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"My body is my own, and so is my soul."
By Sandra Keplinger
Tori Amos was interviewed in Vienna, May 2009.
WIENER: I've noticed you've got a very emotional relationship to your fans, and that your fans are very critical when it comes to your music. Have you had the chance to play the new album to an audience so far?
Tori Amos: I'm not here to take a poll. I don't sit and take polls with what fans think. They know I don't. I don't make records by democracy. I am a composer and you cannot be great by trying to please the masses that are all experts. You have to know what it is you're doing. And sometimes that will strike a chord with certain people, and at other times it will strike a chord with different people who follow the work. . . so that's how I approach it. I don't take a poll.
WIENER: You see the fans before every show and take requests.
Tori: Yes, but I don't go up to fans and ask them what they think, are you kidding? No, when Matt Chamberlain calls me up and says "Oh my god, the way the rhythms were put together and it's against the melodic structure", making me have to relisten to it over and over again. Matt, who's one of the greatest drummers in the world, and I see, yeah, I'm right on. So that's what you do. It's a very different process for me than going outside and seeing people before a show and seeing if there are certain songs that will work that night. It's a completely different thing.
WIENER: A lot of songs remind me of your older work, like "Choirgirl" or "Venus". Is "Curtain Call" a sequel to "Ruby Through The Looking Glass" for instance?
Tori: I think some songs are relations on a theme and they're connected, although they might come at a different time and they have different subject matter. But I do think sometimes there are songs that live in this haystack-kind-of-concepts and you're doing variations, although they're their own as well. They may orbit in the same solar-system, musically, but I really like the listener to make those associations for themselves. I think it's really important that the listener is able to do that without me always leading them.
WIENER: You stated that the song "Strong Black Vine" is a political approach to religious intolerance. How do you feel these things change now that Obama is in office? Can you actually tell a difference, now that you're living in England?
Tori: I travel a lot, I'm in the States a lot more than people think. I see England as my husband's country and I'm a guest there. I have a lot of time for the Brits, but I'm an American: I vote there, Doctors, Dinners, everything. All the bits I do as a citizen are in America, I don't have voting rights in England, I don't use the system at all. I'm protected as American citizen and vote and pay taxes and do all that stuff like every other American citizen. And yes, I voted for Obama. I think the whole record "American Doll Posse" was about trying to be a part of change. And now that we have a new administration we also have all kinds of problems as a world that we're dealing with. The economic crises has affected everybody because of the Domino Effect: friends, family, people who have to move. . . relationships and homes are falling apart because of the stress of people losing their homes and jobs. I know people personally who are going off to college and whose parents now can't pay. So their dream is gone, they're having to change and go to community college and work and have to find another way to get in. It's all changing in such a rapid way. So this record was very much written during, yes, Obama getting in. But it's also written during a time when the world as we know it is gone and we're remaking the world. So there's a paradox going on. And also of course - come on- we're in a time of religious intolerance, where the troops are up in Afghanistan where they supposedly need to be because there are people of all the big religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism who feel the other shouldn't exist.
WIENER: Do you think there is actually positive impact happening right now, with Obama traveling through all these countries and trying to reconcile the people? Do you think there's the danger of all this good energy turning into the opposite because the expectations are too high?
Tori: Look, I think that what is on the world's plate at this time is so immense that to have leaders with integrity [is important]. It's just absolutely necessary if we're going to get to a place where this little planet is able to work together. We somehow need to find ways to respect each others beliefs. It's a very thin line to walk to negotiate to bring one side together with the other side, even emotionally. I think it was just unfortunate that with the triumph of getting rid of the idea that you can't have a black president, getting rid of that segregation idea, segregation was still applied to the homosexual community. And this is what I'm saying to you: If we go back to the definition of sin: for me the greatest sin is intolerance of another's belief. As long as they're not trying to kill you then why are you so curious what's going on in their bedroom, why do you care? Whether it's the extreme Islamic or the extreme Christian community, the impression of how women see themselves is so important. The patriarchy has kept women segregating their sexuality or spirituality. I'm pushing it further with the art work and on this record, with the idea of erotic spirituality. In the word mother is the word "other". A lot of mothers forget about the "other", saying the "woman". They don't ever forget about the children, and they're nurturing and trying to give give give to everybody else. But they forget to give to the side of the woman-aspect. And so that side ends up on the top shelf in magazines and the guys know exactly what I'm talking about, because some of these guys are gonna look and say: "Why can't my lover or my wife allow herself to bask in her passion and her beauty." What is it in us that shuts it off? And unless we're having some illicit affair with some guy or some weirdo fantasy that we're prostitutes. . . sometimes we get caught up in this self-image that eroticism is not for mothers and that erotic has become vulgar and where's the sanctity? We can't define sin like the church fathers do. We, as women, have to define it differently. The real sin is allowing the patriarchy to define sin for us.
WIENER: That's interesting, because we're living in such a catholic country in Austria.
Tori: Are you?
WIENER: Oh yes. Everybody is catholic, but not in the traditional way. We're born catholic and we get baptized and then Grandmothers tell us to go to Church and so on and so on. . . and then we pretend to be Catholics and to believe in God but most of us probably don't do it, it's just what we've learned to do.
Tori: I had a grandmother who was a minister, a missionary, and a teacher. And I think she and I didn't get along because her philosophy was "you give your soul to God and your body to your husband." And it's no. My body is my own, and so is my soul. Some people, even scientists, are trying to get us to see earth as a sovereign entity, that the church and governments should not be able to have jurisdiction over earth. Because if we're going to retain this place for a hundred years from now, we have to make grave changes. We see her as a sovereign entity, not just this kind of - I don't know - sex slave that we can do whatever we want with, whenever we want. Women included you know. Just because the religious patriarchy or the governments want the earth to act a certain way, there's cause in effect to carbon emission and there's cause is effect happening on earth. She's just not playing the fucking game, is she? She's just not making it okay for them to continue the way that they have been without any effect. There is effect.
WIENER: How do you think men can support this whole spiritual way of new women?
Tori: They win, really. Don't you think? They win. It keeps their wives from having affairs with silly little Tennis instructors (laughs). . . you know what I'm saying. . . I'm being a bit foolish. I am also saying to you: these women have to tend their own fire and you can't always blame the breakdown of a relationship or a marriage on everybody else. We can talk about men's infidelity until the end of time, however each of us has to ask ourselves: Was I tending the fire? Not for him, for myself! And then they both benefit. But if you start shutting yourself off from thinking you deserve that or need that, sometimes as mums you replace that side of self. It's almost like you edited out a season out of earth's year, so there's spring, summer, winter, fall. What if you just start editing out summer, the heat, the passion of that season? Oh no. . . ok. Spring, fall, winter. (laughs) As a mother sometimes you just edit out the passion that has happened because of what we're attracted to. We're not always attracted to the idea that erotica, spirituality, nurturing and monogamy can all be together. "Oh, if I could have, you know, this happen with this stranger for a few days . . ." and you write these fantasies, it's amputated out of your "respected" life. I'm not saying these women don't have sex, I'm not talking about having sex. I'm talking about seeing yourself as a sensual being that doesn't mean to be kidnapped in a James Bond movie and shagged by some stranger to have it. And I do think that men would highly benefit from this because some of them think: God, I just wanna shag my wife. Can't she just put aside being daughter, mother, career woman, responsible person? Where's that woman I fell in love with? Because if you ask a lot of women they would sit and say: "I don't know where she is." We get in our routine and why does it sometimes take losing our relationship? Why does it take another woman for us to wake up sometimes, why? Why is that? Why can't we..?
WIENER: Do you think that your music can awaken this consciousness?
Tori: I think the music takes me by the hand and takes me through different dimensions and possibilities of growing and changing all the time. And we need to. Like the earth changes, we do. That doesn't mean she's not stable. It doesn't mean that the earth is gonna kick us all off. But I think sometimes we get afraid of our imaginations, of our yearnings and how to apply it to our relationship and daily life. These are huge challenges but a lot of times we are pressed by other people's opinions of us. We just take them on instead of thinking: "No, I have to keep growing and I have to keep recognizing that my partner is growing and changing." And that should be fascinating to me, right? (sighs) Sometimes though what women are attracted to! And some of the letters I get..! Sometimes they don't value the subtlety. I mean why are they attracted to men who have power over them and reject them, opposed to attracted to men who don't want to reject them?
WIENER: But men do that as well, don't they?
Tori: In a different way. I mean, they have their own kind of thing going on. I'm way more fascinated with what we're up to. Women are so complex. Not that men aren't but really. . . My husband will say to me: "Why can't I just ride my motorcycle, hug the asphalt, think about Arsenal winning and shagging my wife? It' really not more complicated than that, ok?" (laughs) "I want to see the football game, I would like to shag my wife and I want to ride my motorbike. Why can't it all be that simple, why does something else have to be going on in my mind? Guilt, because I thought I fancied some girl at the press tour or whatever the fuck it is..? It's not that complicated, wife." And sometimes I'm thinking it isn't. For him, it isn't. And that is okay. I have to say this because I get to meet women on all these promo-tours from all over the world and there was this conversation the other night just about this. I was in Germany, it was a mix of women from all over the world, and that woman was talking to her partner and she was just sounding off. And he wanted to fix it. Like, change the tires and fix it. And she said: "No! You can't fix this, I just want to talk to you about the emotions." And he was just looking at her going: "What do you want me to do!?" And she said: "I don't want you to do anything. I just want you to listen to me." "And do you want me to hug you and make love to you, is it that what you want?" "NO! No. I. Want. You. To. Listen. To. Me." And then she said: "I started to tear my hair out and think 'What am I trying to make him into?'" I have a marriage now for 11 years, and it's funny because Mark will say to you. . . he's British, so totally different than American guys, however. . .
WIENER: I've lived in London. . .
Tori: So you know!
WIENER: I know them.
Tori: Yeah! (laughs) However, he's well traveled and he's my husband and he will say: "You know, the thing is, wife, our relationship, because of us. . ." I mean he'll sit and listen to women talk quietly, sheepishly, now. He'll just sort of get in the corner a little bit and act like he's on his computer. But wherever we are in the world, he will say: "I had to understand that women express themselves, needing to talk. Men bond in different ways and we don't necessarily talk about an emotional problem. But because of our relationship everything is about communication." But it's taken years for us to find the language because now not only do I speak American and he speaks Britain, but the woman and man language is just so different. He's not going to sit down like the woman and say "I need to talk about this." It's been about me, learning that he's not gonna put problems into words. It's about me putting on my Sherlock Holmes hat and finding a way to let him tell me what's bothering him. Sometimes a guy has to have the room, not the nagging wife: "Do you wanna talk about it?", like you're some sort of shrink. You just create a space where they can turn around and say "You know what..?", and after a few days they've been holding this thing, they will talk about it. Part of the seduction is wanting to know what you're partner's thinking. The mental side of it is so much a part of it of the attraction. But if you stop taking the time, if you turn your back thinking your partner isn't thinking and growing, then they'll think and grow while your back is turned.
WIENER: So that never stops.
Tori: That never stops. It always takes work. But that's part of the passion that the records are about. I'll leave you with this: This record was so much work, with hammering out the arrangements. So he and I came into the room, being artist and production, and Tash [their daughter] looked at us and said: "Alright, you two. Enough! I need mum and dad. You just have to put the record aside." I think we're at an age now, where we can actually do that. There were times when we might not have put the record aside and argued about it. I never make records alone, I make them with teams of people. But I compose alone. And that's a very lonely process, although the songs are rich and depend on themselves. But in order to conjure them, I have to go through something in order to translate them. It can be excruciating. Mark will say: "I do not envy you. I used to envy you being able to write all these songs. It's trying to translate and understand them and feel all this feeling." With "Maybe California" I was just blue for weeks, because I allow the mothers and the feeling of wanting to remove yourself from a situation to take over my life. I had an experience that sort of made me hold that feeling. And I think sometimes to be a good composer you do walk a very dangerous line of having to feel things emotionally. If you're not a composer and just a player you don't have to take it there. But you have to excavate the unconscious to go to these dark caves and sometimes I know that Mark's there on the other side with his motorcycle and a hand that says: "You need to get outta here and jump on the back, I'm taking you out of this."
photo caption: I took this photo with a pinhole camera straight after the interview. Tori Amos in Vienna, May 2009. Photo by Sandra Keplinger.
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