home / interviews
The Age (Australia)
Melbourne, Australia, newspaper
May 8, 2005
The whole Tori
by Guy Blackman
photo by Jennifer Soo
Tori Amos, the baffling flower child of the '90s, still doesn't make much sense, but she's much more centred by her quiet life in Cornwall with her husband and child. She talks to Guy Blackman on the eve of her first tour in 10 years.
In a 300-year-old farmhouse just outside the bucolic township of Bude, in the English county of Cornwall, Tori Amos is sleepily starting her day. The mailman drops by and she greets him by name, chatting cheerfully for a minute or two before returning to the phone. "We're out in the middle of nowhere, and the office staff haven't come in yet," she says. "It's about ten after eight, and my husband's taking Natashya to school, so as you can imagine, I'm sort of here manning the fort."
Amos speaks slowly but with assurance, in a gentle, breathy whisper. She has just released The Beekeeper, her eighth solo album, and is about to embark on Original Sinsuality, her latest world tour (which brings her to Melbourne this week), but Amos is calm in a way that suggests more than just early morning languor. It's the serenity of a woman who has found peace in a small coastal hamlet far from home.
Amos, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, married her British-born live sound engineer Mark Hawley in 1997. "When he proposed to me, he said 'I'm definitely not marrying you for a Green Card. I can't live in that place', so I've had to be the one who relocated," Amos has said. At that time she was at the height of her fame, her first three solo albums all million-selling global successes, her confessional, mystic, and sometimes lyrically impenetrable music lapped up by devoted fans - but Amos was happy to settle into rural north Cornwall obscurity.
Apparently Bude gives Amos a perspective she finds inspiring. "Being here as an American, I'm going to hear and see where I am geographically, and the traditions here, differently than if I were a native," she says. "All the songs on The Beekeeper were written here in North Cornwall, looking over the Atlantic, seeing Europe's role and their traditions from my own perspective."
Bude is also a good place to raise a child, and to work on her own personal development - two things that Amos sees as going hand in hand. Amos was pregnant when she and Hawley bought the farmhouse in early 1997, but she had a miscarriage three months into her term. Two more pregnancies ended similarly before Natashya Lorien Hawley was born in September 2000.
This long hoped-for motherhood represents a kind of psychic resolution for Amos. She believes it helped her to integrate the previously warring sides of her nature. "Something happened when Tash was conceived," she says. "As my body grew and grew and expanded, there was a liberation of all the projections of what a woman should be. After I had her, I began to pull all these pieces together, and I began to value them."
Amos admits that the side of her nature most difficult for her accept has always been the sexual. The piano-playing daughter of a strict Methodist minister, she was raised in a quasi-Victorian environment, her paternal grandmother drumming into her at an early age that only evil women gave away their virginity before marriage. Jesus was a real, living presence in her life until she left home at the age of 21. "That can be a bit of a disadvantage," she told Hot Press magazine in 1992. "It's weird when you're giving a guy head at 15 and you're thinking 'Jesus is looking at me'."
A traumatic experience in early 1985 also caused long-lasting psychic damage. After performing in an LA bar, Amos gave a lift home to a patron, who then raped her in her car. Years later Amos based the song Me And A Gun, from her 1991 debut Little Earthquakes, on this experience. In the one interview Amos ever gave on the subject, she said "I survived that torture, which left me paralysed for years. I talked about it for roughly seven days and then just cut off the experience, not knowing that in doing that, I was letting it take control of me inside."
So her baby daughter achieved what Amos could not manage by herself. "There was a side that I had been shameful about," she says now, "the sexual side. I didn't know how to bring that into my life, because I didn't want to be a whore in my own being. But you see, because I've acknowledged her, and in a way blessed her and accepted her, she is joined with the spirituality and she is whole."
The Beekeeper is also notable as the first album Amos has made since turning forty in August 2003. The prospect of ageing, however, seems to hold no fear for this new, spiritually harmonious Amos. "Turning forty was a good thing for me," she says. "My daughter and I have been talking lately and she said 'Mummy, I think you're growing younger.' She thinks it's her influence, and it probably is."
The album's genesis came from what Amos saw as a disturbing abuse of Christian texts to further the ambitions of western leaders. After watching last year's US elections on television in Cornwall, Amos resolved to reinterpret one of the Bible's central parables for her own purposes. "The minister's daughter in me decided to tap into some of these phrases and plant us not in the garden of original sin, but original sinsuality," she says.
It is in turbulent times such as these that Amos believes her creativity thrives. "When there is an immense destructive energy that seems to be the dominant force, I find creativity itself also increases in volume," she says. "Over the years I've written a lot for a long long time, and I find that when there are things occurring in the world, it's much easier to tap into the force."
The Beekeeper sees Amos drawing on arcane symbology, suppressed Christian gospels, and ancient female archetypes to introduce herself as a newly balanced woman and mother entering early middle age. With typical mystic flair, Amos mixes a dash of Christian faith, a little pagan idolatry and a lot of near-incomprehensible new age metaphor to describe her own personal mythology about the mother of God and the forbidden fruit.
"I started to read the secret Book of John (from Elaine Pagels' The Gnostic Gospels), and the essence of Sophia became very present," she says. "So I decided that the character in my story did not go back to the garden of Eden, where woman was blamed for transgression, but to God's mother. Our character goes to God's mother Sophia and says 'I don't understand how to be a human, and be effective as a mother for my child, in this very destructive climate'. And Sophia says 'You must eat of the forbidden fruit, unlike my son suggests. If you don't, you will not help my daughter Earth, or your own daughter'. Therefore our character eats, and then all of the songs on the album are what becomes conscious to her."
Even the death of her older brother Michael in a car crash late last year cannot dent Amos's serene aura. "I have a great bond with Michael," she says. "Michael was always the one that was the master of the music, he was the one that brought the Stevie Wonder records into our house, he was the one that brought Zeppelin, the Beatles, Joni Mitchell. He's still on my guest list for every show, because I feel a closeness to him. I feel his presence and he walks with me. Through the music, I feel like I'm able to communicate across the veil to the other side. I dance on the ends of the notes that take me through the dimensions to wherever he is. Of course I don't know where he is, but I know that the music knows."
All this is a far cry from the Myra Ellen Amos of her Baltimore childhood, a musical prodigy who gained a full scholarship to Peabody Conservatory of Music at the age of 5. And it seems an even greater transformation from the seventeen-year-old girl who took the stage name Tori in 1980, and spent the rest of the decade trying to make it in the music industry, first as a dance-pop singer in the style of Madonna, then as a hairsprayed, spandexed rock chick fronting the short-lived band Y Kant Tori Read.
But as far as Amos is concerned, all has now become assimilated. Of the 25-year old woman in a teased frightwig posing with a sword on the cover of Y Kant Tori Read's sole 1988 album, she says "She's right next to me, having a laugh. I think she put the sword away because she realised that it's not very effective. And I want her in my life - she has tenacity, that girl. There are things that maybe weren't fulfilled, but this is why I'm saying something wonderful can happen when you reach middle age. All those mosaics that seem to be scattered in four directions can come together, if you allow them to."
Tori Amos plays the Melbourne Hamer Hall this Thursday. Tickets 136 100.
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos