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May 22, 2014
Photo: Amarpaul Kalirai / Mercury Classics
Tori Amos Is Back and Talking Miley, Turning 50, and Fighting the Patriarchy
By Leah Chernikoff
I don't really listen to music anymore. Not like I used to, anyway. When I first started buying my own music, I listened to the cassettes and CDs over and over in my room alone until I memorized every line and could anticipate the next word, the next note, the next track. Tori Amos' debut album Little Earthquakes, was one those seminal CDs for me. I was too young to understand what "Me and a Gun" was about (that's Amos' chilling account of her own rape), but I knew that when I felt sad and alone and insecure about being a girl, "Crucify" was just the thing to listen to. That was 1992. Since then, Amos has put out 13 studio albums. Her latest, Unrepentant Geraldines, is out now and debuted at number seven on the Billboard Top 200 chart. The album is being heralded as a return to that unique chamber-pop sound and those introspective lyrics that fans are calling "vintage Tori."
Here, I catch up with the original girl with the piano about rocking against the patriarchy, Miley Cyrus, and turning 50.
I was just watching this clip of you on your Tumblr talking about turning 50 and how you're not going to "wear 50" like the media thinks women in the music industry should wear 50. On "16 Shades Of Blue" one line goes "There are some who say I'm too old to play now." Can you tell me more about that?
In the music industry, you're aware that there are a lot more contracts for our male compadres, 50 and up. I'm not talking any greatest hits projects, I'm talking about work that is pertinent for now, and that is how the industry is right now. So it seems to me that I had an opportunity… My daughter and I were talking about it and at a certain point she just looked at me and she said "You know, what do I have to look forward to unless you grab [this chance to put out another album] with both hands." And I think the message is that you have to be accountable, as a performer, as somebody with a message that's strong. And I said "Yeah, you know what? That's a very good point." She looked at me and said, "Rock on", and I said "You got it". And so I'm going out alone with a piano, an organ, and I'm going to be playing them all while hearing a heel, singing and rocking.
Your 13-year-old daughter, Tash, makes a cameo on this album. And one of the songs is a lullaby to her. In the current music landscape, who do you think is out there for your daughter to look up to? Does she listen, for example, to ELLE's current cover star, Miley Cyrus?
Well, she listens to all kind of things. She just discovered Nirvana. She's open-minded. [As for Miley], she likes the record. But you have to remember, Tash is interested in Coco Chanel, and she's been around the world seven times now, so she's had a different life exposure. Overt sexuality isn't necessarily shocking for her. She's grown up in a very liberal household, with a mom who's been fighting patriarchy. As far as she and I are concerned, the fact that Miley's survived the Disney world and went on to create a great record, that's fantastic, how exciting. But you have to understand not everybody needs the shock factor.
You mentioned in that same Tumblr video how you're "not going for shock" with Unrepentant Geraldines.
It's easy to shock. It's tough to be great. Betty White taking her clothes off would shock me more probably. But to be honest with you, if I had Helen Mirren's body, and I could move like Beyonce, would I be sashaying down the street workin' it? Hopefully. But I don't have those attributes. And also, to be honest with you, I'm into romance. I'm into walking in the rain and holding hands and being in love. I've got a strange mind. But you know, what a great time to be in your 20s and expressing yourself. I will say this to you, which I think is important: men have been pushing sexuality and it's been accepted by the public. Look at Prince? He's a genius. So the fact that women feel like they should be able to express themselves sexually, I absolutely support that. I support equality. I don't necessarily think that all young women should express themselves in that way, and that's okay too.
You've said that this album explores the idea of "women feeling trapped." You've mentioned women feeling like they could not compartmentalize spirituality, sexuality, all these different parts of themselves. Can you explain that a bit more?
When I'm traveling the world, meeting women from all different kinds of countries and cultures, I find that most women, when they're honest, they're pulling me aside and saying, "I have been segregated, I live in segregated states under my skin." Not everyone finds it easy to join together these different aspects of themselves. It's really tricky. I think there are songs talking about aspects of the result of not being able to do that. There's a song called 'Oysters' on the record, about a woman trying to work through a lifetime of memories to find out who she really is. There are songs about not killing your imagination; about being able to have an imagination and be a woman as well. And about not being so jaded, which we all can be. You can become hard and jaded so that you can't even have a wonderment.
At least Amos is doing her part to keep our sense of wonderment alive. Amos' North American portion of the Unrepentant Geraldines Tour kicks off on July 16 in Vancouver.
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