home / interviews
San Jose Mercury News (US)
Friday, April 22, 2005
Tori Amos takes business, art, life seriously
by Marian Liu
Over the phone, Tori Amos sounds as intense as she does in her music.
The 41-year-old singer-songwriter, whose work is known for its sexual candor and punch, brings her Original Sinsuality Tour to San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday, which is sold out. While on the road from Dallas to Denver, she talks passionately with a reporter about her work, her philosophy and the music business.
Your lyrics read like poems. What inspires you to create?
I think there has to be a paradox at work in a creative work. I've studied the Earth a lot. I've watched how she creates. It's a paradox of death and birth experienced at the same time, if you think about our great mother. My Eastern Cherokee grandfather tried to teach me, when I would listen, that if we studied our true spiritual mother, we would know how to hold the extremes in our hands. As a creative force, you have to be able to conjure up the fierceness as well as the calm, always in the same instant. Now, that is about making yourself a container. You have to open yourself to the creative force.
Critics have noted that your latest work seems to focus on characters -- the voice of the murdered wife on your cover of Eminem's "Bonnie and Clyde '97" or Mother Earth on your latest album, The Beekeeper, while your earlier lyrics seemed more self-focused. Why did you decide to look outside yourself?
How do you know that I haven't gone inside? Do you know me? Do you know my life? . . . Maybe I am more clever than . . . you, and I am able to disguise my own personal life. So you can't start pointing at who these people are and stripping them of their dignity. . . . Nobody knows what any of my records are about.
Your early songs hinted you were quite sensual. Has having a daughter, who is now 4 1/2 years old, changed that?
I think being a mom was the piece that put it all together, because I felt for the first time a complete woman, inasmuch as my body, out of a very sensual, sexy act, was able to create this purity.
How do you balance being a mother and wife with being a creative artist and sustaining a career?
It's tricky. . . . I think you find a balance, especially when you make decisions that affect another person's life, and you're able to see that and see how it plays out. When you have a child on the road with you, as a baby or toddler their needs are very different than, say, now at 4 1/2, where there is a need for education and a need for communication. Unless I listen to her point of view, I don't think I'm being a good parent. I don't think that you can just drag a kid halfway across the globe without her having any say in it. And there are a lot of things she doesn't have a say in. We are doing a show in Denver, unless I'm incapacitated, even if she wants to play Candy Land all night. Mom has to go to work, too.
What if your daughter decides to follow in your footsteps?
I hope that she would understand that just loving to sing is only half of what the entertainment industry is like. Music is only a part of the music business. . . . I would want her to be aware of what she's choosing to take on board. I know a lot musicians who have opted out, great musicians who have opted out of the music business because it's a different chess game that you must play. Some people enjoy it. Some people who aren't very talented as musicians do very well at the game of the music business.
Your book Piece by Piece made the New York Times bestseller list. Why did you decide to do a book?
You have to realize that they don't need me to write a book about me. . . . As long as it's not libel, they can put in facts or quotes or opinions or criticisms of me. . . . So I knew they were coming up with a book, and I decided to go to a great journalist I've known for years, who can be very tough but is smart and fair. So Ann Powers and I decided to give people, like, an access pass behind the scenes of creativity and the music business.
You have been in the music business for more than a decade. What are your thoughts on the industry's taking such a hit from music downloading?
I've been downloaded over 9 million times. . . . The point is to take the music if you need to take it, but at a certain point, if you don't give something back somewhere along the line, all you are is a taker. Can you imagine if I go to a wine tasting, and I taste the wine, and I like it, and then I just take a bottle and put it in my bag? Then who am I, really? I think that is the core of the issue. It's not about downloading music. This is about a value system of a generation, where you either value your artist, or you don't. It's very simple.
Where: Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $42.50 (sold out)
Call: (408) 998-8497, www.ticketmaster.com
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos