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Tori Amos: Behind the Beekeeper (US, radio)
on Sirius Satellite Radio
March 10, 2005
Tori Amos interview and live performance
Intro: Welcome to Behind the Beekeeper, two hours with Tori Amos. A Sirius Satellite Radio exclusive presentation featuring live, in-studio performances and conversation with Tori Amos. Here's your host, Dave Mack.
[ . . . ]
Dave Mack: [ . . . ] Song by song, The Beekeeper. A beautiful record, a beautiful album. So, we start at the beginning, we start with the very first song, "Parasol."
[ Tori performs "Parasol" ]
Tori Amos: I was drawn to this woman in this painting, even though we're so different in so many ways as far as, now, if you're a woman in 2005, if you're in the West, then you don't have to be told who to marry and you can go work and you can have a child without being married, and all those kinds of things. But still, I was relating to her because she seemed to be able to weather the storm. And the character in "Parasol," our female character, who I, I sing from that point of view, is trapped, whether she's going through a divorce or what's happening to her, there is an end of a relationship. That's how the whole album starts. It starts with the end, the end of a relationship. And she knows that in order to survive this relationship, so that she's not completely erased, there are parts of herself that she's had to leave behind in order to stay in it. And she realizes that she has to confront it. So she looks to the Seated Woman with the Parasol, this Victorian woman, for clues on how to not be erased. So she looks to the painting, and the painting helps her to see that she has to shape-shift, she has to be able to walk in and out of paintings in such a way that he won't be able to reach out and control her anymore.
Dave Mack: [ . . . ] Beautiful melody in the chorus [ . . . ]
Tori Amos: I enjoy that melody a lot, and she wraps herself around me.
"Sweet the Sting"
It's a fascinating instrument, the Hammond B3. I think that it brings out all kinds of things in me as a player, something that maybe has been dormant for years, since I listened to those old records in the late '60s, early '70s. And, you know, the great Jimmy Smith is such a kind of, well it's a hard act to follow, and maybe I've always been intimidated to approach the Hammond. But Husband put a Hammond, put this organ in my piano room, year before last Christmas, which is pretty ballsy of him, if you think of it in those terms. And I didn't find it competitive, the piano didn't feel threatened. There was just this sort of -- we go back to the idea of a conversation happening -- a place where they could both exist, they could co-exist, without one stealing each other's fire. Wherein "Parasol," it just couldn't be like that. She was a possession for him, and he could not see her independent, he wanted to destroy her. If he couldn't control her and have her all to himself and decide what she would or wouldn't do, then nobody else would get to enjoy her. Whereas the piano really wanted to see the organ rise into its fullness. And the organ, I think, wanted the piano to join in and be able to get that left hand, that rhythm, going. So yeah, Innervisions by Stevie Wonder and those records, those groovin' records that I listened to as a little girl really kind of came back to me.
Interviewer: I noticed what you were doing with the organ, you let it hang, when you're in certain songs on this record, you let it just stay. It's like you don't want to let it go.
No, I don't want to let it go. And also that's part of, I think, a style that I'm developing with it where I'm playing with that Leslie pedal, kicking it in and out, and how I use that pedal is sort of dependent on, you know, the character change of the organ. So I've been really spending a lot of time with that. And "Sweet the Sting" just kind of came alive on the B3. It became a different creature.
"The Power of Orange Knickers"
[Addressing the external reality and internal reality.]
Well I think that right now that's just what's happening in a lot of our lives, we're having to face the reality that we are in a war and that war isn't "over there somewhere," it's in our lives. And even though some of us want to keep our heads down at certain times, you can't get away from it. You can't just close the door and make it all go away halfway across the world. It's in our homes. And yet, how that word has been used in the last little while -- or misused, we should say -- was something that I really wanted to explore. And the song itself kind of slipped right inside my hand and said, "Listen, you need to strip the word terrorist in order to emancipate this word." Because, you know, we can sometimes have a reaction and agree to something that our leaders want us to agree to because they tape into our greatest fears. So once you're able to unmask the terrorist in your own life, then you can't be so manipulated. That easily, anyway. So we're undressing the word "terrorist." And as I was, you know, just observing people, I began to see that when I would ask them what terrorizes them, I would look in their eyes and their eyes sometimes would, you know, they'd look away and come back and they'd say, you know, "My boyfriend coming home." Or, a guy said to me when I asked him, "I work for this woman that just wants to do me dirty, and I'm just not into her at all. But she has to make these comments in front of all these people because I'm not, you know, biting the bait." And I went, "Wow." And so I began to realize that people were having their own invasions
on a daily basis, but also we have this other invasion that's going on in the world. And this really fascinated me. And how the "orange knickers" plays into all that is sort of my own little personal kind of Tori-ism. But knickers being another word for underpants. And, I don't know, I just needed to do some power-dressing that day. [The orange knickers are a] Power symbol for me. Nobody knows when I'm power-dressing.
It's in Cornwall, England. I think the west country is really quite something, it's its own realm. When you get caught in a gale storm, if you're on the coast, it can be a little bit scary because you can't see in front of you and that's what happened to me about a year ago. And "Jamaica Inn," the song, just sort of waltzed into my Saab, she kind of sat down. I had pulled over at the side of the road. I was on a cliff and I couldn't see in front of me, much less a boat that was trying to come in. And the cliffs are really quite fierce. So, I had heard stories from the local Cornish that even vicars would get out with their lanterns in the old days and try and bring ships in. Now, the negative side of this, of course, is if you think that somebody's trying to help you and bring you in, but they really want you to run aground so they can steal all your stuff.
And this modern story was kind of told to me by the song herself, of a triangle relationship. And my character's idea of her relationship isn't quite what she thinks it is, and her man is having an affair. And this is kind of what happens.
I think the songs have always told me, "Listen, you can have your opinion, Tori, about what we're about, but that's only your opinion." Because they are a law unto themselves. I mean, I've always said this about all the songs: your interpretation, even back to Little Earthquakes, is as valid as mine. When I'm holding a space for them to come and I'm the co-creator with them, I'm working not as Tori the girl, I'm working on a lot of different levels. But when I listen to them, I see them in my own way. And it was sort of, that was the picture that I had. But I was caught in a gale storm and it was one of those -- sometimes I think you create fears in your mind, though, that don't exist. You know, you think that maybe he, whoever he is, is losing interest, and he might not be. But you keep creating this and sowing the seed and sowing the seed and sowing the seed 'til you put this wedge between the two of you.
"Sleeps with Butterflies"
"Barons of Suburbia"
I was just sitting at the piano one day and the original part of it was, "baby, I would let your darkness invade me, you could maybe turn this white light into navy, before you leave." And it just came through and went, like that, completely intact. But it's everything else that I had to chase down and, like a lioness, hunt. So I spent months and months hunting down these barons, these barons of suburbia.
[There's a chase going on in meter.] Oh, yeah.
Well, the composition is... the composition. I mean, just because we have to work longer on it as musicians, because of the time changes, and we might have thought we had it, you can't compromise the phrasing. And that's really, that's something that, over the years, you know, as a producer I think I've developed a lot. It's not easy being a good producer. Part of, I think, what makes a good producer -- now, this is just my opinion -- is being able to listen to people's opinions on your team, you know, all the musicians, to see where they think something is weak. If you don't choose to listen you're missing a great opportunity to -- you know, you never know when somebody has a good point. And if it makes it better, then you have to go after it. Drums, piano and bass was how we tracked it. And at a certain point, just in my headphones were drums and piano/vocal. Because, you know, Jon Evans -- really hard for the bass man. He not only has to keep up with those rhythmic changes, but the chord changes, you know. As Matt's always said (Matt, the rummer), he doesn't have to deal with tone. He doesn't have to get the notes right.
So, maybe because we played together on Scarlet's Walk, over 150 shows, there was an internal rhythm clock that we have together. I do not think that we could have tracked the song in 1999. I don't even know if we would have tracked it on Scarlet like we did. But because we played so long on that tour, there is an internal rhythm that we've developed with each other. And then of course, I put B3 on top, and Mac Aladdin then came and played guitars on top, who is awesome. He's an unbelievable guitar player, and he has a really hard job because he had to come in on top of everybody. It's like, "Okay, now you have to fit in." And I think he found that really challenging. He's a very shy soul, just spends hours with his guitars.
[What about the friends who are not on the other side of right?]
I think we all have them. I think we all have people in our lives that we don't think are hearing us. And whether it's the patriarchy or whether it's -- and that can be made up of women, you know, it can be just a different way of seeing things. We go back to control. Controlling information. And Tori is trying to break away from that in The Beekeeper. She's desperately trying to find her independence. But yet she also wants to join with the male force. She doesn't want to be at war with it as a whole. But sometimes, you know, you do have to fight for peace. And I think that in "Barons" -- "Barons of suburbia, take another piece of my good graces. I'm in my war, you're in yours, do we fight for peace as they take another piece of us." And that was really, once that line came to me, studying what's going on in the world. And, you know, what happens in our own personal relationships. The macrocosm and the microcosm is living together on this record. You can't shut the outside out from the inside.
General Joy is a busy guy, but he has a problem -- he is in love with Sorrow, but he is pledged to Happiness. And I think that until he listens to his heart, he can't really be there for anybody. So, the song fascinated me. Again, of course, the underlying references to war and soldiers and the guys that are out there fighting and sometimes are caught up in other people's agendas and not thought of as somebody's son or somebody's lover.
I was five years old in 1968 and I began to see the power of music during that war (Vietnam). I was really initiated, I think, into protest music at five years old. So, has it been imprinted? Yeah, in me, way back. I think there are different ways to have a revolution. You can have a Mother Revolution. Now, that might not look like the French Revolution, but the guillotine is not something that, right now, is going to serve anybody. What's going to serve people is inviting people into a garden where they will eat of the forbidden fruit, because then maybe they can really see what's going on. And that is a Mother Revolution.
I think it's the warrior mother that is able to confront those who use people's lives and blood in order to further their own agenda. And when it's okay to ask a mother to send her son or daughter in order to further their agenda when they're not willing to send their own. And that says a lot. I think that there is a guilt trip that gets put on mothers, you know. You see this picture of Uncle Sam and you see the finger pointing, "We want you." Well, there's a picture of Earth with a hand, you know, reaching out also, desperately reaching out, saying, "I need you." And it's a very different kind of thinking when you sit in a mother's skin and you say, "Hang on a minute. So, if I serve my country, then I have to be willing to let my own child maybe be destroyed." But why is it that you can't be serving your country and say, "No, I'm a mother first." And it's this emotional blackmail that the mother in me just decided to dissect and expose. And "Mother Revolution" is really about exposing those who are okay about spilling another mother's child, spilling their soul, and this is something that I believe in very deeply.
That is my daughter. This is a different mother energy. This is, you know, this is the mother that is able to giggle and enjoy their child. This is not the mother that has to fight for their child's life and existence. But a mother is made up of both. Sort of like looking at the ocean sometimes, it can be so calm in one moment and then in another moment it just can rise up from the depths. And I think mothers are like that. And "Ribbons Undone" is really for all those people who have just watched their child and felt the kind of love that they've never felt before.
"Cars and Guitars"
I've always liked a good driving song.
I don't know where to go with this without exposing too much here... There are a lot of things that can come in between him and me, but not necessarily these two things. And I like the idea that our female character wanted to speak his language, was willing to let herself be made into a car, and down-shifted, and gunned and all those things, and revved up. I thought it was really sexy. And I also love the idea that, you know, she would let him play her like a guitar. But there are some things that are just not okay. . . . But see, I know this well. I married this.
I love playing Bosendorfer pianos. I love these pianos because they're alive, they seem to have a soul. They're handmade. So I've always related to them since I've been little. I write a lot of the songs with her. She's where I compose.
I wanted there to be a character that I could go to and you could go to that wasn't going to try and, you know, get me to sign up for religion, or get me to sign up for a political party. You just want this force sometime to hold a space and to have knowledge, especially when you are walking a very dark road, and when somebody you love is ill or you've faced some kind of loss. My mother had been very ill and she survived a cardiac arrest. So The Beekeeper began to kind of walk with me through this, and the song itself kind of became very much core. And there's just an ancient tradition of beekeeping in Cornwall. The bee masters and the bee mistresses, they go back for hundreds and hundreds of years, and they've been able to survive the Inquisition, they've been able to survive all kinds of different belief systems. And it's really a tradition about mutual respect of the sexes and sacred sexuality, and healing -- working with the environment, not raping it, not having a violent relationship with the environment or the opposite sex. And that's really at its core. So my character goes to the beekeeper in order to try and have a conversation with Death.
[The organ as male, piano as female]
I'm going to be touring with the two starting early April. And it will be a challenge to bring this music back to where it started, and it started at the piano and the B3. All of it was composed at the two of them. I would sit in the middle and the piano would be on my left and the B3 Hammond on my right, and sometimes, you know, I would just be pulled in the direction of the B3, like in the case of "Sweet the Sting" where it was like, "No, the piano just wants to watch, she just wants to sit and bask in this experience."
Well, being a part of a tradition of musicians, you feel like you have an opportunity to make music that... well, music that I loved growing up. I want to make music that, hopefully, that'll influence people the way that certain music influenced me. And those records, we talk about those great late '60s records, they had such an impact on me. And I hope to have, I don't know, an impact on people, with them knowing that. I love these songs, they've changed my life. And I want people to be able to feel them in their own rooms without having to, you know, leave their house. They can close their door and put on their headphones and take a journey.
[I want to talk about your process. How do you do this?]
The most kind of magical experience I've ever had, music is. It gives me faith in the creative force as a source. I am convinced that this force is so complex and so knowing, and so available to all of us. It's not something that is stingy and it's not for, you know, "the elite." Now, I can't cook to save my soul. I can't do so many things. So I'm not creative in many, many ways. And that's where, I have friends that I hang out with that are great illustrators or great cooks and, you know, we all share our different talents with each other. There are things that I wish I could do that I can't. My creative medium is music and when the creative force comes, it is like nothing else. I have a discipline that I work with all the time. If I had to write a song in an hour and a half, two hours, about a subject, I can do it. That doesn't mean it will be special or magical. I can, you know, I know how to compose. However, [the creative force coming] is a very different thing. That is what, hopefully, ends up on the records. I write many, many, many songs, but what you hear on say, The Beekeeper, are those moments mixed with me chasing down and hunting sound frequency once the Muse comes to me.
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