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WYEP, Pittsburgh (US, radio)
91.3 FM
March 16, 2003

Tori Amos interview and live performance

Recorded at Club Cafe.

Rosemary Walsh: ...special event happening here. We have a live audience to prove it (wild applause). Why are these people so excited? Well, about 10 years ago, I found the reason out. I found this record called "Little Earthquakes." And like a lot of you, I was shaken up by it -- it was a really amazing record. And that woman who made that record toured that summer, and I went to see that first show here in Pittsburgh and it was a packed room. And I thought, "Wow, a new artist, and look at this place, it's packed." And while this woman sang, absolutely not a sound in the room. When she stopped singing, the place went wild, and I thought, "This is an auspicious beginning." That was just the beginning -- it continues. So please welcome, Tori Amos! (Applause).

Tori Amos performs "A Sorta Fairytale" and "Upside Down".

Rosemary: 91.3 FM -- WYEP Pittsburgh, and we're broadcasting live here in Pittsburgh but also on the worldwide 'Net and before a live audience here at Club Caf. Very pleased and proud and thrilled to have Tori Amos doing this kind of an event for us here, so thank you very much.

Tori: Hi, Rosemary. Hi, everybody. (Applause).

Rosemary: It's a little different doing a show at, you know, 1:30, 2 in the afternoon.

Tori: Much different. Also because, you know it feels like a living room [laughter].

Rosemary: Well, you have a new record out, "Scarlet's Walk." You have a new record label, too. Now as you're heading into a new relationship with a record label, you can make a straight-ahead record, but you took on something that's very amazing. And you take on what is being called -- well, you've called it a "sonic novel." Whenever, you know ... most writers get a gift. And the story comes to them, and it's like, "Wow, here it is." But I think most novels come over time. They're pieced together, and things that you wanna say ... Where's the genesis of this particular release?

Tori: Maybe in some ways 15 years ago, when I was traveling a lot through the country, and you don't even know when you're in places that you're putting postcards in your brain, and freeze frames, and they stay there with you. When I was touring about a year and a half ago, 2001, at the end of September, it was clear to me what was happening with "Scarlet's Walk" -- I didn't know before that it was a sonic novel, and it just kind of grabbed me, took me by the hand. And some Native American people came to see me, and in no uncertain terms, said -- how they knew I was writing this, I don't know, 'cause my husband didn't even know I was writing this -- and so they would come up to me, more than one, and just say, "If you are going to talk about our true mother, then you must tell her story." And I didn't get freaked out or the heebie-jeebies -- I understood, I knew that I better do my research. So from that point on, I started to gather information of our land and the history of it, and just jump off a cliff with it.

Rosemary: Well, there are some reviews that have said, well, you know, that this is really a record about the events surrounding 9/11. And I don't hear it exactly that way. I mean, there have been some artists that have tried to tackle the emotions that went with that - I mean, we have Bruce Springsteen doing "The Rising" and trying to deal with emotional resurrection, and you have Steve Earle, who's really challenging people politically, you know, "What are you thinking, or are you just taking the party line, what do you really think?" Of course you have some of the nationalistic, jingoistic things that have come out. If you are in that category at all, I see it as something that's much more personal, that you kind of really have to dig down deep in there -- it's almost about, "Life goes on, but how does it go on?"

Tori: It seemed to me at a certain point that I was watching people on tour last year having a relationship with our country in a way, the soul of our country, that I've never seen. And I've toured the country for a long time. And it doesn't matter what side they were on politically; I found that people were waking up to, "She is alive. And is she being protected, and is she being steered in a course that has integrity for her soul. And I haven't seen this kind of questioning in my lifetime. And that's really the basis of Scarlet, my character's, questioning.

Rosemary: You've taken on this role of Scarlet, but it's not the first time that you've done that. You do take on these characters and sort of let them live in you. Do you take that to the stage as well? Whenever you're doing a certain song, does it put you in a different place in a different person?

Tori: Well, the songs are entities, meaning they're separate. I'm the librarian, you know? [laughter]. I'm very clear about that. And so they let me know that. It's not as if I can just hijack them and say, you know, they're all mine. I can kind of feel like they're saying everything I felt, but they're their own creatures. They're kind enough to let me have a polishing [laughter], so that's good. But you know, of course I don't do any of this behind closed doors (unintelligible). I only do characterizations on stage [laughter].

Rosemary: Now you were raised here in the states, you've said you've traveled the states, you've traveled the world, and you've been living outside of the country for a while. So, you know, when you're here in the country, and you haven't really been outside, there's a certain amount of information we get via the media, there's that information we know innately about what's going on, that we seek out. When you're outside the country, you can get a different experience, you can get a different perspective on how the world is viewing your country. Do you feel that?

Tori: Yes, very painfully, yes. I think because a lot of us that really love our country and feel that violence is not our first port of call, we do have some sort of a vocabulary hopefully somewhere in us that we can maybe converse instead of just kill. It's difficult when everybody looks at you outside as a bully and an aggressor and an attacker, and it makes you cry. And I think it's shaken a lot of us up to realize that we have to decide, you know, what is our country really and how do we want it represented? And every citizen matters now. And that's what I'm seeing as I've come back in, that people are realizing that by not acting, you're handing it over, and that's not okay anymore. (Applause).

Rosemary: On that note, I'm going to let you pick up a couple more tunes for us here. 91.3 WYEP, Tori Amos live at Club Caf.

Tori Amos performs "Pancake" and "Cooling".

Rosemary: 91.3 FM, WYEP Pittsburgh. I'm Rosemary Walsh. You know, I was not singing that last song, for those of you listening on the radio - that was Tori Amos. On a beautiful spring day where it's warm and sunny, after it's been a long, long winter, what would make people sit in a darkened room like this? Probably only Tori Amos. Do you ever get used to the people, the reaction that they have to your music, because you get very, very intense reactions to your music.

Tori: Well, like I said to you before, I mean, to be a musician, it's a privilege, and I was playing before I could remember doing anything else, and so you're kind of brought up in a tradition of musicians where, you know, you're there to play, and for people, and sometimes they don't want you to play, and so sometimes you just sit and eat your sandwich [laughter], and stay out of the way.

Rosemary: There were days whenever you probably played to crowded bars that nobody was listening.

Tori: Oh yeah. All the time [laughter].

Rosemary: But this was a long time ago, let's be honest about this. (

Tori: Yeah). I've been to your shows, and that hasn't been the case for a while. People are very silent when you perform.

Tori: I think it's good that I cut my teeth, for all those musicians out there that are playing Sunday brunches today, you know, I've done it, and, you know, people asking you for the 17th time, "Can you play 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina?" [laughter]. Which is fine. And they sit next to you, and they're singing in your ear, and they're having one of those little mint juleps, because, you know, the derby's coming and they're telling you what horse they're betting on, ay da da da da da ... (more laughter).

Rosemary: This is a song in the making (Tori laughs loudly). Well, you know, your lyrics, as fun as it is to sit down and read your lyrics because some of the time it seems fairly straightforward and other times I puzzle and I puzzle and I think, hmmm ...

Tori: Yeah, me too [laughter].

Rosemary: And I wonder, what was she saying? Well, the great thing, though, is your music, your lyrics are almost this open palette in a strange way, that whoever comes to it can paint their own color on it, and they do. People are very intense about that.

Tori: Honestly, Rosemary, visual artists are my main inspiration, and have been for a long, long time. Probably since around "Little Earthquakes," I kind of moved into just surrounding myself all the time -- I couldn't afford them then, so I would check them out of the library, but visual artists, anything I could get my hands on. And once I could, I'd just surround my piano with it. Like for this work, "Scarlet's Walk," I had a lot of photographers from the '30s and '40s, Central American, mainly, that were involved in their revolution, 20's and 30's, in Mexico ... Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and I would just study their work, and the light. And I think because of that sometimes I make a lot of references, lyrically, that's more symbolic than it is concrete, so they're my inspiration.

Rosemary: But it gives the listener a chance to really make what they want of it. But it there a point where, okay, you wrote this, you've done your part, and you perform, and then you put it out there, and you say, "Okay, it's yours now. This isn't mine anymore." Or do you feel still some domain over that?

Tori: Well, you have to release it. Years ago, I think that I didn't understand how to do that, and it'll make you wacky. If, you know, people'll come back to you and, you know, stop you in a restaurant, and you're just having a little bite with your girlfriend, and they come up to you and they point a finger and say, "That song is not about that, Tori, I'm telling you now, and this is what it is, and" ... boom [laughter]. And so I just think it's better to say, "Why, I think you've got a great idea" [laughter]. And sometimes they do. I must say, sometimes I go, "Wow, you know, I never of about that ... that's quite clever." And, you know, fair enough.

Rosemary: Makes you feel even more brilliant [laughter]. "I'm amazing! I didn't even know how brilliant I was!" Well, something else that sort of runs through your music, there's this dichotomy of sort of sexuality and spirituality, which on some level doesn't seem that it should be that different, but a lot of people -- spirituality becomes religion, and that's a very separate thing, so whenever I read your music, I hear adjectives like sensual, and sexual, and even orgasmic - that was one of my favorite ones [laughter]. And, you know, coming from this very religious background, you know, I think, "Wow, that's really interesting that people are getting this," and so, how do you feel about this? Do you think there's a contradiction in there?

Tori: Well, in the church I grew up in, the Methodist side of things, it was a little bit like a dry martini ... without the martini [laughter]. Yeah ... so you're always looking for ... you know, I wanted to go down to the gospel church because they were swinging, you know, something was going on down there. And their hips were moving, and you know, it wasn't as if there was this, almost like a circumcision of passion, and that's where the whole idea of the Marys marrying each other, you know, in your mind and your heart -- Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene - for Christian women, that's a real important paradigm to set up for yourself. Because if you're going to be a Christian woman, you want both those Marys in your life -- trust me [laughter].

Rosemary: We're going to just jump back to something that we talked about a little earlier, which was the characters that you've played. The last record that you did was something really different, and I thought it was a truly amazing record, where you took songs by other people, men, that they had written, the Strange Little Girls, songs that were about women, and you reinterpreted those -- and then you went into this record, and in some ways it seems like, wow, you know, what a strange bridge for the two records. Is there some sort of, something that works there that there's a real progression why those two records came after each other?

Tori: I think that, in hindsight, doing the all-male record where the men were the mothers, it was male seed, they're their babies -- it was how men say things and what a woman hears. And then I took on the character of the creature singing, the woman's voice, and whether it was the anima of the song itself or a character that I was tapping into, I think that crawling inside of these structures by these other songwriters upped my game a lot, and it kind of forced me to really study other work. It's almost as if they were architects and I got a hold of their blueprints, and I spent a lot of time with it. And so sometimes when you immerse yourself in how other people solve the same music problems or, you know, what their vocabulary is, it can make you re-approach your own work very differently. And I think that was kind of in my little toolbox without knowing it, 'cause I spent so much time on Strange Little Girls. I mean, I knew it was dangerous to do that album, and I knew it had to be airtight, and I had a research team of men -- and they weren't rats in a cage, although they referred to themselves as such [laughter]. But they agreed to be part of the research team, and I needed them. I could not do a male record without the male input.

Rosemary: Well, we're going to let you get back to a couple more tunes because I know the people out here, and listening on the radio ...

Tori: Wanna go outside and have a picnic! I know [laughter].

Rosemary: 91.3 WYEP, live with Tori Amos.

Tori Amos performs "Crucify".

Rosemary: We're going to do one more song, but before we do that, there's one thing that I want to wrap things up with, and there's probably nothing that can -- there's very few things in life that can affect you as profoundly as having a child, because you're becoming a parent. And that happened to you a couple of years ago, and now that that's happened, how does that impact how you approach music, how you approach the world, how you approach your future?

Tori: I approach 7 o'clock in the morning [laughter]. It's so much better. We were going to Pittsburgh this morning, and the sun was coming through, and she said, "Mommy, the sun's up!" And it's like yeah, this is 7. Seven o'clock is different than it used to be. Yeah, it's pretty great.

Rosemary: Well, the one great thing that I noticed whenever I'm with a child is there's a certain simple logic that children have that you can forget about, like the most basic things are the most important things and the most amazing things. And as you watch her, what do you learn about yourself now, and what do you learn about yourself as a child?

Tori: Well, I guess one thing is, she really does know more than I think she knows. I mean like the latest one the other day was, we were at Niagara Falls, it was blizzarding, of course -- it was just a few days ago -- and so she goes, "Oh, ice mermaids, Mommy, are down there." And I said, okay -- I mean, you know me, I can go there with you [laughter]. Let's be clear. And she said, "They're telling me a secret." I said "Okay, what's the secret?". "You need to go to Starbucks and get me the candy" [laughter].

Rosemary: On that note, Tori Amos.

Tori Amos performs "Strange".

[End of broadcast]


[transcribed by Christine Buurma]


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