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Tori Amos Interview
Abnormally Attracted to Sin
by Lauren Elfman
Hollywood, California -- Tori Amos shook the world's stage in 1992 with her intensely personal album, Little Earthquakes. Since then, she has been described as unique, quirky, sexual, spiritual, and feminist, as Tori has acquired an enormous (and enormously loyal) following. Buzzine's Lauren Elfman sits down with Tori and gets the inside story on her life, creative process, and her current tour and newest album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin.
Lauren Elfman: You've taken us on a journey with each album and we've had the privilege of listening to you evolve through different sounds. What does Abnormally Attracted to Sin represent as per where you are in your life right now?
Tori Amos: When I travel the world, the one thing that keeps coming up is that women are torn between stepping into their spiritual selves or their sexual selves, and it doesn't seem to matter if they come from a more sexually liberal culture. Inside their minds, they're having to almost segregate one from the other when they step into it, so if they're in a sexual moment, then they leave their spiritual self behind because they don't know how to integrate. This work was really about redefining what "sin" means to you. If you, as a woman, are having to step into the idea of top-shelf porno to get off, then you're subjugated to another authority. I was injecting my world with the idea of erotic spirituality, so that's what I've been doing the last couple years.
LE: How important is the use of visual art in the context of your music, especially through your own photographic portrayal and the visual arts from your last tour?
TA: I am influenced by visual artists quite a bit. I can hear things when I see... I think it pushes me further to interpret something that isn't my art form, and then I can bring what I discover to my art form. They point me in directions that get me to hear things that I haven't heard before. If you're listening to other musicians and you hear something, you don't want to be repeating that because then you're already starting to not be caught in the emotional work, if you're writing music that's kind of too close to something else, so I stay away from current music when I walk into full-form composition, but I surround myself with visual art that I collect around the world -- art books, information... It's kind of central to my composing.
LE: Is this new tour different, in any way, from your previous tours?
TA: Last time I was working with the characters from American Doll Posse, and this time I don't leave the stage -- I just play. I think people can really feel central with the women's section. There are four people on stage at a time. I've been working with the new keyboards and ultimately developing one sound -- the kind of computer where you are able to use some of the sounds that they've come up with, but because there are so many channels, you really need to combine them and make new sounds up. So in a way, this record reminded me of the experience that I had playing From the Choirgirl Hotel, where technology and keyboards and the Boesendorfer were working together in an advanced way. The live show has a lot going on because, while the keyboard works, it has to come in directly while I play, and adding the guitars on stage makes it intricate where Matt [Chamberlin] and Jon [Evans] and myself step up and rearrange everything. Everything is rearranged. It works for our instruments.
LE: Are we getting a little holiday gift from you this season? Are you working on a Christmas album?
TA: Let's say something is coming. I don't know if I'd use the word "Christmas" because it's me. It's a strange time of year because, as we both know, for a long long time, the solstice has been celebrated in that time of year, and with the coming of the church, a lot of things like songs and celebrations got turned into something else. Sometimes we forget that that goes alongside of Christmas as well, and there's some unbelievable music, I think, from the past that has had many different versions done of them. But I do say we could kind of look at it holistically over the past few thousand years and what that time of year meant, and then a little part of me started thinking about twisting... just in my way... some things that you all might know, and some things that you might not know, and present it in a very different kind of way. They're very beautiful. I was starting to pull strings a couple weeks ago. But I'm not doing something obvious.
LE: Where has your spirituality settled? Are you raising your daughter to learn Christianity, or just to be open-minded or spiritual...?
TA: Tash [Natashya Lorien Hawley] goes with us on tour. She has her own ideas about things. She's really vocal about it. The Native American side is something that she's being open to. They're presenting her and blessing her with a blanket tonight. We're near Rockhurst University, which is a large campus -- that's where I've gone over the years many times to be open and meet people, and I would say that that belief system, over the last ten years, has become somewhat central. As you travel, I believe you start to find your own way, along with science and other things. But I'm not somebody who's a traditional person. I have a lot of influences because of traveling so much, and I think Tash is forming her own way of looking at the world, but it really is unique, and we want her to express her beliefs. Even sometimes she might offend people. We try to explain that something might be offensive, if she's in a room with the family that are right-wing Christians. We have to say, "Look, they really believe that there is a God," and she'll say, "But that's not my God," and she will tell them that. But this is coming from her.
LE: What is the current status of your work in musical theater and with The Light Princess? When will that premier, or when will you be writing the score for that musical?
TA: It's in its second draft, and that's just been turned in. It's one of those projects that's very involved, and while I've been building it with Samuel Adamson, the playwright, I've been procreating these other projects alongside, and something from The Light Princess might even show up in the Solstice Experience, because I've been composing that now for a couple years. Things cross over. The projects do influence each other -- they really do.
LE: One of my favorite tracks off the new album is "Maybe California" -- the woman is sort of on the verge of breaking, and I think a lot of people can relate to that nowadays. How have you related to her, or have you come close to feeling like she does in that song?
TA: I think a lot of people have come close to feeling like she does in the song, and when that song came to me, it was at a time when I was seeing mothers -- not just one -- ask the question that if they weren't there anymore, would it just be the better answer for the family? And when I started to really understand the gravity of what that meant...because these aren't women who are crazy; these are just women pushed to a point that can't fix the tragedies that happen to families, where they've lost everything and can't put their kids through college and the husband's lost the job, and it goes on... I was traveling a lot during the middle of making Abnormally Attracted to Sin, and there were a couple of different phases of the writing, and there is a phase when songs like "Ophelia," "Maybe California," and "Starling," where there is great suffering, and it's hard to sometimes find that strength when no one is stepping in and offering you that hand at that time. You wonder what is it that's going to step in? And for me, it's always the songs that step in, so this song was influenced by watching women getting so close to jumping over the edge and having to come to terms with that, and looking in my own life, sometimes you have to look -- how close are we all? I think some of us... it just depends on the day. I think you'd like to think that you're a bit further away. Then maybe she found herself on the road that day.
LE: You have appeared in a lot of television shows and films performing your songs, but have you ever thought of composing scores for films?
TA: I'm a songwriter, and I think that's central to the story. You'd have to work with somebody who wanted to work with a specific writer like me, because I guess...scoring for films -- a lot of it is underscoring, and the underscoring sometimes is about not getting in the way instead of being central, so maybe that's why I was drawn to the idea of writing The Light Princess, is that the song and the story are completely interwoven, and they do rely on each other to work, so I think I'm going more the song route right now as opposed to the underscoring route.
LE: How did you further explore your producer side on this album, and will you continue to do so in the future?
TA: With each record, there's always the technology that you can choose to include, and some of it you do find the work wouldn't be this great... For instance, if I hadn't brought the musician -- that was pretty essential, I would say -- to this record. I started fooling around with them and the production side of my brain... well, everything has changed because of the building of the sounds, and a library was developed, of the sounds, which started long before we recorded. Maybe the difference between now and many many years ago is that I understand how involved producing is. There's a lot that happens in post-production, and before, when you don't know all the possibilities, sometimes you don't explore them either -- you just take the obvious route, and that doesn't mean you can't make a good record, but it might not be a record that's making you think of "listen to what that's doing, and listen to all those layers and listen to what's happening here." So time was spent on it. I enjoy being in the studio and working with teams of people because, in that way, you have sounding boards and you have people that will get you through it, and then you can find the right answer when there are enough people in the room with different points of view.
LE: How does your personal/emotional state affect your ability to create -- and how do you react to the occasional/inevitable snarky-asshole critic?
TA: I think you just have to accept that you're a creative force or you're not. I've been making records a long time, and you have to know where you stand with your work. I don't know if people really know my state of mind or not. I keep things pretty private, so I don't think they know if I'm sad or not. I think that's presumptuous of people to try to second-guess what's going on in somebody's life. As you know, I don't read the critics because I think most of them have been pushed off their own paths -- most of them, not all of them.
LE: Are you happy now?
TA: I have my days, just like anybody else. I have challenges in my life, just like anybody else. But I like being able to be a full-time musician and a mom, and being able to get out there and do a pretty strong show for two hours and not have to dance topless at some bar because I'm confused. I guess that's a happy place to be.
LE: Does the dynamics of your intimate relationship with your husband and your working relationship ever collid? Do you work well together, or do you sometimes have to take a step back...?
TA: We work very well together. That's how we met each other -- we met as professionals first, so when we're in the studio, we can step into that more quickly than we can step out of that, and there have been occasions when Tash would have to say, "Okay, you two -- leave it outside," because when it's time then to step into family, you have to put aside what needs to be left in the control room and the studio and what needs to be left back at the gig, if we're on the road and we're touring. He's on the engineer bus and I'm on Tash's bus. The band is all on Tash's bus -- she's entertaining nightly. So it's a very different kind of rhythm and lifestyle. I think the professional side, again, is easy... not easy, but it came first, and we had to really work very very hard at recognizing that we have a daughter and that sometimes we can't find a resolve about something that day or that week. Sometimes things are just not resolved yet, especially if you have a mix that's going on and you're working through it. Most people leave their work and then go home to their lovers and talk crap about people we work with. But you don't have a good relationship if you undercut each other or if you use manipulative ways to get your way, so it forces us... in order to have a good relationship as lovers and as parents to Tash, and then as a working team with the band and the studio, we have to not go below the belt and talk shit about each other. We have to say everything to each other's face, and we do, but sometimes we need to do that with the doors closed. We're very private people.
LE: Will the Posse women ever come out and play again?
TA: Good question. I don't know. There's always Poland. That is one of those things -- it depends on the night. They might just have to come to it one night, but as of now, I haven't seen much of them.
LE: Where are they hiding?
TA: You know, there are some redheads backstage right now...
LE: What were your thoughts on the outcome of Comic Book Tattoo, the book that came out in 2008, and do you foresee any more involvement in the comic book world?
TA: That was a really exciting project, and very involved. Rantz Hoseley was the editor of that. I had known Rantz since he was 19, I think, and he's in his 40s now, so when he approached me about doing this, I could hear the passion in his voice and I thought he was ready to step into the world of an editor, which all of you know is a pretty tough role because you have to encourage everybody and yet align with people at the same time. So the main involvement I had was to make sure that the artist could explore what they wanted to without feeling like they were gonna get censored because I had a preconceived notion of what it should be. I learned that a lot of the artists and writers that were working on the project didn't have a lot of leeway, necessarily, in some of their stories, because if they're writing superheros, there are certain guidelines and rules that just have to be followed. So part of that project was very much about learning that Comic Book Tattoo was very open for them to interpret how they wanted to interpret the story. They had a lot of freedom, but there was a lot of discipline at the same time.
LE: Do you have any other talents or hobbies we don't know about, like cooking or painting...?
TA: No, I'm crap. [Laughs] No, I can't do anything else. I'm always forced to talk to you people, but I'm a much better listener. I think doing interviews is really tricky. There's an art form to it, and I understand why it's done, but I really like listening to people a lot more than I like talking. I wrote songs so I wouldn't have to talk about myself, but I end up answering questions all the time.
LE: What's on the horizon? What professional and personal goals do you have for the next few years?
TA: I really have two big works coming out this year, and that's a lot to accomplish as a musician, so it's been an incredibly busy year. Maybe that's because my mentor, who is running Universal, is a buddy and he pushes me to do things, and it's always good to have a relationship with somebody who wants you to strive and light the fire under you as a tour de force. We'll be touring out into -- at the end of November -- we're doing to Australia as well. But I'm doing solo shows down there, more like I did in London, so that will be just a one-woman show down in Australia. Then I don't know what the future holds -- my focus is on The Light Princess.
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