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Tom Robinson show (UK, radio)
BBC Radio 6
October 9, 2002
Tori Amos interview
[Past the Mission]
Tom: From Under the Pink, that's Past the Mission, featuring Trent Reznor on backing vocals. Tori's new 18 track album Scarlet's Walk is a kind of American Journey which follows a character called Scarlet who is both Tori herself and also every woman. It features a really strong drum track all the way through the album, heavy grooves right to the fore, beautifully played, right integrated with the songs. My first question was whether this was a conscious decision, to try and make the tracks more accessible.
Tori: I think, in the past, especially when I was, maybe, spending a lot of time with the piano, like Boys For Pele, that period of time, people would ask, "Why don't you put drums on this, because it could be a hit?" and you go, "But that's not what the song really wants to be." And I think that this record is one of those records where rhythm wants to be there, so each record is different. You have to approach them as separate beings, each song is separate, but this is a whole, it's a story.
Tom: At 18 tracks, it's an epic, isn't it?
Tori: It's exhausting, huh?! Hopefully you feel like well yeah, it's a big country, and I think she kinda covered it, and yeah.
Tom: The device of Scarlet, why did you use the device of someone else, is it to get away with this "Are the songs autobiographical question?"
Tori: Well, I guess you know, in the tradition of say, Kerouac or somebody, the idea that it might be the person telling the story, and yet it gives room for people to imagine. I mean, Scarlet's very busy, she's doing a lot of stuff. I'm a mommy, and I'm married. She's not, she is not. She has a child in the end, we don't know who the dad is, it could be one of four.
Tom: Is the whole business of having Natashya just too close to the knuckle to be starting to put that kind of stuff into songs, you're too busy living it to be putting into songs?
Tori: You're catching me out, but yeah, right now to tell a story that is based on real people and based on real events, I have to go answer to this on some level, and yet husband doesn't grill me about who and what and how. Yet, it's a little sticky wicket you can get into, so yes, Scarlet is a place where I can hide, but I love story form, and things can be based on real life but then take on a life of their own. It's sacred, you know, things that happen inside your heart.
Tom: At times, when you have had painful experience, it seems to me, right from where we first met you on Me and a Gun, this is the most harrowing thing that you somehow manage to exorcise through an autobiographical song. So I guess maybe there's a distinction between the parts of you that are precious, just for you, and those that hurt that you can share with other people and help other people who have been through a similar space.
Tori: I think the idea of a woman travelling alone, I love that idea, especially now in our time in America when things can get pretty violent, as you know. But America's at a crossroads and interview, I found last year, was difficult to get inside. When you're inside over there, and I was on tour last year after the 11th, I've been in New York City, obviously, on the 11th, but travelling, I found I didn't know what was going on until I got to Europe. I felt like telling the story right now of a woman that wasn't, you know, she thought she found a soul mate, and maybe he was a soul mate, and it didn't work out, and sometimes it doesn't. I think you have more than one, and you don't necessarily live with them. I felt like there are parts of me that are really hard to talk about, and story form is a way to be the most honest sometimes.
[A Sorta Fairytale]
Tom: As a fan, I'm coming at this from the outside, but what resonates for me is that inner truth that you somehow manage to touch in a way that some other writers don't. In previous interviews you've talked about getting to know the monster inside you, getting to know the monster inside you and unless you can make friends with that monster and embrace the shadow you ain't ever going to enjoy the light properly. You're able to probe the places behind the surface events to try and strike a resonance of what's going on under the skin, under the surface, which is a challenging thing to have to live up to.
Tori: Last year on the road, at a time when the masks were down and people in America didn't know what tomorrow would bring, this is just where they were. They didn't have, say, this kind of detachment like Europe did. This was the first time we'd been attacked on land in that way. If you talk to the native Americans, they'll say "No, we've been invaded before!". but anyway, so, here we have this shock happening and a paranoia and a paralysis, so you've got to go home. That means we need to move. So we tour, move. So we toured, people would say to me, they'd send e-mails, say don't cancel, everybody's cancelling. Even if we sit there and look silly, we need a place to congregate, to go. I kind of felt like we were sitting around this metaphorical campfire every night, telling stories, things you collected on the way from the last town because people weren't moving. Some people that were travelling like gypsies with us, kind of in tandem, sort of like the Grateful Dead on a small scale, that's what it seemed like, that's how information was moving from coast to coast for me. I was beginning to see that whatever the cultures were and what cities, that was having an effect. Some cities were going, "hey, hey, we need to ask some questions here". They were being shamed by those who were they, that if you asked certain questions at this time, you're not American. I found that offensive to the core and said "OK, that's not the right answer, there's 70 right answers and that's not one of them." So let's dig deeper, let's go further. I found this thread happening across the country. All Scarlet is is a thread, before she was a colour, she was a thread. So she becomes this woman who I become some of the time, that's where I put my feelings. I guess maybe Tom, maybe there's this deep down hope that this place that I love, this spirit, her soul, that the native Americans have been caretaking, and some of us, that are of European descent also, must come out of sleep, must look at what's going on. When I got to Europe on the second leg of the tour, I started to get more information, and I realised "Oh, dear." "Oh dear."
Tom: Playing live is really important to you, isn't it? Some artists like to just make their art and send it out into the world, but you seem to be telling me that the actual experience of interacting with those people night after night is profoundly part of what you do and how you do it.
Tori: There's a part of me that's this little old lady that sits beside the first with the camps, with the soliders, they give me a nice little dinner, they take care of me and I have my cane and hobble to and fro and kind of listen, hear what they say, file it somewhere, write it on the body as Jeanette Winterson said years ago. That's become so much a part of what Scarlet's discovering. Pictures and imprints are written on you, emblazoned on you. You can't see it if you put us under a microscope, but it's burning our skin. I think I'm this little lady just trying to take people's stories because people's stories are much more exciting to me than fantasies, what people are feeling and going through are wow, I'm never bored.
Tom: You also have to evolve year on year, you've worked consistently and developed the approach that when you've dealt with an area you've moved on.
Tori: Are you saying I'm like a little old lady? You are.
Tom: It's a little bit disingenuous because you're a storyteller, the little old lady of the community, but you're a phenomenal musician, the standard of the playing in a live show and on record, also a considerable musician a whole strand to take care of parallel with all this..
Tori: You just go to the woodshed and do the work. That's one of those things where there are no shortcuts tothat. It's not an abstract thing, you have to do the work. Playing with Matt and John, I'll be touring with them when I tour because the rhythm was so important. I talked about it with them and I talked about it with husband because husband, he and Marcel and Mark Hawley my husband, Marcel Limbeek have been partners in sound, the sound dudes. We'll talk about how this is going to translate and last time it felt like alone at the piano was the right way to go after doing a cover record, strip it back. I'd been out with the band, doing the rawk thing, so I thought "I don't know what to do after this record" but the record demanded that the rhythms and the melodies be there, so it's percussion, drums, Matt' s bringing all his gadgets and gizmos, and john on Bass, and Rhodes, Whurly and the Bosendorfer.
Tom: Matt plays the kit almost like a loop, like a sample, he's so precise, was he working to click tracks or is that his natural time?
Tori: The crazy thing about what he's got going on in his headphones is that it doesn't make sense to any of us, I don't hear what he hears, I cannot play to that. We have to pause, we have to give a breath here, we need to retard, and he'll say "Don't worry, use that and we'll figure it out", sometimes he' ll have Mark cut the click and then bringing it back in a bar once I'm in again. We do live performance, I tracked almost everything with matt. There was some moments when I was tracking to some little shaker thing, then he did something on top. For the most part I felt like it was about getting a relationship going where he would put the hi-hat, when the pedal would go down, when there's a breath. He's like my brother, but when we're playing he would personify the male character a lot. A lot.
[transcribed by Mike Gray]
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