Fairfield County Weekly
March 31, 2005
Pieces of Her
Tori Amos has a new album, a new tour and a revealing new book
by Mike Sembos
Tori Amos has got fame just about all figured out. It's been 13 years since confessional-type songs like "Silent All These Years" and "Me and a Gun" propelled her into the national spotlight. And though many performers from that era in music history have long-since fizzled out, Tori's still going strong with wildly successful tours, album after well-received album and a comfortable niche most performers would kill for.
In her new book Piece by Piece , co-written with pop journalist Ann Powers, Amos reveals some of her secrets of success, offering insight into her songwriting process, the creation of her public image, the music business itself and her experiences with motherhood.
Her new album, The Beekeeper , covers much ground thematically, approaching issues like the abuse of faith in American politics, the male-centricity of the gospels and the struggle to find truth while living in a web of lies. Whereas the last record, Scarlet's Walk, was approached through the perspective of her Native American heritage, Beekeeper is based on her Christian upbringing, that of a Methodist minister's daughter.
It's meant to be an allegory about a coming storm, and one woman's journey through it.
A tour to promote the album will bring Amos to The Bushnell in Hartford on Sunday, April 10. In the following interview conducted on the phone before a book signing in Boston, she speaks about life as a celebrity, being one with the world around us and what it means to be an American today:
Fairfield Weekly: Is it as fulfilling to be successful now as you had imagined it to be when you were still struggling to be heard?
Tori Amos: Every arena has its challenges. There are sides to it that are everything I had ever imagined and more. Performing for people can be just ecstatic. There's nothing that is disappointing there. What can be a misnomer, though, is the idea that you will always be able to hold that 220 voltage.
Sometimes I think that as performers, if we forget that we're co-creators, our self-importance can become greater than it really should be, and you can lose sight of your intention, of why you're a musician. The celebrity elixir can turn poison. That's why it's never good to think that you've mastered fame. It's a seductress, and you should never turn your back on her. It's a double-edged sword, and not everyone who thinks they can dance with that devil necessarily can. I was able to pick the right friends and have the right people in my life.
Do you ever wish you could do away with all the interviews (like this one) and promotion, and just play?
Sure, there are times when I get tired, but I think interviews like this keep you very present with what it is you're doing. A lot of people have a glamorous view of the music business. Playing music and surviving the music business are two very different things, but you don't get to have one without the other. That's why in the book I wanted to talk about the music business and the spiritual side of life, and being a mom and finding the balance.
Ann Powers has become one of my closest friends and as you know, she was known first as a music journalist. She has shown me a different side of the music industry. We've been able to have a giggle over our different perspectives--not necessarily hers or mine, but the journalists' and the artists', and I think it's really been funny that she's had to do some interviews. It's been good for her, because until a journalist is interviewed, you just don't know what that's like. Sometimes I think it can be very sobering.
You've always been emotionally exposed through your music, but in Piece by Piece you're exposing more of your private, behind-the-scenes self than ever before. Do you feel the line between public and private being broken down?
I think that a backstage pass is how I see it. There are going to be places backstage where the door is closed, and then there are other doors that are open. There are certain parts of the process that I thought needed to be opened. Especially the music business and the way it works. There are a lot of people who want to get into the music business, and they should know what it's all about.
In your book, you speak of creating different archetypes, images and themes. How important do you think it is to constantly change one's image?
You have to, I think as a composer and an artist, always be working with your next sculpture. You're involved and you're part of the clay or the marble, whatever it is you're chiseling away at. I enjoy shape shifting anyway. Nothing ever stays the same.
This latest theme of The Beekeeper is said among other things to represent "the interlocking importance of all players in the cycle of life." Do you think modern culture discourages us from recognizing these connections?
Modern culture sometimes is detached from what causes, say, earth changes. Modern culture responds to earth changes. There is an effect, and we feel the effect, but we don't feel our hands on the cause. If we were able to involve ourselves more in an understanding, you'd have a people that are much more involved in their destiny as opposed to just experiencing the consequences of a destiny that is going to happen because we just put our blinders up and didn't want to know.
[We say], "It just doesn't affect my world. I want to do what I want to do and I want to live how I want to live, and I want it all to be the same." Well, as you and I know, that's not what is occurring. Maybe then we have to look at some of the causes--and that can be very uncomfortable, especially if you're sitting around at a dinner table with a family that's very divided on the subject. Those kind of things as a songwriter, they fascinate me. At the core, The Beekeeper is exploring this but in the form of a woman's relationships.
You've traveled the world, and you've seen other cultures' views of America in recent years. What do you think of our country's place in the world and what the future holds for us?
Let's take it to a very personal level, like making a record. As a producer, I find I must start listening to the musicians, or the engineers, or some of the people who are putting the tours together, and hear their thoughts. It doesn't mean I take all the ideas on board, but I at least consider them because I have some respect for them. Even if I don't always agree with everything, if I can take their ideas on board then yeah, I can maybe make some different decisions based on their point of view.
I know people who won't listen to anybody, because they just won't. There's a kind of arrogance there. Invariably I've known those people to turn around and say, "If I knew then what I know now, I wish I could've heard this person when they said that."
So as Americans, that's sort of where we are. We don't have to agree with each other or with people who aren't Americans, but we have an opportunity to take on somebody saying, "Hey, you might want to consider this, because when you do this, this really turns me off. It just makes me not want to listen to you anymore."
That to me is where we are -- we're a little past that actually. But as I travel the world, and have to go up against this all the time, I think it's imperative for this generation coming up that might be left with a really big mess on their hands. One greater than we already have. You don't want to say in 10 years time, "I wish we were thinking about some of these perceptions, and kicking them around." It's not always about agreeing, but it's at least about not being so arrogant that you can't take another person's viewpoint of a project. I look at America now as a project, and it's one that I'm very committed to. My mother's people go back here since before there was recorded time. Her people are on the Eastern Cherokee tribal roles, and that goes back a long, long time. I have a commitment to the land herself, and as my grandfather said to me very simply before he died, he said, "Tori Ellen You're either a caretaker of this land or you're a taker." There's no in between at a certain point.
t o r i p h o r i a
the World of Tori Amos