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Gaydio (UK, www)
May 4, 2014
Tori Amos interview by Phil Marriot
Phil: Tori Amos, how wonderful to meet you.
Tori: Nice to meet you, Phil.
Phil: I've been struggling, this is a challenge for me, because I've loved you since the early 90's and I've been trying to think of so many questions to ask you and I never got ??? time. And I'm gonna try my best to try and get every question in as you've had such a varied and intriguing career and I think it was difficult to get those questions in in short space of time.
Tori: Yeah, but, um, I don't know, I couldn't ask questions, I have to tell you. I think it's really tricky finding questions to ask. Because people think it's easy to ask people questions but I don't know if it is. I think to get the right questions is quite a skill.
Phil: Maybe and I guess you're probably bored with being asked the same questions as well.
Tori: Well, I try and find different answers so that it's fresh for both of us.
Phil: Yeah, so that makes it easy for you too.
Phil: I guess a good place to start is the new album.
Tori: Yes, Unrepentant Geraldines.
Phil: Interesting title and an interesting story behind that as well.
Tori: Yeah, I saw a drawing of Geraldine in Ireland and she was looking up at the Mother Mary and you reckoned she's been up to something cause she was very penitent. She reminded me of the repentant Magdalene pictures that we saw a lot of from many artists for hundreds of years. And, as a minister's daughter, there is a side to me that has always been wondering about the things women think about that we're supposed to guilty about or apologetic for, even if we haven't done it yet. There is that something in the DNA from our grandmothers, I don't know what it it, it makes you think: 'Oh my goodness, my grandmother will be throwing the Bible at me now, she knew what's on my mind!'
Phil: So I guess the message is: no apologizing for your beliefs.
Phil: And who you are.
Tori: And who you are, that's right.
Phil: Which I guess could be a gay pride, there could be a gay pride logic to that as well. Especially at the moment, it's very topical, isn't it? Gay marriage...
Tori: Gay marriage, I think you have to stay by what you believe in. There comes a time, it doesn't mean that my beliefs, I don't grow or learn things, but I turned 50, I'm 50 this year, last year but I'm still 50, and it was a ??? it was a place of thinking: 'What do I believe in? Where do I stand?' I need to, not just, again we all talk about walking the talk not just talking about it but living what you believe in and standing by these beliefs.
Phil: I guess ??? more as you get older because you've got more ??? experience and ??? maybe before.
Tori: That's learning. There are gonna be things, of course, there are things in our 20's , of course they're things that I've done at different times, even recently. Sometimes you wish:' I wish I had said this in a different way to this person. I wish I had a bit more patience that day' And you think about, we all have hindsight, you know it is ??? but of course in your 20s there have to be things when you just think 'Oh no'.
Phil: Has it made you question what you're unrepentant about and what you're not gonna apologize for anymore?
Tori: Yes, absolutely yes.
Phil: Did you use to when you were younger more so or have you always been unrepentant?
Tori: Sometimes I've been unapologetic for certain beliefs as an artist but there is a time when you have to look or you're just being righteous and there can be a sanctimonious righteousness. Hanging around the Brits, it's brought me a bit more humor, a little bit more levity. And sometimes you think: 'Ok, maybe I need to be smart, not right, in this situation. So how do we get a win here? How am I gonna accomplish this win?' And you begin to learn sometimes you have to persuade people of an idea, and even though you know, ok, artistically this is the direction that we need to be going in, it's the most exciting, brave direction, but you don't always get people on board by telling people something - you have to invite them in. And it's just something my Mom, my wonderful, amazing Mom, would say: 'Oh, honey draws the bees, baby'
Phil: That's interesting you should say that about the Brits, because I've always thought we can be miserable. And I always see a sunny disposition with Americans that I don't think we have so much here. So it's interesting, your take on learning from us.
Tori: Which is very self-deprecating. And I think that can be charming to a point., but it is, it is charming.
Phil: It can be annoying as well.
Tori: If it goes on too long, yeah. But what I think is great about the Brits is that they can really, they can take the mic and I love that about them. You know, you can be laughing, everybody can be in the ??? about it. And sometimes, my God, is that the greatest medicine ever, laughter.
Phil: Yes, absolutely and I think Joan Rivers said exactly the same thing. I think post 9/11 actually. I think there was a joke about 9/11 in one of her shows and she got in a criticism for it. But she said: 'Were would we be if we couldn't laugh?'
Tori: What a great lady she is, I know she is a great icon. When I think of Joan and I'm: 'Oh my God, I just never wanna end up on that show! You think, the fashion police, oh please, Joan, never let me go underneath your ???' But the thing that I've loved about her is that she's had to fight, she's had a long career, long battle to fight as a great comedian.
Phil: Strong woman, isn't she?
Tori: Strong woman and if we're fair about, you know, should she have had some of those great TV shows, should she have had the tonight show or should she been given those opportunities, she was a guest so many times. And yet she didn't.
Phil: Can you imagine it. ???
Tori: She was stepping in as a host, as a guest host, I remember watching her for many years, you know, on and off and yet she was never given those opportunities. So the fact that she has big show now and a huge following and she's worked very hard to get there. Even though I don't always agree with her perceptions, that's not the point.
Phil: Yeah, so in hindsight with the new album, learning what you've learned throughout your career, and it's been an amazing career ,would you say that you're more yourself in your new record cause I think you've always been personal on your records, lyrically especially.
Tori: Yes. My daughter said to me: 'This record, Mom, doesn't remind me of you investigating a sound'. It's many sounds, it's many songs about many stories, it's not just me talking about, like Scarlet's Walk which was post 9/11, right after that and investigating, walking across the country. Or American Doll Possee which was me playing different women and those women had certain styles of music, based on the Greek pantheon. So sometimes these records were very specific records and this album is about stories, hopefully that talk about all kinds of things, hopefully you'll laugh and maybe cry.
Phil: Is there less darkness on this darkness? Because I've always been drawn to the darkness in your previous albums. I mean especially when you look back at Pretty Good Year which starts off very pretty on piano and then turns quite powerful.
Tori: I think there's surprises, Phil, on the record. I think sonically, hopefully, it's beautiful to listen to but there are subjects that are ??? I think, relationship-wise, there are a lot of relationship songs, that I think explore the dark side of a relationship. That's how I see it, but I'm not shouting on them so it's how you see it, it's how you perceive it. But if you're hearing what's being said, and if you're hearing the sentiment behind it, the fact that it's been crooned very quietly, it's that juxtaposition that I hope gets the emotion.
Phil: Sometimes that's more powerful, isn't it? It's like a subtle darkness that's underlying.
Tori: I hope so, I think that's through the record, along with giggles. You know laughing about the NSA, very serious subject but I needed to put it in the context that people could laugh their heads off. Because I felt like it hasn't been very funny in the States, that subject matter. I think college kids are very interested in the ramifications of spying, and the government being able to look at all our information. And the questions I wanted to bring up were, what I wanted to get people talking about was: if you're not going to threaten civilization or I'm not going to in our emails but we are asking questions. If we are starting to get people, I won't say stirring it up, but maybe so because that's what you do, you ask questions as a writer, you get people thinking. And could there be a situation where the security forces are crossing a line, and thinking 'Well, they're not a threat, quote, unquote, to civilization but do we not want this message out there?' The McCarthy era, as you well know, you've read about, I've read about, is not that distant, where writers were being censored, people were being brought in to court, lives were being destroyed. And I guess that got to be a concern if people get access to all our information, is there a place where security force person would say 'Well, we're gonna make it difficult for this person cause we want to silence them'. It's a question, and I'm not just saying Britain would do this or America would do this or Germany would do this. I'm just putting it out there. The questions have to be raised.
Phil: And also it affects everybody I guess, isn't it?
Tori: Yes it does.
Phil: Around the world, not just in one country.
Phil: Yes it does.
Phil: Now this is interesting because you began playing in bars at the age, was it 13? Quite young wasn't it? In gay bars as well on a piano. And you were supported by your father as well, you know, you've got very religious family, which I think is incredible because most of the time, I'd say probably a lot of the time, that wouldn't happen because religious people would be very anti that idea.
Tori: You've made a very good point. And I've had to acknowledge over the years although my Dad was very committed to his faith and I guess there was a time where he might have been a Billy Graham type of figure, you know preacher on television, that he was also very supportive and would chaperone me to a gay bar. And I've had to give it up to him over to years, I've had to say 'That was very have of you, Dad'. Because he's a mix of many things, my Dad.
Phil: Sounds like a wonderful man to support you and support the gay community as well because obviously they appreciated you being there as well.
Tori: I must say to you, we didn't always agree, especially when I was a teenager we saw life differently. And he was very controlling in some ways, in some ways, but in others he was very much a tenacious cheerleader that would say: 'You can support yourself, you can achieve this, if you put enough work in you can do it'. And that was great.
Phil: It's great. That's as fantastic story as well because, like I say, a lot of time you wouldn't have that support, initially.
Tori: Exactly, you wouldn't have that and he got some flack, of course he did, from parishioners at the Church, when they would say 'How in the world can you be taking your daughter to a gay bar to play?'. And he'd 'd just look at them and say 'I say a teenager girl is pretty safe in a gay bar!'
Phil: Probably more safe...
Tori: ... than anywhere in the world!
Phil: Now you said you're not gonna shock on this new album. I think you have shocked before which I think is a good thing, I think it's a very healthy thing to make people ask questions.
Tori: Well, I hope you're asking questions with the record. But I'm not, as my thirteen year old and I said 'I'm not doing any interpretive dance. I'm not nursing piglets or anything'
Phil: I was just gonna ask about the piglet. But everybody probably asks you about the piglet.
Tori: They do, yeah they do, but that's alright. That was my Christmas card . That message was very much about the Madonna and Child photograph. And when do we as Christians, quote, unquote, stop judging people and nurture and nurse and suckle those back into the fold. Because we do believe in forgiveness of ourselves and of, when do we put aside our own judgements and say 'The Christ consciousness idea was about love, unconditional love'. And I have to tell you there were times in the Church that I did see this unconditional love, My Mom was one of those people, and there are Christians who are loving. But also some of the most judgemental place I've ever been in my life is a Church, about how people live their life and lifestyle.
Phil: Which is the irony, I suppose, isn't it? Because that's meant to be a place of love.
Tori: That is meant to be if you really believe and walk the path of Christ. But I find that a lot of people don't walk that path, they walk the path of judgement and harshness. And my Mom and I talked about that over the years, about not being judgemental about another person's path. I've told this story many times. Tash and I were watching a story when a boy came out and said he was gay and it was terrible response from those around him. And he was shunned and I just looked at her and I said 'Ok, Tash, if you were ever come home and say to me and to Dad that you were lesbian and this is your partner, we just want you to know we love you. We love you' ??? And ??? and she goes 'I'm not a lesbian, Mom, but ???' You know what, I just said 'Oh my goodness!'
Phil: I would agree with her on that, actually.
Tori: I'll tell her you said that .Phill agrees with you, Tash. She'll love it.
Phil: What do you think of other artists that have shocked in the past and still continue to do it. I mean, one person obviously we have to mention is Madonna who is still shocking people at her age. And it seems to be kind of ??? that whole thing of shocking at her age. Do you agree that she's doing a right thing still, as an old woman?
Tori: Well, look I wanna be supportive of all the female artists out there. I'm a fan of all of them. Where I sit now, Phil, at 50, I'm a fan of them all because until you walk in their shoes and in their path and understand what their career has been made up of, the path of the mountain and crossing the Alps, the music Alps as it were. The choices that you make as an artist are very specific to your beliefs, we're back to being unrepentant. I'm a songwriter so the songwriters are a bit different from the entertainers: the dancers, the performers in that way where overt sexuality has been part of their art. And there are quite a few performers where sexuality has been a part of their art whereas with the songwriters that isn't the expression that I've been a part of . I might do things, as you know, but it's very specific usually and it's a statement. Overall, it hasn't been about the showing of flesh, that's just not what has been a part of my act, so to speak, the razor's edge and the blades have been the message in music.
