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La Musik (Sweden)
December 2003 (issue #6)
* This article was written from the same interview that appeared in The Independent (UK) on November 21, 2003. The parts that were not included in The Independent were translated from Swedish to English by Krister.
Tori Amos summarizes with a collection
By James McNair
As you might expect, Tori Amos is sorted for real estate. She owns a Georgian pad in County Cork, and a beach house near Miami. Today, though, we are at her restored 19th-century cottage near Bude, in north Cornwall, The cottage overlooks Amos's studio complex, Martian engineering where Amos and her husband Mark Hawley, who is also a sound technician, recently laid their last hands on her new best of-record Tales Of A Librarian (Warner Music). Today however It's Halloween and Amos are preparing a party for her daughter Natashya "and some grown-ups". The dining room is filled with inflatable skeletons, toy brooms and hand carved pumpkins. Amos says that everyone must dress up for the "trick or treat" chase that will happen later.
ALTHOUGH the contract made it possible for Warner Music to demand a collection record a year earlier than what Amos had hoped for, Amos and Hawley have worked hard to ensure that Tales Of A Librarian has real life and spark. Featuring two new songs, and reworkings of the rare B-sides "Mary" and "Sweet Dreams," the collection also finds Amos revisiting classic tracks from her career. These new versions of familiar gems emphasise different aspects of the original mixes, restoring "lost" backing vocals and instrumental overdubs. She calls the record an audio-autobiography. After a splendid lunch prepared by the lodging chef Duncan -- as a starter: soup made of onions from the Amos family garden -- we retreat to a snug, downstairs room for the interview. Tori, who sits in an armchair by the window, has her red hair put up in a ponytail hanging down her left shoulder.
Her remarkable blue eyes reflect the last remaining daylight, as I start the recording.
When you revisited the old songs on Tales Of A Librarian you encountered various younger versions of your self. Did the vocals take you back to the experiences that inspired the songs?
Yes, and in most cases I really enjoyed revisiting them. "Me And A Gun" (a song on Little Earthquakes documenting Amos' emotions after she's been raped) was the only song I wanted Mark to deal with on his own, after we'd checked that the multi-track recording was still in good shape. I was listening to the mix and approved it in my capacity as producer. Later at the mastering stage, I lit a candle as I always do, and I heard the voice from the girl that was singing and she touched my heart. But when I knew it was finished, and I'd come to peace with it I said: OK I'm leaving now. Iworked very hard to be honest with my self in that song and distance my self from it so that I'm not a victim.
While on the other hand I enjoyed listening to "Crucify" again and liked to be in company with the girl who sang it, enjoying her piss and vinegar when she took on the patriarchy.
Have you become less angry than when you wrote "Crucify"?
My approach now is very different to how it was then - If you're angry at 40, it's not attractive. But being angry and writing a song like "Crucify" when you're 26 -- well there's something sort of delicious about that. What is delicious at 40 is to be able to penetrate the patriarchy without the use of violence. You can do it subtler but still with the same power.
I've always seen "Winter" as a song about the relation to your father, his awareness of you growing up and how the lost innocence that this brings are going to change the dynamic between you. Was I projecting?
No, not at all. But when I wrote it there where moments when I saw my father, and his father my grandfather. As a child I used to go for walks with them both. However the song as a whole goes beyond my personal experience. In that sense they live their own lives. They are not out of flesh but they have a kind of consciousness. I tend to look at them as architecture: I'm able to move within them as I move through a building. And when I leave it, that doesn't mean that they cease to exist. As for "Winter," for example, I once got a letter that said, "Tori, I've lost two brothers during the last month. One was 16 the other was 17". I remember how the surviving family members came backstage on one of my shows. They told me that "Winter" was played at both of the boys' funerals. The sister wrote the original letter to me, but it was the father who wanted that song at their funerals. (Amos silence apparently touched). For him the line in the last chorus was about his sons leaving for the next world before him: "all the white horses have gone ahead". So "Winter" knocked me on my shoulder and said: "let me go, let people project what they want on me". That's what I've learned from the songs, and on this collection I've tried to choose material that cover different feelings.
If we should lighten up a bit: if you really would be a librarian as the album title says, and someone picked up books, which ones would they have to choose to make an impression on you?
Wow! that one was difficult. I always wish I could recommend more books. I mean, there are people who always give away the best books as presents, and you always invite them to parties, right? But lets see... it would have to be a mixture. Perhaps James Hollis for some Jungian psychology. He's the kind that gives you an insight about how the inner parts of the brain work, and I've been getting out a great deal of things from his stuff. He's great in explaining for us what happens when we say, "some one else did it", not me. His books are like "who did it?" detective stories within your own psyche (giggle). I also love Art-books. I have some really funny things from American thirties-ads, where the wife's flog their husbands, that kind of stuff. But I'm not to found of novels. I like history books that in detail tell about how people experienced the time that they lived in. It's probably because my whole life with songs has been about chronicling time, I would write a piece of music so that, six months later, when everybody had forgotten about, say, orglossing over that embarrassing incident at church I could remember what actually happened. When everyone around you assert that your opinion in a matter is wrong, and you think you're going to lose your mind. That thought are also in the lyrics for Cornflake Girl. "This is not really happening / you bet your LIFE it is".
The two new songs on the album Angels and Snow Cherries From France can you crack the lyrics for Angels to me?
(giggle) I'll try the line about the man that better watch his back could be about anyone in America who think they won't be involved (by the current political administration). I guess you could say that the Angels represent the missing votes during the last presidential election. People still found it difficult to understand that they were unable to undo the result. It's getting better by the day, but it's been a tough two years. I think about the war in Iraq, too, and the depressing fact that we're still in it, people warned us for this situation, but if you try and speak out in America, people say you're not supporting the country, but it's the administration you're not supporting. It's funny, because Christians talk about people being possessed, but they're attempting to possess the voice of the land. So 'Angels' is partly about the 'lost' votes, and partly about a mass of people who could not see that they had the strength to stand up to everything that followed. And what is an Angel? according to my opinion it's someone who are able to stand above something.
Have you heard Rickie Lee Jones new record? It's a song on it called Ugly Man supposedly about Bush.
I'd probably been able to figure that out from the title (giggle). No I haven't heard it but it sounds like a good one.
Snow Cherries From France is that about your husband, Mark?
Hmm yes it's about love. I usually don't tell what my lyrics are about. But it's one of those songs where the woman knows that the man will leave, but she chooses to be with him anyway.
Are you saying that the man are going abroad but will return one day?
Maybe he will return but he's a restless soul and she knows what she's getting in to. He really doesn't promise her anything, except for Snow Cherries From France. But she's offering him her hand, that's what SHE promise.
Your daughter Natashya is three years old now has she started to realize what kind of work her mum have?
I don't know, but she was on tour with us, so she was backstage on about 150 shows. Sometimes she liked it, sometimes not. A striking example was when some Indian women from Arizona came to visit us, and with them they had broughtsome of the fine tobacco that their grandfathers and grandmothers harvest. It contains no nicotine and they grow it according to their spiritual belief. So they where in my dressing room and people came in to smoke with them. And it's not a drug-related issue I want to make that clear, anyway a female smoked for two hours. She blow out the smoke around us, talked her language and then gave every person a blessing in English. It was pretty touching actually. This is not something this woman does on her spare time, this is her life. Natashya saw all this and she wanted to be blessed too. I said (apologetic but firm) "Tash darling that's smoke you can't do that. She said (cautiously) "I understand that mum but it will be fine". She clapped me on my arm, approached the woman, who treated her like she treated all of us. Tash stood there, didn't cough and received her blessing. What the woman said to her? I don't know. Everybody watched, so she said it on Navaho language. I think it was a very personal thing between her and Tash. There is a side of me that protects Tash from certain things, and there is also a side that expose her for some things. I mean, sometimes a tour isn't particularly child-friendly. Sometimes I know what's going on in a tour bus and she's NOT going there. When dealing with the sexuality there is, as you know a side of me that seeks it up on stage, but backstage when Natashya is around there is nothing of that present within me.
And Natashya takes piano lessons from your alter ego I've heard?
(giggle). Yes I'm also Ms Paris. The only way I could get Tash into taking piano lessons was if I pretended to be someone else. I've checked the Suzuki-method, but to be honest I'm not really comfortable in that teacher role. But the period when Tash is between three and seven years old is when her senses are most open, so I didn't want to let her wait. I played when I was two and a half but Tash doesn't play quite like that yet. She has however already started to communicate through song. She sings a lot for me, inventing stuff. But whether she become an instrumentalist or not I think it's good for her to get in touch whit it. It's like learning a new language.
Have you any ambitions left to fulfill?
I would like to write a musical. But it has to be a good musical. I haven't started yet. Do I have an idea? Yes, sort of. Tash are attracted to musicals, so I've started to notice the form. It's a whole different kind of song writing than what I do and with a different purpose, but right now the thought appeals to me.
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