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Time Out (UK)
December 20, 1995
Interview by Peter Paphides
Sometimes its hard to know where the marketing stops and the music begins. When Tori Amos's record company launched her first album, Little Earthquakes in 1992, they invited a gaggle of writers over to Tori's London home where they watched her perform Me And A Gun, a chilling, concussed clutch of first-person recollections about being raped. The idolising reviews flooded in. Then, a few months down the line, someone discovered that Tori had a past. NME printed a sleeve of a record by Y Kant Tori Read, a heavy rock group fronted by the young Ms. Amos. The cover featured the soon-to-be-reborn confessional ivory tinkler lost somewhere amid an ill-judged shock of hairspray and skin-tight snakeskin trousers.
Tori Amos, now exposed as a fake, was suddenly recast as a pseudo-Kate Bush exercise in cynical marketing; an entirely synthetic 'kooky dame', well aware of the strings she was pulling. Swiftly stripped of critical bouquets, Tori had to wait until 1994's Under The Pink album and the obliquely catchy Cornflake Girl hit, for wide-spread success. It seems we don't like to think of our eccentric female singer-songwriters as having any control, being tainted by marketing. And heaven forbid that the Tori Amos who make Little Earthquakes could be even related to the ridiculous rock chick in Y Kant Tori Read...
'Well, I was a rock chick for years,' ruminates a jolly Amos on this drizzly Monday afternoon. There are two bright orange things in her record company's horrible grey suite. One of them is Amos's hair. The other is the carrot she's eating. 'About a year after that, I ran into the journalist who wrote this big "expose". I said: "Why couldn't you give me the credit for putting those snake pants on of my own volition? What did you think the words on Little Earthquakes were about? I whored myself, and it horrified me. After that record, I threw out everything. My piano, even. I chucked it!" But not because of the clothes. There's nothing wrong with snakeskin trousers and hairspray. It was because the music wasn't honest.
According to Tori Amos, whose entire musical upbringing in North Carolina evolved somewhere between the encouragement of her Methodist minister father and her Cherokee mother, those initial forays into the rock world were a product of misplaced guilt and low self-esteem. 'My father wanted to be James Dean or a doctor, but his parents were both ministers who grew up in "Deliverance" territory. He had four brothers, but my grandparents decided that he had to be the minister. Nothing he ever did would be enough for them. My grandmother would write him letters criticising his sermons. She just wanted him to be Billy Graham or something. My thing has always been to show that I'm worthy.'
What? To your father?
'Yeah. To someone who could never do enough either. Okay, so he never became successful in the eyes of his mother, but come on, dad! Put your thigh-length boots on! Let's rock and show grandma! But I got shot down in flames.'
As heavy rock albums designed to make your Methodist minister dad feel better about their failure to become Billy Graham go, 'Y Kant Tori Read' is very representative. Similarly, the new album Boys For Pele, is exactly the kind of album you'd make if you were: (a) trying to salvage a doomed seven-year relationship with the man you thought you were going to spend the rest of your life with; and (b) trying to conduct a 106-date tour of America at the same time. Beyond the (barely) restrained new single Caught A Lite Sneeze, Doughnut Song and Talula show Tori Amos at her most bacchanalian - that's bacchanalian as in womanly, not in some primal Yoko Ono way - pounding at twin sentiments of recrimination and regret. The album's best song though, is Hey Jupiter. Lending a clarity to the senselessness of dying love worthy of greats like Kristin Hersh's Hips And Makers and the Go-Betweens Part Company, it's quintessential Tori Amos.
'Hey Jupiter was especially hard,' reflects Tori, who's now moved on to a cucumber. 'I'd made 13 calls from all over the world. I was getting ready to catch a plane from Phoenix to do the Vegas show, and I rang his number again, but no one was picking up. And in that moment, after all the...you know, the fiery read head behaviour, drawing my lines, making my threats...I was lying there alone, feeling incredibly weak. Feeling like there are not enough sold-out shows, like it doesn't matter that every American show is sold out, because I'm only alive when I'm on a stage with a piano. The rest of the time I'm just this shell. So, when I wrote Hey Jupiter, it was like, how could we have been so cruel? Because when we started it, there was so much love. Real caring. And I sit here hating someone who I had been head over heels in love with. Taking jets to meet up for four hours and then flying back to do a show the next night.'
Without wanting to be insensitive, you could probably condense most of Tori Amos's canon into a small advisory pamphlet entitled, Men! Can't live with them! Can't live without them! What is it about us, Tori?
'The strange thing is that when you're a creative force as a woman...'
Why 'as a woman'?
'Well, for the past 2,000 years, we were the Mona Lisas. We were the ones encouraging the TS Eliots, but we were not acknowledged as the forces themselves. Only this century has it turned around. It's interesting for men to be the muses. In my experience, they've found it thrilling, disturbing and sometimes threatening. And if I'm to be honest with you, I wanted to be the muse sometimes. God, it would have just been great to go explode out there with another male creative force and not have to take away from each other.'
Most women are at some point attracted to men who they feel, usually wrongly, that they can rescue in some way.
'Yeah, that was me too!' she affirms, now effervescing with an energy eerily reminiscent of movie non-classic The Wild Women of Wongo, 'I thought I could rescue them from themselves, not seeing that I'd got this steel chocolate bar shoved up their ass with my right and and wiping their brow with my left, waying, "What's wrong baby?"'
That's very attractive to a log of women, though.
'Why do you think that is?' she asks.
Men and women operate in different realms. The thing that women recognise as intelligence is the thing that men will put in the same pigeonhold as volatility and impulsiveness. Whereas the thing that men regard as intelligence is, to most women, anal and restrained.
'Yes, I know.' Perfectly weighted pause. 'That's why we have two separate toilets.'
The reason, I suspect, that Tori Amos gets so excited about the idea of a relationship where she can be both the creator and the muse, is that she knows she can't have it. The way she talks about the music 'just happening' and her life-long relationship with her piano, brims with the kind of vitality we usually reserve for drunken conversations about our lovers. I ask her whether or not she feels her creativity has made her both attractive and repulsive to some of her more insecure lovers and for a second, it's as if I'm one of them: 'I've been playing for 30 years,' she hisses, 'Music is my first language. Whether you like what I do or not, I know what it is that I'm trying to achieve with each work musically. When it comes to creativity I have a lot of will. It's like the man would be going: "Come on Tori. Let's take a drive and get to know each other". Well, I get really shy, because I don't have the 9-foot piano. And what if he gets to know me and decides he hates me?'
It might be possible to fit all three in a happy relationship, but Tori Amos has yet to succeed.
Boys For Pele is released by East West at the end of January. It's preceded by a single, Caught A Lite Sneeze which comes out on Jan. 1.
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