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May 20, 2014
Tori Amos Redefines What it Means to Be 'Age-Appropriate' on New Album
By Dan Loughry
Long an unrepentant songwriter herself, Tori Amos has recently released her 14th record, aptly titled Unrepentant Geraldines, a glorious exercise in aging gracefully. (The eight-time Grammy-nominated artist is now 50 years old.) On the eve of the album's release, Frontiers sat down for a brief chat with the iconoclastic, influential performer.
Dan Loughry: What were the touchstones for Unrepentant Geraldines?
Tori Amos: Wanting to be a good partner, a good listener. Wanting to give back to the people that you love. Wanting to give something back on days feeling that there wasn't anything vital to give back. Trying to get rid of programs and ideas and thoughts of aging. Trying to discipline the mind and refuse to become a cliché of what an age is, and then creating an energy -- a space -- for myself to find what that was. It was quite a process, because 50 was looming and I didn't want to take on board some of the ideas of what that is, culturally, particularly for women in the music industry.
DL: That's very clear on the record, especially in the song "16 Shades of Blue."
TA: There was a certain point where songs wanted to be very much about what I was going through, and not try and walk on eggshells about certain things, whether it's about a longterm relationship in "Wedding Day" and "Wild Way," or whether it's about aging in "16 Shades." Trying to look at all these different emotions that were coming up. It took a few years, to be honest. It's not as if I sat down and said, 'I'm going to write a record.' I was under contract for other projects -- two for Deutsche Grammophon and a commission from the British National Theatre for The Light Princess [the musical by Amos and Samuel Adamson]. I was more than inundated with projects and collaborations, which were making me feel refreshed and challenged creatively. And yet personally I had to deal with 'How do I feel about getting older?' I didn't always feel a vitality about it. I do now. I do today. But part of that's because of all these songs on the new record. In order to get where I am, I had to go on pilgrimage and find these songs and integrate them into my blood and my bone in order to talk to you today and say, 50 is exciting; 50 feels vital.
DL: I understand that. I turned 52 this year, and you do feel time bearing down and the way society views you as a less vital part of the social contract.
TA: I'm glad you brought that up -- how society views age. In the music business and the entertainment business, men at 50 can be seen as still at the height of their magical powers. Some of the leading men in film are around their late 40s/early 50s, and we still find them attractive. So we have to find that wisdom can be attractive, that creativity is attractive -- for yourself, not looking to see what other people think of you and how they view you, but how you view yourself. Because that is the monster right there.
DL: It's reassuring hearing those words from someone who, over the course of her career, has seemed as iconoclastic as yourself, and to hear about the struggle of age against the language of youth culture in pop music.
TA: We can value youth culture, but we have to value the wisdom that can come with age if you're willing to do the work. And that means to redefine concepts for yourself. You might be alone in the room with yourself, but until you get your head around embracing where you are and saying, 'I am mid-life, or I'm past mid-life unless I live to be 100!' -- that mortality is real. We're not immortal. Things feel different, but that doesn't have to be a pejorative. There were times during this record I'd be circling around the drain and a song would just come and say, 'Come here. You're not going down the stream yet.' They'd say, 'Look, sit on the side of the drain and I'm going to sing a song for you.'
DL: Was there a particular song out of these 14 where you thought, Yes, here's my vitality; these are the things I was looking for.
TA: I think "Weatherman" brought something to the table, because nature is the only thing that has the power -- not a young girl, nature -- to give this man who's lost his wife, his bride, strength. And nature's ancient. She carries old, ancient magic. The one element -- entity -- that could bring him something was the ancient old crone nature, and I began to think, 'Ah, yes! I have to learn from her, that clever old girl.'
DL: You sound renewed on some levels.
TA: There needed to be a change. A realization of 'OK, are you going to succumb to a cliché or are you going to take control of your destiny?' My daughter, Tash, 12 at the time, said, 'You've got to get your head around this 50 thing. If you don't, what do I have to look forward to? You're telling me it's just downhill from there?' Although Helen Mirren has cracked it in her industry -- and Meryl Streep and some other women -- it's different in the music industry. We don't have roles of singing "grandma music." We have to be any age, all ages, to tell a story about anything, not play an "age appropriate" role.
Mike Minanian: Tash first appeared on Midwinter Graces and then Night of Hunters. Was there anything different in your collaboration with her that was unique to this record?
TA: She's been growing a lot since Night of Hunters with her own inspirations and styles. She's gone more to the soul world, so she works with different muses. I've been watching her do this and seeing her develop. We started talking about all kinds of things, as we do. One was about mother-daughter relationships. And we were trying to figure out -- the two of us together -- why does it get complicated sometimes? What are the walls that get built up, and why? And how can you work around it? How can you find a place, the two of you, to share before the walls get built up so fast? That was some of the beginnings of the song "Promise."
MM: There's an element in the song where you are passing your wisdom and support to her, but also that, as you get older, she will in turn be there for you.
TA: You're correct. And she already is. She was saying, 'This isn't granny rock yet. You're not a granny. This is time for Powerful Mom. You're my Mom, and it's about being cool. And part of being cool is accepting who you are and not trying to compete with, possibly, things you might have done in your 20s and your 30s.'
DL: Given your large LGBT fan base, what do you think of the ongoing political conversation in the U.S., particularly regarding marriage equality?
TA: There's a moment now in time where there's a maturity in the community. Now you're not just holding the shadow -- the sexual shadow -- for the masses. You're handing it back and saying, 'You know what? We've held this shadow, but everybody has to now hold it themselves, because we are entering a place of our own spiritual journey. We're going to lovingly hand this back to you, and you all need to deal with your own feelings and emotions and desires.' That is a real maturity, when you say, 'OK, we can hold a space for unconditional love, but we won't hold the shadow anymore.' That's a very powerful place to be.
Unrepentant Geraldines is available now. Tori Amos plays L.A.'s Greek Theatre on July 23.
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