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The Dolce & Gabbana Luxury Magazine Online
October 10, 2011
Interview: Tori Amos - 'the next great poets, stand up'
by Ben Taylor
She has sold millions of records, has inspired people all over the world and is regarded as a figure of female empowerment. This is what happened when Swide's Ben Taylor shared a couch with the ethereal Tori Amos...
Tori Amos needs no introduction. She is the boundary breaking artist whose debut album, Little Earthquakes (1992), challenged the music industries attitudes to the piano and paved the way for the many female pianists who have followed. I met with Tori Amos to discuss her fight, female empowerment, who 'Anabelle' is and the inner workings of her new LP 'Night of Hunters', "a record that carries on the classical tradition of variation of theme: taking inspiration from classical forms to create a bold new work while paying tribute to the mastery of the original compositions."
Your career as we know it wasn't simply born, it was a hard, long fight, and consequently you became a figure of female empowerment. How do you think female empowerment through music has changed over the years?
I think that there was a time in the '90s where there was a lot of exploration. Exploration of the mental self, the emotional self and the physical self and I think you were able to rip the skin off and investigate what you were really doing. Instead of writing songs about being hard done by , which you might have heard in the '60s and even though they might have been magical, there was more of a self exploration of what youíve done to get yourself into this terrible situation and that was a real turning point. I think it was time to take that camera lens and really be fair, even harsh, about what you were doing with your own power and where the real abuses lay; Not just as in the late 60s, not having the same opportunities and complaining about that, now it was time in the 90s to look at the blood on our hands, in our own life. That was a real difference.
I think that now that (the '90s) is part of the pallet that women can pull from but I also think that there is a celebrity based culture that has become centre and I donít think there is not as rich a poetry as what was happening 15 years ago. There was a real wave of women investigating things, with the makeup off, really looking under the skin and I think sometimes now it is more about a sound bite and a catchy phrase. I think that thereís some really fun entertaining music but it would be nice if the great poets from the next generation would stand up, because weíre waiting. The men have stepped up, and I am not having a go at the women, I think some of them are making beautiful music and there poets in there.
You paved the way for many female pianists and we seen the 'female pianist' embodied in many different forms. We have the success of Bat For Lashes, Lady Gaga etc. What is your take on this evolution?
There was a time, late '80-'90s, where the industry wasnít open to the instrument being a pop medium if it wasnít synthesized and I was trying to present it in a different way where is was active and not passive. There was a sexuality with it, not just a kind of image that people had of a professional female musician, but as a raw creature that could plug in no different than Jimmy Hendrix's [...guitar]. I knew that If I could show the piano in a different light, then the industry would open up and the flood of women that could do that would be come part of our landscape within in the music industry. But it was a hard fight... a hard fight. And I donít think people know how hard that was. The doors were locked.
But it gets more difficult, just think of all the structures that have been written before you, you have to think harder. I always say that Elton John, "he got there first, man."
All these performers in the '60s and '70s, at that time when the medium started to open up to this kind of composing, and the thousands and thousands of things that got written, you realise that Ďok, thatís been takení and so in a way that kind of challenge does breathe great ideas. Sometimes being confined, forces you to stretch. But I must be honest and say that the door was so slammed shut that i had to be really aggressive with the men that ran the music industry to demand that they allow the piano. Little Earthquakes was threatened to have all the pianos taken off and replaced by guitars by very prominent men in the industry. Doug Morris (Amos' mentor at Atlantic Records) and I came to an agreement that I would write 4 more songs that I would produce with my partner at the time, Eric Rosse, and we knew that we had to deliver something that had guitars in it etc. So, to save little earthquakes I took a cross country trip into the rocky mountains, came back and Precious Things, Little Earthquakes, Girl and Tear in Your Hand were recorded. But Doug Morris made an agreement and he had said to me, "You arenít there yet but you have to give me credit Tori, once you get there," And I got there. And itís true, once I turned in the fourth album and he saw it holistically, he said "I backed your horse."
With this adversity that was happening, I had to want to it so much, and to protect the piano, because they didnít think it was a viable idea. But it was a long hard fight. But without this adversity I donít know... it did give me something and I guess Iím saying to the young women who donít face adversity, they still can infuse the work and challenge themselves as there is always a place to expand as a creator.
Your new record 'Night of Hunters' uses song cycle, a structure found throughout classical arrangements. How did this challenge you and who is Anabelle?
...I wanted to write a story about a woman, tori, and a relationship. where we were not really sure where 'he' stood within it, but it wasnít all his fault and it wasnít all her fault and that they both had done things to get to this place. Is there a place for a relationship to be salvaged only if two people want it? You have to want it? And yet, if youíre out of love with the other person and one person is still in love with the other it is never going to work.
One of the agreements was that Deutsche Grammophon (the worldís most celebrated classical music record label) would send me as much classical music to me as possible and I would be able to then build variations on the best themes I could find to tell the story. So, I would spend a couple of hours every day building a world. And a project like this benefited from the work that I had been doing with the British National Theatre so, in theory, Iíve been in training to do a song cycle. And without that I donít think that I would have been ready.
It (the structure) was developing all the time. Sometimes the music would show me the plot line and I felt there needed to be a mystical force to the story. Every good song cycle has mysticism and I believe you choose the things you understand and Irish mythology I understand better than others. I have a house there and I thought, "why not build something where you have had real experiences that have affected you?" I bought the house in 1995, it was built it 1735, so it has an old history and I felt it was a strong element, who wasnít a big operatic male singer but the complete opposite of that... Anabelle. (A shapeshifting creature, who appears firstly to tori as a fox and explains to her that only with the night and darkness can we truly begin to see with our inner eyes. Anabelle suggests that a missing fragment in the couple's story lies back in ancient Ireland. She encourages tori to allow herself to cross time and space and go back in time mentally to where this couple walked these same hills but in Ireland's mythic past.)
So, who is Anabelle?
We had to make a choice on who the pivot would be and what it would be, and there needed to be, for this story to work, someone who would show the woman her past and her part in the relationship. Different options went through my mind as I was reading Irish mythology and I honed in on the triple goddess idea, that nature would be represented through this creature and she would be duality, as nature is, the hunter and the hunted.
Anabelle holds all possibilities within her and she decides to take tori back in time and, because she is of the other world, she can take her there. In a song cycle there is the personal crisis, which then always grows to a global crisis. [The different forces are exposed] and it seems as if Anabelle was going around waking up different forces because she needs to, because there is a darker force that is trying to invade childrenís dreams. This is metaphorical for something very dark... and Anabelle canít fight that fight without humans becoming conscious and aware of it and realises that the only way to win is to out-create destructive forces. We can make a shift in the way things are done, but we have to use our force in a different way.
And with that I bid farewell to Tori Amos, a truly wonderful artist, who is constantly pushing boundaries, structures, stereo-typed attitudes and sets challenges up for both herself and those that listen. It is rare that I am left silenced by the words of another, but Tori Amos' story telling cast me under a spell.
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the World of Tori Amos