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Speakeasy (Canada, TV)
January 5, 2000
Tori Amos interview with Jana-Lynn White
Jana: Hello and welcome to Speakeasy. She is a Leo, born in the year of the Cat, which makes her a double feline. I mention this astrological data to suggest that this particular singer/songwriter watches the stars, listens to the muse, pays attention to her elders, including her beloved faeries. Yes, the internationally adored Tori Amos has a brand new double CD, which she produced. It's called To Venus and Back and, wow, welcome back.
Tori: (laughs quietly) Hi.
Jana: Now, you really produced, you put a lot on yourself. This is a double CD.
Tori: I'm out of my mind.
Tori: I did it with my team, Mark and Marcel, engineering at the helm. And we thought we were just going to do a live CD, and then these songs started to come. And when I played it for them, they said, "You can't just put this on a B-Side record, which was going to be the second CD. And I began to understand that would have been just too random, and that new songs live in their own world, so...
Jana: I know you've always had respect for the muse, when she comes calling and knocking on your door that you kind of drop everything.
Tori: You don't have a choice. She drags you out of a movie theatre, in almost the middle of making love, you go, "Where's my pen? Hold on a minute honey". (both laugh) It's so real life -- which is not a bad thing. But it's almost like I have to surrender to her when she walks in, because it's like, walking into, she has all access passes to your mental side.
Jana: Is there anything you do to cultivate that visitation of creativity? Is it the environment, is it a romance, or is it random?
Tori: Uh, it's a bit of a few things. I think that -- you know, sometimes I leave a bit of wine, and don't finish it, in my glass, even if it's a really good Borillo (sp?) or a good Pomero (sp?). I leave it because she knows when you remembered her. When artists start thinking that they do it all by themselves, I think you begin to see that their work starts to be not as vital. And I think that there is this unspoken agreement that you have to know your part in it, and then she may keep coming.
Jana: Paint us a typical day in the studio, because it isn't all flashy glamour for you when you're recording, it's kind of real isn't it. You work with your husband, he's one of the engineers, his studio, right?
Jana: Is it rustic?
Tori: No, it's very...
Tori: Picture it; it's a 200 year old barn on the outside and inside it's like a spaceship. It's really very geared out, lot of audio pornography going on with the guys. They like knobs and boxes and different colours, and there are 100's of pieces of gear. And for the record I think we were working a lot on what those knobs did, and sound effects as a musical instrument, um, and really marrying -- 'cause I'm a piano player -- the whole synth thing... We brought in some cellinas (sp?) and waveforms from the programmer. And.... I was trying to find a place where the acoustic world would orbit the sound effect world. And we got much more into, I think the production of it, and now I'm really into it. It fascinates me.
Jana: Has your structure, your songwriting structure expanded -- you don't just see yourself as "girl and piano" now -- do you write from a different point of view, that you're looking at different sonics and interplays between the organic and the technical?
Tori: I'm seeing that, uh, effects are another instrument and Mark and Marcel were really trying to open me up to that on the last record, but this time there was more concentration on that. I trusted that the rhythm would be there because I toured 9 months and lived on a bus with these guys, so -- I mean I know when their periods are, that's how much I know them.
Tori: A few years agp -- I think it was 1994 -- I was backstage at the Grammys. And, it really hit me that this fantasy I had, being around all these creative people, and that um, I would walk into the best art school college party that you could possibly imagine, that I always wanted to go to when I was 5. And I'm standing there backstage going, "This is so boring." And obviously I met a couple of people, who are always going to inspire you a bit as a person, but you just go, "This is not what I thought it was going to be" -- (southern accent) "This is not mah beautiful howse" -- And you're going, um, "Okay, just because people are talented doesn't mean that they, are taking it at -- walking their talk. I mean, it's a strange thing. I think that music can run through people and you're just going, "This is just like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I can't have a conversation with any of these people."
So I'm surrounded by really fascinating human beings, physicists, drop-outs, utter nudists, um, just people that are constantly kicking it around. I think that's good for you, as a person and as a writer.
Jana: I've been talking to you for a long time now,I guess since 1992, when you made your major debut in New York, which we'll talk about later. But, have you overcome the "kook/flake" persona that the media labelled you with? Are you over that, or are they over that?
Tori: You have to have a sense of humor, which, hanging around many Brits has really helped me. And I needed a sense of humor because there were times when I had this interview and I'd go, "I just spent an hour with this person talking about things," and I never read reviews, but sometimes you're just on a plane, and there it is, this review, this interview and I would say, "This is not the hour that I remember, at all," like at ALL. I thought we had a laugh, I thought, you know there was a dirty giggle going, and I thought some things were exchanged, and they have, this new age kind of... Um, I mean I've told people the fairies are torching themselves like Buddhist monks on their lawn, just out of being represented incorrectly.
And of course I believe in the spirit world. My grandfather was part Cherokee, and my grandmother, so of course that was just part of it -- like you drink water, it's not, it's not even questioned. And I think a lot of the West has a real confusion about their myth, especially in America. America has a real problem with its myth because it hasn't really addressed what it did to the 500 nations was genocide, no different than what the Germans did to the Jews. And America plays cop a lot, and it has really hard time holding its shadow. And it's not about, um, you know, high trauma, but it's about teaching it in the schools and saying "And this is how we got this place." And then we can embrace the mythology, and that's really, whether you call it the faeries, or the spirit world... In Ireland, if you say something negative about the faeries then you're probably going to get punched out, having a home there and understanding a lot of those rowdy guys. But it's strange how the Brits and the Americans have this cynical thing, and I just look at them and say, "Obviously, you did not get your book deal this week."
Jana: You see, now you've definitely learned the British knack of taking the piss out of people, that's a great humility giver. Well, we're going to take a break and come back and talk about the very very early days when I first met you, because I was looking at that tape, and it's, it's going to jog your memory about some of it.
Tori: Oh boy.
Jana: Welcome... I was there in 1992 and so was this camera man, Dave, can hardly see Dave. And it was a big, big, big event. It was your first album, Little Earthquakes, and we had a chance to talk before, and you were so calm.
clip from 1992 NY interview:
Jana: Putting this into context tonight, is this a very important night for you, or is this just another gig?
Tori: I'd like to say this is just another gig, but every media person in NY is here, plus a few others. And you're like, "hmmm, what if I just decide to punch off and go for a pizza somewhere?"
Jana: Do you remember that night, your feelings about it?
Tori: Not a moment of it.
Jana: Really? It's that much of a blur?
Tori: Maybe. I don't know what it is. I've used too much deodorant since then.
Tori: But there's some nights, it becomes a wash to me. The performances, I remember, um... I can remember a certain show, and I don't know why I remember some more than others. It's not that they're the better ones, necessarily, but there was, um, I don't know, something about it that... like a film plays in my head.
Jana: That was a stand up night for most of us who were there. I remember when you played Me and a Gun, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.
Jana: It was an amazing night; I'll recall it for you another time. (both laugh) But then on your sophomore album you had a huge hit with Cornflake Girl. Did things really change for you after that, or is it, well from Little Earthquakes it's just been flat out.
Tori: For me, when I think of the songs, when it's part of a record, it's part of a body of work. And whatever one country... see, so many countries do different things. Like, Cornflake Girl wasn't known really in America, it was God that was known in America. And like, with the new album, Europe is doing something different than what's happening on alternative right now with America, because that's so different. It's now very male-oriented again, so the song that's there now is very much for that, it's called Bliss.
And I just kinda see the songs as um, some are closer to the others. But I have them all in a row sometimes, especially when I'm touring, and I get certain impressions that some of them like to be next to each other live and some feel like -- one of them feels like -- that her whole thunder gets stolen if she's next to another one. So you're sitting there trying to go, "Oh my God, how can songs have like riders in their contracts?" "I won't go next there!" And then, really... but they make sense, though.
Tori: It's clear to me that my attention is really always on the songs, and less on the effect that the songs have, whether on people, on the media, or... I keep my focus on, um, the architecture of them and their relation to each other. And I feel like if I can do that, then I can keep my little boat sailing, no matter what kind of weather hits us.
Jana: Sequencing is important to you. You talk about the architecture, what, you know, what the streets look like, which house is next to which house.
Tori: Sonic geometry, yeah.
Jana: Sonic geometry. Do you labor over sequencing, do you dream about it? Do you spend weeks retooling it or do you have a sense of it right from the beginning?
Tori: I torture everybody with it, oh yeah. Because it, in the end, I spend a lot of time in my little truck, tooling around and... certain things sonically cannot live next to each other or they are just not set up. It's almost like with a joke, you have to have the set up so that there's a real pay-off. And I knew I wanted to start the new record with "Father, I killed my monkey" as opposed to "Father who art in heaven," and that started to determine where we could go.
Jana: This dialogue with Father, whether it's personal father, figurehead father, patriarchal father -- relationship with father has always seemed central to your discourse with yourself and through your music. Is that something that has played out for you, finally, or .... 'cause I never hear you talk about the mother figure so much. Boys for Pele was dealing with Goddess imagery definitely, but... do you know my question around that?
Tori: Yeah. Because I was brought up in such a Christian household, it is about the father. It's a father God and a son savior, so when I say, "The sun is warming, my man is moistening," in "Riot Poof," which is really about a guy who finds his feminine after he burns everything to ground and decides maybe, head, face down to the earth, "Maybe I need to think about this for ten seconds." And I've studied a lot about the origins of Christianity and, you know, I don't claim to be an expert. But what I've learned is that a lot of material about the Nazarenes, and what Christianity started, was so much different than women being divided from themselves. You know, Mary Magdalene divided herself from her spirituality, Mother Mary divided from her sexuality, and Christian women have always been trying to marry the Marys. That is what, in truth, what they are trying to do.
And the patriarchy is always trying to keep them from marrying the two Marys because that's how you keep the shame intact, and that's how the institution stays intact, and then you have to go to them for forgiveness. And the one thing I've always said is I'm not a confessional writer, I never have been. I confess to no man, I confess to no woman, or to any God. I'm having a margarita with him, the Christian God, that is. Really, I've got a lot of questions, and I don't see the Christian God as the Divine at all. I see the Christian God as a fragment of the Divine, and each culture has their fragment. And I've tried to study different cultures, so that you can start making a mosaic, and then you can get an idea of what Earth is really made of.
Tori: I'm a woman's woman and a man's man. I'm very much that. I like to be friends and it doesn't, I don't like being in slimy relationships, whether it's with my male friends or my female friends. I like a real, good, solid, straightforward relationship where I pretty much can say anything. Sometimes you'll know, "God, if I say this to this person right now it will just crush them. Even though they want the truth, now is not the time." Those kinds of friendships... But in the music business, it can be exceedingly competitive with the women, and that's painful. I think, when you're good, you don't have to compete because nobody can do Tori like me, and I can't do Alanis, and I can't do Sarah -- and they are who they are.
Jana: You have a new collaboration of sorts, with this 5 1/2 weeks tour with Alanis Morisette. How did that happen? How did you guys cook up this co-headlining thing and is it anything like 9 1/2 Weeks?
Tori: Of course it is (both laugh). Um, she called me and then her person called my person and it felt right. I knew just at that moment that Venus was a live CD and a new CD and I knew we wanted to play the new material and it, it just felt right. I met her a few years ago and there was a kindness. She's very kind.
Tori: It's working and I think it's a testament to everyone involved because when it's a co-headline, it has to really be about, well, we all have needs here and everybody can't have everything they need all the time. It's quite fascinating.
Jana: Any steamy stories to tell, all that sensuality between Alanis Morisette and Tori Amos and the crowd?
Tori: The steamy stories I think are always with the crews. Marcel is back, Mark and Marcel are the engineering team, and Marcel is a nudist. And he had some top on that somebody gave me, that was too big, that he put on to cover his roses (gestures to imply the nipple area), and he had absolutely nothing on from beneath his little navel down, and he was walking down the aisle, smoking his Varmouth (sp?) entertaining people, and I think some people from her crew walked on. They're not used to Marcel's, um, specialty. His specialty actually is Xeroxing his bits and putting them on the refridgerator, so that when you wake up in the morning to put milk in your tea, there it is, Marcel in all his beauty.
Jana: (laughing) Thank you, Marcel. I bet you they're all saying, "He's with Tori Amos' crew."
clip from 1995 Montreal interview:
Tori: My father, I absolutely adore him but at the same time, you know, we were battling like Darth Vader and, I don't know, Mary Magdalene. I think he and I were always on opposite sides of the belief systems.... So we agreed to disagree. He isn't bad, he knows Pearl Jam, he knows who Tool is, he knows Nine Inch. I'm very proud of him.
Jana: You're a pretty mainstream, North American girl when Good Morning America will come out to Central Park and film you like at 7am.
Jana: It made me think that after 7 years, you know, that you're a household name. People know who Tori Amos is. How does that feel for you? Does it restrict you?
Tori: I'm really low key. And I'm a hermit, so... And I think when you don't call attention to yourself that people, you can just whisper by them. And it's not as, they're not looking for it, so, do you know?
Jana: I totally know and I'm really glad to hear you say that because I hear all the time, celebrities say, "You know I can't even go to the store and get milk, I would really like that".
Tori: In their dreams.
Jana: But they make entrances wherever they go.
Tori: Of course... There are some people who'd have a hard time going to the store and those are a very few people, but for me, I think I'm really lucky that I live my life with a fierce calm.
Jana: A fierce calm.
Tori: More so since I've been married, I think.
Tori: It's strange because I didn't know that marriage would bring trust like that. And I didn't know that trust would bring lust, and I think there's a song on the record called Lust and I've loved people in my life and not trusted them, and not lusted them. And it's a strange thing, marriage, for me. It's a lot different than I thought it was going to be.
Jana: I empathize with you on this, and I'm referring now to the fact that you lost a child at 3 months 'cause I've been through that. And the plus side of this, so I've read you've said, is this incredible deepening of the respect for the gift of life and the miracle of life. And maybe the reality that it's such a temporal thing, that it is so fleeting...
Tori: There was this fragility of life, I think the last record was so much about that, so that once we got married, after all that, um, there was a time I think for the passion, and time... to be a woman without knowing that it does go so quickly.
Tori: You don't know how long you're going to be here, and I think also that plane crash, with the three people, the sisters and John --
Tori: Yes, and I think, when it knocks, I don't want to just veg out and say, "Oh I'm tired." There's going to be plenty of time to be tired. I don't know, someday, somewhere, when the creative knock isn't coming.
Tori: I love being a part of that, when it's running through you, that 220 voltage. And to share that with other people, and then getting back from them.... There's a wonderful exchange, a wonderful love affair with 10,000 people and you're not showing much skin except your hands.
Jana: Oh yeah, but the way you show your hands (Tori laughs) and the way you move around on that piano stool, people are using their imaginations a lot more than you think.
Tori: It's a sensual thing, music. You know, it's sensual.
Jana: How has your stage presence changed over the years? How do you feel differently inside the experience or has it always been pretty much the same?
Tori: Well before, I think in '94, I would walk off the stage -- this is before Boys for Pele, this is the Under the Pink tour -- and I would walk off the stage and feel like I was so disjointed from that person that was on stage. I was really separated from my womanhood. And I think on stage, it was the only time I felt like I could experience it, even through the back door.
clip from 1996 NY interview:
Tori: This is not Little Earthquakes, this is not Under the Pink, this is something else.
Jana: It's Boys for Pele.
Tori: That's right.
Tori: Boys on my left side, boys on my right side, boys in the middle (starts singing) "And you're not here. I need a big loan from a girl zone."
Jana: That's in you, isn't it? It's your own girl power.
Tori: Yes, but I would have taken it from you if you would have tossed it my way at that moment. I mean, I was kind of in dire straits.
Tori: I think Pele really jumbled stuff up in a good way where I started to truly bring the physical side and the spiritual side together, that one doesn't leave the room when the other was present, out of just not knowing how to, uh...
Jana: Unify it.
Tori: Unify it, yeah.
Jana: Well, some of the unity that you've brought to people, which I want to talk about when we come back, which has to do with RAINN, which is one of the most profound offshoots of you being honest about your life experience, so stick around...
clip from 1992 NY interview:
Jana: I wondered if you had any thoughts about why preachers' daughters get attracted to this business and want to do music professionally. I mean, it's a given that you sing in choir and do that, that's part and parcel of being in that. But there are a lot, I mean not just preachers' daughters, and preachers' sons too. There are a lot of people in this business with that background.
Tori: I think there's, um, you find a freedom of expression in it. You might not be able to talk about things exactly, I don't know, I couldn't, at the table. Just certain sexual feelings and certain ideas about religion that wouldn't go over big over Sunday brunch. So, you put it in something. And I buried it for years.
Jana: Welcome back to our conversation with Tori Amos. And we're talking about RAINN now, which is, give us the full acronym.
Tori: The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
Jana: Which has over 200 rape crisis centres now in the U.S., which is --
Tori: Actually a lot, a lot. I think it's 600 now.
Jana: Is it 600? Wow.
Tori: We've had over 300,000 calls, and it never ceases to floor me, stories that you get, stories that you hear, of people calling in. You'd think in 1999 that things would change.
Jana: Does there seem to be any statistical information that supports a positive change?
Tori: The shocking thing is, I'll just tell you one little story.
Tori: One of the women that works the line, I've known, and she came back to see me recently. And a young girl had called her, sixteen years old, and said, "It's taken me a while to get the courage to call, but my father raped me again just a while ago, and my mother refuses to acknowledge it, and I just want to talk." And the woman said she had "Silent All These Years" playing in the background on repeat, and she finally said, "I have the strength now to do what I'm gonna do because there's no way out for me." And she jumped out of a window fifteen stories high, and she didn't make it.
Tori: The scary thing is, I'm getting too many women writing me too many letters for 1999. And I don't know, and I get letters from young men, too, who've had to deal with it. And I think the hardest thing is that if someone in the family is told, instead of them doing something about it, they just want it to go away. And a person, you know, to turn your life around, it takes will, it takes support, and RAINN is like an emergency room. It's like ER -- without George Clooney, of course -- but it's like an ER where they deal with people, you know, hands on. And this is just one of those that got away.
Tori: I wanted freedom of the soul. I don't have it, but I do have it at times. And I think that's not doing so bad on planet Earth. But I really had to do the work, and I didn't understand -- you and I talk about this cocktail spirituality, where just because you go to the right seminar, you read the right book, you think you can pull it out like a dress. And it doesn't work like that. There is this walking your talk, there is this, "You cannot separate yourself from your creation," and my grandfather taught me that. Once I really understood that, I went, "Wow, there is mana in that, that you can't buy, you can't steal, you can't hijack." It's really... I wanted that here.
Jana: Well, you do have a Cherokee heritage through your grandparents, so we can leave on a higher note because it's that time, you're going to be racing off into your concert. Some great teachings from a great spirit or the elders, or a beauty way myth, or something that they taught you, that would be a nice life-affirming thought. Anything else that they gave you as teaching that you hold dear and true, central to your experience?
Tori: "If a boy pinches you in the wrong place, you knock the fire out of him."
Jana: An old Cherokee addage, yes (laughs). And which video should we go out on, your pick. A new one?
Tori: New one.
Jana: New one.
Tori: 1000 Oceans.
Jana: 1000 Oceans. She would go through 1000 Oceans for that love. This is Tori Amos with 1000 Oceans, from her new double CD, which she produced, called To Venus and Back. Thanks, Tori.
Tori: Thanks, Jana.
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