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October 30, 2009

Tori Amos: 'Music is my passion, it really is magical'

As Christmas approaches, Tori Amos is releasing a new record of seasonal staples and new material called 'Midwinter Graces'. Greg Rose caught up with the enigmatic singer to discover all about bad musicians, British husbands and the her muse...

GR: Hi Tori. Whereabouts are you?

TA: I'm in Cornwall right now.

GR: You live in that part of the world. Did you write much of 'Midwinter Graces' there?

TA: I wrote a lot of the record at my beach house in Florida, in 100 degrees heat. I had seen (label executive) Doug Morris, who said to me: 'I'm 70-years-old, Tori, I want you to do a seasonal record, you're a minister's daughter. Just don't make it overly religious.' I said that happens naturally and he said 'don't offend your mother, but don't offend me either'.

GR: Was it difficult getting into a Christmas mood in that heat?

TA: It might seem strange to you, but all the kids there know that Santa comes on a surf board, that's just what happens.

GR: Had you always wanted to do a seasonal record?

TA: My parents had always wanted me to, but they wanted it to be true to all the hymns that they hold dear. But that didn't interest me. The good thing is that they have embraced the record and it hasn't offended them. I didn't make this to offend them. I wanted to widen up the ideology, so it wasn't just for Christian believers but for people that may be spiritual in some way.

GR: Do you think that Christmas is too commercial?

TA: Well, I think that it was a really huge celebration for our ancestors for thousands of years. So, when you say commercialised I think of people identifying that you can only have a good time if you spend a lot of money. That's a negative because lots of people don't have lots of money to spend. I tried to make a record that didn't focus on that side of it, but focused on values and people.

GR: What does Christmas mean to you?

TA: Your friends and your family -- that's your gold. All my nieces and nephews will come and hang out before Christmas, all my sister's kids, she has five. Just being together.

GR: There are lots of seasonal albums coming out; do you see them as competition?

TA: No I don't. To me, this record is not just a cliche record. A lot of them are just doing covers of tunes that you've heard a million times. This has new versions and new songs.

GR: How did you approach writing specifically for Christmas?

TA: You have to be inspired, have certain emotions that you are feeling put in a context that works. You get nostalgic memories of people that aren't with you anymore. You go to find them and they are not there, whether they have left the planet or are not in your life anymore. A lot of people share that experience.

GR: How do you think people interpret your music? Do you think you have a positive impact?

TA: I don't think like that. It's none of my business what people think. You don't make as many records as I do without realising you have to give them away. You have to let them go and people will have whatever experience they have, you can't control that.

GR: People believe that what you think is their business though -- how do you deal with that?

TA: I meant their relationship with the music. When artists try to control that -- they can't. You have to step back and let people respond in their own way. They might have an idea about a song that is so far away from your idea. You shouldn't change their mind, their opinion is valid. Thank god I learned that one a long time ago. As far as people wanting to know about me, you have to be on your guard at times.

GR: Are you always on your guard.

TA: Yes, that's why I still have a private life. You never see me in those magazines, because things get sorted out behind closed doors. That's just how we live. I have a very British husband who doesn't want our life paraded across the pages of magazines. There is always something shocking happening in everyone's family somewhere down the line, but we're the type of people who deal with it internally.

GR: You're last album came out very recently. Are you a workaholic?

TA: I don't see making music at work. It takes energy that's for sure. Music is my passion, it really is magical. It's not as if I think, oh god I have to do another interview today, I'd rather write my novel.

GR: Why does it take some artists so long to make music when you are so prolific?

TA: I know how to tap into the muse and I give the muse credit, I don't take it all myself. I am under no illusions -- I do not write all this myself. I co-create with a consciousness and it doesn't matter if you believe this or not, I know I don't write it myself. I am lucky enough to own the publishing.

GR: You've done concept albums in the past. Does working towards one particular theme make the music more powerful overall?

TA: Let's take it to your world. If you could choose what to do with your writing, what is your ambition? Then I'll give you my answer.

GR: I'm just looking one day at a time Tori...

TA: I respect that. The thing is when you have a theme then you can recognise what songs can fit into that. You can think 'this song is not right for this record'. There were songs that did not get on the record, it just wasn't the right time, stylistically, in terms of subject matter. It's like a novel, there are characters and ideas that come to mind, that don't fit with your particular theme.

GR: You're working with your regular band, why do you keep the same players?

TA: Because they are great players. When I play with others I walk away tearing my hair out, thinking 'now I have to call these guys back and fix it all'. There are a lot of people that get in the studio and can't really play. They are not great players. That frustrates me.

GR: How do you deal with that? Get angry?

TA: It's painful when you've hired somebody and they are not good. You know within about 20 minutes and then think 'oh god, this is painful for everybody'.

GR: Who would you work with out of everybody in the world?

TA: The guys I work with. Because, listen, some people aren't good with anybody's material but their own. All the guys I work with play with different people. Certain bands work because they work within their own structure. If they go to another session, it isn't as easy to pick up someone else's music, to contribute and to add to it. It's a lot harder than you think and that's why session players are great, not just band members.

GR: What would be your one Christmas wish?

TA: That people could wake up and realise what they value is the people in their life, not in the material things. Not that you don't want those things, but that your priority is having the people in your life as your gold -- more than you value your car.

'Midwinter Graces' will be released on November 9th and is the follow-up to acclaimed studio record 'Abnormally Attracted to Sin'.

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