home / interviews
Morning Edition (US, radio)
National Public Radio
November 27, 2002
Tori Amos interview
Bob Edwards: When pianist and songwriter Tori Amos arrived on the pop scene in the early '90s, she made quite an impression. Critics compared her voice to Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush. Her songs were hailed as smart, melodic and dramatic. Her first major label release was an international success.
I've been looking for a savior
in these dirty streets
Looking for a savior
Beneath these dirty streets
I've been raising up my hands
Drive another nail in
Just what God needs
One more victim.
Crucify fades to background
Bob Edwards: Amos sings very personal songs about religion, sexual coming of age and rape, among other things. Her new album is about America. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.
Elizabeth Blair: Tori Amos's first 2 recordings on a major label sold millions of copies worldwide. And while her last few albums haven't done quite as well, she is still a favorite with critics. And her raw, emotional lyrics have attracted an impassioned following.
Starts playing Cornflake Girl live -- screams from crowd.
Cornflake Girl live fades to background
Audrey: My name is Audrey and I run a Tori Amos fan site called Hereinmyhead.com.
Elizabeth Blair: Hereinmyhead.com is one of more than 200 Tori Amos fan sites in dozens of countries around the world. The Tori Cathedral and the Altar of the Goddess are just 2 site names that give as clue as to why one critic called some of her fans, 'frighteningly obsessive.' But Audrey, who's 26 and an environmental scientist, says the reason her fans are so loyal is that Amos connects with them.
Audrey: One of the things that she's well known for doing is, before every concert she goes out and she meets a group of her fans who have been waiting at this venue for her. She talks to every single one of them, and has like, identified with them. They tell her part of their life story, in like the 10 seconds that they get to talk to her. And she appears to really listen.
Elizabeth Blair: Tori Amos admits, at first, she wasn't really listening. She says she was too busy relishing all the attention those first few albums brought her. Eventually, she realized talking to her fans could inform her music.
Tori Amos: Once you can pull your head out of your own high heel, then you begin to sort of cruise with it. You begin to say, "Okay, so people come up to me in grocery stores and start talking about their life, well, pay attention. Take notes."
Elizabeth Blair: Taking notes from strangers has allowed Tori Amos to escape what she would admit was youthful narcissism and to focus on the complexities of the people around her. She took notes for her new album after the September 11th attacks. (Starts playing A Sorta Fairytale in the background) In the days that followed, she decided she wanted to make an album not about the event and its aftermath but about America. It's a road trip story, in which the heroine travels the country from coast to coast.
On my way up north
Up on the Ventura
I pulled back the hood
And I was talking to you
And I knew then it would be
A Life Long thing
But I didn't know that we
We could break a silver lining
A Sorta Fairytale fades to background
Elizabeth Blair: The album is called "Scarlet's Walk". Scarlet is trying to find out more about America through her travels. Along the way, she meets a variety of characters: a wise old Native American woman, a Mexican immigrant, and a porn star named Amber Waves.
Plays Amber Waves
From Ballet Class to a Lap Dance
Straight to video
And the pool side news
Was that he would be
Amber Waves fades to background.
Elizabeth Blair: Tori Amos says she imagined the character Amber Waves as a metaphor for this country and its relationship to the rest of the world.
Tori Amos: She's America personified into our sweet porn star. Who's made some choices that she's gotta pay for now. She chosen to maybe turn her back on some information. She's chosen to align herself with certain characters and there're consequences to that.
Into every young man's
Bedroom -- you gave it up
On DVD and magazine --
You gave it up
A private rite of passage --
You gave it up
To every boy's sweet dream
Amber Waves fades to background
Elizabeth Blair: Tori Amos says her perspective on America is informed, in part, by living an ocean away, in the English countryside with her husband and little girl. It gives her a kind of detachment and exposes her to different views of this country. But she also feels passionate about America and her deep roots here. She's part Cherokee; her father is a Methodist minister and her early love of music started in her native North Carolina. There are family pictures of her sitting at the piano as a toddler. By age 11, she was enrolled at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. But signs of her rebelliousness were already present. She claims she was kicked out of Peabody for trying to convince them that John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix were the Mozarts of their day. But Amos says whenever she's about to going on tour, she goes back to all the things she learned at the Conservatory.
Tori Amos: The way to practice, the way to prepare- it was very disciplined. (Cornflake Girl begins to play in the background). And you can't do 6 shows a week, 2 hour shows without a discipline.
Plays Cornflake Girl
Fades to background
Will Hermes: She's always trying to walk that line, I think, between being artistically very adventurous and at the same time, again, speaking to a large audience.
Elizabeth Blair: Will Hermes is senior editor of Spin magazine. He says Amos is a refreshing presence in the pop music world.
Will Hermes: There are a lot of musicians who are very musical and what they want to make is complex and nuanced and multi-layered but they're not really concerned with reaching a mass audience. I think Tori has a sense of mission, so she brings this very complex musicality to the desire of wanting to reach as many people as possible.
Elizabeth Blair: Her music hasn't always reached everyone. Some of her songs are hard to follow. Tori Amos says more than one record company executive has had trouble with her music. To defend her songwriting style, she's pointed to the work of classical composures.
Tori Amos: And they said, 'what are you doing? This isn't structure?' I said, 'Based on what? You mean what's on the charts this week? No. But go listen to your Bartok CD that I'm going to give you.' And they just look at me and say, "Bar what?"
Plays Scarlet's Walk
Fades to background
Elizabeth Blair: Perhaps one reason critics and fans remain interested in Tori Amos is that she's unpredictable. One minute she delivers a dark, acapella piece. The next, a song that sounds like the Beatles.
Nothing here to fear
I'm just sitting around
Being foolish when there
Is work to be done
Fades to background
Elizabeth Blair: Tori Amos says her dream project would be a musical. She gives some of the credit for that idea to her two year old daughter.
Tori Amos: I've got a little girl who's watching "Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins" 34 years later of when it was written and it's as potent today as it was then. So I got a little huffy about it in my 20's going, 'you know, that's not Sylvia Plath, that's not Bartok, that's not.... Oh shut up Tori.' So here you are watching with your daughter going, 'I'm riveted. Now that is quite a form.
Elizabeth Blair: Before learning how to write her musical Tori Amos is making her own pilgrimage across America. There are 14 more cities on her current tour. This week she performs in Chicago, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos