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Q Radio (UK, www)
online radio for Q magazine
June 26, 2009
Tori Amos interview
My father wanted me to compromise religious music because he's a Methodist minister. And that was always very difficult because he was driven to be more of a Billy Graham kind of figure, I don't know if you know who that is in this country, but it was, not an evangelist, more Puritanical kind of evangelist, um, very popular in America. And so, I think my father was very controlling in some ways, but supportive. There's been so much imprintation underneath our skin. Even if you were to look at me and say, "oh I'm not religious at all" and I would say, "No, you may not be. But, some of the ideology has seeped through your cells, unless you're one of the few billion women who has been able to absolutely segregate that kind of thinking." Um, and as a minister's daughter, I have found it's been my passion, I'll use that word a lot today. It's been my passion to try and figure out how concepts like sin, um, that were defined by the patriarchy, that authority, was worn like skin on women for hundreds of years. And still, when I travel, women will say to me, even in the 21st century, it's very difficult to integrate the idea of eroticism and spirituality. Because, eroticism has also been hijacked and absorbed, that different definition, to be demeaning. It's been suppressed for thousands of years. I mean the patriarchy was in control, once they got rid of our great anciennt female archetypes, then it was really a male authority in control.
(Silent All These Years)
The album has lots of facets to it. There's 16 visualettes, short films, and then the packaging itself, the artwork, the booklet is not a standard booklet, and you have to put your money where your mouth is, because that means that your packaging is going to be a lot more expensive than you've been allotted, but I am willing to do that. I feel that the visual side and the sonic side, when they're working together, it is a treasure. I find that when I travel, because your senses are um, you're not in a routine. When I say routine, I'd say when were in Cornwall for example, that's more mom, I become "mummy", and um Tash then, she's on the road with us, so she comes off the road and goes to school. And usually about that time I will have written the all the record, and so by the time we get to Cornwall, it's time to go in and record. Now that's a very, very different discipline, completely different thing, recording and writing.
(Fire to Your Plain)
This is my 10th album, and it's a privilege to be able to be making a 10th album in this climate. This is a time when the world usually is, I would say they define music by a tune, instead of an album, much less a double album. And this album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin, is very much a double album. Based on the shape of Abbey Road. And so, I guess, the way I look at it, if I bow to fads, and the way everybody else is doing it, then that's when I feel I lose I don't know, I lose my way. As a musician I have had to recognize I do big installations, big sonic installations. And if I start trying to do something like an 8x10 picture for people then that's not really my form. The last two years I think for so many people has been a time of despair. And it comes out in different ways. Some people have lost everything. With the earth changes, the fires in California, things are happening it seems on a daily basis. As I traveled I began to realize that homes were being torn apart. When people say an economic crisis, it's really to me, so uh, cold, that doesn't even begin to describe whats happening. There's an emotional wound where people have been cut in half by some of these changes. Kids who were going to go to college, their parents can't afford it anymore. Their lives have changed. It's not just a little hiccup in their life. So, despair has been something people have been waking up to, and possibly paralyzed from, So how do you survive that? I think the music is very much about finding strength when you're on your knees. And sometimes you have to reach really really deep, deeper than you knew, deeper than you've ever had to reach before. And there are other times on the record when, you do step into your power quite easily and you say, no, I know this. I know what I believe in, and I'm going to stand in what I believe in. And it's not such a hard day. So there are different moments of feeling powerful, and feeling powerless.
This is not my country. I don't vote here, I'm a guest. I have to be very careful. Because in a way, I'm an American, who happens to sort of um, you know, have a bi-coastal relationship with my husband, who is in the West coast of England, and then I come from the East coast of America. What I observe, however, is you as a group of people, have been intimated by speaking out toward people in authority. Your authority is not the church, your authority is a politial patriarchy, and a system, the civil service, where they have a lot of authority to control your lives. And there's no check and balance, as if they can get away with almost anything, unless people are willing to stand up and say, "no, I'm going to take you to tribunal, no, I'm gonna take this all the way." And I find the British people I've met thinking, how in the world am I going to go against the system? Whereas in America, if you look at Obama, and you look at the fact that we got rid of Bush, we all had to bond together and stand up against a very threatening force, we were able to do that. But our threatening patriarchy is the right-wing Christian side that is so powerful, and in advertising, and in media, and controls us, in ways that you are not controlled by.
I've been performing now, a really long time, and I think you have to as an artist, claim your stage, and you have to also know that every stage is different, every night, every audience is different. But I think, you design so that it works with the mood of the people. And sometimes, you know, they don't want to dance. If there's a tragedy for example, that's happened in a town, there have been nights when I've played shows and something just, awful has happened and they need more of a healing night, they need to cry. And then of course there's some nights when they need to get up and just loosen up. I do think it's about the performer too, who has to help light that fire.
There's so many complex relationships we all seem to have in our lives today. And sometimes, you think, well I've cracked it on this side of things, but on this other side of my life, how in the world am I in a relatinoship where I'm being demeaned, or not respected, or dishonored in some way, and you feel intimidated and you don't know how to turn it around. But this is your gold. Then the universe is saying to you, "this is your work" and even though it's painful, you think, okay I have an amazing opportunity to break this chain. Yet again, I seem to be always breaking this chain, with different people, and it's different circumstances. I mean you don't walk up to somebody and say "okay, here's a whip, why don't you just whip me across the face?" Sometimes you walk in, and it's seduction. And you're drawn in, and you choose to believe the picture you're being given instead of looking through that picture, and seeing the reality. Cause I sometimes think though, that we get a taste for something that's not good for us. You see, c'mon, if you need approval of somebody else for whatever reason, and they don't give it to you, you're strung out. It's no different than heroin or some kind of drug. They withhold from you, they don't say you did a good job, whoever it is, they just keep it from you, and keep it from you. And you need that, you're burning for it.
In your 20s and as you go through certain periods, you become attached, to needing certain mentors, for example, to say "yeah, you did a good job." And sometimes, it's those relationships where you have to say, "no, I have to know where I stand with myself." I also think you can just get old and bitter and twisted. I've seen that happen with people. I'm hoping to, again, we go back to this, break that chain. Just because you have all these experiences doesn't mean you change anything in your life. You can just get old, and you know, grumpy. Or you get old and you learn from your experiences.
Always with a live show, discipline is the word. Because let's face it, if you have a small catalog, then your choices are made for you about what songs you are going to work up. When you have hundreds of songs in the catalog, then you really have to say, alright, we have to choose a direction. And we can't just cover one album, you know, it's 10 albums so you need to make choices from each record. I have to separate myself from the artist to the producer. And the producer is quite vicious, I'm absolutely ruthless, and I say that hopefully with lipgloss and a high heel on, and in the nicest possible way. When you're editing, you have to know that you cannot put all these songs into one show. So you have to say, choices have to be made, and we can work up songs as we get out on the road. But yeah, you have to be vicious but fair.
[transcribed by Kourtnee Lauria]
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the World of Tori Amos