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Southern California LGBT magazine
October 12, 2012
Little Earthquakes Can Produce Gold Dust
By Joel Martens
How much has changed in your life since 1992? Do you remember where you were or what you were doing? If you were like most of us, you probably became aware of a new female voice blasting through the music world, totally rocking it and changing the entire landscape. The intensely personal, confessional style of writing presented us with a sister who understood when we want to throw things, to scream and cry, or just gave us a moment of crazy on our way to healing and change -- quirky is good -- no, quirky is great.
With her unique, quirky and deeply emotional music, voice, lyrics, and talent, Tori Amos has had an incredible run over the course of her 20-year career; she has sold more than 12 million albums, released more than 30 singles and 60 B-sides, has been nominated for numerous awards, including eight Grammy nominations and has contributed original material to nine film sound tracks. And, she has had more than her share of firsts to say the least; the first major label artist to offer a single for download, had her songs turned into graphic novels, produced ground-breaking videos and now has teamed up with the world renown Deutsche Grammophon to give us her thirteenth studio album, Gold Dust, a powerful look back at her music over the years. The music has evolved and grown, is at the same time new, yet familiar; allowing us to see where we were... and see how far we have come.
Time... changes... everything...
Hello Tori, I have to tell you, I was beside myself when I learned that I was going to interview you, I have been so affected by your music over the years. When I received the advance copy of Gold Dust with the new orchestrations, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the music wasn't just a compilation, it had evolved... the arrangements are stunning.
I think Philly [her long-time collaborator John Phlip Shenale who did the arrangements on Gold Dust] did a wonderful job, he topped himself and there was such chemistry between the orchestra and me. You know, I have never played live with an orchestra before, Deutsche Grammophon is a living organism, it's made up of people who have worked together for years, many parts of one living creature. In all of the recordings in the past, my portions were recorded first and several weeks later the strings would be added.
It must be a unique and strange feeling for you having all of that power around you?
What was odd, was being intimate and singing these songs, I mean normally when I sing, ever since like 1995, I've been on the other side of the wall and Mark's [Mark Hawley, Amos's husband and sound engineer] been outside. Occasionally Mark or Marcel [Marcel Van Limbeek, her long-time audio and mix engineer] have been in, but nobody is inside when I do my vocals... nobody.
So playing and singing with 80 people milling around, 50 something of the orchestra and all the people in the control room, which was jammed with the people who run the orchestra. There were loads of people, like people from Deutsche Grammophon and you have to perform, you have to kind of unzip your flesh to get to your heart in front of everybody. Maybe that was why in rehearsals while I was doing that, I told Alex [Dr. Alexander Buhr of Deutsche Grammophon] that the pictures in my mind were changing when I was doing the rehearsals. He said, "Well, let's capture that, we need a proper recording of this... we need to do that." So that was how Gold Dust happened.
It's the thing I find so fascinating about how your process works, everything you do has a narrative or a story behind the music if you listen. Is that how it has always been, or have you been influenced by other's music?
Well yes, but it keeps changing all the time. Early on, musical theatre and things like West Side Story had an influence. My mother would play those things, all of that type of music, as well as Frank Sinatra whom she loved. She would put on "old blue-eyes" and because she had worked in a record shop, she knew all of the crooners and really loved musical theatre, so it was playing all the time.
When my father would go to the church (he was an ordained Methodist minister) she would take out her records and play them for me. When my older brother Michael would come home, who was ten years older than I was, he would bring in records of the late '60s and early '70s -- the stuff that needed to be out of the house before my father got home, because that was devil music! So he would play them and tell me, "learn this and disguise it so that he doesn't know."
So I guess in a way, I have always been doing variations on a theme, to disguise the "devil music" from my father! (Laughs) But it was funny, my dad would get me to do weddings and funerals around the times when I was 9 or 10, because he could get me as a two-for-one singer and organist -- I was cheaper! It was at those funerals where I really could improvise. The families usually requested a hymn or two to be played, but other than that, they would think as long as it was tasteful and sets the mood while people are there or as they are coming to be seated, it was fine. Unlike wedding people who are much more particular... they have an agenda or a bride had particular songs that she wanted to hear like "We've Only Just Begun" by The Carpenters or "The Wedding Song" by Paul (Noel) Stookey.
Oh God, that's so hysterical, I remember that one, "He is now to be among you, at the calling of your heart..."
Yes, yes, yes, "Rest assured this troubadour is acting on his part," I sang that every weekend for years! (Laughing) But it was at the funerals you know, that's where it was at for me. I could do variations on Led Zeppelin and they wouldn't know, they didn't know, they had no idea! (Laughing.)
I can't stand it! (I'm the one who's laughing now) I'm having flashbacks to my childhood, my mother was a church organist playing those good German hymns, but on the side she was also a lounge organist who travelled all over the Midwest with her Hammond organ playing in bars and supper clubs!
How cool is that! How groovy, that is great (laughs). It's funny though, for a lot of people, if you haven't experienced something like that, many people might look at you kind of askew. (Laughs) I can imagine a British journalist looking at you or me and saying, "Yea right, did that really happen?" I don't think that the culture is the same; religion isn't such a core in the same way, of their culture.
Yes, America is so much more "religious," I've been told that the U.K. is more secular, religion is there but it doesn't drive the culture in the same way.
That is absolutely true and that's one reason that my husband (who grew up in the U.K.) wanted our daughter to go to school and be brought up in England as far as her education, because he doesn't subscribe to it. He is much more of a person who subscribes to how you treat people and that's what it should be about. To get my husband into a church... forget about it.
I took Tash (Natasha), my daughter, to an Easter service that my parents go to in Florida and they were doing a contemporized version of a Britney Spears song, changing the lyrics, singing for Jesus and Tash turned to me and said "Mom, this is just sinful." Even my poor mother turned to me and said, "Well, they've lost me now on that one." (Laughs)
In a way though, I agree with my mom's love of the church's music, in that some of the structure of that music, as you know, it is unbelievable and incredible. It's unfortunate that they think in order to modernize and bring in the youth, who probably wouldn't want to listen to it anyway, that has to change.
Let's talk a bit more about your music. You have such an ability to bear your soul, which can't be an easy thing... or has that always been the way it works for you?
I guess it's how I figured out what or how I was really feeling about something -- that's when I would know what the truth was or what my reaction really was. Instead of all of the surface things, you know, we all put on a mask, and by the way, sometimes I think that's a very good thing -- I think that we should all wear those masks, especially in very public places.
Do you wear different masks when you are composing?
I step into a different role as a writer, she is a separate entity, you have to do that, you must demand that as a writer; and that sometimes means stepping away from family routine.
Touring does that also, I have done a lot of writing on tour over the years, because you lead a very different life when you are in other roles.
With song writing it's very much about, you know, you can't walk on eggshells if you are going to be effective. You have to excavate the emotion and that can be ruthless and searing -- but the pin must be sharp and you must sharpen it. You have to segregate what you do, because if you don't, sometimes you feel as if you are betraying a confidence by putting the words to paper. I have tried to disguise who some of the people are whom I have written about. You have to do that.
I have that relationship with my husband; he knows that I am going to write about him -- he's one of my muses. He never even asks me about the songs; he doesn't want to know -- he'll say, "I don't wanna know what that's about!"
That's really an amazing thing.
It's why we have such a good working relationship, we started out that way; it's funny though, when we are in the middle of it and maybe not agreeing, Tash will say, "okay, can I have my parents back now? Can you please leave those two back in the studio?"
She sounds like a whip, very up front, very hilarious.
Yes, she is "The Tash." She'll look at me and say, "It's good to be 'The Tash!'"
Gold Dust will be available on October 2 at itunes.apple.com.
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the World of Tori Amos