Lisa LaFlamme: Tori Amos has sold over 12 million albums worldwide, has been nominated for eight Grammys, and rejuvenated the era of the female singer/songwriter along the way. "Scarlet's Walk" is the name of her latest album. And Tori joins us to talk about the project.
A journey, really, Tori. Isn't it?
Tori: Constantly, yeah.
Lisa: But I don't know whether to congratulate you on this beautiful new CD, or your beautiful child that was a product of this CD -- or happened at the same time.
Tori: She's just changed the way I see the world. And maybe when
I was sitting on my egg with her, like Horton, I guess this album started to write itself. Really slowly, a little bit at a time. I'd wander over to the piano -- I'd waddle over to the piano. And play for her, inside. And I think that's how it began.
Lisa: Because this album really does ask a lot of pretty heavy-duty questions about life in America and what's happened and that sort of thing, was that a result of realizing that you're bringing someone else into the world?
Tori: Bringing somebody else into a world that a lot of us are questioning. Is our country in safe hands? Are those who are "they" really protecting the soul of our true mother, which is our land? And the Native Americans always saw themselves as caretakers. And that you must mother your mother at a certain point. And maybe until I became a mom I didn't question our true mother, not until we saw her bleeding and burning in New York City that day.
Lisa: Which is still just such a haunting image. Do you feel you've come out of that a better person now, that the world has come out better people, for asking questions like this?
Tori: I wonder. I wonder sometimes. Questions were being asked at the time. I was on the road at the end of September last year and I was seeing people relating to America differently -- Americans. So, saying to themselves: Well, am I really protecting her? And who is she really? And "she" wasn't just an object. The French -- you know, whatever you think of them -- they've always known that France is an entity, an essence, not just "we're Americans" and this kind of entitlement.
Lisa: You talk about motherhood -- and your father actually was Cherokee, was he not?
Tori: No, no. My mother's father.
Lisa: Oh, your mother's father.
Tori: So my father wanted to be Billy Graham.
Lisa: Oh, is that right?
Tori: Yeah, yeah.
Lisa: Interesting. So you actually grew up a preacher's daughter?
Tori: Oh yeah.
Lisa: Is that right?
Tori: Daughter of a preacher man.
Lisa: Were you rebellious?
Lisa: No? Did you have freedom of expression in the house? Because you certainly have it now.
Tori: No. No, there was no freedom of expression in the house. I mean, my mother will sit there and say, "Yes, there was." Anyway, that's why I think I toddled over to the piano because you were able to express what you were really thinking, in a very Christian household.
My mother, who was brought up with the Cherokee stories from her father and mother, decided to marry this Scottish-Irish descendant. They were all Church of God. My father's mother was a minister, a teacher and a minister. Both of his parents were ministers.
Lisa: So did you keep religion in your life? You clearly have spirituality, it's just so obvious in your music. But do you have religion?
Tori: I have religion as a study. I've been studying it over the years. And its impact. And its place. I mean every religion has its mythology, and that fascinates me. And so I've been studying them.
Lisa: Funny that you're studying now. Tell me about when you were, what, a 13-year-old girl at music school?
Tori: I was kicked out of music school when I was 11.
Lisa: Eleven? Oh.
Tori: So I was playing bars when I was 14, weddings and funerals before then.
Lisa: How did your father feel about that?
Tori: He used to escort me. Because in Washington DC they didn't have a law that you had to be 16 or 18. Because it's not a state, it's Washington DC. So he would escort me. He figured, you know, "You're going to pot, literally." So he said, "What do you want to do?" I said, "I want to play, and sing songs." So he said, "Get dressed." My mother was visiting her family. And so we went.
And the only place that would let us in -- it's like "there's no room at the bar" -- was this gay bar. And that's where I got my start. And my dad had to open himself up to gay guys who would come over to him. He'd have his collar on. And they'd say, "Hello, Father. What brings you here to these parts?"
Lisa: I gotta say, he sounds like a pretty cool guy, to have taken his daughter, because it was something you wanted to do, he sort of did it.
Tori: Well, his answer all these years has been -- one of the gay guys said, "So why would you bring your daughter here, Reverend?" And my father said, "Because you won't be taking her home, now will you?"
Lisa: [laughs] Oh, that's good! So he was very protective of his little girl.
Tori: Yeah, he was good.
Lisa: But what's a girl who's so hugely talented, playing and singing, doing getting kicked out of music school? What did you do?
Tori: I think that at the time music school hadn't thought about how to integrate all this learning into a contemporary world. And now the Peabody Conservatory is rethinking that. A lot of the conservatories are rethinking that: How do you become a modern musician? But from this tradition of musicians. And that's redefining itself.
Lisa: You have to redefine yourself I guess now as well with the baby. How are you managing such a heavy tour schedule? What's life like? I mean, you're a working mother now.
Tori: Everything is better because of her, honestly. She puts everything in perspective. And I don't know what I did with my time before. And also you just get a little too precious with everything. I mean, now I'm backstage and you have on this beautiful dress and you know that she's having one of those moments and she goes, "Mommy, Mommy, I'm a mess." And you just go, "Okay, come on," you sling the dress off -- or not.
Lisa: Spit up on the ball gown, who cares? Right.
Tori: Whatever, yeah.
Lisa: But does it ever make you sort of resentful of the heavy tour schedule, or not?
Tori: Look, there are days, okay? I was on the bus the other night, it was three in the morning, and I couldn't get Rapunzel Barbie in.
Lisa: I hate it when that happens.
Tori: And then she wanted the Princess Bride. And I had tears running down my face. I looked at her. And she was just about ready to have a tantrum. And I just said, "It's never enough! Rapunzel Barbie! I can't do this anymore." And you do have your moments where you break.
Lisa: Yeah. But every mother does. I can just imagine when you add the pressure of --. But once you're on stage is it still magic for you? Like singing these songs.
Tori: It's heaven. Yeah, it's like there's no elixir, there's no food, there's nothing I've ever had -- except a cuddle from Tosh -- that takes you to this other world. And the music does that.
And I think playing this music right now, I don't know what it is. This Native American woman came to see me on tour last year, and she said, "The ancestors are coming. They're coming to visit many people now. Whether you like it or not, they're coming. So you can receive them, or they're going to bash your door down anyway." So I said, "Okay, I'm going to make them a nice cup of tea."
Lisa: A nice welcome mat.
What was it like working -- I mean, you've worked with your husband, of course -- but on something as personal as this project? Does he give you free rein? Is it back-and-forth decision-making? How does that work?
Tori: We started as workers together. So he's a sound engineer. Our relationship was work-related first. And then we got a bit naughty. But I think that that is our foundation. So we have a working way together. We know when we're about ready to throw things across the room. And I guess maybe because Scarlet is a character, she's my alter ego --
Lisa: Tell me about her, who she is.
Tori: She's every woman, I guess. The whole story is this woman taking a road trip in America in troubled times. And America is a character in this. She shape-shifts between the other women. But Scarlet is flesh and blood. So she bleeds, she can be any woman. And she's trying to discover who this creature is and what she herself believes in. She does have quite a few lovers and a husband. And I don't really go into all that.
Lisa: Scarlet is someone that you -- were you nervous to put her out there in front of the public?
Tori: She kind of just showed up and said, "I'm coming. And I'll be fine. You worry about yourself, Tori. I'll be fine."
Lisa: Well, it's better than fine, it's great. And Tori Amos, I thank you so much. And I know you'll be here to perform for us later in the show. Thanks for joining us today.