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She's back, children. And this time not only is she armed with an album – Abnormally Attracted to Sin – but a West End musical – The Light Princess. COLIN CRAUMMY takes a trip into the magical land of TORI AMOS and hears her muse on politics, sex and the chances of 30 chorus boys belting out Cornflake Girl.
Tori Amos is singling lines from West Side Story and Cabaret down the line to Attitude from her home in sunny Florida. If you are a Tori fan, and gay and like a musical (statistically this is quite a likely combination) then this is pretty much manna from mamma Tori heaven.
There has been plenty of manna to chew on. For near on twenty years, the Amos has held court in the hearts, minds and record collections of her extremely devoted fanbase with her famously challenging, unapologetically female, always passionate and somewhat loopy take on life, love and politics. She's sung frankly about her rape, miscarriages, sexuality, her religious upbringing as the child of a Methodist Minister, and most recently her despair at the policies of George W. Bush, on 2007s album American Doll Posse.
Originally, a new Tori Amos record wasn't due to surface until 2010. There was the American Doll Posse tour to complete, work on a comic book based on Tori songs and the small matter of a wholly original musical based on the 19th century book The Light Princess to be produced by the British National Theatre.
Then in May last year, the Amos announced she had ended her relationship with Epic Records and would be operating independently of major record labels on future work – the fruits of which has already come to bear on her latest and tenth album Abnormally Attracted to Sin, out this month. Abnormally Attracted to Sin – taken from a line in Guys and Dolls – sees Tori delve deep into themes that have echoed through her canon of work: the politics of womanhood and the nature of sin. There's tales of suicidal homemakers, empowered women, feisty (what else?) attacks on religious intolerance and state oppression. At 18 tracks it's another opus, inspired by visual vignettes filmed during the American Doll Posse tour by Christian Lamb, but one with which the lady wields her piano as the weapon she always said she wanted to.
When did you start working on this new record?
The first stage of song writing began on tour in 2007; there was a second stage in July (2008). When you're traveling and you're not a part of things then you observe them in a different way. You're a living ghost. But you walk through, in and out of people's lives. And they tell you things when you are in my position. People will come up to you. And then you'll get the most involved stories that you might not even hear from a close friend in normal life.
What were people telling you?
I saw the changes that were happening so rapidly and people's lives being turned upside down. People were losing jobs. I have never seen things so desperate.
So you were writing as the effects of the recession started to hit home in the US?
Yes. The strange thing about the economic albatross is the effects that it's having [on] the definitions we used to have of what is a powerful person. We would equate somebody that had a job and was able to pay their mortgage as successful. And now we are having to really redefine what is success and what is power.
And this is reflected on the album?
Like Maybe California, where a mother is contemplating suicide and you don't know why. You don't know. Is it because her husband lost his job and everything is falling apart? I was discovering this on my travels, some of the women weren't losing their jobs but the men were. And the effect that was having in the home; relationships were just completely unraveling.
American Doll Posse took on the Bush Administration. Abnormally Addicted to Sin continues threads about repression and power. So your anger didn't die with the Bush era?
There's a song called Police Me. And it talks about the idea of remote viewing. The idea that even though we're in free land, they can know everything about you and everything about me, and they can assess. I don't think that's died with the Bush administration because I don't think it's just about a President, I think it's much, much deeper than that.
But presumably you are hopeful about the new Presidency in the US?
Oh, absolutely! But what I am saying is that you don't walk in and dismantle a structure. I am talking about forces behind a man or a woman. These structures, that have been in place for years and years, they don't change the new President. That's what's breaking the back of the people. It's not necessarily who's in or out. There's an undercurrent, and that is what some of the record was investigating. But yes, steps must be taken and having Obama in was a big step.
Were you disappointed to see Proposition 8 go through on the day of the Presidential election?
Extremely disappointed. Well, we go back to this concept of emancipation. The idea [of] ‘we will overcome' from the great Dr. Martin Luther King, was made in flesh as Obama was put into the office and yet at the same time another group of people were subjugated by some of those voters. This is the idea that a lot of us can't see that we do to somebody what has been done to us. When we get in a position of power, we exercise our power in a way that is not about the path of Christ, the compassionate path. Because a lot of people were saying, "Well you have to understand that a lot of the voters are Democratic voters and Christians [who] are the ones that had an issue with right for the gay community". And I would say, how, in any way, is that the Christian path? And so that was my problem. That the gay community was treated no different than the black community was treated thirty, forty years before. You have to take away the judgment. I've always said get the Democrats out of your bank account and the Republicans out of your bedroom. But now you've got to get the Democrats in the bedroom as well. And that was a little disheartening.
Did you have any friends in California affected by the ruling?
Oh yeah. Some of them were really trying not to be completely victimized. And are trying to look at the situation, and say, "Okay what do we have to do in order to organize ourselves"? and I thought okay, that's more of a survivor's approach than a victim's approach to organize and to work behind the scenes. You have to be smart, not right in this situation. This goes back to the song Strong Black Vine and the idea of religious intolerance. Sometimes, unfortunately, it's across the board. It's even with some of the atheists who have ideas and if you don't agree with certain things, they're going to attack you too. And you kind of think, my god, where's tolerance?
On parallel lines, your work has consistently dealt with women's repression and rights. How does this manifest itself on the new album?
I was intrigued about the key word ‘power', which is at the center of everything we're talking about. Because if your definition of power is authority and one who can judge another person than that means you have to make one powerless in order to feel powerful. And we get into the idea of demeaning activity. So I was fascinated with how erotica can sometimes be associated with being demeaned instead of the idea that there's sacredness to it and spirituality involved. If you really claim your body is your own, and your mind and your heart and your spirit, then when they're all working together, you're going to have a completely different life. And a lot of times people have edited out this side of sensuality.
It's the idea of sex as sin and that sinfulness turns us on, then?
It's how you can get someone to turn against themselves or feel good about themselves. You go back to the idea of power and a lot of people are turned on by being overpowered. Because I've talked to a lot of people, men and women, and they get turned on by the idea of having power over someone or being overpowered. That is an aphrodisiac. So in some songs we're exploring that. Why aren't we turned on by people who respect us, right?
So power as an aphrodisiac is not a good thing?
No, no, no, no, no, no! It's what we're exploring. No, that's what we're exploring because that's how you find out. You've got to know, go back to abnormally attracted to sin. This is about what we are attracted to. What are you attracted to because that tells you. You know when people say "I am trying to find myself". Look, all you need to do is look at what you're attracted to and know what you're made up of in that moment. And sometimes you sit there and go "But I don't want to be attracted to this". Well, but you are. You have to be honest about it.
Your music has developed this motherly aspect, some fans refer to you as a healer. Do you think that's why people are attracted to you as an artist?
Oh, I hope so. If you would have said that to me ten years ago, I would not have been able to, to embrace that. Ten years ago, I would have said, "You don't think I'm hot?" Being a physical mother was a great healing process for me [Tori has an 8-year-old girl, Tash]. I became a beached whale and felt sexy at eight months pregnant just because of what my body could do. That's what I needed with all my Christian guilt, and all that stuff about the body and if you have these desires, they're carnal, and all that programming that you think you've gotten out with all that hair spray and shopping at Retail Slut in L.A. and hanging out with Matt Sorum from Guns N' Roses…that's not what kicked it out. What kicked it out was this little child that as she grew and grew and grew; kicked out those kind of self-imposed opinions that I had not realized had slipped through myself.
The journalist Chuck Klosterman, who observed sets of music fans, came up with the top ten musicians with the ‘most dedicated, least rational' fans. Slayer was number one, and you were number two.
I'm in good company with Slayer. Who was number three?
Sublime. I don't know who they are. The top ten includes Kiss, Black Sabbath, Bruce Springsteen, Morrissey and Iron Maiden. There aren't a lot of chicks. There's something in the fact that it's you and these heavy metal bands. Like them, you're beyond trends, you speak your own language and you use your piano as a weapon in the way they would wield their guitars.
That's true. When I was studying Guitar Player as a teenage girl, I was thinking: ‘These guys are onto something'. They've been able to use the instruments in a way. I mean ‘cock rock' became a pejorative. But if you really think about it, they're not assaulting another human being, they're taking their instruments and plugging into this 220 voltage. And it seemed to me that a piano could do that but you had to play with your whole body. You couldn't just play with your hands and you had to let it play you. ‘Metal Momma' comes to mind.
You covered music like Slayer's Raining Blood and said you wanted to play like you had the devil in you, just like a heavy metal band might.
If you're going to do that, you have to be willing for the negative aspects as well. Which means if you're going to stir it up, you have to figure that you might get on some blacklist somewhere.
How is the new musical going?
The latest is that it's in the next draft. Green light is still on, which is always kind of nice. [Originally] we wrote a musical that would probably last four days. So everybody got a song.
A four day Tori musical would go down well in some circles.
Well. Ha, ha. It could be a pilgrimage. But the thing is you give everybody a song. You think ‘Let's give the soldiers a song, let's give this guy a song' and then finally the people involved kind of looked at Sam Adamson and me and said, "okay, now well you guys go back and make this two hours".
So can we expect a West End extravaganza with 30 chorus boys belting out Cornflake Girl?
Oh god, I would love 30 chorus boys belting out something like Cornflake Girl. That would just make my year. But I don't know if they'll give that to me because, you know, every chorus boy has a price.
Is it going to be staged in London?
Well, yeah the idea is that it'll go over to Broadway. The British National Theatre develops things that then go onto Broadway. And I think maybe because I'm an American, they thought maybe Broadway will at least kind of know who she is? And not just say: "Oh God what is she trying to do?"
The album's title is taken from a line in Guys and Dolls. What musicals best represent Tori Amos?
It would have to be excerpts from quite a few. It would have to be Big Spender from Sweet Charity. How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? [sings] "I'm reviewing the situation" [from Oliver] into a "maybe this time I'll get lucky" from Cabaret. And "I like to be in America, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la". And the big finale would have to be some Bob Fosse sexy number. God I just love his choreography. I just love it.
Does your daughter listen to your music?
Oh yeah, she listens to everything. But she gets on YouTube and she starts these impersonations. She's very funny Tash, scary funny though. She's eight but things she comes up with, it's a little dark and dangerous and that's probably because she's traveled so much and she's around adults. We were at this shoe store just last week. And Tash comes in wearing these Michael Kors five-inch platforms. Michael Kors at eight! So yes, I have my work cut out for me. "Well," she says to me "you realize mommy if I was a boy, I'd be gay". And she says "how many straight guys like to shop like this?"
Are you on Twitter?
I'm not. I don't know. I'm busy. I've got stuff to do.
Status updates in 140 characters. Oh god. "I really need work, I need something to do. Please hire me, give me a project. Because if I am doing this then that means that The Light Princess is not getting written and everything else I'm supposed to do has turned its back on me. And I'm desperate."
Abnormally Attracted to Sin is out on Universal Republic 19 May.
Miss Tori has since joined Twitter at www.twitter.com/therealtoriamos.
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