvent herself, allowing the listener to follow her on a journey to explore complex musical and emotional subject matter. One of the main themes explored on this album is the hunter and the hunted and how both exist within us.”