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THERE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MULTIPLE FACETS TO TORI AMOS'S PERSONALITY AND TALENT. ONLY NOW SHE'S LITERALLY TAKEN ON THE LOOK, ATTITUDE AND VOICE OF FIVE VERY DIFFERENT WOMEN... EACH WITH A LITTLE TORI IN HER. ANTONINO TATI GOES ONE-ON-ONE WITH AMERICA'S POP IDOL MOST UNLIKELY. PHOTOGRAPHY BY BLAISE REUTERSWARD.
At the time of designing the sleeve for Tori Amos' album 'Strange Little Girls,' the artist was beginning to flirt with change of image. Gone were the flowing red locks and muted hues of minimal makeup that connoted a natural beauty of a bygone era, and in their place was a palette of sharp, modern looks: rock chic Tori, desperate housewife Tori, couture Tori, even deputy sheriff Tori. The chameleon imagery went well with the record's varied tracklisting: cover versions of classic songs all originally sung by men. Tori took to task the male of the rock'n'roll species, taking songs by Lennon & McCartney, Eminem, Depeche Mode, Lou Reed and Neil Young, and making them seem like they were her own twisted little ditties from scratch. Fans loved the ironic tribute. And they especially loved that their idol had injected a bit of colour into her wardrobe. Which is why 'American Doll Posse', Tori Amos' 9th studio album, is certain to get followers all excited and moist, while likely to recruit a whole army of new appreciators.
This time Tori delivers 23 (count 'em) of her own original compositions, dividing them up to be sung amongst her self-initiated 'posse' of five. Some might call it deluded. Others might consider it nothing new (even Kylie's done the five-faces-of-me thing -- on music video at least). But to those who understand the complexities of Tori Amos as an artist and as a human being, and who also empathise with that desire to break away from the mediocrity of modern reality, 'American Doll Posse' is the smartest path to take. It's clever, too, that the album's title subliminally plays on the words 'American Idol' and 'pussy.' Or maybe we're just splitting hairs here...
First up in the supergroup is 'Santa', cocktail dress on and cocksure attitude for days. Santa's the sort of girl who'll have her dry-cleaning delivered to the office on a Friday so that she's ready for happy hour dry martinis by 5pm. She's what Tori calls "the naughty one of the group." Next is 'Pip': a bit of a party girl like Santa but more street-smart than culturally-inclined. Then there's 'Clyde' -- nickname 'Clitorides': she's sassy, sexy, a little mad, but won't boil your bunny so long as you're not giving all the attention to your other lover. Fourth in the posse is 'Isabel': she's the one who keeps an eye on the other girls. She knows her history and trusts her future, and she likes to report the here and now with her trusty SLR. And finally, there's 'Tori,' she who sticks around after the party's over to help collect the empty wine bottles, and who might just play a little something for you in private on the piano.
All notions of fiction aside (because remember, they're all coming from the same talented being), this is one powerful fivesome that makes the Spice Girls seem like Barbie's reject buddies. Each posse member takes turns singing on the new Tori album. And each looks out for the other girls. Faithful homegirls, if you like. At least to each other. For they don't care much about the patriotic world that bore them...
Hi Tori. Congratulations on a brilliant new album. With or without the five new looks on the sleeve, you've really outdone yourself in the eclectic music stakes. Thank you.
Was it a conscious decision to make every song so different, or did you just go with the flow? It's a mixture really. My songs arrive not necessarily completely, but in common segments. They come in four-bar phrases and I have to develop them from what comes organically. It's hard to describe because it's not a tangible thing.
But your work must be structured or contrived to a certain degree? What usually happens is I play a few hours a day, and within that experience you usually work yourself into a frenzy. And then compositions can come. Once I started to recognize how different the songs were, that was my light bulb moment. I called Martin [Hemmerle, her original producer] and showed him about six musical structures. He looked at me and said, "Well clearly there's not just one theme on this record... I don't know where this is going." Anyway, the songs kept coming, and some of them were related to each other, and some weren't, so I put them into these categories, at least five, sonically. Then of course the physical started to happen, and my ideas of who "they" were [the "American Doll Posse"], their psyches and that sort of thing, built from there. Then I really had to put my producer hat on.
To produce yourself and to direct your "posse"? Yes. I chose not to build this around a singer/songwriter concept... that notion went out the window very early on. And she who is Tori had to agree with this. She had to shape-shift.
Do some of the girls in the posse cross over on the record? Like, do two or three perform on the one song, or do they perform songs individually? Good question. They all have their own songs, however there are a couple that will sing background vocals for the other. For example, Pip and Santa are really the joining of body and soul. I patterned my girls after Greek mythology, because I thought people would kind of get it, as opposed to Celtic or Egyptian mythology. If we're looking at ancient female archetypes, Pip holds Athena and Santa holds Aphrodite. I liked the idea of Athena and Aphrodite coming together on a couple of songs; joining forces, because historically they weren't always buddy-buddy, and I thought they had a lot to offer each other. But Pip is really the powerhouse as far as the rocking songs go, and Santa's really the cheeky one.
Do any of the personalities get into politics more than the others? There are a couple who chose to approach subjects in their own way. For example, Isabel -- who's holding the camera -- has it in her DNA to document what is occurring around her, whether it's political or personal. So I'm guessing she was a little more inclined to deliver the opening song "Yo George" and "Dark Side of the Sun" towards the end of the album. She also sings "Mr. Bad Man." There's a lot of sociology in Isabel's perspective, and I love her neutrality. There's also a certain, um, detachment with her to overt sexuality.
If you open up the album sleeve, Isabel's the one up front and centre, yes? Yes, and there's good reason for her being up front and centre, keeping the girls together. Her importance is about being fair and objective; not over-reacting. Yet she can really nail an ideology of what's going on at any given moment. I think she's very important to all of us, especially to me. I know I need a but more of her in my life.
Well she's pretty good at delivering political blows subtly but surely. No prizes for guessing who "The Commander" is that she sings to on "Yo George." Indeed.
Do you ever spin yourself out? How you're this artist who is not only able to channel these characters in your work, but able to deliver messages so cunningly and cryptically through your art? You know, nobody's ever asked me that. And you're really onto something there, because this is an art, and through it I'm hoping my fellow sisters will feel the clarion call to arms; to unmuzzle themselves and take the blinders off. Especially my American sisters. These songs came to me because I had to confront where America is right now and where it is going. I had to confront what's really behind the leadership. As you know, no matter who the president is -- and it is important who that is, I'm not belittling that -- but no matter who the president is, there is always a well-organised right-wing Christian faction. One that doesn't want equal rights for anybody but heterosexual white men. Therefore -- and a lot of heterosexual white men have real issues with this because it's not their ideology -- if you were going to combat this and take it on board, then how do you do that? Well, you project an ideology that would be most threatening to them, and that would be in the form of the Divine [long pause] Feminine. Remembered. And that's what's lurking behind all of this.
Aha. So a girl's got to play different roles... make her way through the corridors of power in various guises, per se? There are all kinds of ways. And sometimes you just have to put on some rubber.
Too good. Once upon a time, there were two main guises of women in art and culture: woman as virgin and woman as whore, would you agree? Yes.
But today, things are brilliantly fragmented into all these amazing identities of the feminine and the female. Well I can't make a comment on other people's culture but being an American woman I can comment on my own, and it seems this Christian right-wing is still having an effect on women, even if they don't realise it. But as a minister's daughter, I see the emotional blackmail of that theology, even in the advertising, and I find it incredibly evil and controlling.
What about something so popular as The Da Vinci Code? As corny as much of it was, do you think it worked to shake up things a little? The Da Vinci Code had quite an effect. We all know Dan Brown got the information from people who had been researching for a long time. It wasn't an original idea, and I think he would be the first to admit that. But he was able to put it in a form that the masses could embrace. And so I felt the message was incredibly important. Especially if you compare it with Mel Gibson's movie which represents Christ... or I would say, misrepresents Christ. Women in Mel Gibson's film are as far away from the truth as can possibly be. And this goes back to those Catholic notions of truth; those stereotypes of the virgin and the whore. As a minister's daughter I don't agree with Mel's ideology at all.
That's a strong opinion. You have to understand that my father pushed me to study, and if I hadn't been a musician, I would have gone into being a student of comparative religions. I'm fascinated by how people are controlled by the authority of each belief system. Now, in the US, women are having to combat this right-wing belief that if you're sexual, you're not sacred. And I'm coming after that. I'm at their door, and the posse refutes this. We stand for the mother god who is equal to the father god, in all her glory. And we stand for the myriad versions of the feminine that make up the complete picture.
There's a kind of power in numbers at play there... Yes, but I also believe in the emancipation of the soul for each individual. Everybody has the right to consciousness and everybody has the potential. But most leaders don't want the masses to be conscious. Because then they can't be controlled any more. And I think that the way their agendas get pushed through is when we become nations of sheep that can be led.
Through clever campaigning, diverting the attention of the masses, and so on? Yes.
I've always suspected that -- with New York being the capital of news, Hollywood being the capital of film, and Washington being the capital of politics -- there's a certain controlling dynamic going on. That when fields such as art and commerce look like swaying too much to the "other" side, the powers that be put into action ways to pull these "back on track." Yes, but there's still that power in numbers. One voice takes it a little further, and another voice takes it even further, and I do think the art world, the written or the visual, is beginning to realise what this time is about. That this is a battle.
It is a battle. Like we might see a spurt of indepent art-house films doing well at the cinema, and then suddenly, bang, Hollywood releases the latest Scorcese blockbuster to supposedly make up for the parade that has passes before it... But if we're going to have a battle for people's liberties and freedoms, we can't fight with their weapons. We will never win. We must paint pictures that people want to walk into, realities that people want to step into, and say enough is enough. I don't want to be controlled anymore by this ancient and oppressive way. And people have to want to make that choice. Sometimes you have to do all sorts of things, and sometimes you just have to seduce and make it delicious.
You have a knack of doing that yourself. Making a powerful statement attractive through your music and poetry, without having to wear an uncomfortable placard. Thank you.
I think it's a great thing because with cryptic lyrics, people can read into it what they want, hence you're appealing to many. That's the idea. I'm not saying make a quote-unquote political record, but you have to decide what you believe in. There are
those of us who are hearing the necessity of that. We both know what happened in the
late 60s; the sonic poets did have an impact, and it looks like it's occurring again. There
are those who are choosing to speak up and speak out.
Do you agree change is more possible today than in the 60s, thanks largely to the
Internet? That the messages of marginal groups and societies are more likely to
leak through, where once upon a time these were more controlled? You're very right,
but don't think for a minute that the right-wing doesn't know how to utilise the Net.
Of course, but at the end of the day, isn't it fair to say the 'global village' we're a
part of now allows for more of a diffusion of ideologies, or am I looking at things
through rose-coloured lenses here? No, I think you're very smart. But I think that if I
took you into the US right now and showed you -- for this president to be re-elected --
you've got to understand this does not mean there is a diffusion of ethos. This means
that in the most democratic country in the world, people chose to support this old,
patriarchal authority and agenda.
So are artists wasting their time making statements, ambiguously or otherwise? Not at all. Look at my posse -- there is a defiance to this. But it's not going to go under
the radar screen of the right-wing. It's not meant to. At the same time, you don't write a
song like 'Yo George' and think you're going to be too cryptic.
People would just 'get' who the bad guy is. Yes, and there are enough songs on the record for young women and men who don't want to talk about that... if they have to
come in at another angle.
John Lennon and Paul McCartney did that well on a lot of their records. I always thought Lennon and McCartney were great about that. There were songs that would
open a door to walk through, and then there would be a song that was a little more
obvious about issues. I recognised that Lennon was doing something that some people found offensive and other people found really enlightening. But that's why this is not a
whole record of Isabel. I don't think that would have been the right move...
Indeed making too bold a statement could be a bad move. Some people suspect
Lennon might still be around today if he hadn't spoken so blatantly about certain
issues, that perhaps he ought to have just kept playing The Walrus. Well this is a
dangerous conversation, isn't it? Because I would like to think 'American Doll Posse' is
closer to... well, that I'm a Lady Seal... as opposed to wearing that placard.
Even in the raunchier songs on the album, there's a certain sense of don't-messwith-me-fellas-or-I'll-fuck-you-over. Which one of the posse is singing 'Teenage
Hustling'? That's the girl in rubber. That's Pip.
Well I love Pip's line in that song: "You've been skanking around with your
talentless trash." There are only about four tracks in the history of music that
feature the word "skanking." Yours, a new song by Gwen Stefani, and a couple of
hip-hop tracks. Well it's an eerie word, really, and I can tell you even I was wearing
rubber when I sang it.
You also sing "I don't mind a dirty girl". I've heard you say that in interview before, too. Do you mean you don't mind a dirty girl, but she's gotta have some smarts
about her? Yes, and let's face it, there are some dirty girls that aren't being very smart
lately. When they're pouring out of expensive chauffer-driven cars with their beavers
exposed... falling out of their clothes... as Santa would say: "Not sexy girls, not sexy."
You have to wonder, why are you demeaning yourself? There's a real difference
between being desirable and being desperate. And I think Santa really investigates this.
I do think women can take on judgement, projected judgement on them, and wear it
like clothing. And there can be confusion on what is sensual and what is vulgar.
Like when a performer is pole-dancing. Some guys might think it's all about the
girl as object, showing them a good time, but really the girl's making a buck,
symbolically saying "I've got my pole here, boys, keep your distance when I want
you to." Exactly. And frankly I think every woman should have her own pole. You nailed
it when you said they become the object, as opposed to the subject of the art-form.
Then it gets into the demeaning, the emotionally-defecating, and there we are:
subservient again. It's not about erotica anymore, it becomes about abuse and
perversion. And that is not what this is about.
'American Doll Posse' is out through Sony BMG.
~ ~ ~
That these are 'Troubled Times' is no secret. Through a songwriter's eye, I observe. I observe, like you, the war, the traumatic weather patterns, the tragedies. I, like you, can't just turn my back on this very fragile Blue Ball that is our only known hope of existence.
But perhaps unlike you, I may get stopped in a store, on the street, or in a Starbucks where a young women in line taps me on the arm... and through tears of raw pain whispers, "What can I do? My boyfriend had to go fight. I hate those bastards behind this Satanic war. I may never hold him again." Her voice breaks with her last words, "never hold him again." She asks for a hug and then quickly exists the line coffeeless.
Her words play over and over... "What can I do?"
Not so long ago, a 15 year old looking young woman came up to me and asked, "So are you making a new CD soon?"
I laughed at the time and confided, "Well, I'm workin' on it." As she made a move to continue on her way, she paused and turned around. And with 1,000 tears fighting to keep from falling she spoke.
"Well, then tell it like it fucking is. The war isn't just out there somewhere you know? I live in a fucking war."
She walked away.
Maybe these 2 women will never know the impact that they had on me and this project.
American Doll Posse is my response.
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