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October 30, 2007
Before she plays Cleveland, Tori Amos talks with C-Notes
Tori Amos looks back on the characters who sang her songs.
by D.X. Ferris
Tori Amos is supporting American Doll Posse, her best CD in years. It's the piano-playing singer-songwriter's 10th studio album -- if you count the record she made with Y Kant Tori Read, a cringe-inducing hair-rock band she formed in Los Angeles at the end of the '80s.
On the disc, Amos assumes the roles of a quartet of disparate women: Isabel (an indignant politico photographer), Clyde (a wounded soul-seeker), Pip (a fierce rubber enthusiast), and Santa (a glitzy sensualist). Together, they sing the album's 23 songs. They also join Amos onstage.
In addition to a solo piano performance and a set with her backing band, Amos' two-and-a-half-hour show includes appearances by Posse's protagonists. Amos takes the stage dressed in character as one of the album's other four girls, but we can't tell you which one -- she doesn't make up her mind until an hour before the show. But this really isn't groundbreaking territory for Amos, who, after her autobiographical 1992 debut Little Earthquakes, began channeling different characters to sing her increasingly oblique songs.
Amos talked to Scene about her all her albums and the women who perform them.
Of the American Doll Posse characters, which is least like you?
"Well, it depends which day you catch me on. The least like me, the way I've known me all these years, would be Santa. That one was difficult, just because they're all patterned after ancient female archetypes. She was patterned after Aphrodite. I use the Greek pantheon, as opposed to another one, because I thought people would be more familiar with it. Having to open myself up for Aphrodite's myth and story, I had to do a lot of homework. And my impressions were not right: I thought she was a tart. After really immersing myself in her story, I began to see how she would use her sexuality, and how she was really comfortable with her body. She didn't live a life of guilt where men decided how she felt about her physicality." ...
Was The Beekeeper  more a character or concept?
"I didn't see it as a character. It was more about the structure of the garden, and I like the idea that songs were coming from an expression in nature. And we developed each song coming from a specific garden. And I liked that, especially since our Biblical story starts in a garden. And that's why the tour was the Original Sinsuality tour. And so this was a different take on the whole almost parallel plane from where we've come from. As a minister's daughter, I don't accept that their read of history is the accurate read. So The Beekeeper was really about another viewpoint of the feminine coming from the garden."
And Scarlet's Walk  was more of an overt alter-ego?
"Scarlet was personified thread, the blood of the land. And it was a journey through America, post 9/11, trying to go back and cross the country. But not from a map you would pick up in a local store. But more following it through trying to find ancient sacred sites as a Native American, the spiritual vortexes that they have held secret and sacred. And this was inspired because when I was touring Strange Little Girls: A medicine woman came to see me, and she talked to me about another invasion that had happened that America didn't want to look at, which is when our forefathers and foremothers came over and took the land of the Native Americans. And so Scarlet is a woman, but she is a thread that is weaving across the country, trying to remember the story of the real keepers of this land, who had been practically erased from our history."
In the cover-songs album Strange Little Girls , each song was a character-driven narrative. Did you feel particularly close to any of them?
"They were called the name of the song, because they were the anima. The idea here was the men were the mother-creators of the song - all of the songs were composed by men. I chose to look at them from the point of view of the anima of the song itself. And that way, as a woman, I could give a viewpoint.
Did you relate to any in particular?
"Sure. All of them, or I wouldn't have [recorded] them. Some of them were… It's not that I related to some of them more than others. I think some were starkly powerful. I think the [Eminem's] '97 Bonnie and Clyde' read was powerful, because the song itself -you have a woman murdered in the back, I took the point of view that she wasn't quite yet dead. And all men have to remember: When their wives aren't quite yet dead, that's the most dangerous five minutes. And so the song is from a woman that' s not quite yet dead, hearing what he is saying to her daughter, and that's the last thing she hears before she dies."
To Venus and Back  had some abstract lyrics, but was it pretty much Tori?
"Yeah. You had a double album of the live show and a collection of songs that had accumulated for many years for the live side of the disc, and then you had the future as we were approaching the millennium. It seem to me that the Earth, as it was approaching the millennium, needed a girlfriend. And so Venus seemed to me a friend for her to have."
From the Choirgirl Hotel  had some very obviously personal songs like "Spark," but did "Playboy Mommy" or "Jackie's Strength" represent a character?
"In a way, as you're composing, the songs are their own entities. And they don't have arms and legs, but they do have consciousness. They approach me, even in a two-bar phrase. I have to somehow have had some kind of experience in order to translate them - but they're their own being. And there are moments, like in 'Spark,' that I can feel with every cell, and I'm actually in the place where that song is expressing itself, so I might be living the experience in that moment. And others, I may have lived the experience before, and as I translate the song, I'm able to go back in time. Or I'm able, as a composer, to contain the song and write it and translate it. Because you shape-shift. I make it as a half-decent playwright: Characters can embody you. They come and they visit."
Boys for Pele  was based on some of your experiences beyond the average every-day world. Where were you for that album?
"That album, I was stepping into, in a big way, the confrontational side of the psyche. And having spent some time in Hawaii with Pele herself, I was in a place where I began to question the authority of the male [or] the male-god authority, in such a way that it wasn't just musings; it was direct confrontations. And the abuse of power. So, in a way, I think there was a bit of Boudica, the great warrior woman that stepped up."
Under the Pink  was a departure from the very direct, very literal Little Earthquakes. Did you see songs like "Past the Mission" as more of a creative narrative?
"I was spending some time in New Mexico, and I was studying the history of the Spanish and the conquistadors came in and set up the missions, and subjugated the native people to Christianity, because their beliefs were thought of as something of the devil, blasphemous. And, of course, that justified all [the Conquistadors'] killing, slavery, and abuse. So I guess as a minister's daughter, I'm made up of many characters - we all are. Any good writer, I think, maybe just allows themselves a little more freedom to let different aspects out."
Was Little Earthquakes , as it seems, straight-up you?
"It's a diary form, I would say - a journal. But you really can only write your journal once, in my opinion. I think you can maybe write it twice. But you need to have a lot of time lapse before you write the second one."
When you look back at Y Kant Tori Read , can you relate to that girl, all these years later?
"What I understand about that is: When you get rejected as a composer for so many years that -- if you are a capable composer, you can pretty much compose anything. And my natural inclination as a writer was not going to be thwarted by the record companies, and I couldn't sing in another bar for much longer; I'd done it for 11 years. So everybody has a different breaking point. I guess mine was seven years. And I realized: Unless I would write something that they felt they would sign, I was never gonna get out. So, of course, I chose to give them what I thought was a contemporary sound at the time, a pop-rock record. And I guess when you shop at Retail Slut one too many times, that's what it's going to look like."
Amos promises that every night of the tour will be different. Even if they can't travel, Tori's loyal legion can catch every show. The night of each concert - if everything goes as planned - official bootlegs called Legs and Boots will be available on ToriAmos.com.
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