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On the Street (Australia)
sometime in 1994
SONGS OF ENIGMATIC CLARITY
TORI AMOS interview by MICHAEL SMITH
Read through the lyrics of Under the Pink, the new album from Tori Amos, and you'd be forgiven for being a little confused. Images weave in and out of context in obscure and apparently unrelated ways that at the same time create extraordinary conjunctions and striking juxtapositions. They just don't necessarily quite make sense.
Or maybe I'm just out of practice in the old post-modernist scheme of things. I love what Tori Amos is doing, so poignant, so brooding, so moving, but I have to admit I stepped upstairs to our interview room for a phone interview with her with some trepidation. There are a couple of songs that appear fairly straightforward but overall I hadn't a clue how to approach the ideas that swirl darkly within the music on Under the Pink.
And I felt worse knowing that as far as she's concerned, her work is the epitome of clarity, honestly representing the truth as she sees it.
"I think as a writer, you're always wondering where you're going to go musically," Tori's little girl voice comes through the hands free phone speaker. "It's not like I look on a map and I can go, 'Oh, I've never been to the Adirondacks so I'm going to go there.' Musically, the map doesn't exist. I don't know what my choices are. So it's very challenging to give in, as a musician, I think, and wonder what boundaries can I push. You don't really know what the boundaries are."
Musically, Under the Pink is an even more minimalist affair than Little Earthquakes, despite the occasional use of strings. It's just a voice and piano for the most part, and devastatingly haunting in its vulnerability and apparent simplicity.
"We figured, when we bring everybody in, like in 'God,' there are 20 tracks of loops and percussion in that. Whereas with 'Icicle,' we wanted it naked. More than anything we weren't afraid to let the piano just sit there. I was working with a Bösendorfer, which is of course the most amazing thing in the world to play."
OKAY, here goes. Following her cue, I dived into the murky transparency of lyrics and just what it is Tori Amos is trying to say on various tracks on Under the Pink. Great images, such as in 'Yes, Anastasia': "Button up the buttons that have forgotten that they're buttons." The Anastasia of the title is the woman who turned up in Austria in the 30s with no memory other than she was the princess of the Russian royal family shot by the Bolsheviks during the revolution. Then again, just like that Anastasia, is this the real Anastasia?
"Originally it was that Anastasia." Here Tori sighs deeply, obviously feeling some pain in explication. "The British press slams me for this but it's just the truth so I'm going to tell you. It's such a hard thing digesting this one. When I was in Virginia last year, on tour, I was very ill. I had food poisoning and yet I was still going to play that night because it was too late to cancel and I just don't do that. To make a long story short, I felt this apparition of Anastasia Romanov, and later I found she'd died not far from there perhaps ten years prior.
"Her apparition said to me that I had to write her story, and I'm saying 'this is not a good time!' Sick as I was. She said I needed to learn something from her story, 'You need to think girl.' So I just started to dive into her whole essence. It's funny but sometimes I feel like I'm Anastasia. I feel like I'm talking to myself when I sing that 'We'll see how brave you are.' It's that part of me that's singing to the part that had no respect for the process, the process of growing. It was interesting getting to know her. The song transcended her and just became an energy, that she is, I dunno. . . She lived a very victimised life. Very courageous, that woman, if you read what she went through."
A very personal album but an album on which Tori brings forward other voices, other guises, to get across her message. Then there are the silly moments, where she's obviously toying with us, like "Space Dog."
"Yeah! 'Space Dog' is a mixture of a lot of things. It's a bit like an ayahuasca trip, that hallucinogenic vine from Brazil. There's a whole otherworldliness to 'Space Dog,' but at the same time, there's a loss of wholeness that runs through that whole bridge in the song. I think that when you're a little kid, you have wholeness, and you innately understand that. Then we slowly give it away.
"There's a strange acceptance in 'Space Dog.'" There's a long pause as Tori tries to find the right words. "The people and the things that I put so much hope in and depended on and needed them to be a certain way for me. Well they're not there any more. (Tori's voice is breaking by now) There was a sense of loss, which you couldn't bridge, but at the same time, there's a strange acceptance about it that's just part of it. A lot of times, people aren't what you want them to be, nor should they have to be. That's my hang-up not theirs."
"Past the Mission" appears to be an apocalyptic tale of blood and murder.
"That's Jesus really. I was reading the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail at the time and there were certain things that popped out, to me. There's the whole Mary Magdalene thing going on in that song, and trying to transcend the oppression of the Church, the girl trying to find her passion again. I wanted a man to sing it with me, in support of this woman finding her passion again, and if I got a man who was tender to sing it with me, I didn't think it would mean as much as if I got a man who is a fucking raging lunatic who could be tender, if he chose to be. So I got Trent on a good day and he chose to be tender! Hm. I mean he is the devil, so. . . It's always interesting to make the devil a cup of tea!! It's every minister's daughter's dream."
And so it goes, as Billy Pilgrim was wont to say in Slaughterhouse Five. Layers of cryptic meaning wrapped within each song the key for which, ultimately, is there within the psyche of this extraordinary and enigmatic singer/songwriter, Tori Amos.
Tori Amos is currently intensively touring the US.
[scan by Sakre Heinze]
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos