home / interviews
Oor (the Netherlands)
Dutch music magazine
September 8, 2001
Interview by Britt Stubbe
For the recordings of her new album, Tori Amos got obsessed by twelve women who slowly took posession of her. Who thinks Amos has really lost her way now, may rest asssured. Strange little girls may very well be her best album ever. With songs written and, originally, performed by men. Tori sings them from the point of view of different women. Amongs others through the fearful eyes of the woman who, in Eminem's '97 Bonnie and Clyde is laying in the boot to wait to be dumped by her husband in the lake...
It's a weird mixture of songs on Strange little girls. From Raining blood by Slayer to Happiness is a warm gun by the Beatles. From Rattlesnakes by Lloyd Cole, Strange little girls by the Stranglers to Real men by Joe Jackson. En then there's Neil Young, Lou Reed, Tom Waits, 10CC, The Boomtown Rats, Depeche Mode and Eminem as well. Tori Amos has a wide taste, is the first thought. But this selection doesn't have much to do with her own taste. The songs were selected by men in her environment and Tori sang them from a woman's perspective. From her own world only, it would be to easy for Amos. She listened to the songs and soon, she was accompanied by twelve women. Who, as she says, just came walking into her world. The 'men's songs' thus often get a totally different intention.
The concept works, because curiosity is stimulated immediately. Because who is that woman who sings so beautiful intrusive: Words are like violence. Break the silence. Come crashing in. Into my little world, on Depeche Mode's Enjoy the silence. And who whispers/sings so fearfull: Mama's messy isn't she? We'll let her wash of in the water in the Eminem song '97 Bonnie and Clyde. And what has happened to the woman who sings so very convincing: I don't like Mondays?
In a London hotel lobby, curiosity is called even more if half an hour before the interview, twelve photos are displayed. On each photo a totally different Tori Amos. There's an Amos with short brown hair, dark eyes and a sad expression on her face. An Amos with blond angel hair and a naive appearance. But also an Amos as stylish showgirl, as a sherrif and as a mother holding a birthday cake with two burning candles. You have to know it's her, on some of the pictures Amos is unrecognizable. The twelve pictures are accompanied by as many stories, who each expose a little of the women and 'their' song. So, the sherrif seems to go with I Don't Like Mondays by the Boomtown Rats. And then there's the mother with Eminem's '97 Bonnie and Clyde. In her 'bio' it says that she's asking herself what will be of her daughter.
When the girl of the record company comes to tell me that Tori is ready to receive me, the desire to get help in solving the puzzle has risen sky high. There's only one person who can help me with that. The godmother of all 'Strange little girls' who scattered the puzzle so carefully in little pieces. Only she can arrange them in the right order. So Tori, higher power, release us...
She still ordinary looks like Tori Amos. That's the first thought that comes to my mind when entering the hotel room. Her hairs are not brown and short like those of the girl in Strange little girl. It's not long and blond either, like of the girl in Happiness is a warm gun. Tori's hair is still red, her look is still natural. Still, there has been a big change in her life after her last 'real' record (after that was the live-album 'To Venus and back' [note from the translator: we all know this is not correct (]) From the Choirgirl hotel came out in '98. Because on that record she's still busy coping with her miscarriage, and in the mean while Amos has a daughter. And this daughter is the first piece of the puzzle. Being the reason why Amos started Strange Little Girls.
'When Tash just was born, I listened a lot to the radio, to those alternative American stations. A lot of male artists came by and it struck me how many really hated women. The word bitch was used very often, you know what it's like. I had Tash in my arms and thought She's growing up in a world where man think in such a way about women. I have to do something, I have to build a bridge between both sexes. The only way to do that, was to get inside the heads of men. In this case through their songs.'
Still, you didn't only use songs where men sing negative about women...
'No, I wouldn't want to do that. That has only been the reason to make this album. The segregation of men and women has always fascinated me. And on it's own, it absolutely needn't be negative. I have always found that a women's and a men's toilet is a great invention. I mean: there's business where women deal with and men don't. And the other way around. But there's also a dangerous side of segregation. I hear it regularly in men's songs where women aren't always treated equally, they have no voice at all. That's why I wanted to make this exchange project between both sexes. By the integration of men's words with a woman's perception'.
Why did you want to make these bridges with these particular songs on this album as a foundation?
'To make it totally complete I had the songs selected by twelve enthusiastic men from my environment. I call them, full of love, my laboratory of men. I asked them which songs, written and performed by men, meant a lot to them. From their laboratory came, amongst others, these songs. The most important to me was how they looked at a song, what they saw in it. That was the real idea before the record started. Because I heard totally different things in the songs than they did.'
Could you mention a song that you interpreted totally different than your mans' lab?
'Strange Little Girl by the Stranglers was a clear case. Men associated the song immediately to a woman who they felt attracted to. They thought Strange Little Girl was very sexy. But if a woman sings it, that's totally not the point. In that case, it's about a girl in danger. Who has to choose whether she will protect herself or that she will be swallowed by the danger, whatever it may be. Strange Little Girl is a girl who I think of when it rains. The song is sad before sexually stimulating. My men's laboratory thought the same when they heard my version. The lyrics were the same, but the feeling is totally different because it's brought from a whole different perspective. I gave the girl a voice. That's how the idea began to, for each song, crawl into the skin of a different woman.'
In your press biography you say that these women simply came to you after listening to the songs. Really that simple?
'Certain women walked after one listen straight through the door into my head Gave me their whole story and their voice. For others, I've had to wait longer. The woman on Rattlesnakes took so long that we almost had to drop the song. But on a day I was sitting in the garden and I saw a brench with many curves. The shape reminded me of a rattlesnake. And then, all of a sudden, she took possession of me. This mysterious girl, whom I still didn't understand, but wanted to be with from the beginning. I was curious about her lust for life, what moved her. I could live into the pain she felt because of her unborn child.'
This particular sentence in Rattlesnakes where you refer to now ‚ 'And her neverborn child still haunts her as she speeds down the freeway'‚ must from the beginning have gotten you by the throat...
Because I've been through it myself you mean? No, it may be weird, but at first I didn't feel much with this song. Maybe I didn't let it happen, I don't know. In any case, at once she appeared and she's still in that one special place in my heart. But there's more, like the girl in Real Men and...'
Wait a minute Tori. I just realize that I've seen the picture for the Rattlesnake-girl. It was a rock-chick. Does it direct to rockwoman Tori Amos herself, who maybe could identify very well with this girl?
An exciting smile appears on Tori's face. 'I like her really much and of all the girls she probably has the most in common with myself. But have you ever seen me wear a leather jacket with the Kiss-logo on it [the jacket that the girl in the picture is wearing]? She's become a friend, let's keep it to that. Where were we? Oh yes, the girl in Real men. She embodies both the male and the female, makes true bridges between both sexes in her soul. Somebody with a lot of feeling for ethics. Do you know who I really like? The girl in Slayer's Raining blood'.
I'm not surprised at all. The Slayer-lyrics are mystic and shocking. 'Raining blood from a lacerated sky. Bleeding its honor. Creating my structure. Now I shall reign in blood'. I'm sure you would have loved to write that.
'The text is really beautiful indeed, the words touched me deep. The Raining Blood girl revealed herself to me from the moment that I heard the song. She said from the first line: 'Come with me Tori, I'll show you everything'. She took me to a warfield, pure horror. Still I felt safe with her, because of her braveness. But not only the girl came to me. There was another image. Of a big, beautiful vagina in the air. From which blood is raining. It's falling out of the air on certain countries which are so terribly violent against women. Like Afghanistan, where women can't even go on the street without a man, are not allowed to study and often get raped. And these horrors can not be lead in any way to religion. It's straight from the spirit of men.'
Another song about violence is I Don't Like Mondays. In the photograph with that song, you are pictured as a sheriff.
'The song was written after the highschool murder in '79 in California where a young girl opened fire on her classmates. In my version of I Don't Like Mondays I crawl under the skin of the (female) police officer who had to shoot the girl, that had opened fire. Out of self defence. She had a lot of difficulties with that, also because she, on that bloody Monday, was able to kill. At the time of the murder there was a lot of discussion about trading weapons in the USA. If kids can get a weapon so easily, who is responsible? It's easier to get a weapeon than to get your driving license. Why don't we make it more difficult to get your hands on a weapon? I've always worried about these kind of things, but since Tash came into my life, I think the stupid American right to sell weapons ‚ like it were a kilo of apples ‚ is a straight threat. It got to me so much that I sang Happiness is a warm gun from the same feeling. Audio fragments have been added from political discussions about the trading of weapons. That is a statement that I wanted to add myself. I want to make people aware of the mad society my daughter has to grow up in.'
One of the most horrible songs on the record is Eminem's '97 Bonnie and Clyde. A song from the point of view of a man who's with his daughter in the car while his wife is in the boot. The man tells in the text why mommy can't be with them any longer. A daring cover...
'I had to give a voice to that woman who is dying there. In the original we here the man explain to his daughter what has happened. From my point of view we see the mother, hardly conscious, but just capable of passing on what she hears her husband say to her child. So we go back to exactly the same moment. What got into her mind when she took my hand and showed it to me. How she heard that her daughter was pulled into his version of the story. How he made her an accomplice in the killing of her own mother. The mother realizes that her daughter will be torn up while she's growing up. She's asking herself what will be of her daughter. The daughter also has a spot on the album, she's the girl in Strange little girl. This is what became of her as a grown-up woman.'
What do you actually think of this Eminem song? It is very controversial because of lines like: 'Da-da made a nice bed for mommy at the bottom of the lake. Here, do you wanna help da-da tie a rope around this rock?'
'It is a very complicated commentary on domestic violence. I don't really need to give my opinion on that. What interests me, is that I got intrigued by the woman in the boot of the car. Because no one ever asks about her. Even not my laboratory of men. Some men immediately took distance from this song, simply didn't want to have anything to do with it. But others were crazy about Eminem's music. A very intelligent man said he felt sorry for Eminem in '97 Bonnie and Clyde. He said: 'that bitch has done so much to him. It's logical that he has lost his way completely'. So I said: 'Allright, so you're obviously charmed by him. Eminem got you exactly where he wants you. While you know nothing about her'. Nobody in the laboratory of men asked himself who she really was. She had no name, she had no face and nobody cared about her. I was shocked: because this could be a woman that I had known.'
Still, I am curious about your opinion on Eminem. You have always said that, as a songwriter, you have to let go of your demons. Because every human being has a good and a bad side. If somebody lets go of his demons, it must be Eminem.
'I don't know the rest of Eminem's work, but on its own I think you can do a song like '97 Bonnnie and Clyde, whether I think the lyrics are ethical, I leave out the discussion for now. My point is the following: if Oprah Winfrey calls you to explain what you mean by that text, don't come back with: 'It's all fantasy.' That's terribly weak. The same goes for his supposed homo hatred. He is entitled to showing he's not too fond of his gay fellow-man, that's the right to freedom of speech. But if that same group accuses him, based on that same right, you can't say: 'Yeah, but, I didn't mean it that way at all.' If you then sit in a corner with your lawyer and your accountant, you show plain nasty behaviour. Suppose I would sing a song where I constantly butcher black men, these black men will say: 'Well Tori, so you hate us'. If I just reply by saying 'No, it's just a fantasy', I expect people to rise and say 'Tori, that is so weak. You can't get away with this.''
If I hear you speaking like this it seems like taking responsibility for your words, next to building bridges between the sexes, seems to be the second theme on your record.
'It is an important issue indeed. And it goes with the bridge building. I wanted to let the songs be sung by different women because they take responsibility for their words. They each have a story, a clear explanation. They let you feel when words hurt and when they cure. Do you know what it is? Many people say: 'It's just words Tori, what are you so excited about?' But words can be like weapons. Only your fingerprints are untracable. You leave, as songwriter, the crime scene covered in ink. That's why I wanted to show with this record how words can hit. Because all songs are written by powerfull word smiths, whether you agree with them or not.'
From this theme it is hard to imagine that Enjoy the silence with the words 'Words are very unnecessary. They can only do harm' by you personally has been dedicated to the lab of men...
'I have really let them bring in all the songs. But of course I was very happy when somebody added Enjoy the silence to the list, it is a beautiful song about the danger of words. How they can make your world collapse sometimes. According to me the man in question asked for the song because he knew what I wanted to demonstrate with this album. The power of words and how they can get a different value if pronounced by the opposite sexe. Do you know that is was very exciting for me to play the end result for the laboratory of men? Luckily, they thought the songs were very beautiful. But more important, they were listening carefully to what my strange little girls had to say. The man of the Eminem-song said that he became to think of the woman differently. She was no bitch at all. Because she had such a sweet voice and it must be terrible for her to be situated in that boot. To hear how her husband spoke about her to her daughter. When I heard him say that, I knew my mission was accomplished. At least one bridge had successfully been built.'
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos