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December 10, 2001
Tori Amos is back with a new album, Strange Little Girls. JUSTIN STONEMAN meets a musician who takes a uniquely female perspective.
Tori Amos is holding my hand and refusing to let go. Her liquid blue eyes pierce, question, analyse and then finally a huge smile slowly spreads across her face, "Hello, how are you?" Her warmth embraces like a step into the sunshine, rarely does an introduction let you evaluate a person so well. Tori is sparkling.
Three years since the release of her last album, the piano magician is now making a welcome return towards our heards and record shops. As usual, she is taking an unexpected route; a collection of eclectic cover versions, twelve classic songs penned by male artists, now gifted a uniquely female perspective:
"I have been observing how incredibly prevalent words of malice towards women have become in the western world, there is so much intense anger and resentment. I made this album to see how men see women, and to see how men see themselves," she quietly reveals.
In a music world seemingly solely obsessed with commercial considerations, the return of Tori Amos is most refreshing.
Although clearly exhausted from performing the night before, the songbird is now managing to instil a powerful intensity into every sentence. A startling swap of orange hair encircles her pallid white face, the perfect frame from which to display those hypnotic blue eyes. A captivating stare ensnares each word, each utterance given a sense of grandeur: "I feel like I have given birth to these songs, they are all songs that tell stories from a male perspective. I have tried to give them a female voice, to transform and transpose them, to provide them with a different insight."
The transformations she has overseen are certainly radical. Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" has been emblazoned with an angst and emotional power alien to the original. Tori has even tackled the work of superstar rapper Eminem, lending his track "Bonnie and Clyde" a female retort to the controversial lyrical content of the original. When asked if she has spoken to any of the artists whose material she has chosen to cover, a sharp response is roused: "No! Some of these men are known misogynists, I don't think we would ever have a whole lot to say to each other!" A comment, one suspects, directed particularly towards the aforementioned rap star.
Despite the fact that Tori has at last found happiness and stability in her personal life, it is reassuring to discover that she has lost none of the tenacious bite and passion that have characterised her music for so many years.
Having got married, and given birth to her first child, Natashya, I ask her if she is not concerned by the supposed fact that songwriters seem to produce their finest moments amidst heartache and uncertainty? Would she consider ditching her husband to inspire the creation of some fabulous, emotive new music? "Well, we'll see, he has been pissing me off lately..." she winks and smiles.
"You know, I think it was John Lennon who said a relationship is like a crazy roller-coaster. You get to know the other person so incredibly well, you just keep going round and round until eventually you just can't handle it, and then you have to get off."
When I ask if she is ready to step off the roller-coaster, she beams: "No I don't think so, you see other things have come into play -- Natashya. She is a tie, a beautiful bond, just exquisite, you would love her."
Describing herself in three words she says revealingly: "Maunly Tashya's mum," the positive influence her daughter has had on her life is clear to see, she refers to her repeatedly throughout the interview.
Contentment and security appear to be providing Tori with a firm platform from which to launch her latest assault on the music world, I ask her how it feels to be out performing in front of her fans again?
"It is incredible. I have so much respect for the people that come to my shows, I don't even call them fans, I think the term 'fan' seems like a subservient title. Michael Stipe (REM's lead singer) once said to me how incredibly fortunate I was to have the unique following that I do. He said: 'You know you should rent out your audience' -- I told him these special people are not mine to rent out."
This warm appreciation of her audience is typical of a lady wealthy in spirit, with a disarming abundance of love and affection to bestow on those she encounters -- "Are you from Northern Ireland? she asks as I prepare to leave, endearingly concerned. "Do you like there? Will you be safe?" In conversation she interacts gracefully, effortlessly, like she is dancing sensitively to the rhythm you dictate.
"You know, at the minute I am just excited, I feel I have so much music to share," she whispers in hushed tones. The uplofting feelings Tori induces through her music can also be administered through time spent in her company.
The generous spirit is ready to captivate her loyal audience once again.
[scans by Mandy Hugyez]
[transcribed by jason/yessaid]
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