home / interviews
Tori Amos rediscovers the volume knob on her latest
by Brian Orloff
Tori Amos has been traveling all day. She's just back from London, and when she picks up the phone at her Cornwall home (and recording studio), she's in one of those moods. "Let's play a little game," Amos teases after a cheery hello. "If you don't like my answer, you can go" -- here, she imitates a buzzer with her tongue -- "and I'll give you another one."
Amos, 43, is many things. But she is not a person who minces words. And you don't have to speak with her on the phone to understand that. Her florid but sharp lyrics ("God sometimes you just don't come through / Do you need a woman to look after you?" she sang in 1994's "God") and her written work (she penned a 2005 autobiography, Piece by Piece, with co-author Ann Powers) convey the intensity with which Amos communicates.
Amos is also introspective. Over the course of an engaging chat, the singer invariably steers her reflections back to person struggles. She channels that process on her new album. American Doll Posse, the most direct and rollicking musical statement she has released in years. She explains, simply, "I sat back and thought, 'Well, it's time to rock.'" And guitars permeate the 23-track album, sidling up to and confronting her piano playing with ferocity on songs such as "Teenage Hustling" (which Amos says recalls for her the Damned and the Sex Pistols) and the sultry, down-and-dirty rocker "Body and Soul."
One time we spoke, you told how you address criticism, and you said, "If people didn't find my work problematic, then it wouldn't be powerful." Do you still value being provocative?
I understand what it [being provocative] does. But I also understand what humor can do. And I understand what a woman's touch can do. I think that if I had approached this maybe 11 years ago, then there wouldn't have been the seduction that some of the great rock gods had. Over the years -- this is just the truth -- I didn't really understand about feminine seduction. In 1995, I didn't understand that. I understood about anger and I understood about being demoralized and I understood about being a warrior. But I didn't understand about being a nurturer and a mother. And I didn't understand how to be sensuous with a political subject if you needed to be. I think I had to become a mother first.
A word that comes up on this record -- and it means different things to different people -- is "feminist." What's your definition?
That word is no different than "Christianity." It means a lot of things. I understand that so many opinions and words have been hung on the subject of being a feminist; I'm allowing people to define it how they want. I think the record is really trying to get women to willingly unmuzzle themselves. There seems to be a real subservience that has happened in the States. And you can't see it until you walk out of it and come back in. To me, a lot of American women are viewed in a way that I don't think is really something that would be happy about. I am not convinced that all American women are obsessed with the circumference of their navel of the rise of their own career and there own self-ambition. I'm looking to hear those voices on a mass scale questioning this choke-hold that the patriarchy is having around the world.
What's your impression of how images of celebrities flashing themselves, for instance, impact women?
It seems as if the women I've run across in the last many years have had a real challenge trying to integrate their sexuality with their intellect or with their spirituality. It becomes this confusing triangle. It's almost a love triangle. Some women who choose intellect really look down upon the women that choose a more sexual way in expressing themselves and getting ahead in the world. Then, of course, your more spiritual women, I think, have a hard time balancing this hot, sensuous, raw passion that's very ancient that has been circumcised from the feminine when the patriarchy took over from the matriarchy thousands of years ago. You know, there wasn't shame in it.
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos