Necessity may be the mother of invention, but so are growth and creativity. When Tori Amos released her ninth studio album in May, she unveiled a cast of characters that she's brought along for the ride. She refers to them as different personalities that are part of her own -- they'll even make appearances at her live shows.
Amos' American Doll Posse World Tour, in support of the album of the same name, is two hours and 20 minutes of the singer-songwriter in formats most people have never seen from her before. The opening third of the show will feature Amos as one of the characters from the CD -- Clyde, Santa, Isabel or Pip. The part will feature Amos with a full band.
"It's really exciting to play live with the band and to have all that power, musically, coming off stage," Amos says by phone from Florida before the American leg of the tour began. "I think I've been practicing now over two years to be ready for this tour. I had to make sure that I could perform it the way it needs to be performed and that just took a lot of discipline -- sort of like preparing for a marathon."
Her stop in Charlotte will also be a reunion of sorts as Amos spent time in North Carolina while growing up and still has cousins in the Queen City. She'll make recordings from the U.S. leg of the tour available online shortly after each show. "It'll be called Legs & Boots because the Posse has legs and boots," she says with a laugh. "We'll be uploading it that night for people to download. Hot, fresh buns."
The setlist for each show varies, as does the choice of opening character, something that keeps Amos and the band on their toes. "When you show up in a new town, you try and figure out what's been happening there in the last couple of weeks so you can get a read of the masses in that place," she says. "Then, because I don't have to write a setlist until an hour before the show -- that's my cutoff point. I tend to push it up to that final hour, which tends to drive everybody crazy, but you know it does keep them all very awake. Imagine, you don't know what side of your wife is gonna show up to dinner."
The last time Amos, 44, performed a show of this length was in 1998. She says that if she doesn't spend enough time practicing, her performance could turn out like "something from the VMAs." The result, for the change of characters, is subtle differences. "This isn't about 'How can I fuck up a good Tori song?'" she says. "That's not the exercise here. It's about a narrative that has different energetic expressions from, yes, the same woman, but different facets of this woman."
The five characters are based on the Greek Pantheon, something Amos studied after George W. Bush was elected to a second term. She wondered how women could support an administration that doesn't support their ideology. She was then drawn to the idea that each person is made up of more than one image.
Isabel is based upon the goddess Artemis and is the most political. Clyde is based upon the goddess Persephone and is more emotional. Pip, based on Athena the goddess of war and wisdom, is confrontational. Santa, based on Aphrodite is more passionate. While the Tori character, as the band leader, has a "bit of testosterone" and represents the Greek gods Demeter and Dionysus.
"You are the image that you are today because you're choosing to project that, but that doesn't mean that's all you are," she explains. "Sometimes you kind of turn around and fear that a friend or an acquaintance, on the weekend, is stripping in a club. Or the stripper is taking accounting courses on the side. That's because there are other sides to all of us."
While Amos looks at the new album as a new beginning -- closing one chapter and starting the next -- she does note that there will be patterns in her music that are always repeated. She just doesn't want to recreate something from the past.
"When you do something that you think is strong and bold, you can't worry if people want to hang on to the past," she says. "I think, as a performer, you have to keep pushing yourself and you can't repeat yourself. If you start doing that, then I don't think the work is as powerful."
Though the new album has a more electric and spirited feel to it, Amos' voice has remained the true constant throughout the years. "Well, I haven't done enough blow yet," she says with a laugh.
While she's usually already thinking ahead to her next album, Amos hasn't yet thought about her next studio effort. After the current tour, she'll work on writing a musical, planned for 2009, with the British National Theatre.
As far as revisiting these characters in the future, Amos is undecided. While she knows every story must have an end, she says she's not quite ready to say goodbye.
"These women have changed me -- who I am as Tori," she says. "I don't want them to go yet, because they've just brought so much excitement and fun to my life. They've opened me up to different ways of looking at something, of reacting. I'll miss performing them, but they're forever with me."
Tori Amos will perform at Ovens Auditorium on Nov. 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $38.50 and $48.50. For more information, go to www.ovensauditorium.com.