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The Independent (UK)
May 14, 2007
The Five Sides of Tori Amos
On her latest album, Tori Amos has so much to say, she's split herself into five different personae. James McNair asks her why one wasn't enough.
"When I released albums like Strange Little Girls and Scarlet's Walk," says Tori Amos, "I was trying to get in touch with the nurturing mother aspect. My daughter, Natashya, was very young at the time, but she's almost seven now.
"One reason the new album sounds different is that it's not the redhead being a straightforward singer-songwriter any more, but another turning point was when Tash said, 'Mummy, Tori Amos can be a bit naughty, can't she?' She'd been surfing the net and seen some things -- particularly a pig shot, I think. I had to explain that there are things I do as Tori Amos that I don't do as mummy."
"Pig shot", we should point out, is Amos's way of referencing the infamous photo of her breastfeeding a piglet that appeared on the inside sleeve of her 1996 album, Boys for Pele. Having squared that with Tash, she then tackled the video for "Spark" from 1998's From the Choirgirl Hotel, assuring her daughter that scenes depicting her mother being tied up in the back of a car were not real. Now, Amos's new album, American Doll Posse, finds her adopting five different Greek mythology-inspired personae named Tori, Isabel, Clyde, Pip and Santa.
I meet the 43-year-old singer just after a photo shoot for The New Yorker. She is dressed as Tori, the American Doll Posse member whom Amos characterises as a cross between the Greek earth goddess, Demeter, and the god of wine, Dionysus.
"I'm myself now," she laughs. "Or at least Tori from the posse, hence the long red hair." Electric-blue stirrup leggings, a mustard-coloured skirt and yellow heels by Kurt Geiger help flesh out today's look.
Dressing up is hardly a new thing for Amos. Strange Little Girls also saw her play various women, but while that album "remained in portraiture", American Doll Posse is the bigger picture. Not only does Amos inhabit the bodies of, say, damaged idealist Clyde or rubber fetishist Pip, but she has also conceived back-stories for each posse member -- and created blogs for all of them, their online musings an evolving and explanatory addendum to their lives in song.
"There has to be some depth and discipline to the thing," says Amos, "otherwise it's just costume changes. An online journal seemed like a logical way to express the internal, but as producer and writer I want to maintain a certain standard. When I can't step up to the plate I just don't press 'send'."
Musically, too, American Doll Posse is arguably Amos's most satisfying work since 1994's Under the Pink. From the earthy piano romp of "Big Wheel" to the sweetly orchestrated "Girl Disappearing", its 23 tracks demonstrate a clear return to form, song titles such as "Fat Slut" also confirming that the woman born Myra Ellen Amos has lost none of her taste for controversy.
It is opener "Yo George", a Bush-baiting song. Amos sings it in the guise of the politicised photographer Isabel, but she is clearly standing shoulder to shoulder with other Dubya-dubious songwriters such as Rufus Wainwright, Steve Earle and Conor Oberst. The key difference, perhaps, is that there is a strong feminist dimension to Amos's beef with the Christian Right. In her eyes, the problem doesn't just lie with Dubya -- it is also rooted in what she describes as "the Republican male's commitment to the Father God and patriarchy".
It's not that Amos doesn't like men; she is married to one, after all, namely the recording engineer Mark Hawley, whom she simply calls "husband". As a minister's daughter, moreover, the singer is quick to distinguish between "Camp Jesus" and the Bush camp, the latter "a sad parody" of the former. It was her shock at Bush winning a second term after the presidential elections of November 2004, she says, that made her step back and reconsider her position as a songwriter. "I couldn't believe it, and I began to think, 'Where were the women in all of this?' As a mother you're always wary of external intruders, but what about internal threats and not seeing that certain rights have been eroded?
"Look at how the Christian Right reacted to Janet Jackson exposing her breast at the Super Bowl -- it was as though she'd started a nuclear war. A certain morality gets imposed and women are divided among themselves. I thought, 'How do I get to these women, and what would the Christian Right abhor most?' The answer was to bring on the mother gods, who are not subservient to patriarchal authority in any way."
American Doll Posse is part clarion call to arms, then. "I'm coming after America's daughters," says Amos, "and I'm convinced that not all of them are obsessed with the circumference of their navel." The singer's mission might seem a tad grandiloquent, but she has a sizeable audience that hangs on her every word. Her record sales are now in excess of 12 million, although Amos has tended towards more esoteric -- and thus less commercial -- conceits as time has gone on. Pleasingly, the new album's songs are as strong as its concept.
"'You Can Bring Your Dog' reminded me of Led Zeppelin," says Amos when we begin discussing particular tracks. "It had that sexiness and it was clear Santa should sing it, but unless I'm alone with husband I'm not really an Aphrodite, so I had to dig around in my wardrobe for something suitable to wear. I didn't talk to husband or the guys in the band before we recorded the song -- I just waltzed in dressed as Santa. They turned around and went [excitedly] 'Wow! Who is she?'"
The singer says that the American Doll Posse Tour will include more than 120 dates, and that she will open each show dressed as Tori, Isabel, Clyde, Pip or Santa, depending on what seems appropriate on the day. "Their stories will change, because they'll be reacting to what's going on in the world."
When I ask Amos what it is she wants to stir up in America's daughters, she replies, smiling: "A refusal to fall into the Christian mythological stereotypes that have been imposed by the monotheistic authority."
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