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KNRK, Portland (US, radio)
KNRK, Portland, Oregon (94.7 FM)
September 12, 1998
Tori Amos interview and live performance
songs: Cooling and Northern Lad
Jayn: When you were a little kid, did it ever dawn on you that "yes, I am going to make it -- this is going to be huge"?
Tori: When I was a little kid I remember going, "Oh my God, I wish I had been stolen by Gypsies," because I just thought it was so boring, the whole thing. I didn't really kind of put two and two together that -- I don't think most people do -- that their own life, you don't appreciate that your own life has its uniqueness. You just go, because it's your life, you're in your body and you're sitting there yawning, going, "This is so boring." You know what I mean?
Jayn: Yeah, completely. You said in a recent interview that you still think about those people at that awful school that kicked you out. Do you feel like that was part of your motivation, that you wanted to prove to them that you could do this?
Tori: I think with, um, young kids that have a gift -- and for those people that are listening that have a younger sister or were that themselves, um, or have a kid that's got an ability that's a bit unusual for that age, you have to remember that there is a trust. Kids aren't jaded yet and they don't understand about careers. I really didn't understand about "making it" -- I didn't really get that. I just knew that I wanted to play music with other musicians and I didn't really see why I couldn't play music with Jimmy Page. I didn't, you know, it took me awhile to realize well I don't have a "Zeppelin all access area pass" and I didn't really get the boundary, you know? But I did know, that um, I wanted to kinda just hold hands with other musicians and create. And it took me awhile to really learn that um there's a lot of peeing in the corners. And you know I can get that way now sometimes. I think that you start getting territorial um because in a strange way it does become competitive. And people make you feel like um that there's not enough room. And the truth is, the real truth is, there is enough room um if you're being you, because nobody can be you. But the trick is, that you take on other people's opinions of yourself your whole life that alot of times you become their opinions and it's hard to separate their opinions from what's kind of um peeling away that mask and getting to "Oh my God, I don't believe these things!" Even if it's bits, you know, Jayn, even if it's like 10%, that's still too much.
Jayn: Even sometimes, while you're just chatting, you subconsciously just finger the piano keys, like you're accompanying your words with music.
Tori: Did I do that?
Jayn: Yes, just now.
Jayn: Isn't that funny? Do you sometimes feel more comfortable hearing music behind your words even when you're just talking?
Tori: Yeah, I mean, I'm not a poet. I'm a songwriter. I've always been close to the piano. A lot of times I'll have conversations with a friend at the piano. Like I'll say, "Beenie, will you sit at the piano and can we talk?" Just because I think that that's where I feel strong and maybe protected in a weird way. And I don't, I'm not as much of a devious sleezebag when I'm at the piano. When I get away from it sometimes, my Cleopatra starts slipping in -- or God knows who I come up with. But when I'm by a piano, I don't feel like I need to play too many games.
[ Tori performs "Northern Lad" ]
Jayn: I'm speechless...
Tori: Sorry, Jayn, I have breakfast voice.
Jayn: I cannot imagine a world where there would be any apology needed for that... What has been more fun for you -- being the person discovering who you were with your voice and breaking in to the music business or is it more fun now that you've made it?
Tori: I think it's more fun now because there are less illusions about what it is on this side of the music business. And a lot of musicians out there, you know, I've had different goals -- they've changed over the years. At first, I was, you know, I was a starving musician. I was working two jobs to pay my rent for over eleven years. And the good about that, for all those musicians listening, is I don't think you become as much of a gross, horrible slimebag. I think that when you have a sense of entitlement, you know, when people make it really early on, I don't know if they really appreciate. Sometimes, you know there's an arrogance and people don't even know they're doing it sometimes, it blows my mind. When you meet some of them and they don't mean to be ummm I guess, egomaniacs, but all the time I'm trying to, I tear my work up and myself up. That's not necessarily good, but I do think that always wanting to improve is a good thing and knowing when you have it and you did a good performance. And also knowing when you can do better. And I think it's really important to always know that -- like there's certain times in my life that I can't recreate Little Earthquakes. There's a song on every record, at least one, that I believe, "That's the take," and I really can't improve. Then there are a lot of things that you think you can improve. And I guess now I'm trying to find that balance -- the scary thing is when you don't think you can improve on anything or when you think everything you do sucks. It's this extreme. So, sitting where I do now, I think you don't torture yourself as much, but you're not, you know, you don't have this delusional thing about thinking you're better than you are.
Jayn: It's gotta be weird from your position now to see these people who made it really young. Does a certain side of you want to just pull them aside and say "let me tell you something?"
Tori: Absolutely I do, like, things like "Honey, why did you put out that poetry book?" You know, of course it crosses my mind cause some of these girls are really sweet and yet you kinda go "you know what?" There's nobody that pulls you aside and says OK look, there's a tradition of poets, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, people that just "a bit o' paper and a bit 'o rhyme" doesn't make it poetry -- you know what I'm saying? And this is not just directed to one person. This can be actors too that do this. And you know I think you have to be aware of the craft and that there's a skill, and hey I might be in a movie but I have no illusions now thinking I'm an actor. Now, you know what? There were times years ago when I was in some ridiculous soap opera and just because of my age and who I was at the time, I might have thought that I could be Emma Thompson. But sometimes you have to pull back and go - the arts, it's one thing being famous and being good in one thing -- it's another one thinking that um you know, I'm gonna like scribble and be Basquiat. And we go back to that thing of respecting the tradition and respecting that there's a skill. And I always encourage this because a lot of poets will never become known and never sell a poetry book. But all they have is to wake up in the morning and say "I'm a poet. Because I have the skill of a poet." It's not just because I want to be one. I mean, I wanna be a lot of things. Like I wanna be like um good in the gym. I'm not good in the gym. But I can go to the gym. Nobody should take that away from me. But you and I go back to, with musicians, there's so many I know that their whole life is committed to the craft of music and a lot of pop stars aren't musicians. But pop stars have something and you have to give that to them. Whether it's a presence or um you know an effervesence - there's something that is drawing people to them and you've got to give it up to them for that. What gets to be dishonoring is when they claim the title of musician, because in a sense, you're taking something away from those people that that's all they have and if you want to be a musician, you know what? Go learn the skill. Go do that.
Jayn: suck up suck up suck up
Tori: Especially when the music business right now, does not really support its artists. There's no FM radio anymore. Whatever we're listening to right now - this isn't FM radio as I knew it when I was in the early 70's or whatever. Where you heard an hour, commercial free of just cuts on albums that weren't even singles, could never be singles -- it wasn't about singles. It was about albums. And now the music industry is very much about the next thing -- and so we, as a people, devour the next thing and we get tired it's like (makes loud yawning noise) there's this artist we know again coming at you - booorrrriiing. And so that's why I say to you I really try to encourage even musicians to just be respectful of what they can do and what they haven't learned yet. And just because you're famous doesn't mean that um you can do everything. It doesn't mean that you can go in and operate on people's brains yet (editor's note - then Tori says under her breath sorta "Sweetie" - it's so cute how she does it I just don't know how to duplicate it with a keyboard...)
Jayn: And I'm hoping that people aren't really going out and actually trying that.
Tori: Yeah, but there's no difference. That's what I'm saying. There's no difference going and picking up a paintbrush to -- when you want to do it to express yourself that's one thing, but it's a real tricky thing cause you're famous you're able to do it not because you earned it. It's a tricky thing to come to terms with and there's nobody there that's telling us. I've had to learn these things - I've been around a long time now and I've put my foot in my mouth and embarrassed myself and said things many times that were really umm ooofff - you know, projectile vomit. The good thing is I have great friends and I think if you surround yourself with "yes people" that's a choice yer makin'. Instead of having to hear the painful truth sometimes you know we all do things that um is not graceful. And you just need somebody to go, "Yoo-hoo."
Tori plays Cooling. "This is a b-side that should have made boys for pele and didn't and then probably should have made choirgirl and didn't... that usually happens with b-sides."
Jayn: Thank you so much.
Tori: Thanks Jayn. Are you coming tonight?
Jayn: Oh, absolutely. It'll be my fourth time going to see you.
Jayn: It's so unspeakably amazing to me to be sitting here having a conversation with you and have you just take a breath and do a performance like that. To be able to just have that inside you at your whim...
Tori: I wish I could poop as easily. Anyway, the thing is, tonight I've got the boys with me. The band is with me on this tour. For those that are coming, and for those that kinda just hate a girl at the piano, give us a go tonight because I think um um it's really fun playing with such great players and these guys really challenge me and uh I just love them to pieces. They've really made me stretch as a player. It's a real different show than what we just did just now. It's much more about the piano being integrated and the guys, you know that kit drum, it's in your genitals.
Jayn: I was lucky enough to see the Seattle peek preview show. It's such a huge change...
Tori: They're incredibly giving, and you know, I didn't have the confidence even though I've been playing a long time, I didn't have the confidence to play with other players in the way I'm doing now. And I just, you know you're not ready until you're ready. That's just the way it is, but anyway they're, I just want to tell you who they are. Matt Chamberlain's on drums, Jon Evans is on bass, and Caton's on guitar and uh, they're really good.
Jayn: I have to ask you one quick closing question. It was the most surreal moment of my life to see you on the video music awards saying the sentence "getting jiggy with it" - was it weird for you to say?
Tori: I chose that category because um I felt like uh I don't know much about that world and that I could really have fun doing it. So I had a good time. I didn't know who was going to win, you know they don't tell you that, but to be honest with you I really just, when I heard Beck was doin' it, we were doing it together, and we wanted to do it together, it was just , it just made it fun. We just decided to um have a good time with it.
Jayn: It did seem like you did have fun with it...
Tori: With Beck.
Jayn: Yeah, with Beck.
Tori: Yeah, I had fun with Beck. The rest of the, the MTV awards amateur night. I know we have to go and I just want to encourage all the musicians out there that um get frustrated because I really understand. I mean the industry right now - it's never been so non-musician oriented. And for those people who aren't musicians, you should be totally thrilled because you can not play an instrument, not be able to write and barely be able to sing and be the biggest thing in the industry, so really take advantage of it right now.
Jayn: Thanks so much for coming by.
Tori: OK Jayn thanks. Bye.
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the World of Tori Amos