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WE HAVE WAYS OF MAKING YOU TALK
by Nigel Williamson
Brought up the daughter of a Methodist minister in Baltimore, her literate songwriting and distinctive vocal style have given her three platinum albums.
What was the inspiration behind from the choirgirl hotel?
"The songs came to me after I had a miscarriage. That experience had a huge effect on me and it felt like these songs were tearing across the galaxy to find me. I feel I just translated them because they were showing me things which I couldn't really express at the time. There's something of a cyclical theme -- of birth and death. Sometimes the songs came in symbols, in a flash like a Polaroid, or like falling down a rabbit hole and then the film starts."
How did that awful experience of losing the baby change you?
"Since I miscarried, I have a different respect for the miracle of life. I can't tell you where the soul of the baby went. Even if I could get on the space shuttle, where do I go and search? I was living between worlds trying to communicate with something that was not in the body. The songs are trying to reach out and communicate with the spirit of the baby who passed on."
You sang in the church choir until you were 21. Is that partly what inspired the album title?
"I felt that the songs weren't dependent upon each other. They were like short stories, and so I imagined them as a troupe of singers hanging out together. I could see a couple of them sitting around the pool having a margarita, and so I put them in a space. I chose a hotel because that's where I am half the time."
There are some dark themes...
"I was beginning to investigate the shady side of my being. I get a lot of nightmares, and if you have a guilt about a part of yourself it becomes a demon. The song, 'Cruel,' is talking about a side of myself that I didn't know existed. The night gets later and darker and who knows what substances you're into but your demons start coming out. We always like to think we're the heroine but we discover we're not."
There's also a very different sound to this album...
"I wanted to integrate the piano and the rhythm so everything is cut live. Normally on my records everyone plays around my performance, but this time I was working off the drummer. I didn't want to be just a girl and a piano. It was very improvisational and I wanted that freeform feel. I also wanted a sound that would crawl out of the speakers. Even if you've got a crap system, I wanted it to rock your world."
Musically, the songs are varied...
"The characters in the songs are very different and the sound reflects that. 'She's Your Cocaine' is a glam rock point of view. 'Northern Lad' is an old Stones type of ballad. 'Playboy Mommy' is that rootsy southern American thing. 'Hotel' is very Eighties with sequenced keyboards. I wanted to transport people to different places."
You now live in Cornwall, don't you?
"I hang out there. I've still got a place in Ireland and a place in the States. I no longer have a place in London, although that's where I am more than anywhere else. We've got a 300-year-old barn in Cornwall which has been revamped into a studio. We recorded the album there and I produced it myself -- I drove the engineers crazy."
Why do so many journalists who interview you say you're crazy?
"I don't change my point of view to make people feel comfortable. I'm not interested in being politically correct. Sometimes what I say goes against the agreed philosophy but I'm surprised when people think I'm a nutcase. I was doing this interview with Rolling Stone and they asked about my relationship with Lucifer. I told them Lucifer is a woman who wears a white suit and drives an ice-cream truck. They asked what I meant and I said you know what I mean."
So you don't think you are crazy?
"There are people whose life is get up, go to the toilet, have a cup of coffee, take the same route to work, sit there bitching and moaning, wish they were somewhere else, go home and drink beer all night. I think that existence is insanity. Now that may be the norm but I don't see it as normal. My vision for human beings is that you have a creative imagination that doesn't die after you're eight or get kicked out of you at 15."
You tend to attract some strange fans, don't you?
"If you don't have a stalker these days you're not much of anything. It goes with the territory -- your credit card, your investment banker and the stalker. Sometimes kids will turn up at a show and tell me about their feelings, things they are made to feel bad about, like masturbation or wanting to kill their mothers. I understand. Sometimes you get so angry, you lose control. It's not blood and guts and chainsaws, it's get out of my life, give me some space."
You still seem very angry about things, especially the church...
"I think I have a healthy anger. I'm working it through with a shrink. Sometimes anger is the appropriate response. I had to conform to the church and to Jesus until I was 21. I was told you're a virgin until you marry and then you turn your body over to your husband and you turn your soul over to God. So nothing is yours! I had a pretty controlling father. He was a minister and we have a better relationship now because he has changed. But for 21 years I couldn't even choose my own boyfriend."
And that still affects your emotional responses today?
"It's made me really take issue with people telling other people what to do. I have a friend who is an animal rights activist. I respect what she does but I swear if she makes me feel guilty I will eat raw meat in front of her. Chrissie Hynde is a good friend but if she pushed her militant vegetarianism on me, I swear I'd eat my own arm. You don't convert people by shaming them, like the church. That makes me angry and it's very real.
But are you feeling good about life? Is matrimony going to mellow you?
"I don't have to block off memories so much any more. I can face the fear and get strength out of it. I don't know how marriage is going to change me. It's hard to tell. It's a different experience. Ask me next year."
from the choirgirl hotel is released on eastwest and is out now.
[scan by Sakre Heinze]
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
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