New York Times Critics Choice Event
at The Graduate Center, CUNY
January 12, 2002
Tori Amos: A Conversation
with Ann Powers
photos by Jill Myers:
photos by Brad Walsh:
This transcript includes the Tori interview that was broadcast on TV station CUNY. There were some parts of the interview that were not aired. Also, most of the question and answer session that Tori had with the audience was not broadcast as well.
Ann Powers: People often ask me who's your favorite artist and that's a dumb question, you know, it changes day to day, but when people ask me if I could be an artist, I always say, Tori Amos, because I think that Tori more than any other popular artist of the time, certainly more than any other pop musician, has succeeded in something I try to do in my own work which is combine something very personal with something that's beyond historical, that touches on every aspect of the culture, touches on mythology, touches on our social structure, society, the problems in society, but also the joys of growing up in America. You know, Tori often gets tagged with the title queen of the faery realm, but I think her work is very American as well. And it contains not only the mythical history of Tolkein or Lothlorien or all those magical lands, but also the history of rock and roll. The way that she has taken a childhood steeped in both Christianity and led zeppelin and made it into music that's feminist and beautiful and utterly contemporary is an ongoing inspiration to me. Not only that but the girl can really sing and play a piano.
Ann: Guess you know these people
Tori Amos: Yeah (to audience) how have you been?
Ann: I was reading some web sites and I know that this is going to be shared with every Tori fan worldwide. In the best way, like description and reviews, not bootlegs or anything nasty like that. So, we were going to start by talking about what a song -- Bob Dylan calls himself a song and dance man. You used to work in piano bars. There's an aspect of what you do that's extremely sacred, but others find call it pop, call it just entertainment. What happened to your sense of your music after the events of September 11?
Tori: Well, I think that when the planes went in the building, anybody that's been invaded on a personal level knows what that feeling is. And those that don't know what that feeling is, felt it for the first time. There was a sense of invasion when people were coming to the shows afterwards that was pouring out from people. I think something was split open then, as we all know, that as writers you're able to tap into something on a mass conscious level that before you could only happen to with some that were willing, those who had taken a step on the path to say, okay, "I'm going to open this part of myself up. I want to know parts of myself that maybe I've put aside for a long time." There's always an arrogance that some people have that until they get cancer, or someone dies, or something like September 11 happens, that arrogance, there's no -- the wonderful thing about tragedies is it knocks the shit out of arrogance.
Ann: That's true. You were touring in a way that was extremely soul-opening. Something you'd done before. You alone, your piano. How would it have been different if you'd been with the band?
Tori: Well, we couldn't have half the conversation that I think we had the last few months. It seemed as if the people that were coming to the shows and the crew all of us together were trying to weave the songlines of the country. In our tiny little way. It's not as if other people weren't doing it in their way. But no different than the aborigines, when they would cross Australia. You know, when they would go across, the only way you could get fro one territory to another, you had to be able to know the song of that land. And with each night, people would be requesting songs and a lot of times we included them because they seemed to have a sense -- they lived there -- they seemed to have a sense of the songs that pull the threads from where we had just come and where we were going.
Ann: What were some examples of those songs? What were some that meant a lot to you at that time?
Tori: When we were in Philadelphia, somebody mentioned that I needed to open up to the Neil Young song Philadelphia, because I wasn't doing heart of gold. I couldn't really achieve that by myself at the piano. And when that was suggested by someone, I thought that AIDS being another place where people -- you're invaded by the blood. There were a lot of subtexts that started to happen, and that song really started to be a cornerstone of that night in Philadelphia. And Philadelphia was of course the middle sister between New York and Washington. She holds a very important place in this little mythic tale. Because a lot of times the middle sister doesn't get a whole lot of attention.
Ann: What about your own songs? Were there any that the meanings opened up on this tour that you hadn't expected?
Tori: It was different. It was different for me ever night, but I think with "Winter" when it was, "Things are gonna change so fast," there were certain nights that it was very hard not to feel the change that had happened to those present. New York City was challenging because number one it was very humbling, and number two, nobody wanted to see me break down. It's like, well look lady, you know?
Ann: You gotta carry us through this thing. I did read some commentary online about how people were relying on you really. That's a huge responsibility. Help me through this huge crisis. Do you feel that that's something artists -- that they should have that responsibility? Or do you feel like it's kind of a burden or?
Tori: I think different artists have different roles, no different than characters in books. I mean some of my contemporary females -- not mentioning any names -- but some of them you would go to if you wanted to be really saucy and do bad, bad things. (laughter) And I know some of these gals, and they will get you through that. Would I trust them with my husband? Absolutely not. (more laughter). Now, some of these gals, mentioning no names, they are not girls' girls. They just aren't. They sit there and go, "You're fat and pregnant. You're out of commission for 15 months. Congratulations." They don't mean to be mean. But they kind of are. But we love them. Some of them are great songwriters, and we go to them for that. But you don't really go to them to say, "My heart is torn open," and the heart is a bloody organ, and not everybody wants to sit there when you are not looking your best and not feeling your best and there's puke all over the floor, you know? And that place in the trenches is a very different place to hold for somebody. I find it quite beautiful because that's when you begin to really see what somebody's made up of. You get -- the mask is down, and you really start to see, wow, who is this person really, and what is their soul's destiny really. Not what their parents wanted them to be. Not what they hoped they would be 'cause it's kind of glamorous, but who are they really? And I think after certain events, those artists, I wanted to be out there. Some people didn't want to be out there. And if you don't want to be out there, you shouldn't be out there.
Ann: Very true.
Tori: Because it won't feel right; you won't hold a space for people.
Ann: Speaking of vomit and other exciting things, you have a baby now. Congratulations. (audience cheers) You've talked about it a lot in interviews. I'm wondering specifically: I don't want to say biology is destiny, but is there an effect on your writing now, or your music, particularly your composing, that comes from this experience?
Tori: I think because I had three miscarriages that I appreciate the sacredness of life. And before, I think when I was pregnant with the first one, I think I was calling Johnny and saying okay, you can book the tour three months after I've had the kid and I think I can do it. I was out of my mind, and I didn't realize, at the time, the gift, and I think those miscarriages broke me down. I wouldn't wish them on anybody and I'm not saying that if I had to do it over again I would choose to do it. I'm not saying that, but I'm saying it did happen. And I began to really see that becoming a mother isn't something you fit in between gigs. The gigs have to fit around being a mom, and that became my first commitment, trying to be a mother first, and a musician second -- and Mark gets this -- and a mother third. And you know that's just the way it is. And he doesn't mind. It's kind of sexy to him. It's like; you can't give the guy (unintelligible).
Ann: He benefits from you being a mom and all that.
Tori: And a musician!
Ann: That too. Is there any song of yours that Natashya likes particularly?
Tori: Well, when I was pregnant I would play for her a lot. I played a lot while she was here (points at torso).
Ann: Anything in particular?
Tori: Yeah. (laughter)
Ann: Want to share?
Tori: You're so funny. I can just see it now, I'm sure the little DATs are rolling. The thing is, anybody from Germany here? No, the thing is that I find with her is that when she's upset, she has her little song that I sing to her. And that has been the same from the beginning and she knows that song. And I do believe that children, when they say that, they do hear, and they do know. And she's heard it since she was in here. And she knows what that is. I think. I keep that between me and her. There are others though, when she was inside, that I would play hours a day. Mainly because it kept me sane, and I just felt like it was a way we could communicate.
Ann: They say it's good for math skills as well.
Tori: Well. Let's put it this way, I have three accountants, and I'm glad. I can't count worth shit. But the thing that's why you're a successful musician. You can have three accountants.
Ann: Let's talk a little about the compositional process. We were going to talk about that.
Ann: Often-asked question: music first? Lyrics first?
Tori: Usually music first. Because the thing about it is, I think sometimes when you just walk up to her (begins playing on the piano), and you don't even really have to have a concrete thought happening. But she is subtext to my life anyway, and sometimes I just leave really crap recorders rolling, and I go back, I'll have conversations with people while this is going on.
Ann: One of those accountants, maybe?
Ann: That's not so inspirational
Tori: It's just, I think that sometimes when you free one side of your mind up and let the music come, it finds its own rhythm to your life.
Ann: Now how does that relate to the rhythm of the body? Now I'm thinking a lot of you pregnant playing so where -- the rhythm of your body -- the shape of your body -- physically, how did you work with the piano? Didn't it get in the way a little bit?
Tori: Well, you can do this (turns to the side).
Ann: These are the questions a male interviewer might not think to ask.
Tori: The thing is that I'm writing this new work that I've been writing for three years, and some of the work when I was pregnant is very different than the work that's coming now. And that's because you are in a different space. I mean, you're an ecosystem when you're pregnant.
Ann: That's true.
Tori: And that's a real -- I think being pregnant healed me physically in a lot of ways. Because whatever feelings of invasion I had, you want to talk about being invaded!
Ann: Occupied, colonized.
Tori: Come on! It's the biggest tapeworm you'll ever have.
Ann: Except that you don't lose weight when you're pregnant.
Tori: No. So the thing that I found was, in listening now to the tapes back, I can, yeah, you are a different person. You walk through a different world. Because of where you are.
Ann: So who did you meet in that world?
Ann: What interesting creatures did you meet in that world? Elves, trolls...
Tori: No, no. I know people think that I run into them a lot, but really (laughter)
Ann: Well, there is this Lothlorien reference in --
Tori: There is.
Ann: -- your daughter's name
Tori: There is. I wanted her to have a middle name. I wanted her to be able to go to a place that wouldn't change, knowing that everything changes, the world changes. But Lorien will be there. She can always go read it and find it.
Ann: Mmm. It's beautiful.
Tori: And so it was only in myth and stories can you kind of enter a space that can't be changed.
Ann: Right. So. This new work that you're writing, you say it's different. I remember reading an essay by Louise Erdritch -- she has many children -- about writing after having a child. It was interesting, because it was about interruption, and sort of about intense preoccupation in a different direction, and learning about how to work with this totally different sense of consciousness in a way, that really had to do with the very basic fact hat your time is not your own. Your focus is not your own, necessarily.
Tori: Yes, and I think there are sides of yourself you wouldn't want to admit to. At first there's the euphoria at first, especially if you haven't been able to have a child for a while and then this gift comes. But when your nipples are infected and you've been nursing 12 hours out of 24 for two months, and you've got the, my husband, what was he calling them? The milk nazis. You know? They come and they weigh the baby, and how much are you pumping, and da da da da, and at some point I walked into the doctor and said, "Take. Pain. Medication." They said, "No, no, no." I said "Yeah, yeah, yeah." You're a mess. And so you know, you're hurting and you have to get through it, but I don't think sometimes people talk to you about the feelings of, "I'm not feeling great as a mom today, I'm not feeling like I really want to do this anymore right now. Not for a couple days." But you can't do that. And so those kinds of things come up, but it's not always in the work where you talk about -- I don't know the song, but -- (sings and plays) "Oh, don't wanna milk today," you know. It doesn't have to come out like that. But that's not really any different than the gal that's 21 that doesn't feel like she's keeping up with everybody else in the class. I mean you go to some of these places with these ubermoms and they'll go, "My freezer's filled with my milk, how are you doing?" You know? And then they look at you and see what's in your freezer and I say, (unintelligible), Husband's British. So they just don't understand. It's crazy. It's not different from when you go into the rape abuse meetings. And it's: how many times you were raped? There's a hierarchy to the pain. And I didn't realize that until as good friend of mine -- she was a shrink and she was dealing with torture survivors. And she said, you know, it was the oddest thing, but in the end, you could see that people were kind of racking up how many times they had been tortured. And the sad thing is, unless somebody says it's enough, you've done though, it's enough, whatever you've been through, it's enough. You don't have to have --
Ann: Competition is a heavy element of our lives. Society, and I mean, I think it's also interesting how it might affect the artistic process, too. Do you now, do you worry about your output changing, do you find that "Oh now that I'm a mother I'm just so prolific," you have a lot of milk in your freezer? (laughs)
Tori: Well, I think there's always somewhere in you as a writer that you hope you have the clarity, you hope you know when you don't have it anymore. I mean I produce an artist called Tori Amos. When I have the producer hat on I say to her, "Sweetie, you don't have it yet. You gotta go work on this a while. I like #17, that's a good song, but the ones before, I don't know about." You have to -- there is a real, you have to be an editor in a way. If you think everything you do is crap, you're not objective. Because if you've gotten far enough, then everything you do can't be, really. If you don't have that, you need somebody to produce you. But if you think everything you do is great, you need a producer too. So you -- of course I have people around me that I -- I'm very selective about that, but there are people I let in on the process.
Ann: Obviously your husband is one.
Tori: Sometimes. I mean, you know what? He's sonically very clever and there is a time I let him in. There's no question. But he can be quite brutal.
Ann: He thinks he has the right, huh?
Tori: Well, he'd rather me hear it from him than the New York Times.
Ann: I know for myself as a writer, and my husband's also a writer, we edit each other a lot. There's a point where it's like, "Do not come near. This is a fragile thing. It's not quite ready for you." And then there's this point where it crosses over, and it's, "PLEASE COME NOW! HELP ME!" I don't know if that's how it works for you, or if you revise a lot?
Tori: Oh yeah.
Ann: Really? Leonard Cohen told me it took him 7 years to write one of the songs on his new record.
Tori: I believe it.
Ann: And it had four lines in it.
Tori: No, I believe it. I believe it because -- some babies are like whales. They take a while to come. What is that? Twenty-four months. Or elephants. That's a while. That's why, with the tapes, what I do is, I have this little thing that takes a no-brain person to work technically, because I don't want to have to ask my technical team all the time, hey could you mike me up and could you play it back, and (makes frustrated noise). That stifles you. You need your independence. And I hate being dependent in that way. 'Cause I can go off and listen by myself, and I can change the batteries myself, I am capable of that. I've collected maybe 15 cassettes back and front, and sometimes it's only 8 bars of something. So then you start compiling. That's the stage I'm in now. The songs, I've always seen, as essences. They exist in some way.
Ann: When you say that, do you mean your songs are essences, or you're working from a bank of essences?
Ann: I love that. "Do you want the lemon pie or the chocolate cake?" "Yes."
Tori: Well. Especially if I had an alternate stomach. I love that idea. Wouldn't that be great? And I could get it frequent flier and everything. It could sit right here (gestures next to her).
Ann: They always say when you're pregnant you're eating for two. Why can't we eat for two all the time?
Tori: I know.
Ann: What I'm wondering is -- I would love to see if you could show us a little something on the piano maybe connecting -- like, are there songs of yours that are connected? Is there a way one might be connected through an essence bank? I love this idea!
Tori: Well, I think what happens is that sometimes you -- I'm given just (plays intro to "Silent All These Years"). And that's all I'm given. That's all that haunts me for a while. And then I decide -- someone calls me on the phone and says, "You know, Al Stewart would really like you to write something." And I say, "Well, I've got this thing." (plays intro again). And then of course, that little (sings part of first line). I knew "My dog won't bite if you sit real still, the antichrist..." (hums rest of line) you see, this is where we get into grey areas. Because all of a sudden you pull back and say, "I don't think I'm going to give that one to Al." I really like him, but all of a sudden, you see, knowing him and adoring him, and kind of getting a sense of him pushed me in a direction with that work, but then it decided to take a turn and become something very, very different. And it lyrically didn't want to be from a man's perspective at all. What I guess I'm saying to you is the songs, I do think, know who they are. And I'm trying to translate this essence. And could it be translated some other way? Yeah, maybe, but I'm trying to -- I believe they exist before I bring them into this form. Just like maybe some writers think their characters do exist, but you find them.
Ann: Well, this leads us into the art of interpretation. Because in a sense, what you're saying is that you're an interpreter even in your own original work.
Tori: Yes. But I'm lucky I get the publishing.
Ann: I like that. Lots of people get the publishing of other people in the history of rock, but that's another story. But in the case of "Strange Little Girls," so those songs are walking around in the world --
Ann: -- some of them have very strong identities --
Ann: -- some of them have been discussed ad nauseum in the press --
Ann: -- but not even that interested in talking about that particular one. As great as your version is. But I'm thinking of a song like "Rattlesnakes" for example --
Ann: -- which I love. I read that you weren't really that aware of it before.
Tori: mm-mm. (shakes head).
Ann: How does that song become your song? Or take your pick of a song from "Strange Little Girls."
Tori: Well. Can we do another one first and then we'll go to that one? You see, Husband was the one who dissuaded me from this project. (laughs) anyway. But you see, I'm sort of glad he did. Because when I was telling him what I wanted, to have a response that I thought needed to be made, and the best way to respond was to take the man's seed and say, "This is your seed, and this is what it sounds like when it's consummated here (points at throat), with the voice of a woman" -- when she's not the object, but the subject. And so I didn't have that all worked out though when I told Husband -- I wanted to have a response, I knew that much. And he kind of looked at me and said, "You know, Taz, I don't think you want to do that." And I said, "Why not?" I said, "I think I should." And he said, "I think you've gotta be careful." And I said, "Why is that?" and he said, "Because it could be crap." "Well, okay." And then he said, "I don't think you know what I'm really thinking." (audience laughs)
Ann: I hate it when they say that.
Tori: That's a big -- and I said "about what?" And he said, "Well, the songs that you think..." and "What song do you think I go listen to when I'm thinking about us?" and I told him what I thought, and he said he was going to listen to the Clash and I think that's a load of crap. But anyway, he was trying to make a point. And I said, "Okay, then I'm going to have a little laboratory of men and you'll be one of them." And he said, "Okay, I'll be one of many, but I only want to have a small part."
Ann: This is a great science fiction movie, by the way. "The laboratory of Tori."
Tori: When I discovered "Strange Little Girl," the song, what I really was drawn to was how, when I heard it, and I would watch the guys listen to it, the way their eyes would glaze over when they thought of her, you know, the waif kind of troubled gal, as we all know them. And you know they get a little misty. And for a minute -- I know those gals -- and I kind of thought, "How is she hearing this?"
Ann: You know, there are a lot of songs in rock and roll about that girl. There's "Angie" by the Rolling Stones --
Tori: I think Angie's going, "get this lecherous git away!"
Ann: -- especially if it was about Angie Bowie, because she was NOT an ethereal lady. "And She Was" by the talking heads. "She's floating away..." there are so many songs about "She disappeared..." "Ruby Tuesday," "She could never stay where she came from..." "There She Goes."
Tori: "She's in my freezer!" (mimes opening freezer door)
Ann: So anyway, "Strange Little Girl."
Tori: Well I kind of said, all right, what would she be thinking about, if she were the subject? And I've had so many women that it wasn't as if, "Maybe she'll stop by my house on the way home." When you hear that song it's sort of, "She'll come to me and I'll tell her where she's going." And so that's how the album started to take -- they're characters that exist here, whether it's the anima or whether they were the objects for the men, or in some cases the subject. I was fascinated by them. And in "Rattlesnakes," I loved the way that he was so aware of the pain that she was in, for her never-born child. And he was able to, I think, feel her in a way that sometimes that I haven't been able to feel her.
Ann: Mm. you think you could play a little bit of it?
Tori: Well, the thing about that one is, when it came, it came because this rhythm -- (begins playing intro to "Rattlesnakes")
Ann: It's kind of a lullaby, rocking rhythm.
Tori: Yeah, and it became the emotion of the rattlesnake, for me anyway, so when I was doing this I wasn't aware that "Rattlesnakes" was even gonna -- then I was, the mike was on, and I just remembered that (sings) "Jodie wears a hat although it hasn't rained - -" I didn't know the words. (vocalizes rest of line) and then it finally kind of became clear.
Ann: That's interesting. You can really feel that, and it's interesting how on the record some songs that you make so driving, like "Heart of Gold," which I'm not going to ask you to play. I mean, that you just took in a totally driving direction, a totally intense spy movie direction. With Neil, he's loping along (sings mockingly) "I wanna live..." (audience laughs) How did that happen?
Tori: Well, because whatever bollocks I said about that song, the thing that hits me now is that when I was hearing the guys talk about what a heart of gold was, it was always that thing about wanting women to understand their need to roam. And this is where -- maybe it's just the men that I've known, and some of them I really love, dearly, dearly. There was always that thing about, "Why isn't it enough that you roam with somebody?" I mean, do you really... is this never-fulfilling thing gonna stop? I mean I have this sweater I have called "the end." I wear it -- I want to wear it when -- isn't this the end of the book? Why can't we just be together? But the heart of gold definition from a lot of the men I was working with on this at the time was that she would understand that I love her, but I need to do whatever it is.
Ann: Like "Almost Famous," right? Like the movie, and then so the girl has to basically die, or almost die, and fortunately get saved by the geeky boy, which is the boy that we like better than the cocky rocker.
Tori: We love the geeky boys. I think that the version was the heart of gold's answer. Because you know, she's searching for something too, and I think she knows that she is the fantasy of the heart of gold. But that means, you know, will you put up with my bullshit? Which is a very difficult one because you know, there has to be a place, I think anyway, where -- and I have friends in my life that say to me "I just -- I like her, but you know..." And I'm going, "When do you get off that ride and say, 'I'm going to walk down the road with this gal?'"
Ann: It's a rock and roll thing, you know. It's very interesting -- the fetishization of adolescence -- possibility -- the good side of adolescence is the dreaminess, the sense of hope, the sense of anything could happen. You know, at 38, you're not an adolescent anymore.
Ann: And I think a lot of men try to hang onto that, especially in the world of rock and roll.
Tori: Oh yeah.
Ann: And often they can, because there's always a younger girl out there.
Tori: That's very true. Are we going to talk about this now? Has our conversation led into this? Because this is a very -- I think the women here know that it's kind of a tricky thing where Sean Connery seems to be able in these movies, everybody will pay to go see him with whomever at 27, and then you know, what about some of these wonderful ladies of the theater? Would we, at 70, want to see them with Tom Cruise? Yeah! But he's not doing that, is he? I mean, because Georgia O'Keefe, you go, I would fall in love with her if I were a guy -- if she were around. Because she -- I was always loving her.
Ann: And she had a much younger lover at the end of her life.
Tori: Yes, she did.
Ann: But then the only movie we get like that is "Harold and Maude."
Tori: I know (laughs).
Ann: I mean, as cute as Bud Cort was back then, you know, it's like - - it's goofy.
Tori: But that's because, lines for men as they get older, it becomes very much a turn-on, but lines for women, as we age, has not been associated with "wisdom is sexy." And women that are running that side of the fashion or the music or whatever it is hasn't supported this either.
Ann: That's right. They get into the botox thing.
Tori: Yeah, well --
Ann: -- but it's what the industry demands. And how do you reconcile? I mean, you are you -- you're not a product. How do you deal with the productization? How you deal with that?
Tori: I think you have to know -- I think you have to kind of decide what kind of artist you want to be. And you make peace with that. And some people have become sex symbols in their careers, and that's a very different road to take than if you're talking about the heart. That doesn't mean I won't get my botox shots. I don't know what I'm going to do because that's between you and your dermatologist.
Ann: True enough, true enough.
Tori: But I think at a certain point you have to -- we all are getting older. Thank god. I'm really glad I'm getting older. I don't know what it's going to bring, but I don't think as a writer -- you can't write -- I mean, I can't write what I wrote when I wrote "Little Earthquakes" because I saw the world a certain way. And I hadn't found my voice. Maybe I lose it sometimes now, and I try and find it again, but you're in a different place.
Ann: You know, it's interesting, because when we were talking before, I said I would love for you to talk a little bit about how your writing process has changed through your career, but it'd be good to talk about what has stayed the same. And that's rarely talked about actually. Often artists are asked to say: how have you evolved? Like you're going from ape to man or whatever. But I wonder what -- you play some of your old songs, still, in concert. How do you choose which ones and are those ones you feel -- this one's still relevant; that one, who wrote that? Is it that kind of feeling?
Tori: No, I play a lot of them still because I think that it's odd, but I enjoy performing them now. I enjoy performing all of them more than I think I used to, because I'm not so close to them now. It's not as if I've just recorded them. I've been able to get to know them a little bit, and not MAKE them be something. If that makes any sense. (mocks a motivational type person) "You have to deliver that song!" So now it's kind of getting to know them a little bit, and with this last tour is very much about how the songs wanted to, I think, be there for everybody.
Ann: Because of what we were talking about before, the circumstances?
Ann: Can you give us a little taste of one of those?
Tori: I know everyone's trying to get me to play.
Ann: No, only me, only I am trying to get you to play.
Tori: Well, I mean the thing about -- I'll weave it in, I promise I will. But we were talking about... I will.
Ann: It's more fun to talk. But they probably think it's more fun if you play.
Tori: We'll weave something in, I promise. But the thing is, you were saying: things that have stayed the same. And I think that the songs when I was little used to be a place where I could go, because it was the one place where certain people in my life, mentioning no names, could not enter. And they could be sitting as close to me as you are. And they could be right there reading the paper, or reading the bible or whatever --
Ann: -- or writing a sermon --
Tori: -- mentioning no names. (grins) and then if I could create a world that had a structure, it was a place. Music -- I find all music has entry point. You know, there are windows. Some of them, they're easier to find their way into for me. Some are harder. But I really do believe that has never changed for me. That you are creating a landscape, a place.
Ann: A safe place?
Tori: Sometimes they're not all safe.
Ann: That's what's interesting. Just like the heart is bloody, right?
Ann: I mean, I think a lot of your fans would agree that listening to your music creates a place that both feels like a shelter, and also demands a lot. Demands a lot emotionally, not to mention intellectually, figuring out those crazy lyrics you write, Tori! (laughs)
Tori: Well, also it's tricky, too, there's something I'm writing now that -- there was a confrontation that occurred when I was pregnant, and you see, I was listening back to it and I said ooh, that's pretty hard-hitting. If you knew anything about it, you'd know exactly what I'm talking about. And so then I kind of decided, well maybe I'm gonna change things a little. Well, then I listen back to that tape and it was just horrible. Chucked that one. Found this other one again by accident, I was looking for something else, and I heard to it again, and it's demanded that story be told. Because this place when I play it, it exists exactly as it did that day. Everything about it. And I know I was able to get out of it and I -- I'm okay, Tash is okay, but there was a moment where that was very questionable. And um....
Ann: Scary place.
Tori: It's a scary place. And so writing that one has -- I'm still writing, I haven't finished, because physically I go through that hyperventilating that was going on that day -- and I think music can do that to you.
Ann: Can take you back into some kind of physical state. Well, that makes sense, I mean music has been used in rituals throughout the history of time to create altered states, really, to create transcendence --
Tori: -- right --
Ann: -- or to put you back into something --
Tori: -- put you back. Yes.
Ann: That's not transcendence. Transcendence, I think, is sometimes very male, you say, "Oh we have to be lifted beyond, rather than getting into the muck of it," which is what you're trying to do.
Tori: Almost a transgression. I don't know what they call it in hypnotherapy, where they take you into that place of --
Ann: -- regression --
Tori: -- regression --
Ann: -- yeah. Yeah. That's -- so, what happens to that nice fella right there (points into crowd) when he listens to that song and he's in that place? Maybe we should ask him! No, but what, as a person who's creating art for public consumption, not just for you, in your room going back to that space, how do you make it work so another person goes somewhere?
Tori: Well, first of all I'm trying to be true to what the song is demanding and the song is coming out, yes, of a personal experience. But I think that she also -- I'm just finding my thread in it. I think a lot of people have had experiences when they were in utero that they have heard about or maybe they think, knowing their parents' situation, or some people who have been pregnant know that they have maybe been in a fight when they were pregnant and wonder. There's a side of me that knows that there are people that have their experience with it, but I'm just trying to be true to -- it's almost like a film that you see, and I can watch it play over and over and over again, and I'm trying to translate it into a musical form.
Ann: mmm. It's, I realize I was setting up for asking another question when I asked that question, and I didn't even know it. I told you before that when I was reading various critics on the subject of you, there was one who called your career something I found quite offensive, which was: "therapy in motion." I found that so offensive because I really resent it when people assume that what you do is confessional, strictly confessional strictly about you, because for me, as I said in my introduction, it has always reached out to all these different aspects of the culture. As if there was a separation. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the big picture of the work.
Ann: Because your work is also about the world, and sexism and religion and everything. It's about everything, Tori! Can you explain it to us!
Tori: Well, the odd thing is, if someone thinks it's about therapy, then they should talk to my therapist, because that's such a different kind of conversation. And I think -- you know, everybody's been talking about what happened in this country in September and that is an event that is outside of us, and yet it's inside of us. So to say that we're not affected personally by events isn't true. And so some writers choose to hide themselves in different characters in their work, or maybe they don't hide at all, maybe they are just the observer, but they are a character even if they're the voyeur. They are something in this thing. So it's not a true statement with any writer, even if you're talking about somebody else's life, maybe you should get one of your own, I'm not sure. But I do think that it's --
Ann: -- it's like all writing is biographical, and all writing is not autobiographical at the same time, because we're just made up of everything else, I mean there are some spiritual traditions that believe all of us are part of the same energy field or matter field --
Tori: -- oh, not all of us, please --
Ann: -- all of us except maybe Dubya.
Ann: It's interesting because I do think -- we were talking also -- no, we weren't talking about this, I was reading about it though, how memory, cultural memory, and personal memory, collide as well. And I think that's something that happens in your work too
Tori: Brain fart. (pause) You know, when the songs are coming and I have loads of visual books, because I go to visual artists a lot, and sometimes it spans the period of the '50s, or it's two centuries ago, what have you. I find that some songs, I've looked at books and they've influenced one song that spanned many hundreds of years, because the imagery, in that way, it's not as if it's segregated. And we can access it, because always what you're trying to do as a songwriter is bring people to the fire. And relate to them in some way and build pictures that they can walk into, but sonically. That's what the old storytellers used to do. If there had been a war that week in the next shire, you would be there talking about it and those people would be woven into the story. And I think that's what you're going to see happen in the next year, is that the events that had occurred in some way, are going to be, they have to be, they have to be talked about and woven, even in small ways, even in references. But I also think that's what writers should be doing.
Ann: (acts like she's spitting) Doyouwanna ... play anything?
(Tori laughs, the crowd cheers)
Tori: I'll do the little song that I do for my little one. What we do is usually, because there's no piano involved in this, usually she's -- teeth hurt or whatever. It's all that (covers face with hands, whimpers) "No, no, no, n,o no, no, no... dada." and it's like, "Dada's sleeping, you get me," and she says, "No, no, no, dada." and then anyway it's this little creature, and it's always, (sings)
Oh my sweet
Sweet little angel dove,
The sweetest dove that mommy loves,
The sweetest girl that I have known,
Mommy's sweet, sweet little angel girl.