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It's been over a decade since she first rocked our world with Little Earthquakes. On the eve of her first career retrospective, Nick Taylor finds out just how Tori Amos stopped being a Professional Widow (and the answer involves the Prince of Darkness).
Tori Amos; wild and willowy siren, dowager fairy and crack commando piano player, has just turned forty. The unclassifiable chanteuse who took her place on the stage of female singer-songwriters with Little Earthquakes back in 1992, and who let a stripped-down club remix of Professional Widow storm the top of the charts four years later, has paused to tell the story of her work. She might have sold over fifteen million records and grown into a "world wide cult", but she's the only tour guide to the strange little world that is Tori-ville. So strap on your leather and the last on to Pandora's Aquarium's a grapefruit.
Tori love, your latest album's called Tales of a Librarian and congratulations! It's your greatest hits album...
...it's not a greatest hits album because you actually have to have some hits to have one of those!
What is it then?
It's more of a sonic autobiography; a collection of songs that are closer to telling the story of this woman's life.
Starting with Little Earthquakes?
It start with Jackie's Strength, about the shooting of JFK, I was born three months to the day before that happened, and ends with Angels, one of the two new tracks, which is about the modern American political administration and how people get manipulated without seeing they're being manipulated.
Is this 'The Whole Tori'?
Little Earthquakes was the beginning of a girl who found her voice. Since this is her autobiography there are certain songs which tell a story. So Me and a Gun is there, Silent All These Years is there, professional widow, spark, playboy mommy, and Northern Lad, for the love of her life who changed her in such a huge way. No songs have been touched as far as adding voices or instruments, but they have been reworked. The whole album's how this woman, sees the world and how the world changes around her.
How has pop stardom changed for you over this period?
When you're a new drink that nobody's tasted, everybody wants to taste it, devour it, and one they've had it they want tot taste something else. Then you think 'I'm I getting older, how am I going to age?' some wine does not age well, but some wine ages very well, which goes back to the vines, how it was harvested, the weather, how it's stored. (Pause) You have, at a certain point, to become Krug.... or not.
What about personal changes?
When I look at this creature called Tori Amos, I see her as a torch being passed from Victims Anonymous to Questions Are Us. It's important that the baton is passed because there's always a generation of victims. While you're working through all that, you need to decide if you want to stay there or if you say 'this has served me and I can graduate from this.'
Did that turning point come with Professional Widow? Were you writing about your own personal pain-industry in that song, and when the dance mix was produced, actually laughing at it and letting it go?
Professional Widow had to be told, because of where I was. When you're singing as a victim and working through that, you know every strand of the spider's web; you know it intimately and maybe you become a widow yourself, whether it's a black widow... or even a professional widow, you can become a professional victim. If you're in a place of ravagement and defecation and you have to crawl through a tunnel to get out. And if your fairy godmother comes then, tell her to 'fuck off'; the best thing she can do is give you some Atkins bars, so you can get out looking good... I mean It tastes alright and it's full of vitamins and minerals... What I mean is you have to get out yourself, you have to choose not to want to keep pulling people into your life that defecate on you, emotionally, whatever and some of us are drawn to such people thinking they're the Prince of Darkness... but once I realised that Lucifer wore a white suit, drove an ice cream van and was a woman, I was freed!
Is your popularity with a certain kind of woman and a certain kind of gay man, because they understand at least half of what your trying to get out?
That's funny, I think there is a link. Yes. (Median pause) I don't think straight men can discuss a lot of this stuff. I know a lot of straight men who don't feel valued in their work or their relationships or by their straight male friends. Gay men can chuckle at this, but straight men don't have a place where they can talk about emotional vampires.
You've bought your gay chef, Duncan, with you. What's your favourite comfort food?
Southern Fried Chicken.
Are you always at ease with gay men?
I've always been comfortable, since playing those bars in George Town where there were a lot of gay men. They tried to teach me a sense of style; asked me what kind of woman I wanted to be.
And what kind is that?
A lioness. I'm a carnivore. A nice carnivore. A fuzzy carnivore. I'm not this dominatrix type. I'm a hunter and if somebody is coming after my cubs I have no problem baring my fans and ripping their throats out. Not a problem.
Are you on the defensive at the moment?
I am with America. When 9/11 happened, the Native Americans came to me and said, 'we need to get back to the idea of people seeing their land as their spiritual mothers.' People have to rekindle the idea of being caretakers, not just takers. 9/11 opened up a memory in people that they couldn't place - a memory of another invasion that didn't happen in a day, four hundred years ago, with the European forefathers... There were agreement made with the Europeans that were broken. And Europe can't hold their part in this story.
Is that what inspired you last album, Scarlet's Walk?
I'm a storyteller. What happens in a time of crisis is that people regroup and tell stories to understand what's going on. The Native Americans said that what was needed was a chronicling of the time. It's a very important time; there are a lot of shadows. It's like when you try and extract a piece of yourself from a relationship when you don't like what you've become. You've started doing things you said you would never do. You find yourself looking on his computer, checking things cos you don't know the names and you think 'what am I doing? What has this brought me to?' Then I saw that's what the Native Americans were planning to do on a mass level. We have to take the land back from ourselves.
As a part-time English resident, mother and lioness, you have a lot in common with Madonna. What do you think of her?
(Pause the length of a fault line.) I don't know her. I'd need to be face in face with her to know. I don't believe what's written about her because that's just projection. When I see a person in front of me I try and do what my Eastern Cherokee Grandfather did, listen to what they're not saying. Then you go from there... or you don't.
Do you think you'd be able to chat like girl friends?
We're both lionesses, but some lionesses work in the pride with other lionesses and some don't, some are willing to be fucked by a lion and there are some who go hunt. Then there are some who do both but I've always said it depends on the lion.
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