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Tuesday, May 1, 2007
The all-American Doll
"There's almost an alternate reality in the States, where you can be very removed from what's happening in the rest of the world."
INTERVIEW: Tori Amos
With five alter-egos performing tracks on her latest album, the incisive singer-songwriter talks to ARWA HAIDER about why she had to use different characters
Tori Amos pats the armchair beside her. 'Sit closer, I don't bite!' she insists. Well, you can never be too sure; Amos has earned her reputation as a fiercely incisive, Grammy-nominated singersongwriter, spanning 1992's multi-Platinum album Little Earthquakes to polemical piano covers and club anthems (via Armand Van Helden's remixes). Her ninth album, American Doll Posse, is her most ambitious to date; here, she's performing as five different women, based on ancient Greek archetypes. The project's inspiration, however, is unmistakably contemporary.
'This record wouldn't have been made if America had made a different choice -- one acknowledging the intentions and mistakes of this war,' says Amos. Up close, she's charming but sharp, a conscious conversationalist. 'Many people on both sides of my parents' families fought and died in wars to really spread the idea of democracy, not to abuse its power. This is about might over right, but if you're going after America's patriarchy, you have to do it in a "woman's way"; they're masters of aggression -- they hijacked Jesus, for Heaven's sake.' Amos, an American clergyman's daughter now based in Cornwall, began to write material based on observations from her last US tour.
'There's almost an alternate reality in the States, where you can be very removed from what's happening in the rest of the world. I felt there were issues and inner demons that particularly keep women distracted from what our country's up to. This feels like a turning-point for us, no different than Rome was at that crucial point when it started to implode.
'These new songs started to come in various styles; I could recognise five different perspectives, and that was the inception. I could see that I would have to allow my body to change.' Amos has previously dabbled with alter-egos (on her 2002 album Scarlet's Walk) but American Doll Posse is a feminist makeover on an epic scale: a four-act recording with 23 tracks delivered by distinct characters including stoical Isabel (aka Artemis/Historical), vulnerable Clyde (Persephone/Clitorides), fiery Pip (Athena/Expiratorial), sensual Santa (Aphrodite/Sanatorium) and 'the mother of the project', Tori herself.
'I was really drawn to the idea that every woman is a cocktail of these ancient ingredients,' she enthuses.
Sounds like an unwieldy band lineup -- but then, how many members of the Pussycat Dolls can you name?
Amos actually notes that American Doll Posse's name resembles a megasuccessful toy brand, American Girl dolls, whose fans include her own young daughter: 'If she clicked on the wrong weblink, she'd be in a completely different universe,' she laughs. She's not wrong; her styling, by longtime collaborator Karen Binns, is sleekly theatrical -- on the inner sleeve, Tori poses as a suburban housewife clutching a Bible, with blood seeping down her legs. Most strikingly, her musical repertoire, including plaintively melodic opener Yo George (the album's most explicitly political number, performed as Isabel), heavy metal ballads including Digital Ghost, arch cabaret (Velvet Revolution) and a blast of honky tonk sermons, has transformed an indulgent concept into something personable and boldly catchy.
'I'm looking at how America's patriarchy has betrayed the masses, so one of my big musical ingredients was testosterone; you have to go to the venom for the antidote,' she says. 'I reschooled myself in all the great rock gods, from Jimi Hendrix to Jim Morrison and Tom Waits.
'I guess Strange Little Girls [Amos's 2001 covers album, which featured an anti-Taliban version of Slayer's Raining Blood] was a rehearsal for this album, because it wasn't my own material. American Doll Posse became very much about a living, breathing entity. So the characters' online journals have started, and they're coming on tour with me.' The extent to which American Doll Posse has come alive is pretty mindboggling. The characters already interact through their blogs (www.myspace.com/iampossesanta), and Amos, who'll appear in a different guise for each of her July European dates, refers to them like old friends.
'Clyde, who sings numbers including Girl Disappearing, is the wounded female; she brings the others to a place of compassion.' Ironically, she looks a bit like moody Nicola from Girls Aloud -- while Isabel resembles Anita Pallenberg; Amos is keener on the latter description. 'I based Isabel on Amelia Earheart and Lee Miller, Man Ray's muse! Pip [whose turns include the vitriolic Fat Slut] is confrontational,' she continues. 'Her father has just died; he was a senior CIA analyst. She's grieving and trying to work out what happened.' This one could run and run -- how can it be possible to continually evolve these split personalities? 'For the time being, we're just racing to keep up with all the girls' needs,' she replies, smiling like someone who's getting her teeth into a challenge.
Whatever Tori Amos has become, it becomes her.
American Doll Posse (Columbia) is out now. Tori Amos plays at Apollo, Ardwick on Jul 5.
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