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Music Biz (UK, radio)
BBC World Service
October 31, 2002
Tori Amos interview
John Harris: Now, things are never straightforward with the American singer-songwriter Tori Amos. She's about to release a new album called Scarlet's Walk. And though it was recorded in the English wilds of Cornwall, its songs form a fictional journey across the USA, which was partly inspired by - you guessed it - the events of September the 11th. But that's not the only abiding theme. The album also draws on Tori's endless travels around the States, along with her own Native American ancestry. We met her one wet afternoon in central London and began our conversation with a question that had been troubling us for days: Why does she describe the new album as a sonic novel?
Tori: That's the latest thing I've come up with to call it. Yes, instead of that dirty word 'concept record.'
John: And if it is a sonic novel, how do you go about writing one? Did you lay out the plot in advance and write the songs with that in mind or was it something that developed on a something more accidental level? How did it take shape?
Tori: The odd thing about it was that I didn't know that there was a character from top to tail. I had no idea that I was writing this thing while I was doing it. It came in segments. Ideas of songs would come, and then they'd go away. So nothing was finished until I got on the road last year; I was touring. And the story started shaping itself then.
John: Now, was this the occasion where, in the course of touring, you visited every state in the union, or is that a separate trip?
Tori: That, John, has taken me a long long time to do. [
John: Ah, okay.] So when I toured, yes, we went from coast to coast and then back again, but, the album goes through 50 states. So Scarlet, who's the main character, she's a thread. She moves slowly from west to east. And each person that she meets seems to take her to the next territory, the next experience. She had no idea that she was taking a road trip when she started; she just got a phone call from her friend who's a porn star, who was in a [sounds like 'sticky wicket' - ???].
John: So tell me about Scarlet; if I were to meet her now, what would strike me about her immediately? What kind of a character is she?
Tori: She would ask you a lot of questions.
John: What might she ask me?
Tori: She might start asking you what your body map was. And, did you know what it was. And what were you drawn to. And what are the photographs in your life that you have hidden behind your heart.
John: So, she's quite questioning, searching kind of character.
Tori: Yes. This is where she is in her life. She's asking questions like, Who is this creature called America? And Amber Waves, who is our porn star that we start off with, is really America personified in a woman's body. And that's how the story starts.
[First verse of Amber Waves]
John: I get the impression that when you tour this record, the kind of route or the way that people can look at the tour will tie in with the themes of the record and the way that the record pans out. Is that true?
Tori: That's the idea.
John: How's that going to work?
Tori: Well, I don't know; it's tricky. I've got to get it together, but the idea is, okay: You get your CD, right? It's a key. Put it in your computer. It'll take you to Scarlet's Web. The maps will come alive. Yes, you will get a map in your CD booklet, but the maps become more detailed on Scarlet's Web. Within the Web there'll be a layer to the maps that take you to the Native American nations that held the land before. There will be websites that have been approved by the students at Haskell University, which is our biggest Native American university in Kansas. So they're kind of, you know, sifting through the bogus ones and the ones that are good sites, so that you can go, O, I want to know more about the Trail of Tears. So they'll take you to a site. And this will be linked all through the country. Then, another layer to this is when Tori goes on tour...um, that's me. Then *laughs* ~ I'm not Scarlet, I'm Tori on Scarlet's Walk, so I've got other songs in my life in the past 10 years or so, and they link up with some of the new songs, and geographically they link up, and each night it's sort of a different weaving. So it's about threads.
[First verse of Your Cloud]
John: Now, when you're listening to this record you get the sense that the end of the record with the track Gold Dust, there's a kind of resolution, which seems to be bound up with the birth of your daughter. Would you go along with that?
Tori: Scarlet has a daughter; I had a daughter. The difference is I know who the father is. Scarlet doesn't really, because it could be between four, which is, you know, always kinda...keeps us guessing. And maybe the end of the record is that Scarlet realises that it's time for her to give back. And not just to her daughter. But as she becomes a mother, she starts thinking about her mother. And, her mother as in, the Earth. As in, instead of taking from it, what does she need to do to be more of a caretaker than a taker.
I think when Tash was born I started to feel something I've never felt before. And that is that these moments sometimes that seem not that special, but you're just sitting on the floor and it's magic. It's not as if the stars and stripes walked into the room, or 25 dancing sexy guys were jumping up and down, or you won the lottery [the piano beginning of Gold Dust starts playing], or nothing like that, but it's just, you sat down, had a giggle, listened to Mary Poppins, and it doesn't get any better than that. What is gold dust? And I started to remember [From here till the end of the interview her voice changes. When she speaks the word 'to' (started 'to' remember) at first you think she gave a little laugh, but then you realise that it was her voice breaking, like a little almost-sob. I don't know if she's actually openly crying, but all of a sudden she's almost whispering and her voice is just *infused* with emotion. It's just incredible and so moving. I hope everyone gets to hear this.] my mother. My mother will always wave good-bye to me. Even when the car is out of sight, I still see her in the distance, standing, waving, waving. And I think that...that's...my gold dust.
John Harris: Tori Amos there, on the joys of her new album, Scarlet's Walk.
[transcribed by Jessica Hartke]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos