Undercover (Australia, www) undercover.com.au
December 18, 2009
Tori Amos interview
I: Welcome to Undercover, we'll be catching up with Tori Amos. Great to have you back down here again.
Tori: Thank you.
I: You've been a bit of a regular visitor down this way.
Tori: Well, I love it here and my daughter loves it, she's with me.
I: Oh, you brought the family, great stuff.
Tori: Oh, yes. Husband has no choice because, you know, he is one of my work-slaves.
I: Ok, good to see, good to see, that's the way to keep it. How old is she now?
Tori: She is 9, just 9 in September.
I: Is she musical?
Tori: Do you know, this is the thing: the shower has taught us that she is very musical. In her piano lessons, however, it's a different story. But in the shower she's singing, this voice is coming out of her, you're thinking Aretha Franklin is in there or Christina Aguilera.
I: That's interesting because you basically jumped out of a womb and went straight to the piano, didn't you?
Tori: I did. And so as she says: 'You know, Mommy, it's a little unfair that you say I'm not good at piano because I might be good, but just because I'm not learning what the teacher's teaching me doesn't mean that I couldn't learn other things'. So she's deciding to pick up the songs that she wants to learn.
I: Cause you were like 2 years old, weren't you, when you sort of, first started playing around the piano?
Tori: Yes, and that's why, I mean Tash has been good to say: 'Look, just because I'm 9 doesn't mean I'm a failure and it's over for me'. And I'll say: 'No, you're right, but the clock's ticking'. She'll laugh at me!
I: I guess for you starting at 2 years, I mean, you could now officially claim 40 years in the business.
Tori: That's 44.
I: 44 years in the business!
Tori: 44 years. I was at the conservatory, when I was 5, training. And I think when you're 5 years old and you're training, the positive side of that is it does get into your vocabulary and that was a huge part, I think, of making the season record that my classical training kicked in.
I: You've had an amazing, prolific period, haven't you, in the last 12 months and then sort of heading into the new year. I mean, we had Abnormally Attracted to Sin album, then we had Midwinter Graces and in 2010 there is The Light Princess on the way as well.
Tori: You know, when you say that to me I'm very blessed that the muses don't seem to be angry with me yet. And I leave wine for them everywhere I go, I never finish totally. Well, maybe in a restaurant I can hear ??? all over the world saying '??? her own wine'. But I do leave little presents for the muse thinking: 'Keep remembering me and your musical thoughts'. And she does!
I: Oh, that's good to hear too. The Abnornally Attracted to Sin album, you seemed revitalized with that, I mean, you just signed a new label. Was that all a part of the process of getting a new label how it seemed around you, I guess, working for the record that gave you the creative spirit on with that album?
Tori: Well, that's a good question. I think because Doug Morris, who is Chairman of Universal worldwide. He's 70 now and he is my mentor. He ??? Little Earthquakes, he was Chairman of Atlantic records in the late 80's/early 90's. I've been with Doug, well since I can remember, for my recording life I've been with him. And being with somebody that was there as a believer does something to you once you've been in the business for as long as I have. And I think it's because before I was approven a touring act and recording artist he was there and, therefore, once I left 'the evil empire', mentioning no names, it was really great when he opened his store to me. I was not planning on going to a major again. And I was actually setting up my own label and going to distribute through Universal. And he said 'No, Tori, come be with me and you can have as much independence as you want but let's work together because we always worked together so well' And he brought in Monte Lipman, who is my day-to-day guy and I have a ??? of ideas with each other and we have a really good relationship.
I: We've gone from one album into Midwinter Graces and, you know, this is your first Christmas record.
Tori: Can you believe it? My Dad has been harping on about me doing this since I was 2.
I: Wow, finally got his wish.
Tori: He did, but it's a little different than he thought it would be. We talked about it. I said 'You know, Dad, I can't do these carols as they've been written because some of the beliefs are really, I think, they subjugate women. There's so many mothers that are a part of the sexual act in order to be a mother, unless you're in a Christian story, you do certain things to become a Mom. And I don't want any of that shaming in the work I do. And he said: 'Well, you need to do what Charles Wesley did', and I said 'And what's that?' And he said: 'Well, he took parts of music that he liked and he put Christology to it. So you'll take what you like and put your own ideology to it'. And I said: 'Well, thanks Dad for the approval before I start cause that's what I have to do'.
I: Because it's a total reconstruction of Christmas songs, it's like reinventing what the Christmas album is, isn't it?
Tori: Well, without, I hope, disregarding the beauty of the originals. I tried to keep what I loved from the originals. But what people might no realize and this is really important is that a lot of the carols you hear, came from, a lot of them were drinking songs or sea shanties before Christian lyrics were put to them. And as I started researching about where each carol came from a lot of times they'll say to you in The Oxford Book of Carols, they really believed the melody was a famous pop song of the time, a pop song, a sea shanty. The Christians decided 'Let's put some Christian lyrics to this'. And that's how that song came about.
I: What about The Light Princess, what's that all about?
Tori: That's one of the most challenging things I have ever, probably it is the most challenging thing that I've ever taken on board. I was told that composing a musical was a glorious nightmare. And they're not kidding. For it to be good, for the script and the songs to be integrated, it's incredibly challenging because when they rewrite a scene, which happens all the time, then you have to rewrite the music in most cases because the song doesn't work for the scene anymore. So, we're in our second draft and I guess I've spent more time composing for this work than any other work in my life.
I: So will we see this in 2010?
Tori: We are in a workshop in the spring, a three-week workshop, working it through so the chances are it being and running in 2010, knowing the timeline, I'd say to you even if it gets the green light, it would be 2011.
I: In all this time you've even managed to ??? a duet with David Byrne
Tori: How exciting, that was such fun.
Tori: Such a big fan, and the thing is, working with him was just a blast. Because what I love about him, he is yet another legend, and I've worked with some amazing ones: Robert Plant, Peter Gabriel, and they're great as well. Robert, you know, has gone on to work with other people, and has such success with working with female artists. And David has this, he seems so unaffected by the fact that he is a legend. He goes about his life, he's very funny and if you walked in the room he's a striking man, but he doesn't expect to be treated like a rock star. He came on a train by himself. I mean, you know, really unaffected kind of.
I: I heard stories of him getting around New York City on his pushbag.
Tori: Yeah, down-to-earth guy.
I: Interesting stuff with him. I guess you've never been afraid to get sort of out your comfort zone, have you, when you did the 'Professional Widow' remix all those years ago. Did you expect that to become as big as it became?
Tori: No, no. And I mean, it was fun doing that. I think when people ask me about why don't you do it again because it's really hard to repeat being one of the biggest, the song that is a dance song that got turned into a dance song. When you have something like 'Professional Widow' in your arsenal to then try and do that again, you're setting yourself up for a fall. And I think that that's just something that has become legendary and because it's not my genre I think it's that idea about being a gambler and you walk away from the Vegas tables knowing 'Ok, we won. Let's walk away before we lose the house'
I: Speaking of you being in your genre: you've also been able to take things that have been outside your genre and turn them into your genre, like that amazing version you did of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit.
Tori: That, I think, when I heard that song it had such an effect on everybody and yet it dawned on me that it was such a beautiful piece of music and that the song was so strong that it could hold a different interpretation. And I think certain songs when they're not just dependant on an arrangement but the song itself, naked, is so strong, then those are the songs that call to me. '97 Bonnie & Clyde was another song, the Eminem track, that I felt 'Well, you know, this could hold other interpretation that could be just as valid'.
I: ??? Strange Little Girls was an amazing collection of songs, wasn't it. And, you know, I mean to have the guts to cover Joe Jackson's Real Men from your perspective.
Tori: That whole record was, that was a ??? my husband, Mark, and Neil Gaiman we sat, my daughter was just a few weeks old and ??? beach house in Florida and talked about Strange Little Girls as an idea similar to Doug Morris, Monte and I talking about Midwinter Graces as an idea and how either one of these concepts you can get so terribly wrong. And if you get it wrong, because we know the records that are cover records and we know of Christmas records that just sink like a lead balloon. And you think 'Ok, if I'm gonna approach these things, as you say out of the comfort zone you really have to do your homework and study and think: Ok, I'm not just gonna things that I like. It has to work within a narrative, and a structure and it has to make some kind of sense'.
I: You mentioned Neil Gaiman there and you have a remarkable relationship with him that sort of came from a very professional beginning, didn't it? I mean, he was an author and you namechecked him in a song and suddenly he is using influence that you came up, the characters in his works. How has that relationship evolve that for years?
Tori: I'd say Neil is one of my dearest friends and I think to have somebody in your life that's been there for so many years, and, of course, he knows a lot of my private life and I know his. You and I both know that as you stay in the business, if you don't wanna end up in gossip magazines you have to really close ranks on your personal life and yet you need people that you can trust, to be, you know, a sounding board and to talk things through. So to have people in your life that you can trust, that you know will keep your confidence, that's rare. And we have that with each other so it's a very dear friendship.
I: You've had another interesting project recently with Comic Book Tattoo.
Tori: What an experience! Who knew that that would be received so well and Rantz Hoseley, the editor, deserves all the accolades that have been gifted by the Eisner Award and the different awards that have meant so much to all of us because that was a labour of love, I have to tell you. So much energy got put into that by all the writers and my team and Rantz, of course. Rantz is the guy that took one of my songs to Neil Gaiman in 1991 or 1990 and that's when I got a phone call from Neil Gaiman soon after that saying: 'I hope you're considering being in the music business cause I think you've got something there'.
I: Oh, he was right!
Tori: Yeah, Neil.
I: You've come a long way since YKTR.
I: Well, there is a band that (???)
Tori: My goodness. Matt Sorum.
I: Before Guns N' Roses.
I: So you had Matt Sorum before Guns N' Roses.
Tori: Yes, I did. And, you know, the amazing thing that was he still looks as good as he did in the 80's. I think he must have a deal, some deal going, like he is Dorian Gray, he really is. Because that guy has done too much in his lifetime to look like he does.
I: Yeah, are the recordings of that still around? I can't recall that being released on a CD for instance.
Tori: No, it wasn't but there are recordings that exist, because there were demo tapes made and we were all hopeful but those demos weren't the ones, unfortunately, that the record company wanted to put out. There was a guy Jason ???, head of ENR, that believed in the music from the demos of YKTR, but he was one of the few believers. I bet you he has a tape of this somewhere.
I: Should be...
Tori: I don't know, I don't know.
I: For historical purposes, not hysterical purposes.
Tori: Yeah, yeah, well. But isn't it funny how historical things can become hysterical things? But so much time has passed that you think that maybe it's ok if that gets out but before that I did something with Randy Jackson, you know, who's on Idol, American Idol, and he played the bass for a lot of projects that Narada Michael Walden was doing, out of San Francisco. And when I was 19 years old, Narada and Randy and I wrote a song together called 'Skirts on Fire' and that's something that really should never get out.
I: Oh, maybe ???
Tori: No, no, no.
I: I think it's time for Tori Amos ???
Tori: Oh, boy.
I: Yeah, it'd be interesting to hear.
Tori: And there is that classic, 'Rub Down,' oh yeah.
I: Oh, what's that one all about?
Tori: I think the title says it all.
I: The title does say it all, I'm just trying to think what a video clip might have looked like at that point had it been made.
Tori: Thank God it didn't.
I: That could have been your Olivia Newton-John's 'Physical' phase.
Tori: It could have been. Thank God it never happened.
I: It's good to catch up with you again. You heard a Tori Amos story from Tori Amos.