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Heart-Shaped Box - Tori Amos surrenders to love and spirit of a child.
By Sylvie Simmons
Ten o'clock in the morning, in a hotel overlooking London's Kensington Gardens (Princess Diana's old 'hood), Tori Amos is tucked into a big hotel armchair - clean-scrubbed face, hair behind her ears, wide-eyed open gaze. Her new album, From the Chorgirl Hotel, was recorded in Cornwall, South West England, in a studio in the 300-year-old barn where she lives with Englishman Mark Hawley - her engineer since Under the Pink, her "dear friend," then her lover. And, from the day after we talked at the end of February, her husband.
What's the most significant thing that's happened to you between 1996's Boys for Pele and From the Choirgirl Hotel?
I was going to put this album off, because I got pregnant at the end of the last tour. And when I was three months pregnant, I miscarried. I had made the choice to enjoy that experience for a while and give time to becoming a mother - there was really no plans. But when I miscarried, the music started to come. You know when you have this emptiness internally, literally - your hormones are crashing and everything is happening? When I'm in some kind of trauma, the songs usually tear across the universe to find me. I have a really good relationship with the Muse, and she usually comes and brings a lot of girls with her also, and they started to really pull me out of it. So although I couldn't create on a human level, I was able to create as a musician.
There's a disturbing innocence to some of the tracks, but others seem quite calm.
It's strange, because I knew early on that I was pregnant - within days - so I got attached to it without really understanding the danger. I mean, I just didn't think that losing it was an option. And when it happened - of course you're not equipped to deal with it, you've no idea how to respond to a loss like that. The love that I felt for this spirit didn't go away. And I knew this love had changed me, because I had never really felt the capacity to love and the capacity to surrender. I had to surrender, because there was nothing else I could do. You go through different blaming things. You get angry. I yelled at every god there was; from the Christians to the Jews to the Hindi to the Celts, I called them all names. I asked so many questions: You see people hitting their children in a shopping mall, really pounding them, and there's no sense to it, why some children get taken away from loving people and some children are given to people who will abuse them. It's all part of the great mystery. But I'm much more calm around the idea of death now. Very calm. A friend said to me a few weeks ago, "You know, you're so much closer to the idea of death now. I'd really like to run into you if I was dying." And I held onto him, really held onto him. Because he was right. Because I've been talking to the nonphysical for the last year: the spirit of this child.
Had you planned on getting pregnant?
The man I was with - it was a surprise that we got pregnant; it was not a new relationship, but we hadn't really been together for that long. But we grew closer out of it, much closer. I've heard that you grow one way or the other. You know, I sit here and I wouldn't wish that experience on anybody, but at the same time I've chosen to take the wound and, instead of hiding it away somewhere, sort of dug into it.
What is the Choirgirl Hotel, and who stays there?
Each song is really complete in herself. I call the songs "girls" because they really existed, sort of parallel to the soul of this being that existed without me and came through me and left, because it couldn't take root for some reason. The songs are separate, they take root, I record them, and then they go out into the world again by themselves. I send them off with lunch boxes and bottles of Krug [laughs]. Each of the girls has her own protons and neutrons whirling around her, like "Raspberry Swirl" is very much her own entity, "Spark" has her own thing going. Then I started to see them at the hotel. I'd see some of them by the poolside, drinking margaritas. I'd see one of them answering the phone after having just gagged the girl on the desk, and another one visiting the odd guy in Room 13. I saw this troupe that were very independent and yet they worked together - sort of as a singing group. I really wasn't sure what my role was: if they'd let me be part of the troupe sometimes, or if I was just reporting what they were doing, or if they were trying to show me bits that I really needed to express. They just magnified it 10 times 10 to the 10th power.
Is songwriting always like this for you, or only because of the trauma?
No, they always come. Ever since I was really small. I have to work at it and chisel away. I might only get one phrase of a melody, and I'll sit with it for two years and maybe it never develops - I have song miscarriages, too. You see, I see a musical source outside of myself, and it's much clearer to me than when people talk about religion, say - a Christian, Jewish, Islamic God, this Divine Father that's separate from all these little god-beings. I feel like there's an endless source of creativity, a flowing well, a fountain, that it's a gift of the Divine, and you are a co-creator.
How did being a preacher's daughter and granddaughter color your outlook on religion?
If I weren't a preacher's daughter, I could see myself starting the New Order of the Nazarenes! But I saw the shadow of the Christian Church, and the problem with all religions, especially the big four, is they don't choose to look at their shadow, their dark side. So I'm a real little vigilante against all that. And it's something so deep within my being, it's in every cell of my body. I think there are some really great things in Jesus' teaching, but Jesus is nothing to do with what has been created. And having both grandparents as ministers, and then my father - particularly his mother, my grandmother. She was a very dangerous woman and proclaimed a saint by all who knew her. I really, really did not like that woman. She would have burned you. This woman believed that you should be a virgin; when you marry, you turn over your body to your husband and your soul to God. So therefore you have nothing, nothing that's yours. She was an enemy, and I knew that as I was growing up.
Did you rebel then or later?
A lot of the time, it was just poking, like, "Hi! I'm sitting on your shoulder! I'm your little nightmare!" You can't cut deeper into the heart of America than their self-righteous morality. So if you're going to be a rebel, it's not about what you wear or turning your back to the audience. It's not shock for shock's sake. It's not singing something like "Smack My Bitch Up" and thinking you're cutting-edge. That's just going to get you banned out of Kmart. That's easy and very boring. So Prodigy, if you want to be cutting-edge, go to the abortion clinics and try to help those girls out who've just had an abortion with 20 fucking shotguns pointed at their head! Go be really cutting-edge, instead of talking about how you want to beat up your girlfriend and you don't have the balls to do it.
You began playing classical piano at the age of two-and-a-half, but did you fantasize about pop stars? Were you allowed to have posters on your bedroom wall?
I didn't have posters because it was the parsonage; we didn't own the home so we couldn't mess up the walls. But all those album sleeves with my sticky little fingers all over them - Led Zeppelin was the big one. I was a real Zeppelin swooner.
Did you do Robert Plant impersonations in front of the mirror?
No, Debbie Harry. I didn't do a good Debbie; she was hard to do. I did a pretty good Pat Benatar. That was easy - you just gyrate a bit. But Debbie had a style and sense of fashion, she was always on a catwalk without moving. And she seemed so comfortable being in her body. It was like, wow, this person is so grounded, even though she looks like she's from another plane.
What and when was your musical epiphany?
It was very early: the Sgt. Pepper record. I was five years old and studying piano at the Peabody Conservatory, and when I heard that, I knew. I knew I would never be a classical pianist; I knew from that moment it was all over. Because I brought it in for my teacher to hear, I said, "This! This is it!" And they listened and they said, "No it isn't! Get it out of here! Sit back on the stool and do Mozart again." And I said, "No, no, no. This is Mozart if he were here now. They're the same!" And they said, "No they're not, get it out of here, and get back on the stool." From that day, they and I were at war. So now my enemies were my grandmother and the people at the Conservatory. I was a little Boadicea.
Do you feel camaraderie or competitiveness with other female artists?
I think when you're good at what you do, you've got a skill and you're working on it all the time, then you have your place and you're not threatened. Women are very competitive - it can be quite vicious - but I like running into other female artists. It's like: I'm a lioness, I kill my own meat, I don't need anyone else to kill it for me. And yet at the same time, if another lioness is there and says, "Hey, I've just had a kill, do you want a bite?" I'll say, "Sure," and vice versa. It's when you run into a lioness who's envious that you can kill your own meat because she can't and she wants you to be crippled - that's when it gets nasty. And it does happen, but I think it comes out of them thinking there's not enough. Well, there isn't if you're a bad hunter. The Blood Countess is a very weak person in history; she needed to kill women to drink their blood, and I think some people see that as strong. But I don't need to take anything from another person to feel strong. Some women have been quite harsh about me being open about the heart; they just haven't understood the strength of the heart.
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