home / interviews


Shift (US)
April 1996



tori amos:
under the volcano


Tori Amos was a classical music prodigy, but diched Mozart for pop. She's a hero for women but says feminism is dead. And she thinks God needs a good talking to as well. Tori Amos is hot and bothered and not afraid to talk about it with Evan Solomon.

To make the comparison is almost grotesque. After all, he was the greatest composer in history and she's just another pop star getting her latest injection of music industry hype. His bust sits in concert halls all over the world giving inspiration to music lovers, while her bust is exposed in record stores giving suck to a baby pig. So maybe [ . . . introduction not fully transcribed . . . ]

Free Association with the Cornflake Girl

Evan Solomon: Let's try to be a little inspirational today.

Tori Amos: Good. An inspiring thought awakens me. It makes me feel like I've just become total Bran Flakes. I feel like All Bran when someone gives me an inspiring thought.

All right, I want you to blank your mind for a minute and I'm going to throw some objects in front of you and you tell me what you think.

(closes her eyes) Thank you, thank you. Can I say thank you one more time?

What do you think when you see this Doug Stone painting? Open your eyes.

Oh! A language that I haven't seen before, even thought of. I see words that are English, whether it's a child's or... I'm seeing a completely new language.

What do you think when you see this one?

Like I know that girl.

Why?

Because she's freedom to me, the girl that's able to show the tears coming out of the wounds. God once you get there you're almost ready to fly. I get an incredible sense of acknowledgement from her, as if she knows where she's been. That was the reason I put the gun on the cover for “Me and a Gun.” It's not about cocking a gun - although there's a little bit of my Granny Clampett in there - it's about not pretending that certain things didn't happen. So you have to bring in images and metaphors and tastes and smells, but not be poisoned by them either. I've been poisoned. It's like the releasing to me.

Here's an Etch-a-Sketch. What does that evoke in your six-year-old self?

Love, love, absolutely love.

How about this book, 203 Ways to Drive a Man Wild in Bed. Do you need a book?

I don't think Books work. Do you really think that works?

Only the first 175, the rest I'm not too crazy about.

You know, I've never had the same experience with men, they all want such different things. Some men need corn on the cob in bed. That gets them going, buttering corn on the cob. You'll never find that in a book.

This is an African fertility symbol. What do you think of Fertility?

Well, I'm feeling quite fertile right now. I've been a Viking for so long I'm really ready to experience something else.

A Mother Mary night light, what does that evoke?

The lies. They hold this in a sacred way, but you know, Mother Mary had other kids besides Jesus.

She was fooling around afterward, you mean?

She was enjoying herself, She had a life that no one wants to talk about.

Here's a handkerchief from a man's tuxedo. It's supposed to symbolize man at his best, most pure. Purity and man is there such a thing?

This is what I have to say. I love it when the guy has the dirt   all over him and he's been working on his bike or whatever. I don't like aftershave, clean men. I like guys who go all around the hay. Go be boys, I don't care, you don't need to shower, well, if you don't do it every couple of days, you know…

B.O. is not a problem?

No. I love a guy who's just living. Sure, I like a shower, but a guy that won't let himself roll around in the hay is just... I like sweat on a man.

So where do you meet men?

I've met every boy through my music since I was two. If I couldn't talk rhythm and tone and phrasing, then I'd just be rolling my eyes. There's nothing more interesting to me.

What turns you on most about a man?

Him being enough for himself.

Are you enough for yourself?

Working on it.

Tori As Fire Woman

You sing a lot about the new empowered woman, hear her roar.

My theory is that women were the Mona Lisas for a long time and now men are Mona Lisas with little goatees. They are our muses.

Mona Lisas with little goatees? Meaning what?

Meaning the boys are our muses. For thousands of years women were not the creative forces, not the Da Vincis, not the Mozarts, just the muses. You really don't hear about the great sonatas written by the great female composers. And of course, they were out there somewhere, but there wasn't a place for acknowledgement. Now the dam is broken. It was pent up for so long and now there's a deluge. Suddenly women are the creative forces that we wanted to be for thousands of years.

And so your new CD is about stealing the fire from the men in your life.

I've stolen fire from the men in my life. I tried to get essence from them, I tried to get worth from them, I tried to get life through some of them.

You know what happened to Prometheus who stole fire, he had his liver pecked out.

These men stole other things.

Things you can never get back?

Well, you have to remember, it's an agreed stealing. In fact, I don't feel the need to steal like I used to. I catch myself. When I used to feel that someone could go into their unconscious to uncover their demons, I was just starving to uncover that in myself. I had a serious jailer that lived in my being that would say, “Don't you fucking think about it Tori, you're not going to go there because what if we find something?” So when I'm reaching out it's because I think someone's letting themself be unique in an area that I'm not. Do you see what I'm saying?

In a way. It has to do with why you called the CD Boys for Pele I suspect.

Pele is the volcano goddess and the boys are those who have brought me to my fire with what they have or haven't given me.

Do you think that's a healthy thing?

I think its truth.

Is it something you want to change?

Its something I'm changing. This whole record is about my response to men, and that's my right.

You sound so positive but your record seems so full of unhappiness.

It's not just unhappy, it's much more than that. Even a great tragedy has so much humor in it. This record is a very involved work. It's a woman's work. It's a descent into the shadow to find fragments of my womanhood, so there's a lot of glee in that. This record is about freedom.

Freedom from?

Freedom from wholeness. You can only have wholeness if you're willing to look at the Lady Macbeth in yourself. And anybody who says “Tori, just love and let go,” I say that to get to that   stage, you have to honour that process. Its a cop out just to say that something is depressing. When a woman just blankets a work and says, “It's depressing,” I'm thinking, “You're a fucking sham, you have a plastic pussy honey, its a lie!” Honour the process of what a writer's going through and that can be incredible freedom. To me happiness, true happiness, is when you can really dance with sad.

Let's get bitchy for a second. What do you feel like when people call you a Kate Bush copycat?

I think it's just a reflection on them, isn't it?

I'm not sure about that, but it's amazing how you polarize people: They either love you or hate you.

Well I'm very much guacamole, but I'm very much that. All the way.

Guacamole is fattening.

Yeah, totally, but lick the fat babe.

Uh-huh.

Some people hate things that are fattening. But some people aren't bothered by it because they know they can ingest it. And avocados, after all, are a natural substance.

So, Tori Amos art is supposed to be good for you, is that it?

It's challenging. People love it or hate it and that really excites me because, again, you might not like guacamole, but it's a unique substance. I've been playing since I was two and a half and a lot of people who hate what I do don't understand what I' m doing with my instrument.

And therefore, criticism doesn't affect you?

When somebody's writing about my work, they're really writing about themselves. I believe that. Because if you want to sit down and analyze my technique, you have to acknowledge the craftsmanship. When you can't acknowledge that, I write you off. Come on, I was writing music when most kids were peeing on themselves in their bed. I mean, I was playing Mozart. It doesn't mean that you like what I do, but there is a level of craftsmanship.

So when people say, “Tori Amos is so annoying, with her high voice and that affected way she straddles the piano bench, how do you respond?

Fine. And how about she can play! What about that? That's fair. Then if you say she annoys the fuck out of me, that's fair too. You know, people are saying this is my best work and my most challenging work and others are saying it absolutely sucks, you should burn it and urinate all over it. There are the extremes and I accept that. What's hard is when I've met someone and I'm totally misrepresented.

Well, you have to get used to that, don't you, especially because you're so personal with the media. My God, you often talk about being raped, about being repressed by your father! Your whole life seems to be currency in a PR circus.

It's really funny that statement, because I've had other journalists say, “If an artist is personal then you get the shame of making it currency, and if an artist isn't personal then it's all about a fucking fame ego trip.” There is no winning.

If it hurts so much, why make it personal?

You've got to remember there are no victims here. I'm not a victim to the press. I choose to say what I choose to say. You don't make me say anything. And there are things that I don't choose to say.

What do you regret saying?

Well I would probably regret telling you what I regretted saying.

Good point

Art And Amos

OK, what's the idea behind that picture on your album of you breast-feeding a baby pig?

It's about nursing the hidden, the shamed part.

Nursing your own shame?

That's what the whole record is about.

Elaborate...

Well, its about uncovering the lies in the programs that are passed down from institutions, whether its the religious ones or the sexual ones, programs that tell us where we can go and where we can't go in our consciousness. And I must tell you that I get challenged every day by situations. Just when I cross a hurdle and get to know a certain landscape, I get thrown into a different terrain where I'm going, “Fuck, my Patagonia gear isn't right for this and I don't have scuba gear.”

You need new provisions.

Exactly, I always find myself being thrown into new situations. I say, “God, what is the karma of this?”

Has meeting your weird cult following on the net been a new situation for you?

Well, you have to remember that I love the nerd. I have a really deep place in my heart because I was one. Not that I'm not one now, but I really understand people who excel in one area but might not feel good when they walk into a room. And these people online don't have to show their faces.

Are you online?

I went online once. I put a message out about four months ago and nobody responded. It was like it never happened, they just blew it off and I was like, OK, I'm not very effective at this.

Who else are you not effective with?

I'll tell ya, I have had a hard time with women that have been abused, that blame the world. And I've been there.

You've certainly become a symbol for many feminists, many victims of abuse.

I think the feminist movement is dead. But where it's going now, it's about beings claiming the yin - to get very Eastern for five seconds.

Do you resent being hijacked by feminists?

Oh, some feminists hate my guts, because I'm really about talking about the vulnerability now. The women that want to stay angry - and I know the angry woman, I've been there, believe me - that isn't where the real power is. The feminist movement broke into a hierarchy, and somehow became more controlling than that which had controlled it. It should be about the hierarchy, but how do you do that? That means no control, that means no domination. That's very tricky.

That sounds like a definition for art. Does art have any real power left. I mean real power, not making star-struck teens cry, but power to change social wrongs?

Yeah, sure. But it depends on the content, doesn't it? Some music and some art is really about taking you from the dentist to the grocery store. But then there's some people that are going into the unconscious or going in from it - whether they're painters or comic book writers like Neil Gaiman.

The guy that wrote the Sandman comics?

Yeah. He brings out certain parts of the psyche that are there, but that no one will let themselves recognize, like their own desires or their own violence or their own victimhood.

Is that the purpose of art?

I've always thought that art is the unconscious of the generation. And that means the shit too. That's a reflection of where people at that time are. Like it or hate it, there can be no layers.

When was the first time you felt your power as an artist?

When people would applaud when I played, when I was very, very little.

When did you learn to control it?

I'm learning right now.


original article





[scans by Sakre Heinze]


t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos
www.yessaid.com