Tori's Course on Creativity
University of California at Los Angeles
February 27, 1995
Intro text and transcript by Kyle Dodson
The suspense beforehand: People started lining up for the event at 9 am (it was at 12pm). Toriís parents were sitting in the front row so a lot of fans were chatting with them while Little Earthquakes played over the sound system. I would estimate 1,000 people were there since it was totally packed and the grand ballroom here holds about that many people. An announcement was made before Tori came out that 1) she would not be signing autographs, 2) she would be making a statement before she started answering questions, and 3) when she was making her opening statement she did not want anyone to take pictures of her.
Tori was given a warm welcome, and as you know from her concerts, dead
silence soon followed. She was she wearing a blue tight bodysuit with short
sleeves, a light blue skirt, black leggings, and olive green, knee-high, suede
boots. Her hair was dyed as usual.
A chair was placed on the stage for her, but when she came out, she didnít
just sit in the chair (in fact, she never once sat in the chair), instead she
hiked up her semi-mini-skirt and slid back along the arm of the chair. The arm
of the chair had a knob at the end of it so as she was straddling the arm, she
placed one hand on the mike and one hand on the knob. You could tell she was in
Without saying a word, Tori took the microphone and started wailing out
these long, incredible sounds, ďHEEEEEYYYYĒ, changing vowel sounds and pitch. She did this twice. Then, she let out a sound so high that it became a whisper (you know the sound you make when you try and sing the highest note), and then she would drop the pitch down until you could hear her very highest singing voice.
Tori Amos: This is how I tone before I sing. This is whatís speaking
to me. I want you to hold open your arms like youíre going to get a blood
transfusion, you know? Okay? Itís okay. I had all this blood taken from me, right,
this week. Because, um, I was very ill. But what it is, is instead of me taking
blood from you, or anything from you, Iím gonna try and give you something.
(This is where Tori performs a sort of Indian spiritual chant, in which she
sings no words but rather more ďHEYSĒ, and she kept her rhythm by patting her
stomach and stomping her foot. I must say this was the best part of the event.)
Tori Amos: The important thing to for me right now, is I, yeah, I have a
lot of technical skills. I can play pretty much what I need to play. Iíve been
playing for 29 years. Thatís not enough for me anymore. I encourage you to hone
your skills, whatever your creative craft is. But the most important thing for
me right now... so Iíve really come to just give you mmm, me today. What
Iím having to work on. Um, Iím having to now find this place (pats her heart).Iím very good with this place (points to her brain), very, very good. And most
of you are exceptional at this place (brain), but not so great with this
Iíve been studying with .. (sighs) .. some people that
understand this place (heart), and it humbled me greatly. Um, the craft is
something where, if you think you're terrible, then youíve got it all wrong. And
if you think everything you do doesnít need improvement, then you're wrong, too. And thatís okay, to try and find this balance, that happy balance. Instinct. They donít teach you that in school. They donít teach you that tone can create and move people to do things that you could never imagine. There was a group of maybe 20 people who couldnít stop
spasms in wheelchairs in Wales. And this boy I had seen, because I can peek at
my audiences before I sing to them. And this poor boy was in such spasms, and I tuned in to him, and I just tried that
night to let the music go into his molecular structure. Because, you see, itís really in there, in the DNA, and inside there the tone shifts. The patterns, the things weíre all scared about. The protection layer. And so I sang,
and by the end of the concert he was like this (Tori stands perfectly still). Because tone has that power. So what Iím asking you all to think about, really, right now, whether you are gonna be gardeners or lawyers or thieves,
whatever, please be good at it (laughter), but I want you to find your own tone. Not my tone, that's not gonna do you any good. And not the person next to you that you think's so bitchiní, their tone, because itís not your bitchiní tone.
Um, itís really, real important that you find that place, because all
the information in the world will not give you power. Success, thatís, I mean thatís a hoot. Thatís really funny. I know all these famous people. Theyíre pretty much a mess. This is about being a creative force. Not about a famous person, thatís a bore. Thatís very boring. Creative force, there are not a lot of them out there. There are not a lot of them making music, or
making films, or making medicine, or anything else.
So Iím going to start to take questions in a minute, but the most important tool that I can give you, is to spend 15 minutes alone everyday. The bathroom is a really good place because
people donít want to go in there and disturb you just in case youíre doing
something really gross (laughter). So, in your bathroom, you know, whatever, close the door and take that time to be real with yourself. I mean really
real. I mean so real that thereís no censorship. So, think about that and Iíll
take questions. Are we lining up? Is that what we're doing? Is somebody helping me? (laughter) I'm okay. Yes?
Question: Well, first of all, I want to thatnk you so much for the gift of your music. I find it incredibly healing, especially your first album. And I wanted to ask you, do you see
yourself continuing somewhere in the same vein, you know, very heartfelt, emotional-type music or are you trying to spread out and try new things or whatís coming up for you next?
Tori Amos: ...I donít know if Iíve really gotten to my
heart yet, to be honest. Iím a very good poser. Hm. Um, the next record is my boy
record. Iíve had all these boys in my life, so um... theyíre gonna pay, really.(laughter and applause).
Question: When I heard that you worked with Trent Reznor, I had no idea what to expect, but what was it like working with him?
Tori Amos: ... (Tori smiles) (laughter) Well, itís been a learning experience ... (laughter) Yes?
Question: Hi Tori, I wanted to know if there was something specific that prompted you to write Little Earthquakes?
Tori Amos: Um, itís kind of like trying to stay alive.
At that point, Little Earthquakes was my first, um, attempt at getting out of
the egg. You know that little chicken that kinda kicks out the egg (imitates
chicken) and says, ďOK, um, what have I really not been saying all these years?Ē
You know you can wear the plastic snake pants and put 15,000 holes in your
body, which is fine. Enjoy it (laughter). But what am I saying? Iím just saying
absolutely Nothing. So I started to think about ... what is the most powerful
thing I can do for myself?
The truth is actually the most shocking thing you can do because nobody
really hears it much. So when you start saying things truthfully, and I mean truthfully,
thereís no greater (sighs) freedom than that, and I was really dying. So
I had to find out, I had taken on all of these belief systems. Whether you go
from .. Christianity, to Buddhism, to God, Iím going to be one of those Mary
Magdalenes, YES (raises arms). I mean, to finally say, ďNo, wait a minute, Iím
just, whoís this redhead?Ē Dyed of course. But, you know, what are my beliefs?
Not what you want me to believe. Or what I should believe. But what do I
really, really believe? And if there are a million people telling me Iím out of
my mind, that should really be inconsequential. Because itís not your truth, itís
gotta be mine. And the same with you, you know?
Question: I was wondering what your connection to Neil
Tori Amos: Ah! Neil Gaiman is at my house right now in London. Neil writes the Sandman comics and um, I think we inspire each other very much creatively. I guess you could say heís my brother.
Question: Are you going to be working together on
Tori Amos: I think so. Heís writing a BBC series, and I think Iím gonna like, try and make some music like the Pink Panther for him. Weíll see.
Question: I was wondering where you find most of your inspiration?
Tori Amos: Well, like everyday, you know, when youíre just ordering your um... Guiness (laughs). I was going to say carrot juice, and then I thought, no I donít know, I think there are more Guiness drinkers here (laughter). You know, if your life isnít creative, itís not like you go away and say, ďOK, now Iím going to go write.Ē Every waking moment has a creative
force, which all of are if you choose to be. Itís like now, itís when you take a wee, itís when youíre just walking down the street. You know, what I find is, Iím not present. HELLO!? Youíre like on to your next class, right, youíre already there. Youíre with me right now people. Youíre no there yet, you havenít failed that test yet (laughter). You know, youíre here, be here. Thatís the whole thing. As a writer, when I am singing, and when Iím expressing. It really has to be about This moment. Because what we do here can maybe change everything I do for the rest of the day. For the rest of the week. You see, thatís the
whole thing. Weíre all kinda taught how to be unpowerful... youíre taught how to Not focus. You know, itís really a hoot how great it is, the um, I kind of think itís a conspiracy. Not the President, he, like, theyíre just too, like, um, sophomoric for this concept (laughter). But I mean beyond that, you see, itís really here (pats her heart) where things change. Itís here. With you people, if you can't be controlled. The way you think, the way you express, what you hold back. Iím really interested in what you donít tell me, it the thing we hold back from ourselves.
Question: On your first album, you sang with a sense of insecurity, a sense of weakness, like you were reaching out to something secure. But on your second album, you had a renewed sense of strength, you were the secure figure. Between albums, did you have some sort of life catharsis?
Tori Amos: What really happened, you guys, was that I sang
those songs every night to people like you. And we made an exchange. And I
started to feel... the whole purpose for Little Earthquakes was trying to find
my voice. That I had shut away for many reasons. Itís like, have you ever
imagined just standing there, and your cells are exploding like somebody is
screaming, ďHEEEYYYY!,Ē so loud at you.... I mean, how can you sing anything
when youíre like that (Tori imitates a frightened person who is shaking). And then you try and act cool (Tori poses like a cool high-schooler) (laughter). But, where do you find your voice, where you clear that away so that you can .. (sighs).. really get there, and not feel like youíre going to get annihilated. Not
necessarily by another person. Because youíre 20 or whatever, and theyíre not
in your life.
But itís that thing in your mind that has hold on you, itís like this barbed
wire fence around your emotional being. Donít let them tell you that the mind
is greater than the heart. That is a trap. The mind is very tricky. I donít
trust my mind. Itís really good, but I donít trust it. You see, I trust my
heart right now, and if that meets my mind I might be alright. But the one
thing, um, Under the Pink was really about ... going after archetypes, like the
patriarchy in God, going after how women dog each other. How the whole concept of
the sisterhood, hmph, thatís a joke. Girls, -- for 10 minutes -- the guys have done
so many horrible things for the last few billion years itís getting Boring
bringing them up any longer. Letís talk about how we are choosing to be
victims -- in the West. Letís not talk about Asia. Letís not talk, thatís a
whole different place, the Middle East, letís talk about how we dog each other,
the way we compete against each other, what we do to each other. If weíre going
to be strong we have to look at this. Alice Walker has spoken about this, so
many women writers have talked about it. It canít be about competition. Weíve
taken that on. I call it the harem mentality, you know, 40 chicks for one guy.
No wonder we think like that. But we have to change that in our own life. If we
expect... Itís not the guys, the guys arenít our problem anymore. Theyíre not
strong enough to be our problem (laughter). I love the guys, donít get me wrong. But some women are tougher and harder and crueler than any man Iíve ever known. If you learn about gender, okay? When I talk about guys Iím talking about archetypes. Iím not talking about boys... that, you know, are trying to create in
expressing themselves. Many more boys are much more in touch with that side of
themselves than some women. I know, so letís just stop making those excuses. But
Under the Pink was about archetypes. I was not ready to go back into my irrational
self. I was just too exposed. So hopefully on this next record, Iíll be able to
do that again.
Question: Are all of your songs based on personal experience, or do you just create some that are fictional?
Tori Amos: Well, it depends really, doesnít it? I mean,
itís the etheric realm, where I donít know whatís real or not real sometimes,
you know. I think, um, anything thatís from your observation, even if youíre
watching... This whole front row, right? We can all see the same thing and
write about it, and it will be a completely different interpretation, because
of where you (points) grew up, because of what you went through, youíre gonna
see it differently. You might be laughing your head off, and that woman on the
end might be pulling her hair out. You know, you see what I mean? You can only
interpret something from what your experiences are. What is objectivity? I
mean, Jesus Christ, I went to church for four days a week for 21 Years, do
you think Iím objective about Christianity? Give me a break (laughter).
Question: I was wondering if thereís any artists who have influenced your music, and if there are any artists you plan to work with in the near future?
Tori Amos: Um, let me think... Dali, I think was a big
influence (shrugs and laughs). I just pick up paintings. Iím kind of not
really versed in that world but I just get a lot of books and I look at them
and just .. donít know what Iím really looking at. But the colors .. give me
tone. Itís about tone. When I meet someone, I hear a tone. You know, I could
look at some guy and... there was this guy on the plane I met, Peter Gabrielís
percussionist, we didnít know heís from Africa ... and he looked at me and
he went (imitates a piano player) and I went (imitates a congo player)
(laughter). And we sat down for three hours, in the middle of the airplane, and
just started humming to each other (laughter). And um, thatís really all we
talked about (laughter). But it kind of changed, shifted everything. You see,
it... it doesnít all make linear sense?
Question: Are there any musical artists who influence you?
Tori Amos: Well that happens all the time really. You
meet people, a lot of them are not even well known. You just kind of walk and
hear some old guy playing the piano, and you just go (looks interested), ďLet me kind of sit for a minute. Yeah.Ē
Question: I was wondering how you developed your spirituality?
Tori Amos: (Tori pauses and smiles) (laughter) All, um, um... (laughter) Itís about really being able to be... ugly, you know. When you go... I can be ugly, I can be beautiful. I can say really stupid things. It comes back to accepting, and thatís the hardest thing for me, not judging. You
know, when you just go, ďOh my God! That just didnít come out of my mouth!Ē
Hey, yeah, it did actually.
You know, everybody kind of has different path, and everybody gets inspired
by different things. The things that Iím saying today are not going to affect a
few people here. Just will not affect them. Which I have to honor. Something somebody
else will say will affect them. Do you see? Itís really respecting that, ...
everybody has a different kind of... a... blueprint? And certain things touch
off in you, that donít touch off in them. Or, vice versa. You know, some people
could sit and look at like architecture blueprints and (heavy panting) (laughter). You know, theyíre Alive! Fascinating (laughter).
Question: My boyfriend thinks that every time weíre apart, it is ruining our relationship... How do I balance this relationship with my desire to foster my individual creativity?
Tori Amos: Well, (laughter, because Tori is being asked
for advice about this) Whatís very important here is that you need to respect
your boyfriend. And if you really respect him, you will not try and do his work
for him. You got me? He needs to not look towards you for strength. Thatís the
thing, I was in a relationship for a long time where I looked to him for
strength and he looked to me. So what happened? I wasnít there for me in those
places and he wasnít there for him. We just became like you know (holds arms
out, like two people suspending each other in the air), holding each other up. So what we finally said was, ďI have to go dive into this pool.Ē And he was
actually ready to go dive into his pool. And it was a very difficult thing to
say, we have to respect each other enough to let us do this. Some people
can stay together and do it. Some people arenít ready to dive into that pool.
But I think itís going to start hurting you, if you try and do his work for
him, because youíre not respecting you and youíre not respecting him. Everybodyís
gotta own their own... everything. It's fun.
Question: (A girl gives Tori something she had
prepared and this is Toriís reaction)
Tori Amos: Okay, I love this, this is for Neil Gaiman right. Iím the mail girl. And um, (laughter) No, itís true. Where I live in North London, I live on the canal. And thereís this, um, hole right underneath the piano, and if you go underneath the canal, in the boats, you can Wave to me and Iíll wave back
(waves frantically) (laughter). And itís really funny because you get, you
know, all these Germans who are on the boat touring, and itís like (stern face
looking up). And you know, I wave to them back (waves frantically). And they
just sit there, itís quite a dizzy. I take all the mail down to the boats, see?
Because I live in the little canal house, and I take it down, and itís great,
great being the mail girl.
Question: Iím going to give you a break and not ask a
really deep question. You're a consummate performer, so if you could play for anyone in the history of the universe, made up or real, what would you play? For whom? And what shoes
would you wear? (laughter)
Tori Amos: Um, Lucifer (laughter), wait a minute! Penny Lane, um, flip-flops (laughter and cheering). I just want to say, I think Lucifer has a very rough job. And I think heís tired of it. Thatís what Iíve been told anyway (laughter). And what I hear is that, um, you know, heís a little tired of holding this space for mankind/womankind. All our shit that we donít claim, heís holding it. Heís like a big sewage dump. Heís really
(2 questions were asked here, one about a concert, and another about
a social group. Tori didn't really say much.)
Question: I had a question about your piece Yes, Anastasia. Does that have something to do with a Russian figure?
Tori Amos: Yeah, I was reading all about Anastasia Romanov,
and um, sometimes just certain stories kind of grab you by the throat. And it
was interesting how I... Iíve lived in England on and off for four years, and um,
they are more interested in these kinds of things, I think. And I would be reading
so much about how they hadnít still determined whether they had found
Anastasia or not. And that this woman who died a few years ago, everyone
believed that she was lying. Not everyone, but most people said she really
couldnít have lived through that. And I tend to believe that it was. So,
she had died, and when I was very ill, in Virginia, I kind of got visited by
this figure and she said, ďWrite my story.Ē And thatís what I tried to do.
Question: You seem to have a very intimate relationship with the piano... What is your relationship with the piano? How do you feel about it?
Tori Amos: Well, um... I think when you approach any
instrument... a lot of times I see people just kind of use their
instruments, whatever it is. Thereís like lack of respect that you have.
You know, thereís some pretty amazing players out there, I donít know how well
versed you are in music, but technique is something that quite a few people do
have. Thatís something you can achieve, you know. And yet, so much of it is soulless.
Thereís just no respect for the instrument, the soul of the piano, the guitar,
whatever you play. Iíve had a lot of chats with people that play their
instrument and love their instrument. And itís so different when you go
and honor your instrument. I mean, youíre not like fucking using it like itís a
whore. A lot of times people, you know, they go up to it and itís such a use. And you sense
that, and you feel it. And thatís a way for them to, you know, get things from
it, instead of you're partners, where you work together. Thatís such a problem. You
know, there is so much that I read and hear and see, especially coming out from
your all's time now. But thereís no respect and honor for your instruments, for your
pen, and where itís coming from. Donít think that you can snake through that. I
mean, if you found that, good on you, fantastic, thatís great. But the idea that,
you know, when you think that thereís something in your life youíre missing, itís
really your relationship with that part of yourself, and you can choose to
express that. Or you can choose to just go, ďOh well, thatís fine.Ē Thatís your choice. I
canít do that anymore.
Question: I read in an interview with you that you were suffering some sort of arthritis in your hands, or carpal-tunnel syndrome. How has that affected your playing, your touring?
Tori Amos: It makes me really bitchy. Yes... I mean, you
play through it. You canít do anything else but play through it. You know, you take the
anti-inflammatories and you do what you can.
Question: I was wondering, why have you released so many b-sides and singles?
Tori Amos: In England, it works very differently than
here. You have the opportunity to do that if you want. And there were a lot of
songs that werenít gonna ever get a life, ever get heard. So they kind of said
to me -- the songs said -- ďYou know, just let me go somewhere.Ē And so I try and put the ones on that donít go on the records, so that they get a chance to be heard.
Question: Your first album had quite an addect on my life... Your songs are so poetically written, do you write poetry also?
Tori Amos: Iíve written a lot of poetry. Earlier
when I was talking about the craft and the skill that you develop, thatís
something that you choose to... mmmmm, I think, keep expanding on. But it goes beyond
that, really. Because it has to come from a feeling, you see. Cleverly
written words, Iím beginning to see through now, in my own work. So, I canít
trick anymore. Not that I did for Little Earthquakes, but I did sometimes, and
I do sometimes. So what Iím really trying to get now, is to balance the skill
and the craft with the instinct. Because just having one or the other, for example, you know when somebody comes up to you and says, ďOh my God! My
boyfriend and I have split up. Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!Ē And youíre
just like trying to look at like, what Cindy Crawfordís wearing on television,
because thatís a bit more interesting, actually. (laughter). You know, just because youíre feeling something, right, people, sorry, but it doesnít mean that itís going to translate. And thatís where the craft comes in. Itís
balancing out, okay, yeah, I have this feelings, but I can have a thousand ways that
I want to tell this story. There are a thousand ways and rhythms and sounds or,
you know, as a painter, how I can express this. And then that just comes from, you know, your
experiences. Every trip you take, everywhere you go, youíre like a camera, and
you remember as a writer those imprints, and you pull them out of your noodle,
right? Itís like cold spaghetti. And then you start writing about them again.
Thatís why when I say living your life creatively, youíre gonna use all
this information. You know, information and knowledge are real different
things. You can have as much information as you possibly hold in your little
brain, and my brain, and that doesnít give me any bit of knowledge. So, I
just want to encourage you all to be creative forces, because Iíve been all
over the world now many times, and itís starving. Starving for creative vision.
And donít think your vision isnít special, because each one of you is
different. Nobodyís had Your experience.
Thanks a lot. (cheering)
t o r i p h o r i a