A 29-year-old Tori Amos introduced herself in 1992 with “Little Earthquakes,” a starkly personal spiritual and sexual exploration set to piano. The subsequent "Under the Pink" and "Boys for Pele" were also largely inspired by long looks inward.
Fast forward to "Native Invader," Amos' 15th studio album. Released in September, it touches on various political and ecological themes teased out from a trip through the Great Smoky Mountains, the 2016 presidential election and the debilitating stroke her mother suffered.
A progression from internal to external inspiration is natural for an artist, said Amos, now 54, during a recent phone interview, citing the 2002 concept album "Scarlet's Walk" as the start of her own transition.
"Earlier on, you're trying to figure out who you are, and that can be overwhelming," she said. But after experiencing a "body menopause, and coming out on the other side of it, you do look at issues from a different lens."
And if your responsibilities include elderly parents and teenage children — Amos' only child, a daughter, is 17 — the result is a "very different viewpoint from when you have no responsibilities except yourself."
"When I was writing the earlier records, I would just take off in my car and go wherever I wanted to go. If people couldn't reach me, they couldn't reach me. That was the life of a songwriter, taking a drive to Joshua Tree (National Park in southern California) with one of my friends and a blanket and a cooler and just spending the weekend looking at the stars and writing songs.
"It doesn't mean I don't make pilgrimages as a songwriter to go get inspired and write, because I do. But I can't just take off without a lot of planning involved."
Onstage throughout her current tour, she is still pretty much responsible only for herself. She performs alone, alternating an acoustic piano and an array of "pretty groovy keyboards." No two sets are alike, as she draws on material from throughout her career. The tour stops at the Mahalia Jackson Theater on Tuesday. Show time is 7:30 p.m.; tickets are $40-$55 plus service charges.
With the exception of the string arrangement on the song "Reindeer King," she and her husband, audio engineer Mark Hawley, created every sound on "Native Invader" at their studio in Cornwall, in southwest England.
"I would play things on the electric keyboard or the piano, and then we would talk about the soundscape and the narrative in the song itself, what the undercurrents of the story would be, what was implied by that. He would pick up a guitar, and I would be at the keyboard or piano, and we would start jamming. Once we got the midrange right, then other things could expand. We wanted the mids to be talking to each other, so that there was a conversation happening from guitars and keyboards. If there's tension between them, it's because they're responding to each other. In 'Chocolate Song,' when the guitars are crying out, they're responding to what the characters are going through."
Such "music language" drives the creation of her songs. Piecing together the story itself can be trickier.
"Sometimes, I have to go off and really hone in on the lyric. We have to be ruthless (if) it's not quite there. Sometimes, I have to go take a trip somewhere and figure out how I want to tell the story. Whether I'm in a cabin in the woods or at a beach in south Florida, I just need to break the routine and wrestle the demons to get it."
The song "Up the Creek" juxtaposes an age-old expression with a contemporary musical framework. She enjoys such old/new dynamics.
"I love a historical yarn that you can weave into current events and bring them into relevance. Some of these expressions, stories that our grandparents would tell us or phrases they would use, have to be put in a different context. But these song lines, their roots run deep. It's part of our cultural consciousness. There's magic in them."
Overall, she sees "Native Invader" as being "about creating sonic wild wood that people can step into in order to deal with the emotional whiplash that we seem to be dealing with in the news daily."
Amos served as the first national spokesperson for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), a toll-free service that connects callers with local rape crisis centers. She's heartened by the #MeToo campaign that has blossomed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal.
"At RAINN, there's a spike, a deluge, of calls," she said. "They're taking the next step, which is seeking help or guidance.
"I think it's an important time. It's real. It's an opportunity for us to be ready to make real change in the workplace, even if we say, 'OK, there will be some pervs that are still at the top of the food chain at some corporations, but they'll be restricted, because there will be parameters. And if they cross those parameters, the public is going to call for them to be ousted. There will be consequences.'
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"I think that's what this moment could demand for our future in the workplace. But we have to stand shoulder to shoulder with our male co-workers to make sure that it happens."