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The National Student (UK)
June 5, 2014
Interview: Tori Amos
by James Thornhill
"I feel like saying 'if you treat me like a bitch, I will be one'. They are just not thinking."
At fifty Tori Amos still has a lot to say, and is still confounding expectations. Animated and engaged, the American singer-songwriter is currently deconstructing the very interview process we are currently engaged in.
"A few weeks ago when I was doing 17 a day, I get very dependent on the person asking the questions. Somebody from some TV channel from somewhere in the world just said 'Tell me about the new album'. You know what buddy you're gonna have to do better than that! It isn't a question. It's a demand and it's a performing dog trick."
Never one to simply "turn tricks", Amos is proving herself to still be an ever-changing artistic entity at an age when settling for the familiar could be the expected move.
Emerging in the early '90s, classically trained and with an exceptional vocal range, she was also one of a run of strong female voices -- feminist and subversive with their art. Part of a vanguard of change for women in rock.
"There was an amazing culture that was happening when Polly (PJ Harvey), Bjork and I were coming up and that culture was about being artists and it wasn't cool to be overtly sexual. When either of us was going after something, it was to be subversive."
So what is she now? Artist? Story-teller? Musician? Feminist? Mother? The answer is she is all of these things but not defined by any of them.
This current conversation is about her latest album Unrepentant Geraldines, a personal, narrative-filled examination of her life and thoughts after quarter of a century.
"As a creator, where you are emotionally as a person, what you're wrestling with, what you experience, that's the information that's coming into your sphere. That's the element that might seem serendipitous because it's not always something that you think you're controlling.
"There are other things that you do control, which if you choose to keep expanding your tool box or your palette if you want to look at it that way, by, exposing yourself to mythology or going museums. As a creator you have to push yourself to have intake periods, you have to take in things you don't even think you want to take in. You're not very clever, you don't have a very long career if you are just taking in what you like. I don't wanna tell you what to show me, I don't know. In your world in whatever you do, if I am an idiot, I am going to tell you what to show me. I want you to show me what you think I should see. That's the only way that you keep expanding so that each album is different, otherwise you are just re-writing the same one over and over and over!"
Amos has had a weird and wonderful 'intake period' of late, with her stepping out of her comfort zone to forge new parts of her artistic persona.
Following her last mainstream release in 2009, Amos felt she had hit a block in creativity which led to 'experiments' including an album with Deutsche Gramaphone performing 'variations of classical themes', The Light Princess musical and orchestral re-recordings of her own work.
These new structures, the focus on narrative and the rediscovering of creativity is all apparent on Unrepentant Geraldines.
If there is one thing that has really been a catalyst for change in the work of Tori Amos it is motherhood. Tash is now a teenager and has a profound influence on the work being released, especially on this new album.
"Somebody said, I think it's because Tash is a teenager now, you are less guarded about what you are talking about. It's all this hiding behind all these characters. I said I don't know if it was hiding, I think it was exploring different sides of the feminine and then visually showing that. But they said people feel songs like 'Wedding Day' are very personal, but they always were but it was masked where this is unmasked because she is old enough now, she's living in a boarding school. There's maybe something I wasn't conscious of."
"I think that you get to a point where you have to stand by your work as an artist, you gotta stand by it and there might be different stages you go through in your twenties and your thirties, that's normal. You're exploring, maybe with your personality you're playing with certain energies, particularly where is the sensuality in writing. That's part and parcel of that time, then at a certain point you do start choosing the themes you want to talk about. Some people are comfortable talking about anything and everything. I think there are things I am talking about now that I wasn't talking about and there's stuff I was talking about that I am not talking about now, because I am a musician but I am a mom."
Of all the things Tori Amos is and has been 'Mom' and the part of a family unit is one obvious constant, the thing that supersedes all other aspects of life, even her art.
"I take that really seriously, so I don't want her to be cringing. So you step up as an artist, but not as an artist acting out, because I can act out, we all can, but it is a choice you make. My goal is to be the Helen Mirren of rock 'n' roll when I am in my sixties, but I am only fifty. If that's your goal there's a different path you take."
Tash is also the major influence in Amos' constant evaluation of the feminine, as age and experience changes her outlook her daughter gives her fresh perspective.
Unrepentant Geraldines is the work of an artist that in constantly re-evaluating herself and her output is still as vital, challenging and necessary as ever.
Tori Amos still has something to say, and is still saying it in the most brilliant manner possible.
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