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New University (US)
a publication of UC Irvine
February 28, 2003
Singer Tori Amos Finds Solace in Her 'Sorta Fairytale Life'
Unveil the mysteries behind Tori Amos' long-lived, whirlwind music career
by Cynthia Louie and Taraneh Arhamsadr
Outside the Universal Amphitheatre in Hollywood, fearless and politically-charged singer Tori Amos calmly sat down in a backstage dressing room. Her free-flowing, untamed curly red hair and inquisitive blue-green eyes seemed to burn a hole in the wall. Commanding the room's attention and bringing all other ambient conversations to a quick silence, Amos' aura and presence was unmistakable.
The woman that has been described as a religion unto herself, a first-hand rape survivalist and not to mention a classically-trained pianist with seven albums under her belt, started fielding questions in a calm and intelligent manner that would give Gandhi a run for his money. After the release of her current album "Scarlet's Walk," a collection of politically-infused and introspective choral ballads, Amos has been able to reflect fondly back on her long music career.
New University: During your career, do you think you have written more songs as a political response or more songs based on your personal experiences?
Tori Amos: In the earlier years, it was much more about a diary, or about myself. I had not traveled that much yet, so I would like to think I had seen the world but I had not. I wanted to. At first, it was writing about what I knew, but what is funny is that I did not know much. There was a period of being 26, where the kind of woman that I had become and the kind of woman I wanted to be, were two different things, and I did not even know it. It's a little dangerous when you can do more than one thing. You are lucky because that is your niche. It is about finding out how you can wake up with yourself.
New U.: When does it become a political message?
Amos: Until you know in here [pointing to her heart] what kind of woman or man you want to be, you shouldn't count on anybody anymore because they'll desert you when you need them. Once you make some type of commitment, what kind of mom, what kind of wife, what kind of friend, what kind of religion, what kind of citizen, you are [you will be a better person.] Sometimes you will find that you have to mother your mother, or father your mother, and that might be the true values in our country. It means you choose as a generation to rise up and ask the question. If you step outside of the country, it is different. You can choose to pick up the torch or not.
New U.: What motivated you to become a spokesperson for rape victims?
Amos: The details are back in the annals between my mom and I. Right now, I hold a place for people who have survived incest, rape and sexual assault. When I was going through my hard time, I wished I could have called without judgment, and talked about it, but I didn't, because I just couldn't go through anymore. I didn't know where to turn, so I turned to the music.
I began to realize how many people have no place to call or no one to talk to. I don't mean just a friend, I mean real advice. A group of us became a team with Arthur, my manager. We created a braintrust, and we called it RAINN [The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.] We worked on networking, and now we have about a thousand crisis centers. Recently, we've had our half-millionth call.
New U.: How do you maintain your creative integrity within the music business?
Amos: Sometimes an artist's work is not just about the record sales. When you get in a situation where business people can only see the dollar or the account, then that might not be a good place to be because at that point I think they have lost the poetry and the mystery of what an artist can represent to people.
New U.: What was the concept of your recent and very unconventional music video for your hit single "A Sorta Fairytale?"
Amos: Sanji [the music video's director] had the idea that sometimes you are just in love with the good things. Why does everybody have to be Cinderella anyway? They can fall in love, but be hiding things from each other. The fact is that fairytales come from the concepts that we read, the whole knight in shining armor bit. A lot of us cannot see ourselves being in the fairytale, us the way we are, not with a different nose, different ears and a different boyfriend. At a certain point, you think, 'wait a minute. I have a fairytale.' It's not like the book, but what does that book know anyway? I think we break out of the fantasy of who the leading lady is, and who the leading man is.
New U.: How do you see music as the dominant force in your life? What would you see yourself doing if you were not in music?
Amos: It's tough. As a songwriter, you'd like to think, you know when to walk away. We all go through different stages as writers. Some are more tangible, and sometimes you seem to align where the culture is at the time. You can really click with the masses. But, I don't know that if you're a musician, you ever stop being one. You might not choose to put things out all the time for people, but I think the artist's way is it's part of your life. If you are a musician, you integrate it into your life. If you are a painter, that's how you see the world.
New U.: What comes after music? What would you do before and after music?
Amos: I don't know if I'll always put out records, but I think that you don't stop being a musician inside. If you are a writer, you do not stop dreaming about life as if it were a book. Sometimes musicians and artists look at it as their job. We are part of the tradition. There is a tradition of musicians or painters. We have an apprenticeship. We keep our toolbox going. Some of us become teachers and we pass on what we know.
New U.: Can you tell us a little about being a multi-instrumentalist?
Amos: I can only play the keyboards and the kazoo. Once you see how the instrument works you understand the different kind of styles and approaches. It's easier. I think you have to know when you are out of your league with it and when it is something you can play. You have to give yourself a chance with it. I never really played for anyone, but once I got the confidence, then I started to integrate it into my act. You have to set aside time to develop.
New U.: What advice do you have for someone who is just starting out and pursuing a major label?
Amos: There are two sides to the music business. You can be a really good musician and still be crappy at business decisions. To me, it is about, how do I protect the songwriter that I call Tori? How do I make sure that we're ok with the decisions that get made about her? In the beginning, I was a little naive, thinking that I had a lot of energy, but I didn't have a lot of understanding. How you get power is that you keep having wins and so I made albums, and some do better for the business people.
New U.: What newer artists or bands are you listening to today?
Amos: Flaming Lips. If we get into that, who you invited to the table, I would have been on the other side of the table. I did a cover song for a woman and she mentioned everyone, but me. I've just decided, I had to let it go. It might not have been personal, but it hurt my feelings. It's one of those things, that if you mention and you don't mention others, in my position, it can be hurtful and I really don't want to do that.
New U.: What are you feelings about online music and music sharing?
Amos: If you give back to the artist in some way, then you are not taking. At the end of the day, we go back to the word "value." Look at it this way. We are at a wine tasting. I really like the '97, but I don't put the bottle in my purse because I want them to continue to make it, and pay their workers who pick the grapes. It puts socks on the kids' feet, and not from Nike. Until we get into the barter system, where I come and sing you a song and you come and make me spaghetti, this is not how we show value.
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