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WXRT, Chicago (US, radio)
February 1, 1996

Tori Amos interview and live performance
songs: Little Amsterdam, Here. In My Head, Doughnut Song, Caught a Lite Sneeze (a capella) and Putting the Damage On

Frank E. Lee: Please welcome a woman and her piano, Tori Amos.

[Tori plays Little Amsterdam]

Tori Amos: Hi.

Frank: Hi.

Tori: How are you?

Frank: Overwhelmed! Powerful stuff. That's from the new record, right?

Tori: That's from the new album. That's "Little Amsterdam." I grew up in the South, so there's a bit of that happening. As we all know, it's a bit tricky down there. But I always had my piano, and loads to eat, actually, which was really good because of those Southern cooks. Things might be weird, but they can cook up a storm. A lot of times, I just wait for songs to come. I know I drive people crazy, but I'm waiting for another one to show up. They just kind of show up. This is a song that I haven't played in a while. It's a b-side I put out a few years ago.

[Tori plays Here. In My Head]

Frank: That song was just floating by, and you happened to grab it at this particular time.

Tori: Yeah, you kind of have to take what you get. They just show up or they don't show up. I mean, for shows it's a little different because I get into a certain trance before I walk out on stage. Before I walk out, I've kind of sussed out who's coming, and then as the show progresses, one of them usually finds some cute boy and runs off, so another one has to come in. But usually I'm just figuring it out.

Frank: They kind of come along and possess you. I mean, that's how it looked like to me.

Tori: I'm just plasma, really.

Frank: You've compared making music to jumping off a cliff, and you said that your new album was maybe the biggest cliff you've ever jumped off. Why is that?

Tori: Structure-wise, as you can tell, I really didn't follow any structure (laughs) that I have in my last two works. I didn't feel like censoring. I get tired of pop songs that have the same form, which really bores me. So I'm always trying to push that for myself, and if I don't do that as a musician, I feel like I've let myself down. That's all.

Frank: When I listen to the album, there's a lot of different things going on. There's a brass section and a choir and strings, yet the core of the album is just a woman and her piano.

Tori: I figured that even though I wanted to be Lita Ford years ago, I had to accept that that was never gonna happen, that this is my instrument. I'm not a guitar player. This is what I do, and sometimes things get really groovy and George Porter Jr. will show up. He's from the Meters and he'll come and play on something. He'll come and play on a few. On certain songs, I just got all excited, and there are 68 tracks. I mean, it just didn't stop, like, you know, when you pig out? That kind of happens.

For a lot of the songs, I wanted to put the piano through a Leslie cabinet, or I wanted to use the harpsichord. It's a big part of the record, but yet not play it as a traditional Baroque instrument. I was trying to push the limits of my instrument, and just adding a bunch of guitars really wouldn't push the limits of the piano, so there are certain ways I wanted to take it. Even if it's sparse, it's doing something that I've not done with it before.

Frank: Yeah, there are a lot of different layers there which is something, I think, you need to have for a powerful album. Was this the first album that you had complete control over? Nobody was saying, "Do this or do that, or maybe you should try it this way." I noticed you produced it and wrote it and played the lion's share of it yourself.

Tori: Well, the difference is, because I produced it by myself, I've worked with some wonderful people. I pulled in a tech. crew instead of a producer, so my techs are pretty serious. They're really very much a part of the sound, and yet if something wasn't working, I'd walk in and say, "This sucks! I hate her. Get rid of her."

They would look at me, and instead of talk me out of it, or say, "Let's just save this and we'll do another one," they would go - with a guiness in one hand and a fag [cigarette] in the other - "Are you sure you want to do this?" I'd say, "Yes, I'm sure." They'd say, "Three, two," and their hand's on the red light, "Are you sure?" I said, "Yes." Gone.

So it's not a long discussion, but they're just trying to make sure I'm of sound mind and body at that moment. Once they know that, then it's gone, and that was freedom.

Frank: Well, you seem to know what you're doing. You've obviously struck a responsive chord, selling millions and millions of records. In fact, your new album is one of the top sellers in Chicago, according to our secret sources.

Tori: She's not complaining. I think as a musician you're always trying to do new stuff, and if you don't do that, then... I just remember being a little kid, playing my instrument and going, "God, one day I hope I can keep challenging myself as a musician no matter what's happening on the commercial scene, because you can't be a hostage to that."

Frank: Are you gonna play another one for us?

Tori: Yeah yeah.

Frank: What have you got for us? From the new album maybe?

Tori: I don't know yet. Let me think.

Frank: We're waiting for the muse to come.

[Tori plays Doughnut Song]

Frank: Lovely. You're listening to an XRT private performance starring Tori Amos live from River North Recorders. Wonderful stuff! That also a part of the new album?

Tori: Yeah, that's on the new record. "Doughnut Song."

Frank: Now, Pele, if I remember my high school mythology, was the Hawaiian volcano goddess who required human sacrifice?

Tori: Or lots of marshmallows.

Frank: Or big marshmallows.

Tori: It's not really a sacrifice record. I mean, if they were jerks, they're gonna pay. But I don't have a hate thing with guys. There's actually a lot of love on this record. But, sometimes, love turns into obsession or vampire. I had my little lipsticks, trying to match the color of the boy's blood. See, the girls know exactly what I'm talking about.

Frank: The boys are all very disturbed.

Tori: Well, I don't think they always know what the women are up to, cos the shocking thing is, they had no idea that I was looking for my woman's worth through them. They couldn't conceive. After everything was over - and this just isn't one person; this was a few people, where I kind of learned these lessons - they just couldn't believe that I really thought they had some understanding of my woman's worth. It's true. I looked to them.

Frank: It's very much an album of songs from a woman's heart. What would you expect a male listener to get from it?

Tori: Well, first I'd suggest a big bottle of red. I've been suggesting this for the guys. The other thing is, what I try and tell the guys with a little giggle is, "You know, now is not a good time. I really can't talk about this right now. It's not a good time. I'll deal with this later." And you hang up that phone... This is what happens, this record [laughs]. That's what happens.

There were moments when I was crawling to a phone that wasn't ringing, actually [laughs]. So it doesn't matter that I was successful and things were happening. "Under the Pink" was sold out everywhere. It (the separation from Eric) was in the middle of the tour.

I mean, I don't need a guy to tell me how to be a Viking. I know how to do that. I can go steal chicks. I know how to do that. I can do all that. I know how to get a home. I know how to build a home. I know how to, as they say, be a wolfe. I knew how to be a wolfe. I didn't know how to be a woman.

Frank: You're scaring me [laughs]. One of the things we can do is play the first single from "Boys For Pele." It's one of those songs you really can't do without more instrumentation. But if you'd like to do that, we could play it back at the station, and listen to it here.

Tori: You can do anything you want. I mean, if you want to have fun, I could... I've been dying to do this thing [sing Caught A Lite Sneeze a cappella]. I haven't done this in America yet. I did this in Holland, where I played a chair. If your instrument can't do what you need it to... I don't have the harpsichord with me right now. Let's just try something.

Frank: I'm game.

[Tori sings Caught A Lite Sneeze a cappella]

Frank: Now was that song written from the point of view of the other woman, the bad side of a love triangle?

Tori: It's definitely the bad side. It wasn't the one that won. My point of view was not the side that won in this song. I think where it shows up on the record, and the whole reason "Sneeze" is where it is is because, well, obviously, it was definitely malaria. It's one of those things where you know this isn't good for you. You know that anything any of your friends say to you just doesn't mean anything. "Don't do this Tori. You're crazy. Don't do this. Why are you doing this?" You just look at them and say, "Oh, I know exactly what I'm doing. Don't worry. Everything's just fine."

Frank: Well, you captured it perfectly on that song. I understand that song was actually released initially on the Internet, on the Atlantic Records web site.

Tori: Yeah.

Frank: I think it was the first song ever released that way.

Tori: I wouldn't know about that cos I don't know much about what goes on. Does anybody here know?

[long silence]

Frank: Uh oh. Isn't anybody online in here?

Tori: I'm sure there is. They're everywhere!

Frank: You recorded the album in a couple of interesting places - in Ireland and Louisiana. Why did you use those two different places to record the album?

Tori: Geographically, I go after a place that's another layer to the work. No different than with "Under the Pink" in New Mexico. There are reasons why I did that. For "Pele," the South kept coming up for me. I get visuals when I'm getting a work.

It's no different than layering colors as a painter to achieve something in the end. I'm bringing different elements in, so that sometimes you don't even know why, but everything has a frequency, obviously, and everything has a current. It's no different, I guess, than the other arts, so geography is a huge place where you either plug in or you don't plug in.

Ireland was calling because it had made up a lot of the South, where I spent a lot of time. The church influence was huge, so I went back to the Old World. I mean, the Native Americans did not bring Christianity forth. I went back and followed the layline, and it brought me back to Ireland.

Frank: You've been playing piano since you were 2 1/2 years old. What was that like for those of us who weren't child prodigies? What was it like to be able to play an instrument that young? Was it hard? How did you parents react?

Tori: Well, my father wanted me to learn all the hymns, of course. I caught on quickly that that wasn't the only repertoire available. I don't remember a lot from that age. I just could always play.

Frank: Your parents sent you to a music conservatory to study classical music, I would assume.

Tori: When I was 5.

Frank: Do you look back upon those days fondly or not so fondly?

Tori: I think teaching music is really tricky. It's such a subjective thing, because I always said this, "How did this ding-a-ling even know how Mozart wanted this played?" I'm like, "How do you know this, because what if he really wanted it this way? Maybe he was drinking loads of vodka, and he didn't want it this restrained." But they had an idea about how everything should be.

That's why I do covers sometimes. The idea isn't to replicate what another person has done. I don't think so. I think people can improve on things, or just take it from another angle. I mean, I'd love for Metallica to do "Silent All These Years."

Frank: You did a very interesting cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." I thought that added another dimension to that song, a whole other dimension. Are you gonna play a final one for us?

Tori: Yeah.

Frank: We'd love to hear more.

[audience applause]

Tori: Thank you very much.

[Tori plays Putting the Damage On]

Frank: That was wonderful - another song from "Boys For Pele." I could listen to this all day. I don't know about you. Thanks so much for coming out on this cold day in Chicago. Usually, at this time of year, Chicago is much more temperate.

Tori: Yeah, right.

Frank: Thanks for coming. When can we expect you to come and do a full-fledged concert appearance?

Tori: I'm not sure when we'll be in Chicago. We hit the States the first week of April. We start the U.K. end in February. We do 200 shows this time around.

Frank: What's gonna be your support group for this show?

Tori: It's changing all the time, because we're in Europe, different countries had different desires. To be honest, I've got so many shows to do before I get to the States that I don't know what will be happening by the time we get here.

Frank: Well, a little uncertainty is good. Thanks so much for coming and doing this show. It was great.

Tori: Thank you.

Frank: You're a very powerful performer, and good luck with the new album. I hope it sells millions and millions. Tori Amos.


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