Phil: You mentioned your daughter Natashya who is 13. Do you see the 13 year-old Tori Amos in the 13 year-old Natashya.
Tori: No, I see amazing things in Tash. I mean, there are things about me that I see. She reasons things in her own way, she thinks in her own way, and I recognize that. But I also see she's really funny and I was not funny, I wasn't. I've been trained a bit by the people I hang around.
Phil: The Brits.
Tori: Yeah, the Brits! Yeah, absolutely!
Phil: ??? credit for that part of you.
Tori: The Brits and the New Yorkers , it's a mixture of course. So she does approach things differently, she didn't have the religious upbringing. She's seen it, she knows granddaddy Eddie very well and she has her own relationship with granddad and grandma. But she's had very different upbringing, she's been brought up backstage. So she knows the Sydney Opera House and Radio City and Albert Hall like I knew churches. I was always in the church, and she's been on the road since she was a year old. So she's had a very different upbringing than I had.
Phil: What does she think of the celebrity Tori Amos? Does she get that or does she just see you as Mom?
Tori: She sees me as Mom, and I'm her Mom so that means we'll talk about Tori Amos and she'll say, we'll talk about perception and wardrobe and we all make deals with each other. I mean she'll say to me 'You know, Mom, your strength is in your playing and your songs and your singing. You don't need to pretend you're Beyonce'. And I agree with that. I think if I had Helen Mirren's body, I've said this, if I looked like her, had her body and could move like Beyonce because I can't expect to have Beyonce's body at 50 years old. However, if I had the combination, God knows what I'd be doing on this tour!
Phil: But you move in different ways. I've seen you straddling two pianos which is an incredible thing for anybody to do. And that is energetic, powerful stuff when you're controlling all those pieces of equipment.
Tori: I've been doing that for a long time, I guess I developed that for many years now. And it's something that I enjoy doing. When I'm around the piano I'm a different person. I step into something different. It's almost as if they ???, they take over. So the piano plays me.
Phil: It possessed you.
Tori: It possesses me.
Phil: In a good way.
Tori: But I allow it, I allow myself to be possessed.
Phil: I think there is a YouTube video, I came across last night actually, of somebody who's titled it 'The demonic possession of Tori Amos'. And it's basically a montage of all your clips of you going crazy with the piano and it is like you've been taken over by some strange force.
Tori: What it feels like when it's happening is a really, it's not malevolent. What it is is it's a force, it's energy.
Phil: It's amazing to watch, it's fascinating.
Tori: It's almost as if you put your hand inside this voltage and this voltage completely, I don't know, gives you new life.
Phil: Can you contemplate life, a career or life or both without the piano? It's the most amazing instrument, it's my favourite instrument.
Tori: I can't imagine what I would have become without a piano in my life, I really can't. Because I define, I think of things, conversations, I work things out in my mind through the piano. I just do, that's how I work things out. That's the first language, music is my first language so I'm not separate from it. When I hear somebody I'm listening to the rhythms. I don't always know what they're talking about but I'm listening to the rhythm that they're creating, the tone. And you get a lot of information just by hearing the music.
Phil: ??? new single, Trouble's Lament, which I love. Well, I've heard bits from the album, I heard your live renditions ??? recently. And I love it, and I love the deep South, a kind of, is it a bit true-blood, do you know what I mean?
Tori: Yeah yeah yeah.
Phil: Quite eerie. It's the guitar, I think, maybe as well
Tori: Yeah, right. We had fun, Mark and I had a lot of fun. He is Mac Aladdin and we've been playing together for years and years and Tash has grown up with this. And at a certain point because of all the demands with the other projects going on there just wasn't time to bring musicians in, musicians I love and adore working with. So Tash said 'Oh, guys, just do it! You will play everything anyway.' I mean, but she's grown up with hearing, she hears us do that in Florida or wherever we are, we're music family. So we just kind of did it, we just played everything and he had been playing her some Stevie Ray Vaughan music which, you know, I just get tingly all over when I hear it. And he was playing it for her and I kind of thought 'You know what, I think that kind of got underneath my skin'. And I started, you know how you move to that music, you just start moving to it, and I think that was a real influence for Trouble's Lament.
Phil: This sounds fantastic. ??? and also seeing you at the Royal Albert Hall.
Tori: Yeah, I love the Royal Albert Hall, it's magical.
Phil: Can we talk about remixes cause I know obviously this I would imagine changed your life. It gave you a massive hit, the Armand van Helden remix of Professional Widow.
Tori: He did a great job.
Phil: He did an amazing job and still it's regarded as a classic. Have you been tempted to do that again? Cause I know you have remixed and ??? before, Choirgirl Hotel was a good example of that, you did quite a few remixes for that album.
Tori: Yeah, we've had remixes throughout the years. That was just one of those special moments in time whereby I don't think you can chase that. It's hard to explain but Johnny Dee (?), the guy at Atlantic Records who had put a lot of songs on Boys for Pele out to different remixers, there were quite a few that went to different people. But when that one came in, I remember very well, I was on a bus after the show and we were bus surfing to is as we were moving across the States. And I just, in that moment, I kind of thought 'I don't know what's gonna happen to this but there's something special about it'. So I think it's not something, Phil, that you can contrive, just certain things are lined (?).
Phil: I get that. I remember the first time I heard it and I was in a gay club in Brixton, I remember hearing it and thinking 'That's Tori Amos, I'm sure that's Tori' It was such a strange feeling, it almost was like something that no one had ever heard before. It sounded strange but good to hear you with the dance remix.
Tori: It was such a great fun and people come up to me all the time.
Phil: One thing I've heard a lot of, maybe not so much in the last 10-15 years but probably at the early start of your career is the similarities to Kate Bush. And it's something that despite being a big compliment, I used to get quite annoyed about because I see you as a very different artist. I guess there are connections: piano, similar voice, which I suppose the way she used to sing maybe not so much recently. Is that something that you've been aware of or that has annoyed you?
Tori: Well, people would bring it up a lot in the early days and she's such a great artist that when you're going to get compared to somebody, my goodness gracious, that's such a compliment.
Phil: It's a good one, isn't it?
Tori: And I do think sometimes when people are defining a new artist they seem to need to compare, that's how they begin to explain things. Once I got my head around it I began to have fun with it because again, I think she's made some beautiful records and powerful records. And I think it's so exciting that she's gonna be performing again.
Phil: Are you going?
Tori: I am touring. So unfortunately, I don't get to have that wonderful experience. But the thing is, you know, I'm thrilled to be able to tour as well cause, you know, when you're 50, you see, yeah 80 cities, that's very exciting. And I'm grateful, I don't take it for granted. You can't take it for granted, because the fact that you're able to make a new record on a major label, there are a lot of great writers that are 50 and up that aren't getting these front line record contracts, compared to some of the men. So, I mean, Tash said to me 'Ok, Mom, I get it, I get it but just go rock!' I said 'I'll go, ok!'
Tori: It's wonderful, wonderful.
Phil: All this time down the line, it's great. One more question cause I have to talk about the Light Princess, which I loved, I enjoyed it so much. And it was a little bit different to what I was expecting as well, the musical obviously that you've been working on for the last few years.
Tori: I't's been exhilarating feminist fairytale. We wanted to really talk about teenagers and their parents, even if their fathers are kings. And when there is so much power involved with the fathers that they can't necessarily make the right decisions for their children. So we were all propelled and energized. And the National encouraged us, they said 'Don't dumb it down. Be great. Challenge people. Divide people'. And I love getting people to think and even making them uncomfortable with certain subjects. So I'm thrilled to tell you that we're going to be recording the original cast recording I'm producing for Universal Record, so it's a major label. And that'll be out early next year. So we're making a record while we're touring. As I said to my crew 'Oh, come on, it's 80 shows and a record!'
Phil: Tori, it's been absolutely wonderful meeting you today. And I wish you all the success with the album and looking forward very much to seeing you ???
Tori: Thank you.
Phil: And good luck on tour.
Tori: Thank you.
[transcribed by Karolina Kucinska]
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