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Lynn Parsons show (UK, radio)
BBC Radio 2
October 14, 2002
Tori Amos interview
Lynn: My guest tonight has been nominated for eight Grammy awards and has sold in excess of twelve million albums worldwide, the new album, Scarlet's Walk is out on the 28th of October and I'm delighted to say that Tori Amos joins us in the studio tonight to guide us through an album that's been described as a sonic novel, a chronicle of her love affair with America, its people, its history and its future. Welcome, Tori.
Tori: Hi Lynn, how are you?
Lynn: I'm very well and it's lovely to have you here.
Tori: Thanks for having me.
Lynn: Is that a very good description of the album, would you say?
Tori: I guess it is. Um, I like the "sinister" part that comes after it. Is there a "sinister" part taht comes after that statement?
Lynn: No, there wasn't, no. We missed that one. Tell us what the sinister part was.
Tori: I guess that's the press release before I took my pen to it. Because love affair, of course, you know I love her, but then there's a, Scarlet's Walk has a, she's diving and she's turning over stones and there's things she finds that scare her and frustrate her and sometimes make her passionate and confused. That's all in there.
Lynn: Now, I think I'm right in saying that the album and the songs on it were inspired in the change in the way the people of America perceive their country now after the events of September 11th blended with the stories you were told as a child by your grandfather who was Cherokee.
Tori: Yes. I guess that the stories that I grew up with, because they were sonic - nothing written down - the tone that he would use when he would tell a story, the rhythm that he had. And he smoked a pipe, I remember it well. And he would pause to fill up his pipe and light the fire. And we would be swinging on the porch in North Carolina and he would tell me the stories that his grandmother, who escaped the Trail of Tears, which happened in 1838, 1839, where the Cherokee people were forced to march over a thousand miles to new territory because the government wanted their land. And um, his grandmother escaped and hid out in the mountains for at least a year. And that's how I grew up.
Lynn: How did you feel hearing those stories? Did you feel they were like fairy stories, or they were part of you?
Tori: It's odd, but I was feeling like these seeds were being planted. Like if I was fresh ground with not a whole lot growing in it, one of those barren sort of gardens. I felt like poppa, my grandfather was saying, "Hm, I'm gonna plant some seeds here, and one day..." It's almost like there's this chip underneath my skin and it's those stories that he told me.
Lynn: And he's watching down I'm sure and smiling.
Tori: It's funny because I feel him, and I feel her, I feel Margaret Little, his grandmother, I feel... she had a tomahawk around her apron. She, when the Confederate soldiers um, were taken over by the Yankees and the Yankees burned everything to the ground in the Civil War, by then she was an older woman. And um, she hid the seed in Christian graves so that they would have something to eat. You know, they were farmers and everything was, as I said before, burned to the ground. And she knew they wouldn't defile the Christian graves, so after they left and they were hungry she went in, got the seed out, hooked the plow to her body and plowed the ground as if she were um, oxen. And I think, knowing that this woman existed, she's very real to me. She's not this untangible thing.
Lynn: So we blend these stories with, as we say, September 11th. Now, everybody saw it on television, not everybody was there. Where were you on September the 11th?
Tori: I saw it on television, too, I was in New York City, and then walked out onto 5th avenue and smelled New York burning. I think that being able to feel something through your own senses, not just through the media, changes, changes your inner workings of the whole thing, because you're not getting information second hand, completely, you're watching other people running, watching people put up signs, you're watching in desperation, people looking for loved ones. And it permeates... again, you smell that smell forever, and it's almost as if New York were a friend, and she was burning and wounded. And you didn't want to leave her side.
Lynn: I've met a lot of Americans that were there since and they all talk about the place as if it was a friend, and you say a friend, even a mother, so when Scarlet goes on her walk, on this journey across America, she is with a friend, she's not on her own, is she? Although I know she gets to meet lots of people on the way. Am I right in thinking that?
Tori: Well, you're right in that America, the soul, the spirit of her, not people that wave the flag and say, "we are Americans," I mean, you know, there's always that going on. But something more, I don't know, what would you say, that's separate from government, that's separate from what people project onto a country, there's this spirit, this being. The French have always kind of seen France, France is bigger than just you know, whoever's in power at the time or the French, she's rich and deep. So I guess Scarlet is going to see a friend, a fading porn star who calls her, and that's Amber Waves, and that's America personified and a real woman all in one. And the journey begins without Scarlet even realising that she's going to be drawn across the whole country. She has no idea. It's not like she read um, On The Road by Kerouac, and said, "Okay, I'm going to do that, as a gal," she just answered a phone call from the friend and there it begins.
Lynn: Now, I know you've said it's not about the destination, it's definitely about the journey. Did you have the whole story in place before you started writing?
Tori: No, I didn't. The songs are more like songlines... more like the aboriginal concept that to get into a place geographically, you have to know the song. But for her to know the song, or for me to know the song, I almost had to taste it, taste the experience, feet held to the fire. In some way you have to live it, you know, you have to expose yourself to it and then the song would come.
Lynn: Now, whenever I think of the name Scarlet, I think Gone With The Wind and how much she loved her house and her home and the earth. Why did you pick the name Scarlet?
Tori: The red road. Native American spirituality. The good red road, and Scarlet O'Hara being a heroine for the immigrants there.
Lynn: The first single off the album is out today, A Sorta Fairytale, where do we find Scarlet on the journey for this particular song?
Tori: Well, she's um, been to the Porn Awards with her friend Amber in Vegas, and didn't want to go, but needed to go with her friend. They sort of part ways um, in Nevada, and Scarlet goes to Alaska to see the Northern lights and give them a message from Amber Waves who's really at this point on her knees, and... there's not a lot of her left. So as a friend, Scarlet goes to take this message and they give her one to give to Amber back. So once she delivers the message, she sets off on this trip with this love, her soulmate, up the 101, then the 1, and they're falling in love, and they decide to go deeper, so they go to the desert. And he decides that she isn't his fantasy and she looks at him and says, "Well I, I didn't know that, I didn't know that you didn't see me the whole time."
Lynn: Let's hear the song.
[A Sorta Fairytale]
Lynn: Now I absolutely adore your music and if I had to describe it in one word it would probably have to be magical, and by some strange coincidence, that' s the same word I'd use to describe Cornwall, which is where the album was recorded. Is that a special place for you?
Tori: They have taken us in, in a way that I didn't expect. Because I'm a guest, my roots aren't from this country, I didn't grow up here. Um, but yet they treat me like I have been here forever. Some of my dear friends now are in Cornwall and I just didn't know that that was going to be my life, I didn' t know that this man that I saw in these shorts with these cute calves was going to say, "You know, we have to live south of the river, because I don't want a green card." And I kind of went, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, I accept that you don't want to live in America, that's a big one for me to swallow, but south of the river?" And I'm sorry if I'm offending anyone, but I'm a north of the river gal. And we needed to compromise, it needed to be a win / win so he looked at me and said "what about Cornwall?" And I said, "That's a different idea." So he went to a place where he went as a boy, and that's what happened.
Lynn: Your father was a Methodist preacher and I understand by the age of four you were singing and playing in the church choir. Everything we see and hear you do comes across as very spiritual. That's not an illusion is it?
Tori: I don't know, I guess maybe, Lynn, I sort of think it's... it's very terra firma in a way, it's um, if you live your life really believing that there's a spirit world, but also I'm a lioness, so I'm a hunter and you have to go get the wildebeest, I mean you have to go bring the food in to feed the cubs, there's a certain sort of reality-based side, and maybe we go back to that Margaret Little thing, maybe it's very much about "the women can provide," the Cherokee nation, matriarchal, they always said the reason is we always do know who your mother is. I mean, we don't know if you're a Cherokee unless your mother was. So I kind of, growing up with that idea in mind, you do, I don 't think you sort of think of it as spiritual, it's just the way it is. You wake up and you're not arrogant enough to think that there isn't another force outside being a two-legged.
Lynn: Right. Tell me what you were listening to as a teenager?
Tori: That's odd because growing up, I was exposed to my mom's record collection which was really something because she'd worked in a record shop before she became a minister's wife. So she hid these records. Records by Fats Waller, records by Nat King Cole, records by Judy Garland, and I mean she loved music. My father, of course, had all the Charles Wesley renditions of Methodist hymns. And his idea was that I'd was going to be the next Methodist hymn writer.
Lynn: Right. And you weren't were you?
Lynn: You did say opposites attract, didn't you?
Tori: Yeah, I guess I did.
Lynn: Let's go back to the album now and Gold Dust. I cannot listen to that song without crying, how do you perform it without crying?
Tori: I haven't performed it yet. so we'll see, I don't know if I can, I don 't know. I just haven't played it yet, I haven't even... tried.
Lynn: We're going to play it, would you tell us about it?
Tori: It started forming when Tash was inside, I hope that doesn't sound like jail, in , you know, my tummy.
Lynn: And she's two now.
Tori: She's two. It started forming, it was slow, sort of like a birth, but maybe if I were an elephant, it seemed to take two years. Because I had her in Washington, DC, and the album ends in Washington, DC, um, a place where so many transgressions have been made, and agreements broken and yet an agreement was made between me and this being. Again, the polar opposites, the paradox was there. And it just wrapped itself around me, this song, and it spun its way sonically, but it took time. Um, and then once it was written, I asked my friend John Phillip Shenale who's arranged strings on my other records to arrange something. I really wanted the Symphonia of London to play on it, and they did, and I haven't played it since.
Lynn: I think we'd better play it, but we might need some tissues.
Lynn: Gold Dust on Radio 2. That's from the album Scarlet's Walk, and Tori Amos is my special guest tonight. A beautiful, beautiful song. I have all your albums at home, have never seen you perform live until last Monday, when I was invited with just a few people, just a handful of people to a hotel, the whole room was lit with what felt like 1000 candles only, and you performed five songs for us at the piano. It was breathtaking. Is that the sort of thing I should expect when I come and see you?
Tori: Well it depends, Lynn, which tour you come to see me on, because the last one was like that. Yeah, it was alone at the piano and the keyboards. And this time I'm bringing rhythm because the rhythm and the melody are, they are a marriage together. The rhythms speak for the land. Um, I'll be performing songs from other records, because I'm touring now doing Scarlet's Walk, and that means I have to go to my own map, which means others songs like God, other songs like Winter, they... they're part of my body map. And Scarlet's finding hers on Scarlet's Walk and I'm trying to, you know, now, do my own walk, which includes hers. I know that's very long winded. But that means that rhythm is something that, let's face it, if you listen to the album, the drums are something with the native American culture that, they can be as light as a feather but they represent almost the voice of Earth inside, if you could hear her... the skins, the hands on the skins, so that will be there, and bass and keyboards.
Lynn: So you're going to the US in November with your little girl and your husband, and then you're touring in Europe, is that right?
Tori: Then we're touring in Europe, and it is a 3-piece. So if we look like ZZ Top, I've taken way too many steroids.
Lynn: That's great, thank you so much for coming in to talk to us. Scarlet's Walk, the album, is out on October 28. Tori Amos, thank you.
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