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San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle (US)
January 21, 1996

POP QUIZ

Q & A WITH TORI AMOS

by Julene Snyder
Special to the Chronicle

Labeled a freak while still a toddler, child prodigy Tori Amos was composing musical scores by the time she was 4. But instead of becoming a traditional pianist, this minister's daughter created her own idiosyncratic style characterized by blunt sexual imagery and a fascination with deconstructing religion. Her debut album 1992's "Little Earthquakes," was a howl of sometimes bitter truthfulness that shocked a few tender-eared listeners. Her sophomore effort, "Under the Pink," continued that trend, with the hit song "God" and its provocative chorus: "God, sometimes you just don't come through/ Do you need a woman to look after you?" Add to that lyric a video that featured a writhing Amos covered with live rats and it's not surprising that some labeled the artist a bit unhinged. On stage, Amos, in her early 30s, undulates atop her piano bench, seemingly possessed, yelping and moaning. Watching her is a powerful experience that leaves audiences nearly as drained as the performer. With her new album, "Boys for Pele," Amos continues her quest to discover what it means to be a woman, a question she's grappled with most of her life.

Q: When you write songs, do you sit down at the piano or start with a pad and paper?

A:
It's different all the time. I'm usually driven to write something. I'm responding to something. I don't write because I feel it's time for me to write now. I write because I know something's coming. I smell it in the air. I feel that what's happening is, as the Earth is turning that day, this little satellite is going to come and beam through, and I can usually feel when that's going to happen. It's like me being a translator, translating this energy that's already existing.

Q: How has your family responded to your subject matter?

A:
My parents are pretty cool as far as no censorship. It's just, "You're going to say what you're going to say." I think my father has more of a thing about religious matters than anything else. He doesn't care about sexual matters. It's the religious matters that get some kind of response from him.

Q: What was his reaction to the song "God" and the video?

A:
It wasn't his favorite song. The religious things -- he's still a very Christian man, he's just retired from being a minister. He's been a minister for 40-some years, and committed his life to this. So there are certain belief systems that he upholds and carries that aren't going to change. And some of those belief systems are things that I'm going after, just because I don't think they're truthful.

Q: With such lines as "How's your Jesus Christ been hanging?" on the new album, you've chosen to stick with religious imagery?

A:
I do like to sing that line. It always gives me a little giggle.

Q: When you perform, you seem to go to another place, become transfixed, possessed and almost in ecstasy. Is that how you feel?

A:
That's my form of space travel. That's how I get to cruise multidimensionally. I use sound and tone and rhythm to go there, as conduits to get me to different states of the unconscious while conscious.

Q: Are there other things in your life that can get you to those states?

A:
No way! Are you kidding?

Q: You talk about this album being "the biggest cliff yet." Can you expand on that?

A:
This record is about becoming a woman, crossing over from girlhood to the sides of my womanhood that have been really suppressed. The musician has always been a few steps ahead of the woman, and as the woman caught up, the musician had more rope. Then I asked, "What constitutes the ability to go?" And you have to think, when spaceships in movies are trying to get to another galaxy or another star system, what is it they need to get themselves there? It's no different musically.

Q: You feel like you're propelled to the next level?

A:
Well, I believe you get access to dimensional doorways. Usually it comes from a place of awareness. I think there are some musicians who have accessed this unconsciously, though a lot of them know they're doing it while they're doing it. You can tell.

Q: In the new album's title, does Pele refer to the volcano goddess, and "the boys" to her victims?

A:
That was a fleeting thought. Actually, it became about stealing fire from the boys in my life, from the men in my life. I just didn't understand that I had access to my own fire. Where was my own fire? Not as a piano player, as a person. Whatever they gave me or didn't give me became a gift to lead me to my own fire.

Q: Do you find it healthy to use even the worst experiences of your life to grow as an artist and as a person?

A:
Yeah, no victims here. It came down to this place where I would look at my behavior in astonishment, saying, "Noooo. I did not just crawl on my knees to the telephone. I was just rehearsing for some film. Oh, Tori." It was shocking to me sometimes, and a song would start to come to show me what I wasn't looking at. To give me a piece of the puzzle, so I could free this feeling, this need to feed on boy energy.

Q: You feel that writing these songs helped you understand your own behavior and transcend it?

A:
I'm feeling more free than I have my whole life, mainly because I'm becoming aware when I get a little blood lust.

Q: Do you feel cleansed and ready to go forward as a woman, rather than a girl, after writing and recording this record?

A:
Yes. Finally I'm finding the woman's side, the shadow of woman that I so desperately wanted. And I didn't know how to get there, but the songs just came to visit me and I took a journey and started finding things, without feeling I needed anybody to take me there. But this idea that somebody else had it and I didn't, this zest for something, this plugging into a lightning bolt -- how can I get to this lightning bolt? Do I need to hold onto them to get it? No, there's actually another lightning bolt right behind you. My lightning bolt.


[transcribed by jason/yessaid]


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