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Women Who Rock (US)
A Walk on the Wild Side
by Bob Gulla
Tori Amos' new Scarlet's Walk, a morality tale chronicling a woman's journey across a troubled American landscape, is the singer-songwriter-poet's most brilliant work since Little Earthquakes.
In a hotel room full of laminated maps and semi-abstract photographs, the story of Tori's new Scarlet's Walk unfolds. The brainchild of one of our most innovative artists, the album is a sonic travelogue full of heartrending encounters and unlucky lovers, poignant moment and teary-eyed observers. Though Scarlet is a fictional figure, these photos and maps bring her to compelling life. As she travels from coast to coast, each song represents a specific stop along the way. Self-produced and recorded in Cornwall, England, the disc represents a stirring rebirth for Tori, and a welcome return to her vibrant musical beginnings.
You've described Scarlet's Walk as a map of a journey. Can you explain that?
Yeah. It's something that speaks to me. When you talk about somebody's body map - an idea that I've been circling for awhile - I think that we all have an invisible map. And at a certain point in your life, you can begin to look and really see which places resonate with you, pull you in. You might have only been to a place one time; you might not have even been there at all, but it's a place that gives you a physical response. And that's something that I was going for with Scarlet's Walk.
So how did the concept evolve?
I think that the songs were similar to song lines in aboriginal culture. They were my key to take me to places. It's almost as if I were following a crossword puzzle and clues within the songs themselves. And so work started when I began seeing imagery come in; we start going back to threads, because, after all, "scarlet" is a thread. And I was following the etymology of the word. Before it was a color, it was a fabric. So in old times, Elizabeth Scarlet would be a weaver, somebody who worked with cloth. And I love the idea that "Scarlet O'Hara" comes from this tradition of Irish weavers. And then there's also the "Red Rope," which symbolizes the Native American spiritual walk.
Right, all that intertwines. So then, as you were writing you got a clearer and clearer picture of the concept.
Yeah, I did. I think that there's a level of trust that you have to have with your song... there were sixteen bars coming here and there... and I'd file [them] away, and you don't know what they mean until the concept becomes clearer.
But they meant something when you wrote these songs. You just hadn't learned it yet.
As things start to become clearer, I can start pulling threads. I started to see my God. I didn't know I was making a political record at first. Then as time went on, I knew I was on a road trip at a certain point; I just knew. I didn't know how it was going to play itself out, though, or where the chapters would go... but then you talk about them, you surround yourself with these songs. You know they're all there.
Would you say a lot of the material came as a reaction to the 9/11 situation? You were writing a lot at that time, right?
Yes, it's very interrelated. If I were going to follow my quest, which was to know this being named Scarlet, I had to learn first about America. And America truly came alive for many people on that day. For Native Americans, she has always been alive, and they were caretakers of her. There was a respect that it was a spirit, the Earth Mother. So when it became clear how violated people were feeling after we'd been attacked, I started thinking also about the violation of the Native Americans. They were invaded, too, if you really want to parallel it. Back then, a way of life was taken away from an aboriginal people. Treaties were broken. Many people were running from persecution by those people supposedly seeking freedom.
So what parallels did you draw from these two events?
You have to take it historically - the transgressions as well as the wisdom. You get the wisdom if you own up to the transgresssions. People now have to ask themselves again: How do I want to lead my life? If tomorrow doesn't come, who do I want to call today? What is the path that I want to walk? When I traveled after 9/11, there was an alertness, an awakening - there wasn't this entitlement to tomorrow, which I thought was really, really incredible for a lot of people. And there was a beautiful sort of humanness.
Your writing on this album is stunning. How do you feel about what you've written purely from a lyrical standpoint?
I'm very grateful to Mary Poppins, because I've been watching that, and The Sound of Music, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the last twelve months. That's where I got my lyrical inspiration!
So you're a Julie Andrews fan?
Yes, she's the reason for all of this - give her the credit. Maybe it was a rebirth for me, being a new mother and all. I don't really know. Who knows why all the factors line up as they do? If I knew, I'd try and do it every time. And maybe I needed a change... [takes a long pause and a deep breath] I know you want to talk about this, because nobody's dared ask me, but why not talk about it, right? Maybe the Atlantic label was at a certain place where things, relationships, just weren't right. [This is Tori's first album for her new label, Epic.] But then nothing's ever enough, you know? [emotional pause] I gave them Little Earthquakes, and then after that I gave them Cornflake Girl, and they say, "Why didn't you give us Crucify?" And then you give them Hey Jupiter, and it's "Why didn't you give us Cornflake Girl?" Then you give them Jackie's Strength or Cruel, or whatever on Choirgirl, and it's "Why didn't you give us Jupiter?" Then you give them Bliss. "Well, why didn't you give us Spark?" And then you say, "OKAY, HERE'S EMINEM!" It was horrible, and time for a change.
But you couldn't just leave, right?
No, I couldn't get out of there! I felt like a Middle Eastern woman where the men can have all these lovers and be in relationships with all these people, but I couldn't, or I'd get my hands chopped off. I couldn't even quit! What other person in a job can say that? You might say, "Nobody wants to hear about it, Tori." You say, "Let her try to work 9 to 5 somewhere." But I couldn't do anything! I couldn't work, I couldn't get laid. I couldn't even do it with the pool guy, or they would've sued my ass up the river! So do you see what I mean?
Then you got pregnant, right?
Yes, I got pregnant. I miscarried three times, I was pregnant when I was on the road with Alanis, and it didn't work. I was so hoping that pregnancy would work, and thought that it might. You know, after miscarrying, I did that ridiculous blackmail thing that you do where if you tour radio stations, they'll play your single. I mean, talk about putting your tongue up someone's colon! There's not enough floss in the world to clean my mouth up after that one! And doing all this kind of felt like me being held hostage. At a certain point why can't we just agree to disagree and end the relationship?
You were trapped.
Yes, there is a way of being trapped in a free Western society. I was trapped by this capitalist greed control authority, so the only thing I could do was go to the ancestors. And I went to my mother, and I went to other people that are part of that belief system, and that's where I am today. Polly Anthony, president of Epic, came to visit me while I was pregnant, and she wanted to take me with her.
Tell me about your leadership qualities. As a producer, you're captain of the ship. Did you discover anything about yourself as a leader or manager?
Yeah, I think that it's very difficult being the artist and the producer, 'cause you have to change hats. The artist sometimes just can't head certain conversations, but these conversations have to take place. It has taken me quite a few years to learn to be a good captain. When I'm not captain, then I'm the ship. And that's what the artist is, the artist is the ship - and you just hope she's not the Titanic! And you also hope that the captain can hear you say, "We're running into an iceberg!"
You talk about politics and other subject matter on the record, but you haven't really talked about your motherhood as a muse. Could you comment on that for us?
I don't know if I could've made this record without being a mother, just because there is an aspect of communication... Scarlet goes first to a troubled friend, a porn star named Amber Waves. Whether that's America or a woman, or both. And I think that there is a maternal compassion that she has, this confused character, and she doesn't know how she feels about it. And she knows she can't find the answers without a mother figure around.
Your reference to "gold dust" in the song of the same name has to do with how precious life is. Is that gold dust passing through your hands? The hands of your parents? The hands of the country?
Natashya is at that age where so many people were telling me to enjoy it, savor it, hold it. Everyone tells me that - all the mothers in the play group. Right now she loves crawling up on Mommy and Daddy's laps, and there are so many cuddles and kisses, and there isn't any embarrassment; it's still okay to be lovey-dovey. In some ways I still can't believe I'm a mom. But it has really become a major part of who I am.
My Tori Story
A Serious Fan's Account of Her Brush with Greatness
by Dianne Spoto Shattuck
You know you're a serious Tori fan when you measure your life's events by the corresponding album Tori put out that year. For example, meeting my husband - Little Earthquakes. The year I lived in that horrid apartment in Boston - Under the Pink. Getting my Master's degree - Boys for Pele. You get the idea. It's an Ears with Feet habit. ("Ears with Feet" is the affectionate nickname Tori gave to her fans a few years back.) As I write this, Scarlet's Walk has yet to be released, but I know that every time I hear the album, it will forever take me back to this unforgettable week in my life, and the time I spent with Tori. You see, I consider myself a pro when it comes to nerve control. I've interviewed a bunch of stars and performed on many a stage myself. But nothing could have prepared me for meeting my favorite living artist. It was a strange situation to be in. I'd spent hundreds of hours of my life soaking Tori's music through my every pore. Each song, each poetic longing, inflection of hurt, sung sorrow, rage, and hope of a new day had flown out of my stereo speakers and resonated deep within my soul. Suffice it to say, it felt as though we'd been the best of girlfriends for years and years, sharing secrets with each other through her music. I had to face it: No matter how hard I'd try to play the cool and detached journalist role, I knew in my heart it would totally suck out loud if we met and didn't hit it off.
The day Tori cane into the office to do the photo shoot for the WWR cover pretty much blew all my worries out of the water. When a monstrous black SUV pulled up to the curb, I saw a tiny, turquoise-thonged foot emerge from a rear door, and step tentatively onto the curb. A positively radiant (and also tiny) Tori followed. Her entourage - a small army consisting of a stylist, personal assistant, hair and makeup artists, and publicist - surrounded her, creating instant chaos. As Tori was occupied in conversation with an assistant, she caught my eye, smiled gleefully, and flashed me one of her famous two-eyed winks. When we were finally introduced, she hugged me and we entered the building together, immediately bonding in a chick-chat over which New York stores have the best platform Mary Janes. Yep, everything was gonna be just fine!
It was fascinating to watch Tori at the photo shoot, to witness her working behind the scenes. The atmosphere was filled with a frenzy of flying makeup brushes and people running about, but Tori led the scnen with quiet command and gentle strength. When she spoke out, it was soft and slow, and everybody listened. When she stated her needs gently (but firmly), it was clear who was holding the reins in the room. This is a woman who's been in the business for a while and knows exactly what she wants. But it's easy to respect Tori, because she gives so much respect to the people around her. She remembered every person she met that day, and called each by name more than once. Even though she was running behind schedule, she insisted on letting all her fans have their picture taken with her. When she's talking with you, she has the magical ability to make you feel as if you and she are the only two people in the room.
Today Bob Gulla and I went to interview Tori at a chic hotel in midtown. We were escorted to Tori's suite, and I discovered a woman quite transformed from the radiant and responsive star I'd met just the day before. Today, Tori seemed emotionally detached and physically drained. Throughout the course of the interview, she made much less eye contact with me and smiled much less than the previous day. I felt quite bewildered. Then suddenly it hit me: This woman has been put through the wringer the past 24 hours! Since our last meeting, Tori has conducted 11 interviews, been to two photo shoots, and various meetings with Epic record executives. She's worked her ass off around the clock, away from home, away from her beloved little girl and husband, all with a serious case of U.K. jet lag.
She did, however, handle the interview like the consummate pro she is, answering all questions with her trademark metaphorical and lyrical way of speaking. It was fascinating to share a sofa with her for an hour, just listening to her speak. But I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. It can't be easy to be a rock star. For all the adulation, money, glamour, and artistic fulfillment, the lifestyle presents a relentless schedule, and with fame comes intense isolation. I witnessed its trying effects firsthand. But I also witnessed the brilliance, the profound sensitivity, and the shaman-like insights taht brought Tori to this place in her life and career. Speaking with candid and mellifluous language, Tori gave me a glimpse into her world. I love the rain, I love the sunshine - it's all a part of the beautiful sky that is Tori Amos.
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the World of Tori Amos