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All Things Considered (US, radio)
National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.
July 5, 1994
Noah Adams: The music of Tori Amos will pop out at you on the radio.
[a clip from The Wrong Band is played]
Noah: Her songs can be dark, sardonic.
[a clip from The Waitress is played]
Noah: Many of the songs seem simple, but only at first.
[a clip from Space Dog is played]
Noah: That's a song called Space Dog. Tori Amos writes about being a ghost and she has a new irreverent hit song about God. "God sometimes you just don't come through." And she is well-known for a song about having been raped. She wrote about driving around at 5am, "can't go home, far from sleep." The song is quiet, just her voice, remembering.
[a clip from Me and a Gun is played]
Noah: She still performs the song in concert, and she's working to help set up a nationwide rape crisis 800 number. Especially for young people, she has their attention. Her videos are on MTV, her latest CD has sold a million copies. We talked with Tori Amos here in our studio. Talked about her songs and about her piano playing and her childhood. She's the daughter of a Methodist minister.
Noah: Do you ever find that chords from the Methodist hymnal are coming into your music, and if so, do you try to get rid of them or do you try to embrace them or what, what happens?
Tori Amos: Funny you say that, I try and avoid them. Sometimes there are moments where it really works, like um, one of my favorite ones was The Church's One Foundation, that one. It goes um...
Tori sings: "from Heaven he came and sold her
to be his only bride
with his own love, he bought her
and for her life he died..."
Tori: But what I do is I put fifths in the bottom, more of an ancient approach, I do a fifth thing. And I always change it, I leave thirds out of my work a lot. So even though the hymns, a lot of those Methodist hymns come from, I think, a bit more of a folk tradition, and then I try and mess with them a bit. But for the most part I try and avoid them.
Noah: Could you demonstrate just a bit what you do with that chord progression?
Tori demonstrates, while talking.
Tori: So we could do a jig over it, actually, like a Scottish thing. I'm usually always trying to be a bagpipe, I think. There's something, so when, even if I'm playing a hymn, or one of my own, or mm...
Tori sings: "Oh beautiful for spacious skies, ooh, yeah..."
Tori: I'm always walking in the heather, I think, up there. With my claymore.
Noah: Scottish background at all?
Tori: Part Scottish, part Cherokee.
Noah: Cherokee, hmm. Do you know where your folks came from?
Tori: Um, southern part of Scotland and then they went down into the Appalachian mountains, settled, my father's side. And my mother's side, they were all in the Smokies. And with the Trail of Tears, my great-great grandmother hid in the Smokies to avoid the Trail of Tears, and then became a slave.
Noah: They were taking them all out to Oklahoma.
Tori: Yeah. And then she became a slave to a plantation owner. He fell in love with her and married her. And that's where the line comes down from.
Noah: Hm, wow. So the earliest music that you heard would have been Methodist church music.
Noah: But you started playing at two years old.
Tori: That's what my mom says.
Noah: How does that, do you undersand what playing by ear really is? How you were able to just get up on a piano stool and play, do you understand what that is?
Tori: Um, I understand that this was like, Spaghetti-O's. I understand that this was the yummiest feeling there was. That you crawl up and you make friends with the sound.
Noah: And when you went to Conservatory, then did that interfere with the way you heard music?
Tori: Um, I was accepted to the Peabody when I was five, and the whole idea was to get me to read. The problem with getting me to read was, it was so frustrating 'cause they started me on Hot Cross Buns. And I could play scores of musicals by then. So when you can play, you know, Rogers and Hart or Gershwin by ear, maybe not perfect but, you know, you get the gist of Summertime, then you're going, "Hang on a minute." From Summertime to Hot Cross Buns is a far cry. You're not seeing the Spaghetti-O's anymore, it's not yummy anymore. You know, there are twelve people doing this [plays a few bars of Mozart] as I'm walking down the hall. Why do I want to be the thirteenth? I want to create my own things.
Noah: You said in one interview -- in Rolling Stone, I believe -- that you are far more adventurous at the piano than you are in real life. Can you separate the piano from your life now at all? I mean, what happens at the piano that doesn't happen to you out in the world?
Tori: Um, I don't feel guilty when I'm at the piano. There's no guilt. So, I have a whole 'nother world that's going on that's very real to me that I do understand, when I'm back in my hotel room, that this world that I'm creating at the piano, whether I'm writing things about people that I've just met or ruun into, when I run into them again say, I don't know, at dinner, I'm not really having certain relationships with them that I'm having at the piano, that I'm creating. But at the piano, all this is existing. And she and I are totally cohorts. We know exactly what we're creating. And this world is very real to us. It's very real. But nobody else kind of acknowledges it except when I'm onstage because that's like fantasy-land for everybody. But it's just the opposite to me. Real life is really when I'm playing, and then when I'm off I'm just waiting to do the next gig.
Noah: Could it be any other instrument than the piano?
Tori: The thing about this instrument is, it's orchestral, really. It's very much a warm, living, breathing woman, to me. It's very female. She's my best friend. I sit and talk to her, curl up around her, sometimes. It's a real being, to me.
Noah: Could you be happy with a digital piano in any way?
Tori: No, no, of course not. There's no sustain. This is the biggest part of my sound, is that.
Noah: The right pedal there?
Tori: Yeah. This is the biggest part of everything I do. I play the sustain like it's a whole 'nother instrument. You know, whether I just maybe I hold this for the whole tune. [plays a bit, demonstrating her use of the sustain pedal] Whatever I'm, the sustain is very much a part of my work. So um, electric pianos, also, they're not living, breathing things. I mean, this is, it's all about the breath also, the air.
Noah: What sort of response does the song from the new CD about God, what sort of response does that provoke at a concert?
Tori: Oh, it's mayhem.
Tori: Well, the funny thing about God is that um, you know, Top 40 Radio wouldn't touch it in this country, but it was number 1 at Alternative Radio in this country for a few weeks. And it's completely questioning the way that the Patriarchy has run things, and it's my little seduction of um, the G-man. And I'm not talking about the Great Spirit, necessarily, I'm talking about the force that has controlled Judaism, Islam, Christianity, etc, that whole energy is from the same place, the controlling male force. That's what I'm going after. And so when I say, "Come on, babe, I think you need to come over and put your feet up and, basically, you need a babe. And I'm not busy this week. So, I wanted this tribal rhythm. I started this whole song at the Pueblo in New Mexico, and so I wanted those primal drums going. [plays and sings the chorus from God]
Noah: When you were at the age of some of the people in the audience who have come to see you, some of the young people, was there anybody performing when you were very young who you could look up to and say, you know, it could have been Joan Baez, Judy Collins, somebody like that.
Tori: Joni Mitchell.
Noah: Joni Mitchell, was it Joni Mitchell?
Tori: Always, always. [plays and sings a few lines from A Case of You by Joni Mitchell] Always Joni. You know, I'd listen to her and go, "God, she said things I would give anything to say." You know, you'd want to give a tape to somebody and go, "This is what I've been trying to say for four years."
Noah: Did you go see her?
Tori: Never saw her.
Noah: Never saw her. Ever talk to her?
Tori: Never talked to her.
Noah: Would you play and sing just a bit of um, Happy Phantom for me?
Tori: Ahh. [laughs] [plays and sings a bit of Happy Phantom]
Noah: It's just a simple ghost story.
Tori: Yeah! [laughs]
Noah: Singer-songwriter Tori Amos, her newest recording is Under the Pink.
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos