home / interviews
Oor (the Netherlands)
September 18, 1999
Sane or insane?
The beast in Tori Amos.
Welcome to the world of Tori Amos. Where fruit is the enemy and dimensions are being crossed. Going on and off to Venus is for this eccentric singer/pianist no problem. Changing shape is a piece of cake, too. Tori knows her demons and is totally ready for The Beast. She already has his number.
By Herman van der Horst
It is a hot Sunday morning in Indianapolis. There are only a few elderly tourists walking through the streets. They are being observed by sheriffs, with their golden colored handcuffs. In the hotel-restaurant, Tori is ordering breakfast. Scrambled eggs with baked potatoes and nothing else she orders to the waiter. "Don't you want some fruit with it?" he tries. "No, no, no!" she calls, "Fruit is the enemy!" The other guests turn their heads a little amused in her direction. Welcome to the world of the Cornflake Girl, where fruit is the enemy.
In her appearance you fall from one surprise into the other. Her way of conversation is as colourful as her body language. She talks about how she can change shape without any effort. That is a very old, Indian wisdom. She learned that from the shamans and the medicine women, who can take the primitive powers of leopards and snakes to themselves. This trick was very handy when making the recent record To Venus And Back where she had to work as an artist and as a producer. She also tells me (without taking a breath) that all the sound effects on the record had to represent a character. After only 15 minutes it already makes me dizzy.
But Tori is still accelerating.
Myra Ellen Amos is the daughter of a Methodist preacher and a Cherokee mother. During her puberty this piano-wonderchild had sexual fantasies about Jesus Christ and Robert Plant (has probably to do with their hairstyle). After a long doubtful period as a bar pianist, she moves in '84 to LA when she is 21. There she begins a doomed adventure as a glam-rock-metal singer. After a show with her group Y Kant Tori Read, she gets raped in the backseat of her car. She would later capture this shocking incident in the song Me and a Gun. She is still in therapy for this.
Every record is born from a thematic idea - Sex and religion from a female perspective (Little Earthquakes and Under The Pink) the separation from her boyfriend and co-producer Eric Rosse (Boys for Pele), her miscarriage (From the Choirgirl Hotel). You could say that To Venus and back is a ugly duckling in comparison. The record was not planned. She only had to come up with 2 songs for her compilation record with B-sides and outtakes. But everyone's surprised she made 11 brand new songs. In Tori's case, it has everything to do with magic. Especially the angels who wake her many times when she has nightmares, to whisper in melodies.
"All the music already exists somewhere. Artists are only the people who translate it. That's why we have to be thankful we have our own music-rights. There is a creative force we're part of. Look, this here (waves around with her arms) is called reality. Ok? This is three-dimensional and this exists. But there are also other worlds, worlds I don't have to create, but who I can hear. And that I try to translate. In those worlds I live too. Everybody can. But what happens sometimes is that some artists are getting confused and think they create it all themselves. There getting drunk of that. And then you've got a problem. Then people die from drugs. Cause when you're a translator and you begin to think that everything is coming out of you, then you're getting burnt alive. You won't make it. Wrecklessness means the end. Cause you can't fool the muse. She will fool you."
A year ago Tori became married with her British sound technician Mark Hawley. Since then she her homebase is a 300 year old farm in Cornwall, which is also the studio. Her other Dutch sound technician Marcel van Limbeek, recently gave her indirect the curious song title Riot Poof, which is the translation from the Dutch word 'Rel nicht'. This song is about his homosexuality he recently came out for.
"To me Riot poof is about one part of my family that is the conqueror and the other part who where being conquered. They fought at both sides. And you have to find out who you are. Many people don't want to see that they're partly victim and partly the executioner. Every evening I get letters. Hundreds of letters. A great part of them are letters from young women (and men) who where sexually abused by adults they trusted. They hate themselves because they think they made the adults do this. They are all wearing a little victim sign. Like they belong like some elite group. They're drown in a lake called victimhood. Instead of saying: 'No! I have the pride of a lioness. I will hunt. I will escape from this all. I found this place when I lost my baby. Then I understood the life force you can get from it. So I could go to Venus, to make passionate records there. I can't define my new record yet. I only see this picture in front of me, like it is filmed from a camera that is circling round the hart of Venus. So I can look at her in all her darkness.
"The biggest shadow over America is that people don't want to admit that the genocide on the Indians has been the same as that of the Jews. There were obviously no signs on the coast saying: Hey Europeans, come here, take our land and kill us! Every country has it's own collective demon which is systematically denied. And when this shadow comes back it doesn't look could, right? With all the school murders in Denver and stuff. America is the policeman of the world, of course. They point their finger at everybody, but don't see what happens in our backyards. Our children are killing each other on the streets."
Is that why you are afraid of the next millennium?
"'Afraid?' My ass! Those people are waiting on the Apocalypse. But it already happened. The best proof of it are the bad haircuts in the '80s. Without kidding: the people are totally alienated from their spiritual and emotional side. That is the real Apocalypse. We're all very close in front of the abyss. In my case it's only some inches. I am that close on the edge of insanity. My only fear is that my fear is bigger then my faith. 'Cause believing in God is the key."
As a child you really hated God?
"No, I only had an argument with him. That's something else. When people talk about God, then most western people mean the Christian God. And when you're being raised in a family, that just is convinced that this God is the only true one, then it really exists to you. So, to me He exists. God is drinking a margarita up there at this moment, I'm sure of that. But I don't think of Him as divine. I believe in the spiritual world. To me that world is as real as you sitting in front of me. This is mostly because of my Cherokee grandpa, who had an enormous influence on my life. I find the divine mostly in non-western and age-old cultures. Especially from the Native Americans.'"
This sounds very New Age to me.
"You know what I call the New Agers? Pleasure rabbits. They're just sitting there with a peyote giggling in a corner. They play with some rituals, but don't integrate it into their lives. They buy new age as a coat, that you can put back in your wardrobe when they want it. That doesn't interest me, cause it's not dangerous. It looks like the R&B nowadays. Most R&B doesn't have power. It doesn't make your soul shake. It's only rhetoric. Surrogate sugar. And then they can parade around whenever they want, in their dresses, jewelry and Versace stuff. I don't give much about it. I don't care how good it sells. McDonald's sells good to."
Did your marriage calm you down? With the risk that your inspiration is getting less and less.
"That is a cliche. It's just how you look at marriage. You can look at it like the sitcoms on TV show it. But you also can see it like ancient mythology: a contract with another soul. Well, my idea of marriage is different from the stuff I saw on American television. Many women turn in some kind of a non-person after their marriage. As if they're cut out of some housewife's magazine. I see marriage as a exciting and dangerous adventure. It is like I've entered another solar system. Emotionally I'm on a journey in space. What shall I find here? I'm now more then ever fascinated by the dark side of the human spirit. I want to lick at what is hidden.
"In the end everybody wants to get rid of their demons and find inner peace? I don't want to get rid of my demons. Do you understand me? That's the difference. You only can find inner peace when you live with your demons. It is even impossible to get rid of them. Jesus wouldn't have spent 40 days and nights in the desert if he hadn't demons. Theoretically impossible. That is the lie Christianity makes. That you have to get rid of the Devil and sin. My God, then you give away all your powers! I'm just like Faust, baby, just take a seat. When you're gonna dig in your shadow patterns, you find a part of yourself you could call the Wicked Mother or the Evil Queen. Well just talk to her. Make a deal with her. Cause she's part of your life. People who think they've gotten rid of their demons gonna do crazy things for compensation. They're gonna do weird, kinky sex games. Sniffing the underwear of little girls. And those guys think they're rid of their demons. No! You have to dance with your demons, raise them. When you get to know your demons you grow as a person. I'm beginning to know mine..."
What do they look like?
"Sometimes they're wearing a knitted sweater and look very respectable. I have to observe them every minute, cause they're always up to something. For centuries people wanted to go to the underworld to understand the mystery of the Prince of Darkness. An idea which attracts many women. But I always said it: the Dark Prince wears a white cashmere sweater, rides in an ice cream car and is a woman. Do you understand what I'm talking about? The Prince of Darkness could very well have tits. The Beast is alive and healthy and lives in us all. I'm ready for him. I already have his number. It stands on my cute little leather skirt. I will show you later."
The number of the Beast is probably 666 I assume.
"Well it's the number of my own Beast. You see, that's the whole point. Everybody is waiting for Jesus to come back or the aliens... No, no, no, no, no, no (waves fast and powerfully with her arms). The aliens are already here! They are with us. They are inside us. We are them!"
Do you find it strange that some people find you kooky?
"I find that amusing actually. Well it's logic. Because I always fell attracted to Mary Magdalene, with her mystical, sinful and unbelievable power. The separation between the two Marys in Christianity always fascinated me. The mother Maria, the virgin, is cut off from her sexuality. She stands for the spiritual. Maria Magdalena is cut off from her wisdom. She stands for sexuality. And I remember the ministers around our table at Sundays, just like this one. When the name Mary Magdalene fell, a shiver went through them. They didn't know how fast they could change the subject to Mother Mary. Because the fact that a woman can be holy and a horny cunt, couldn't get through the minds of those Calvinists. That's why I try to combine those two Marys together. I marry the Marys, so to speak. That's my part of my alchemy."
Would you've been a good therapist?
"No, that's not my style. I think I would be a good scientist. You believe in supernatural things, in magic. Looks pretty difficult to use science on that. Maybe it would work. Maybe they need that. A person on the round table who says: 'But if...'"
You can't go far with magic in science. Actually nothing. Just talking or drowning in it.
"Oh no, Herman! That's just hocus-pocus-stuff. That's not what I mean. When I heard Led Zeppelin, things moved in my body. I felt it. That was a transcendent experience. That's real alchemy you know."
Alchemy is a primitive sort of chemistry from the Middle-ages, when men thought they could make gold out of lower metals.
"Oh, are we gonna talk that way? No, no, you're wrong. I'm talking about emotional gold. I'm talking about transcendentity. I'm talking about crossing dimensions. About not being trapped in three dimensions just because you're here. I have an creative-all-areas-card to other worlds. Sometimes I'm a business woman. And sometimes I jump in another dimension with other little creatures I communicate with."
You could also see it as a flight into your fantasy world.
"If you choose to see it that way, then I can only make one sad conclusion. You will never access those worlds."
In the silence after this conversation her eyes burn with the precision of a laser beam a hole in my head. "Normally I'm a nice person, you know. But don't toy with me. 'Cause this little kitten can turn abruptly into a cheetah" Then she takes off from her chair and flies away out of the window. High above Indianapolis she waves to me one more time, before she disappears with lightspeed into a wormhole. On her way to Venus.
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos