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Having just finished a world tour promoting her ninth studio album, American Doll Posse, Tori Amos talks about women, motherhood and the perils of friendship. By Luke Malone.
What drove you to write from the perspective of five different women with American Doll Posse?
Tori Amos: I was questioning where the women were in America during the last election, and studying the ability of the Christian right wing to minimise the power of women uniting by distracting them; having them distracted by their own stereotypes.
If the women were, say, envious of who they weren't, instead of maybe incorporating who they weren't into their life. I've always found that envy is a fantastic distracter. It keeps you away from asking who the real enemy is. I began to try and figure out, 'Well, what is an image?' And as I began to see what my persona was, I began to see all the sides of myself that hadn't been expressed.
Do you find it hard not to have yourself, Tori, dominate the process when it comes to collaborating with these different characters?
No. It's strange because they're all facets of the self. If you look at yourself, you who I'm talking to is one expression of your wholeness. But if you put yourself into different situations with different people, a different family for example, who maybe had a completely different way of life, then your soul might have developed incredibly differently. I know if I weren't a minister's daughter I would be a very different person. So there are sides to Tori that I've never allowed myself to explore because I've made certain choices. I guess I was at the place in my life where I've been a singer/songwriter for a long time, and I don't need to do that anymore. I might do that again some time and I do that in concert here and there, but you get to a place where you know who you are and you want to explore other sides.
Do you think that comes from being a performer or is it more to do with age?
I think it's an age thing. If I had done this project six years ago it would have looked and sounded very different. Maybe I had to get to a place where I wasn't so defensive. In a way, I had to be really vicious with myself and not be threatened by these other women that might be more appealing to people. It's strange, but it's one thing to be envious of the new girl in town, it's another if it's a different side of yourself that everybody likes better. You have to be ready for that.
Did you find that prospect intimidating?
Well, it can be, unless you are at a place where you understand that this is just a suppressed side of yourself. You have to understand it. We've been brought up to think that you have to make a choice and we really go get pigeonholed and judged, by our friends particularly. Over the years, especially in my late 20s, early 30s, when I started to change a bit, man, I'd catch hell.
Maybe it's because as you grow and morph it makes people question their own place in the circle.
That's right. Sometimes the people you consider your friends and most trusted are the ones that are going to try and sabotage you exploring another side of yourself that maybe they wouldn't want to hang out with. Or they're afraid they won't be included in that side of your life. I have found that over the years we as friends can be so territorial that we impede somebody that we say we want to support.
When it comes to your album, would you describe yourself as political or just aware?
I think if you're aware you are going to talk about all kinds of things and make different choices every day in your life, including who you vote for. But if you're just political then sometimes you're not necessarily aware. You might only be knowledgeable about specific issues.
How do you think things would be different if there was a woman in the White House?
It depends who that woman is. If you're speaking specifically of Hillary Clinton, there's no question that she's one of the most intelligent people in Washington. However, I think that in order for that to happen, the average person has to start becoming clear about who they are because people can be threatened by people who are intelligent, unless you're secure in your self. So I've decided to put my energy in looking at little earthquakes that happen in life every day. And if you can tackle those, if you can somehow transform these issues where you think you're drowning and you don't know what's hitting you, then change is possible. We're being forced to become enlightened and conscious or we decide to become self-destructive because we can't deal with it. Now we're watching, right in front of our eyes, the people that are choosing to face the demons, and the ones who are choosing to run from them. I think it's painful to watch somebody urinate all over themselves emotionally and spiritually. It's difficult watching an emotional defecation publicly.
It can also be weirdly confronting. You think, there but for the grace of God...
Yes. But also, and you know I can be cruel, don't you think some of us look at that and buy those magazines and if we're honest we'd say, 'God, I feel better because I'm not that fucked up!' [laughs]
I mean, come on. I watch it in myself, I watch it in my nieces. Sometimes you see people making choices and you know that could be you. And it almost makes you feel like, okay, I did some stupid things this week, but not that stupid.
As a mother, do you find yourself worrying how your daughter's decisions might impact upon her future?
It does make me look at where, as a mum, do you step in and say, 'I don't care if you hate me, I'm not here to be your best friend, I'm here to be your mum. I'm here to tell you the truth.' Some mums are doing that and some of them aren't. I think it's really difficult to be a mum with a daughter at this age right now. There are a lot of pretty sluts running around, okay. And not too clever. There seem to be a lot of sirens out in the middle of the ocean that have lost their sonar, they've lost their song, they don't know why they're out there and they forgot how to swim. Their mother might come in with a chopper and they just look at her and say, 'Fuck off!' Or the mum comes in and brings a bunch of champagne and hangs out [laughs]. You know? Either way, it's two extremes. And so, yeah, I'm questioning how you avoid having a niece or daughter get to that stage.
Have you found an answer to that question?
You'd have to ask my nieces, but I'd like to think I have. Sometimes you have to say, 'What the fuck are you doing?' Aunts can do that maybe a little differently than mums. Don't you think in this day and age that it takes a tribe to bring up a kid? It does take more than just parents. It takes mentors. I certainly had those people. But what happens when you don't have those people? I think that's what we're seeing, when you don't have other people that are there for the right reasons. If people are only there because you're successful, then that's tragic. Have you ever wondered, whoever is reading this interview, do you ever wonder if you've chosen the right friends? Everybody's there when you're successful, that is not an issue. But who is really there, I mean really there, when nobody's ringing your doorbell, when you've lost the gig, when there's not a lot of cash? Who's there? And are you there for your friends? What kind of friend are we? These are the really important questions.
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