home / interviews
The River Lounge (US, radio)
WVRV "The River" St. Louis (101.1 FM)
December 3, 2002
Tori Amos interview and live performance
songs: Crazy, Cooling and Strange
The broadcast began at 2pm, 12/3/02. The interviewer was Vic Porcelli, a DJ with The River. As mentioned in the interview, live shots were streamed to the station's website through a web cam, but they weren't very clear or close up. A small studio audience was present, though remained silent except at the appropriate times for applause. Vic mentions toward the end that Tori was in New York all day the day before. She was obviously on a tough schedule because she, at the last minute, cancelled an appearance she was supposed to do on the early morning local news show. Another note, Tori played Cooling during this session and at the show that night for the lucky person who had requested it, I think at the Borders signing in Chicago.
DJ: Welcome back to Four Seasons media productions in Overland. It is the River Lounge, the second part of our River Lounge today. And, ladies and gentlemen, how 'bout a warm welcome for Tori Amos? [Applause] We have been waiting a long time. Tori, how are you?
Tori: I'm really well. How are you?
DJ: I'm great, doing great. We've lived here today. We do the River Lounges here all the time. Normally we come in for a couple of hours and we're out, but we've aggrevated them all day today. [Tori chuckles] You guys about sick of us? Ready to get rid of us for the day?
Okay, so, I want to start with this new album, which is called Scarlet's Walk. Now, I've been told that this is a kind of, uh, a walk through your own life post September 11th. How accurate of a statement is that?
Tori: That's probably a journalist who needs a coffee coming up with that. I think it's really more like a road trip sonic novel. It's about a woman.
DJ: I like that much better than the journalist's thing there.
Tori: Well, I kinda like it too because, having been on the road now... I guess I'm a road dog having been out so many years- 11 years now touring... That I was out on the road last year at the end of September and the stories started to come to me in full force. About a woman questioning what she believes in and questioning who the soul of this creature called America really is.
DJ: Right, and that's the basis for the whole record.
Tori: That's the core, yeah.
DJ: See, only songwriters can do that kind of stuff, you know? Us lay folk, we can't think that analytically, I guess. We were talking earlier with the guys in Matchbox Twenty and Rob, of course had done that thing with Santana. And when I was out at the Grammy's Carlos was talking about the song and the statement that made him a songwriter was, "I've been to the barrio," which is like the Spanish word for a ghetto, "I know what it's like. I know what it smells like." And as soon as he said that, I thought, "Hmmpf, he's a songwriter and I'm not!"
Tori: Yeah, but you have cute glasses, so you win
DJ: Well, thanks. When you get to my age, I found out... just my age, I'm 44... is when the eyes start to go. And this is with vision corrected.
Tori: Yeah but who cares? I told you Harrison Ford has glasses.
DJ: Well, there you go. So I'm right up there with Harrison Ford, everybody paying attention out there?
Tori: What's wrong with him?
DJ: You know speaking about being on the road for eleven years, I brought this up to you a little while ago before we went on the air. Eleven years ago, I was in New Jersey and we had this industry showcase. We were all gonna go see this girl Tori Amos. It was just you and your piano in a studio, and hundreds of industry people. And that was ELEVEN years ago, where did that decade go? That's a long time.
Tori: Yikes. Yeah, I don't know where it went. Doesn't seem like that long. I think it's because, um... My mother told me one time... She looks in the mirror and she pulled me to her and she said, "Look at that old lady in the mirror." And I said, "Well, I see my beautiful mom." And she said, "Well, I don't see anything I feel like. I'm ten years old, running down the street. I'm eighteen, dancing in my ball gown. I'm not this old lady." And when she said that, I didn't understand at the time. But sometimes, it's funny, I look in the mirror and I don't feel like I'm... I mean, I'm potty trained, thank God...
DJ: Well, thank god, because we're gonna be in here for like twenty minutes or so.
DJ: But it just dawned on me now that I guess being a songwriter, you draw from your inspirations. And I guess the first inspirations we ever draw from is our parents. It seems to me that your mom at least painted some pictures with words for you and taught you how to do that maybe.
Tori: I think, um, because we spent a lot of time with her parents, and her parents are part Eastern Cherokee, that the stories would happen on the porch each night in North Carolina- I spent my summers in North Carolina with her parents. And so my grandfather was quite a master story teller. He'd get his pipe going, and you'd be rocking on the porch. And people would just come in the town and sit on the porch and listen to him weave a tale.
DJ: That's all songs are, just weaving tales with the music.
Tori: Things that happened that day, he would just observe. And I guess that's just one thing he was trying to... what would you say... I guess he was trying to imprint this in my brain that you LISTEN. You listen to what people say to you because that's where the gold is as a storyteller.
DJ: And too many people want to be talkers and not listeners, I think.
Tori: That's right.
DJ: And I think you're right that the gift of listening is something we all take for granted. I don't know if "take for granted" is the right phrase, but we don't do enough of it. I think.
DJ: Just a quick question before we get into a song here about the stories that your grandfather told. Were they all in English?
Tori: Yes, it was.
DJ: Cuz that was my problem. My grandparents would tell a story, they'd get to the end, and the end was always in Italian... [Tori laughs] Now what's the end of the story?! We missed that. Now, what are you gonna do for us today? I know you're gonna do a few songs, but what are you gonna do first?
Tori: This is um, a gal off the new album and she is [piano starts]... she's Crazy.
[Plays Crazy, solo]
DJ: Right on, very nicely done, beautiful. I gotta ask you a question. The way you sit at the piano, which has kind of become your trademark, when you were young, did you get yelled at for that because it's not the proper posture to be playing piano.
Tori: Sure, yes.
DJ: They find anything... when you're learning to play piano, you're supposed to sit the right way...
Tori: I know, but when you look at other players of other instruments, whether it's guitar players, or drummers. They develop their own kind of stance, because it is about rhythm moving through your body. Also, if you're singing while you're playing it's a very different thing than if you're just playing. And I find that at a certain point I had to start... You know I could show you but nobody could see on air. But if I sit like a normal piano player...
DJ: Right, normal posture, legs straight in front, right...
Tori: You could push me over. You could just put your hand...
DJ: Well the balance isn't there...
Tori: Well, there's nothing, I got my feet in front of me. You could just knock me over with a feather. [Demurely] But you come over here now ... there's no way that you're gonna push me off this stool. But I might pull you down.
DJ: Well, that could happen. Does that happen often, people push you off the thing?
Tori: Can't happen.
DJ: It can't happen cuz you got your balance. Um, speaking about being yelled at, or whatever. The story is that you started playing more by ear than reading music. And this is a story, as I told you before we got on the air, very near and dear to my heart because my son, who has been playing for six years, still cannot read a note on the page. But, boy, he can just play. But there's still hope for him... you don't have to read music to...
Tori: Oh, come on, there are great musicians who can't read. And I think a lot of composers develop their skill from listening to how other writers, mmm... work with sonic structure. And, let's face it, sometimes you can say, "God, I can't figure out that chord." And you can reference the music. It comes through in a pinch. But if you have a good ear, some of the best musicians are ear people. But if you're in classical school, it's a very different kind of training.
DJ: They kick you out for that, don't they?
Tori: It's very difficult to kind of, you know, get Chopin's Etudes(?) just by ear. That's very hard to do. I'm sure there's somebody who can do it. But I can't do it. I had to learn to read to just get through my courses.
DJ: But you never lost your ear.
Tori: No, no. No, that's what I rely on mostly. I don't write my music down until it's time to put out the songbooks. And then I work with people and check the manuscripts. But that's not how I write music down. I have a little silly tape recorder that I put on the piano and I make up these silly little doodles, like whatever they are, I don't know... The latest on with my little girl is about spaghetti. So we'll make up songs about what she wants for dinner, or that she's not gonna get dressed. And then we put it on a little tape recorder and that's how we learn it. We play it back.
DJ: And she plays too?
Tori: Um, she... will play anything. She plays the radiator, she will play the cash-point machine.
DJ: So she's a percussionist, is what you're saying.
Tori: I think so.
DJ: Alright, I want to talk about the album Strange Little Girls, your last one, which was cover songs, which has been done before.
Tori: Oh, come now, come now. Reinterpretations of male seed.
DJ: That's where we were getting at, exactly.
DJ: Cover song albums have been done. But you chose to do covers of songs that were done specifically by men, then name it Strange Little Girls.
Tori: Of course. And that was one of the songs on the album by The Stranglers. The thing is, the premise was how men say things and what a woman hears. Because I find it kind of intriguing that guys on my crew would come up to me and say, "Why isn't she calling me back?" And you know, you just have to ask that question, "Well, what was the last thing you said to her before she slammed the door in your face?" [Laughter] And then you hear what he said, and he says, "Well, I didn't mean anything by that." And you just say, "Oh dear, there's a lot of patchwork in this one."
DJ: Well it's a strange thing, the communication between men and women. Whether they be just dating or marriage, it is an odd thing how the female brain and the male brain hear things differently and even say things differently. We get caught in that a lot, "I didn't mean that."
Tori: Mmmm, yep. You do. And I was just intrigued by that whole premise. So I started... I got this, um... It was really a humbling project because it's not like I took my favorite male artists necessarily. I took a pantheon of male artists to make up the different emotions. I had this control group of men. They weren't rats in a cage. So when you look at me like that, you know, they were fed, and they were clothed.... [Laughter] And they didn't all speak with each other. But there was a group of men that were showing me their secrets. And, you know, men store their secrets in their CD collections. And it's not as if... see, women, we might get together. Have a coffee, have a pedicure, chat about our emotions. Men don't usually do that on Friday afternoon. But each one of them could tell me, they could say, "Okay, seven years ago, two o'clock in the afternoon, it was a Wednesday. We were walking on the beach and she looked at me and said, 'I really care about you, but I'm sleeping with your best friend.'" [Laughter] The Depeche Mode record comes out, put on the track and Enjoy the Silence. That was it.
DJ: Enjoy the Silence. There you go. That is too darn funny. And I tell ya, I don't know what it is, but most guys will back me up on this. When the wife is talking to me and there's a baseball game on, it's like there's not even audio coming out. I can't hear anything, I can't explain it.
Tori: Boys and balls, what're you gonna do?
DJ [Laughs]: You know, normally when we do this I get a list of songs that we're gonna do, so you're gonna have to fill us in.
Tori: No, this is telepathy listening, so what do you think you're gonna hear?
DJ: Um, I'm not good at that, so...
Tori: Okay, this is a little song that never made the records, um, and people request it a lot. And somebody asked me to play it in St. Louis tonight. So, I'm gonna do it now.
DJ: Alright, here it is. Tori Amos in the River Lounge on FM 101.1 The River.
[Tori plays Cooling, solo.]
DJ: Seems to me sometimes when I watch you play and I watch you sing, that you seem to get visual images as you're singing. Like you're seeing the story that you're telling. Is that close at all?
Tori: Well, it's sort of like... and this is... I really don't want to offend anybody, but it's like the greatest mushroom trip, without the mushrooms. So you do get...
DJ: Right. Why would that offend anyone?
Tori: Well, some people listening don't... well, maybe they've never taken the kind of mushrooms we're talking about. But also, this isn't about encouraging that kind of thing, if it's not your thing.
DJ: Oh! Absolutely not! It's not taken that way I don't think.
Tori: What it really is, is sometimes the music shows itself in light. You don't have to close your eyes. But, the music is separate. It's not in me. It's outside. It's a force. And I'm kinda like a librarian. Hopefully with a cute shoe. But you know, a librarian, and you're just taking the information. And the information comes in visual, yes. And it comes in different forms of light.
DJ: Speaking of taking it to it's most literal sense- making videos, and the whole genre of videos. Do you enjoy that? Or is that something that you feel like you have to do?
Tori: [sounding offended] Wooowww, are speaking about a particular video?
DJ: No! No, no, no, not at all. I was just... let me give you background on why I said it. Being the age that I am and growing up on The Beatles and The Stones, we didn't have videos. We'd listen to songs and make our own images to what was going on. And now, it seems to be almost forced on us. You know?
Tori: I know, but [sings], "Video killed the radio star." You know, I was with him yesterday. Trevor Horn. I was working with him for something.
DJ: Not my favorite song.
Tori: No. But, it sums up something that's really important. That when video came into being... There are a lot of musicians that don't make the radio because they don't translate into the video format. And it is a true statement. You're talking about a time when people, The Beatles and The Stones, even though they do look cute on film. That this was about the music. Period, end of story. The songs. End. It wasn't about, does this translate? Do they look cute on film? You know... Look at those calves. No. This is a different thing. So when you're making a video sometimes if you read some of the treatments, you just have to roll your eyes. If you want to have good fun, I should send you some of my video treatments.[Dramatic voice] And there she is. Her hair is blowing. And on and on. And there's twelve beautiful shupahs(?) standing there. And you're at the top of a mountain. And you're just looking at this script saying, this is not about the song at all.
DJ: That's kinda where I was going. Alright, time for fact or fiction. Is it true you changed your name to Tori because somebody said to you, "You don't look like an Ellen, you look like a Tori." Is that true?
Tori: Yeah. It's very true.
DJ: How'd that come about?
Tori: Well, my friend Linda McBride, who I was in high school with, and she's somebody that's still a friend of mine. She was dating, in one of her serial dating periods, this guy for a couple of weeks. And I'm just really lucky that she brought him down to hear me play, because I would never have had my name. She just showed up and said, "I just wanted you to meet him, tell me what you think." And, um, he just looked at me and said, "You know, that's not your name." And I said, "Well, Linda doesn't have to like you, but thanks for my name. Bye!"
DJ: [laughing] Did Linda and he ever make it?
Tori: No, no, no... It's over. But we got from him what we needed, so he served his purpose.
DJ: Uh, I've been told by our fantastic sound man, Steve, that Matt Chamberlin, is that the guys whose playing drums with you...
Tori: Yes, heaven.
DJ: ...and is one of the greatest drummers, underrated drummers in the world?
Tori: Um, well, in musicians circles he's quite rated. He's known as one of the great drummers in the world alive today.
DJ: Maybe overrated[sic] wasn't the right word, but underrecognized by the general listening public.
Tori: Well, the general listening public probably might not be exposed to who the top five drummers in the world are, but he is one of them.
DJ: Why is he so good?
Tori: Um, because the thing about a drummer is a lot of them can't play in time.
DJ: Is that right? Isn't that their job?
Tori: Yes. But the truth is a lot of them cannot play in time. And he... The music just really crawls through him. He's one of the most sensual players I've ever worked with. And I've worked with some pretty great drummers from Manu Katche to Vinnie Calleudo(?) who used to play with Frank Zappa, and Manu Katche who's played with everybody. And I think that Matt Chamberlin is one of these people who will be seen as one of the great drummers of our time. So you all should check out his work. He played on the first Macy Grey record. He played on the last David Bowie record. Butch Vig called him when he got sick, so Matt went out and played with Garbage. I mean, he's one of the great drummers.
DJ: And he's with you tonight.
Tori: And he's with me tonight. I'm very, very lucky.
DJ: And Tori is at the Fox tonight, 7:30 is show time. Tickets are available, you can get them at MetroTix. Um, 'A Sorta Fairytale'. I just love hearing this song on the radio. And it seems to me that I'm hearing more of this song on the radio than I've ever heard a Tori song before.
Tori: That's true. Isn't that... It's really magical for me.
DJ: You must be... so proud.
Tori: It's... yeah, like a proud mommy.
DJ: Kinda, these songs seem to be like your babies.
DJ: You refer to them as "he's" and "she's"...
Tori: No, "she's," always "she's."
Tori: But that's okay. But men are always in the songs, because they are, usually. We love the guys. But my songs are girls. That's the way it is. And this one, the fun thing about this song is that when it came, my little girl loved me playing it. She would just want me to sing it over and over and over to her. It's not as if I thought, "Well that means that other people will like it." Because she also likes 'Matty the Drummer Ate the Spaghetti' song.
DJ: Right, and she plays the radiator.
Tori: So, you know, you can't just judge everything by what she likes. But I knew that, um... I don't know. People seem to want me to play it, so there you go...
DJ: It's a wonderful song. And we can't wish anything but the best for you for this album and that song. And before we hear another tune I just want to thank you for the time. I've been told about the grueling week that you have had this week, flying from city to city. I mean, you were in New York all day yesterday filming... something from eight o'clock in the morning until eleven at night...
DJ: So, I understand, you know, what you've gone through in the last twenty-four hours. Even the day before that you were somewhere and to do two of these interview acoustic things. And a show that night. And meet the people after the show. So I appreciate the time.
Tori: Thanks for having us.
DJ: She's Tori Amos, she's in the River Lounge on 101.1 The River. Matt, I'm sorry-- also, watch her on StudioCam wvrv.com.
[Tori plays Strange, solo]
DJ: You know, it just doesn't end for you there. You're playing tonight in St. Louis, and then you're off to Denver. Then they're flying you to British Columbia. Um, so it just doesn't end. So I think it's pretty cool that you're ending up this tour at Radio City Music Hall for a couple of nights. The last night being one day before my birthday, so feel free to, you know, wish me a happy birthday from the stage.
Tori: [gasps] Are you gonna be there?
DJ: No, I won't. But I'll hear it.
Tori: Okay. Okay, yeah.
DJ: So I'll say, "Did Tori do it?" "Uh, yeah, Vic, yeah, she said happy birthday to you, it was great." [Tori laughs] Tori's at the Fox tonight. Tickets are available. Go and see her, it's gonna be a fabulous show. Thank you so much again for your time.
Tori: Thank you.
DJ: You've been very gracious, very charming. Tori Amos, everybody, in the River Lounge. [Applause] We thank the folks here at Four Seasons, of course, what a great job, as they always do. We're gonna take a break because we're way behind schedule, then we'll be back to wrap up the show.
[transcribed by Jill]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos