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Triple J (Australia, radio)
Triple J FM, Sydney
December 2, 1994
Tori Amos interview
[the CD version of Silent All These Years is played]
Francis: Triple J. It's a quarter past eleven. From her first LP, which is called Little Earthquakes, Tori Amos, Silent All These Years. Francis Lynch with you, good morning. Tori's in the studio with us. Tori, welcome back to Australia.
Tori: Hi, Francis.
Francis: How are you doing?
Tori: I'm really good, actually.
Francis: So this is your second visit to Oz. Or third, even.
Tori: Um, second concert visit, third visit.
Francis: And uh, I'm just wondering, much reports, Tori, about your arm. About how you've been playing under duress. Is it, are you feeling a lot better these days?
Tori: Well, I'm feeling better. I mean, there was a time when I had to have um, electrodes on it because of the angle. And we've moved the piano angle to try and take pressure off. Usually, if the arm takes the pressure, the shoulder is better. It's either my left arm or my right shoulder that kinda has to give. So um, I'm ok, actually. I think I've gotten a second wind for this leg of the tour.
Francis: How is touring on your own, though. I mean, there's nobody to arbitrate with. You carry it all on your own, you call all of the shots, but you also carry all the responsibility. Do you ever feel either burdened or at least, you know, that that's an imposing task?
Tori: No, but I have ten guitar players locked in my dressing room for after the show, so you know, it gives me something to look forward to.
Francis: Musically, your upbringing, you were, I guess, somebody who was playing the piano from a very early age.
Tori: Yeah, I was. My mother says I was two and a half when I started to play. And I could always play, I just, I can't really explain it. I kinda always knew how to do it. Like, you know how to wee. You know, well you just kinda do. That's all. [laugh] It's really that simple, Francis. I mean, the difference is, you know, they have little dia-dees and stuff so you don't have to know how to do that. The potty training thing really screwed me up. I had a hard time understanding it, 'cause I'm like, "but it worked before when they had the little dia-dee on me. Why can't I just do that til I'm thirty?"
Francis: Well, you could if you wanted to. It's a free country, Tori. [both laugh] Why then weren't you a serious musician, a classical musician. If you had that innate talent, usually the people are chanelled that way to become classically trained and perform.
Tori: Well, I was at the Peabody Conservatory when I was five.
Francis: Were you willful, Tori? Did you not wanna be, you know, disciplined as a musician?
Tori: Um, I didn't mind, I love to play, so it wasn't the practicing that bothered me. What bothered me was the interpretation. In the school, they felt like you had to interpret these classics a certain way. Well, people out there, hey you guys that think classical music is like, thppt, what you need to kind of remember is that Mozart was like the Jimi Hendrix of his day. If you really know what you're talking about, then you can look at Bartok and those guys, they were front-runners of their time. So they weren't accepted in their time, they broke a lot of rules, were on the outskirts of the musical society, most of the times died poor. Their music wasn't heard of until much later and they like, changed the face of music. Well now, well, mmm whatever, in this century, a lot of them because the hoi-toi, stinky cheese, expensive wine, those idiots that put on that music that have cut their balls off and have no passion, they would play this music. So, to win the competitions, a lot of times you had to interpret it the way that these people felt like it should be interpreted. And I said, "hang on a minute, these were the Jimi Hendrix of their time. We're interpreting their music wrong." So I got kicked out when I was eleven.
Francis: Fair enough, cause it was more of a form thing rather than a feel. Is that what it was?
Tori: They totally missed the point. They missed the point of where this music had come from. But to win the competitions...
Francis: [interrupts] So who were the passionate songwriters that inspired you as a young person to start writing?
Tori: Well, John Lennon was probably a huge influence. I think his balance of um, humor and yet...
Francis: [interrupts] Very candid songs.
Tori: ...compassion. Yeah, he had a weird way. And he was a naughty little boy, too, which I kind of loved. And of course, Zeppelin. I studied guitar players so that I wouldn't steal.
Tori: Yeah. As a piano player, I didn't want, you know, to... there were only three or four, but still - Ray Charles um, Jerry Lee Lewis um, Elton John. Carol King doesn't really count. She's a great songwriter.
Francis: What about the Joni Mitchell thing? I mean, so many female songwriters are compared or at least considered influenced by Joni, were you?
Tori: I think everybody, Zeppelin will tell you that they were influenced. Robert will sit there and tell you he was...
Francis: [interrupts] Prince will, too. Prince is a big Joni fan.
Tori: ...totally influenced by her work. As a piano player, I wasn't really influenced. But as a songwriter, I was. I did study those serious guitar players like Jimmy Page, probably the most, cause it was so intricate what he was doing.
Francis: Can you crank out a good Zeppelin solo if you have to?
Tori: I think so, I mean...
Francis: We'd like to see that, Tori, as an encore tonight.
Tori: I totally change it when I'm at the piano. I mean, obviously, cause it's such a different instrument. I don't have the pedals or the delays. What the piano has is a great sustain. So I take it into a different form.
Francis: Women respond very passionately to your work. Not only women, but particularly women. And um, I'm just wondering why there is such an extraordinary response to what you say in your songs. Is it because there isn't a dialog for them in most contemporary rock 'n' roll, do you think?
Tori: I think it's... I try in my work to not just give one side. So I try and give the side that you wouldn't really want to admit to because it's politically incorrect.
Francis: What side's that?
Tori: The side that um, does want to kill that five year old because it's crying for like, seventy-two hours. And you know what, it's like, "You are a little shit. That's really what you are." And there's a part of you that just wants to put him in the blender.
Francis: And in contemporary society it's very difficult to write about that.
Tori: No, you don't want to talk about it because you feel like you're a horrible person. And I'm just going, "Hang on a minute, folks, the great work, the writers, whether it, I mean, if we look back at Edgar Allen Poe or we really start studying the writers, they were so much more honest in their writing about what was really going on. One of my favorite writers of all um, time, right now that's alive and living well is Neil Gaiman. The Sandman comic book writer. And he just has this ability to be incredibly, mmm, objective about what's going on in his different characters' minds. And I try to do that in my songwriting. It's not about bad or good, when I'm writing. It's about, if you can't really be honest about how you're really feeling, I think you supress it and then it comes out in other ways. To just be honest and go, "Ok, I'm not gonna act on this feeling, I'm not gonna put this five year old in a blender, but oh boy, watermelon Charlie wouldn't be a bad smoothie right now.
Francis: [laugh] Fair enough. Here on Triple J, Francis Lynch and Tori Amos.
[the CD version of Cornflake Girl is played]
Francis: Twenty-seven minutes past eleven. Tori Amos, from the LP Under the Pink and Cornflake Girl. Tori, is that song written specifically about women being awful to women? Have I sort of got a handle on that?
Tori: You've got a handle on that, Francis. You spend time in the ladies' room, obviously. [both laugh] Putting on that lip-stick. Yes.
Francis: Is it based on your own experiences of the way women treat other women?
Tori: Yes, that, and also Alice Walker's book Possessing the Secret of Joy was an inspiration. It just went into how the mothers took the daughters to the butcher to have their genitalia removed. And uh, when I read that it was just such a breach of trust. Although the patriarchy designed this rule, it was the mothers that took their daughters. So, that just started to spur a whole bunch of thoughts of how women talk about the sisterhood, but it can be actually a very deceitful place, the sisterhood.
Francis: Does it become in some ways an exclusive club for the intelligencia, in a way, the sisterhood as such?
Tori: I think it's an exclusive club for what brand of lip-stick you use. [laugh] I mean, it's just, guys have no concept. Dont take this wrong, guys, sorry. They have no concept of what goes on between women and in that girl's room. It can be the most supportive placec and we could all be out to dinner and you'd all think we were great friends and we're finding ways to uh, exterminate each other.
Francis: Could we just talk a little bit about RAINN? It's an organisation, or at least a service, that you helped set up in America. Can you just explain to us what the service actually provides? And what RAINN stands for, I guess.
Tori: Um, RAINN stands for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. A few of us got together and kind of formed that title. Associated with the title, there's an 800 number. That means it's toll-free, you can call 24-hours a day. So if you don't want it on your bill, meaning if you're um, the perpetrator's in the home and you don't want him finding out, you can call without it showing up. Um, or if you can't afford it. Whatever the reason, it was important that it was private. You call and talk to a counselor who's trained. So it's not just, "Oh Tori, I'm so sorry this has happened to you." It's like, "Ok Tori, let's really look at where you are and where you need to take your next step."
Francis: Do you feel you have a huge responsibility to the people who come to you, and speak to you and write to you about the sorts of problems that they suffer in their own lives?
Tori: I have a responsibility for that issue. I feel like the other, what you get out of my work or don't get out of my work, that's really, you're not incapable. My whole message is, "Be your own savior." I don't feel like I need to clear anything up for anybody. I say what I feel I need to say and I think I'm responsible to myself. But I do think, having written Me and a Gun and talked about it and brought a lot of it up, I've gotten so many letters that I don't know how you can't respond to some of these letters, if you read 'em. And I wasn't capable of helping some of these people. It's just, when you get some of these letters like, "I'm fourteen years old. Last night my father raped me and after your concert he's gonna tonight. Can I come back and just have a cup of tea?" Ok, so what do you do? You get the kettle on, you get her back there, and you go, "We are totally incapable of giving this girl any kind of advice." She's fourteen, it's against the law, number one, for us to be sitting there giving her options. I mean, she can't even leave, legally. So it was, "What can we do?" So we got together um, all the rape crisis centers in the States, there are 341 of them. And they're all connected into this hotline. And there're people there who can really help and give you nuts and bolts of what you need to do and really be supportive.
Francis: Now you're on tour around Australia at the moment and you've not come unprepared cause you've got your own piano. That's a rather large instrument to be carting around.
Tori: Honey, nine feet. Over nine feet, actually.
Francis: It must sound fantastic, Tori.
Tori: Well, I mean, like I always say, Metallica doesn't have anything that's nine feet on their stage. Nothing. So I feel quite good about that. And I do have Metallica's um, mixing board.
Francis: Do you?
Tori: So, yeah.
Francis: Does that make it a very loud experience, now?
Tori: Yeah. Odin rules. I mean, I have my... Yeah, I feel really good about that,
Francis: Oh I'm glad... So tonight and on the tour, are we gonna be hearing some new material? Have you been writing?
Tori: No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Francis: No? I'm sorry.
Tori: No. No, I never do that. Just because it's like, it's not time for that.
Francis: So you need to have space and time?
Francis: Ok, well thanks for coming by today.
Tori: Thanks, Francis.
Francis: No worries. And uh, let's give a quick run-down of your dates. You're starting on Saturday night in Melbourne at a...
Tori: No, tonight, right?
Francis: Tonight, sorry. Goddammit, get it together. Yeah, at the Concert Hall, and then Saturday night in Melbourne again. On Sunday, December the 4th at Brisbane's Concert Hall. You're doing a matinee show as well, is that right?
Tori: Yeah, I'm doing two shows.
Francis: You're a busy girl. On Monday the 5th of December you're not doing a hell of a lot. [both laugh] You're gonna be in Sydney on the 6th at the State Theatre, and the 7th and 8th as well. And then you've got a free day on Friday the 9th, Tori, use it well. [Tori laughs] On Saturday the 10th you're at the Adelaide Festival Theatre and then Sunday you're traveling to Perth, it's a long trip. And on Monday the 12th of December at the Concert Hall in Perth. And uh, then on to Auckland, but people in Auckland can't hear us, so we won't tell them about that.
Tori: Yeah, we won't tell them. But you know on my free days, Francis, I'm racing dirtbikes.
Francis: Are you?
Francis: Where are you doing that?
Tori: Just... in my hotel room. [both laugh]
Francis: Well, have fun.
Tori: Thank you, Francis.
Francis: Bye. The wonderful Tori Amos on Triple J. It's twenty-eight minutes to midday.
[the CD version of Cornflake Girl is played]
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos