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Synthesis (US, radio)
April 27, 2007
Tori Amos interview by James Barone
[Big Wheel instrumental plays over interviewer's intro.]
Tori Amos has finished her ninth studio album, entitled American Doll Posse. It will be released on May 1st, 2007 on Epic Records. The album was written and produced by Tori at Martian Engineering in Cornwall, England. The Posse, a group of girls who are used as a theme of alter-egos in the album, consists of Amos in a number of guises: Santa, Clyde, Isabel, Tori and Pip. There will be a big world tour in support of the American Doll Posse album, with accompaniment by long-time bandmates Jon Evans and Matt Chamberlain for the first time on tour in four years. Amos has stated that the tour will run until December 2007 and will include over 100 shows. Synthesis editor James Barone interviews.
James: How are you doing, Tori?
Tori: I'm very well, thank you.
James: Oh, good, good. You having a busy day of interviews today?
Tori: Yes, very busy. I had the Australians early morning, yes, then you do some of the Europeans, and then we get the Americans.
James: Okay. So we're on the tail end, then.
Tori: Yes, you are. But that's okay, I had a bit of a break. It's a gorgeous, glorious day here in Cornwall. Which is so good because tomorrow Tash is having an Easter-egg hunt here at the house, and I'm hoping it doesn't rain.
James: Do you have good hiding spots all over the grounds?
Tori: You know it! Oh, you know it!
James: It's funny you mention the Easter-egg hunt, because I do want to talk to you about the blogs that you've been doing for the different characters on the record.
Tori: Oh, good. Feel free.
James: First of all, I read that you were really excited about doing a multi-media project. Was this an idea you've been toying around in the past?
Tori: No. It was one of those sort of... the project started to dictate to me what it wanted to be. I recognized early on that there wasn't just a musical theme. Normally, with my records, I can recognize, as a composer, what a narrative is -- even if it's a musical narrative and not necessarily a story, in the early compositional phase. But with this, song after song, some were quite extreme. And so it was the producer part of me that kind of pulled back and unemotionally thought "well, the singer-songwriter's going to have to take a back seat," because this is about a composer and being able to compose, but then each song will have to be addressed individually and then it will have to be performed by the right, well, female energy that can sing it. And then it seemed to me that the songs would all have to be worked up more in a band configuration than just players backing up a singer-songwriter. So that was the initial inception of this. It was sonic.
James: Yeah, that was one of the things that jumped out at me about the record was that it wasn't just different parts, you know, it definitely seemed like a band flowing together, especially on the second track. Did the band have a lot of input in the creation of the songs.
Tori: Well, not in the composition or the writing, but in the arranging, yes. So the songs were written and completed -- except for "Big Wheel" -- by the time they all rolled in. And I think different musicians, between Matt Chamberlain, Jon Evans and Mac Aladdin, each one of them led the charge for a certain style of music. And then the keyboard player, she led the charge sometimes too, which was great because Tori was -- I'm talking to you as a producer right now; I see it as a unit, you know? -- and that she was very much acting not as a singer-songwriter personality, but as the keyboard player who wanted the compositions to be what they wanted to be, not to try and make them fit the image of a singer-songwriter. Because as the songs were coming in, I kind of had to have a chat with myself and say "U-turn! Going somewhere else! This is the end of an era. We've done the singer-songwriter thing for a long time." And some records are more like that, some records are more experimental, and this was not going to be another singer-songwriter record. And maybe I'll do one of those again, but that's not what this was about.
James: You've produced this album, and I know that you produced The Beekeeper also, and now that you have more producer experience under your belt, was this kind of an effort to flex that muscle a little more, do you think?
Tori: Well, I've been producing... I guess you could say I was co-producing on some tracks on Little Earthquakes with Eric Rosse, and then I co-produced Under the Pink with him. It was a team, and I learned a lot from him. And then I started producing kind of "woman-at-the-helm" on Pele. But Mark and Marcel are very much part of my production team. I never am a woman alone, except when I'm composing. The composing side is an isolating exercise, and sometimes it's an incredibly hard one. It's not as if I wake up in the morning and I just get "Digital Ghost" laid out for me. So the writing of this record, I guess in a way you could say it's been two years. Sometimes songs would only come two bars at a time, and that's not a lot of music, but I would begin to just collect these musical ideas. And again, when something like "Teenage Hustling" was coming through, I knew I had never done anything like this as Tori Amos, as somebody that has had the career I've had. But as a musician, I've been exposed to this music. Mac Aladdin had played in punk bands in the '80s, so therefore he was able to drive that one. Matt Chamberlain was instrumental on so many, but "Big Wheel"... I woke up in the middle of the recording. It was a 19-day recording session, 19 days straight, I'd say 12 hours a day.
James: Wow. I'm sorry, just for that one song?
Tori: No, for the album. I mean, basic tracking, not all the singing and not all the overdubs and blah. And guitars came later, as far as the recording. But Mac was there dealing with some of the early arrangements with the band, and then went away and came back again when it was his turn. So, Matt, when I played him the beginnings of "Big Wheel"... I woke up from a dream and the song was there, and I ran as the dawn was breaking to the studio, I ran from the house to the studio to find a piano, and by the time everyone was waking up, the song was written. And it was Matt who I was able to grab first, and he completely understood that song, and so he drove the song with that rhythm. And then Jon came in, and because of Matt's rhythm he completely just jumped in. And it was written and recorded all in one day.
James: So yeah, it definitely had that immediate sound to it, that track, especially after the first song. It snaps into that rhythm and it definitely takes hold of you. Or at least I thought it did.
Yeah, well, I wanted to explore that kind of Ry Cooder influence, as well as strange... I don't know what "Big Wheel" is. We all would look at each other and say, "It sounds like we've just been mainlining tequila all night." Maybe that would be a good thing to do.
James: Well, it's worth a try, I guess.
[Part of Big Wheel plays.]
James: The album is written through five different characters, and on Strange Little Girls, you also used different personas. What, if anything, did you take from that experience and use in American Doll Posse?
Tori: Well, I don't think I could ever be doing the complexity which ADP is becoming, since it's, as you know, part of this is -- well, as you know, it's ongoing till Christmas, and there's an improvisational aspect to it, as you were alluding to. So unless I had had some kind of experience with containing different female essences, then this just wouldn't be as complex as it is. When I worked with Strange Little Girls, I was not the composer of any of the songs, as you all know. I was composing the anima -- the internal female psyche -- for each song, and treating the songs as the children of their father creators. So therefore, the compositional [element] on Strange Little Girls was really having a perspective to sing songs that weren't mine. But I chose to leave it in portraiture at the time. If I'm honest with you, I didn't consider doing anything else. I thought that was it. I couldn't imagine taking them out on the road. And it really ended with that kind of expression, with the portrait of the woman and you hear the song sung by her. ADP is very much for me... each woman has a story. They have their online journals that will be going for a long time, and I think we'll all get to know about them a lot more, week by week. I know, I understand that I've made a rod for my own back, I really get it. I get that it's an incredible amount of work, and commitment, because it is.
James: Yeah, that's a long time to spend on these characters. It is a commitment, it's not like an album where -- I'm sorry, go ahead, I'm cutting you off.
Tori: I think the thing about developing the characters now is first of all understanding their foundational structure. And as you probably read, I went back to Greek mythology, before a monotheistic system where there's one God who's a guy, who's the authority. I thought, "Yeah right. Wrong, wrong." And well, so, just recent, if we look at timeframes, before then, of course, there was the "mother God" concept as well. And I wanted to go back to the Greek pantheon, where you had quite a few different male personality types and quite a few different female personality types. Yes, we could done the Celtic or we could have done the Egyptian or yada yada, but I thought more people had a sense of the Greek. So therefore, I chose Artemis, which is a loose structure of Isabel; Persephone, loose structure of Clyde; Athena -- there's a bit of warrior in Pip; Demeter-slash-Dionysius, because Tori holds the creator energy, which [is because] Demeter was the mother creator, but also she's got a lot of testosterone, because she is the player with the band. And then of course there's Santa, who holds Aphrodite. And that really was the beginning for me. I have to have an architectural framework for my ideas, or it just doesn't work.
James: What I was thinking before was that with doing this kind of project, I mean, most times there's an album and then there's touring, but the album kind of exists and that's it. It doesn't go any further than the twelve tracks or whatever. But this seems to be something that spreads far beyond, maybe even into a literary world, also.
Tori: Well, it's funny you say that, but the reason it can exist is because of technology. Because of that, we're able to have this ongoing performance piece. It's a performance piece that's going to last for six months through the digital realms, as well as -- you can come to the show and have that experience, but you can go away and still pick up and continue with the story. And the crazy thing is that people are going to affect the girls. There's no way -- this is why, if you ask me, "well, where is it going?" I mean, I have my ideas. Pip has her secrets that she doesn't even know about yet. There are things that are happening that I know are going to happen. However, there's a lot that I just can't foresee, and it wouldn't be any fun if I could. I don't want a crystal ball on this. Because I realize [that] the one thing about improv, for it to work, and the one thing why I've always loved the live shows more than almost anything in the universe, is that the people who come to the shows are part of the creation. And so, with each week, the girls are going to change, and their stories will change, because of who they run into over the next six months.
James: I guess with the blogs and stuff, that kind of, like you were saying, that immediacy as it happens, pretty much.
Tori: Well, certain people respond. They respond to them. And then the gals read what's written, and of course it's going to affect them. Or they choose not to let it affect them. But that's what I like. It isn't just a film, that the actors are completely unaffected by the audience throwing popcorn at the screen. This is very different. Or a writer of a book, and the book is out, and then you either read it, your dog poos on it, whatever it is, they don't care anymore; you bought the book or you didn't. But this is something where you're putting out a page of your book every week -- or a chapter is a better analogy, every week. And the next chapter could change depending on what happens between one week to the next. And the live shows, too. By the way, you know that all the girls are going on tour, yeah?
James: Yeah, yeah, I did read that. And are they all going to perform every show, or is it just going to be just one for each show?
Tori: No, there's going to be two for each show.
James: Two for each show. Okay.
Tori: Because it's not about "how many gals can we get on and off stage in two hours." I think that there's no story I can develop, I can't really -- as a composer of a story, that just doesn't interest me. What does, though, however, is we have to develop four openings, for each of the women, and then Tori will follow one of the four every night. And the reason that Tori follows is because she does have access to that big old back catalogue.
James: Yeah, Clyde doesn't have as many songs as Tori does.
Tori: No, she doesn't. But I think Clyde -- I mean, Clyde is gonna want to perform, probably, a Tori song, and she'll probably want to do a cover, and that's okay. I think that's her right. But at the end of the day, it's one thing for her to cover a Tori song; it's another thing for her to hijack it.
James: Well, Tori's got to assert her place on stage too, I would imagine.
Tori: Yeah, but I do think this is good for Tori, because, you see, in this context, she's different. She's not just Tori Amos as we know her, a lone singer-songwriter, yada yada. She's now having to work with other personality types that are really pushing her. And there are some days, I must tell you, where I feel much more drawn to hanging out with Santa than I do hanging out with Tori. And that's something we're working through. And I think that it's forcing Tori to have to learn how to cope with it, and I also think that when Tori takes stage, what will have occurred before is going to change her show. And I think she's hungry for that. I think she needs that.
James: I read a quote from you that said you were exploring one personality at a time on previous albums. I was wondering if you had any gage on which album you thought belonged to which personality?
Tori: Well, I don't think that the girls on -- were you asking me which personality as with the girls involved in American Doll Posse?
James: Yeah, if your previous albums apply to any of the girls on American Doll Posse.
Tori: That's a really good question. I would say, not in the form they're in here, because they would be different. They might have been a bit damaged or distorted in the past. So, for example, Pele was really investigating anger. And yet I think the entity called Pip deals with anger in a very different way than when I was just exploring anger for the first time, musically. Not for the first time, but Boys for Pele was very much about exploring that. I don't mean to be redundant with my words, but that's what that record was about. However, Pip is not just about anger; as a warrior, she really knows that anger is a very dangerorus, explosive emotion, and it's how you utilize it. That's where Athena is a great teacher. You don't just go off half-cocked; you have to know how to channel that. And her relationship with her Dad is going to be affecting, I think, how you understand how Pip works, because he was a senior analyst with the CIA at one point before he died tragically. So she's really exploring -- investigating, I should say -- his death, and what he taught her. And he taught her a lot about how not to misuse anger, and how to, possibly, work with it. So no, I don't think Santa showed up in my work before, because until I had Natashya, until I was a mother, if I'm really honest with you, I could have never held Santa's energy. It's just too sensuous and sexy and erotic for me. But when I became as big as a beached whale, nine months pregnant, I'm sorry, I felt fucking hot! I mean, I couldn't go anywhere, Mark had to push me up the hill, but I really thought, "wow." I mean, I can't explain it, but you feel pretty delicious and juicy for being able to bring life into the world. Now, not all women have felt that, but because of my history, I did. So to answer your question, no. The girls in American Doll Posse, not in the form they're in. I was exploring some of the emotions they carry, yes, in the other records.
James: Well, hey, Tori, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today. I really enjoyed it.
Tori: Well, James, you got more out of me than a lot of people 'cause you're so darn sweet.
James: Well, thank you very much.
James: Well, take care, Tori.
[transcribed by Paul McCulloch (SweetOnes from toriphorums)]
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos