Interview by Bob Waugh
Produced by Dave Marsh and Bob Waugh
at WHFS-FM, Washington, D.C.
Executive producer: Tod Elmore
Bob Waugh: Tori, your new album, and at this point does it have a title?
Tori Amos: Yes, Under the Pink.
Bob: Because I had heard it was going to be called God with a Big G.
Tori: Yeah, well I like the whole big G concept, but I just didn't want it... I mean, everything seems to be religious, sometimes, when it comes to me and my work. And this record is like, got a few more things
than just religion in it. Only a few, but, Under the Pink. The way I see it, if you ripped our skin off, we're all pink; and this is about what goes on under that.
Bob: The first single in America is going to be a song called "God." People still have a stigma about having anything to do with religion. And the lyric in "God" is pretty simple. It's just "God, sometimes you don't
Tori: Right. "Do you need a woman to look after you? God, sometimes you just don't come through." Which I think is... I think he could totally dig that. He, the concept of God, my concept of the creator, isn't male or just female. "Just" is the key word here. It's an energy; it's a force that doesn't exclude any kind of gender. You know, I think it's so beyond gender. But what we've been taught to believe is that God, whether in Christian or Judaism or Islamic or many of the others, it's a very male, patriarchal system. And you know, this patriarchal system hasn't done so great in the last few thousand years. I mean I don't know how we can say that it's succeeding. I think that we've gotta kinda look at really where we are. Things aren't getting better. I don't know. I don't see why people are uncomfortable just to speak the truth. And if God did want to send his (quote unquote) "only son," which is a joke. What do you mean "only son"? It's like, so he picks a certain race and a certain kind of color to be his only son, and yet created all of us. No, that's not gonna' happen. That's how the story goes, but I don't believe the story.
I call that god the little g. Because the god that we've been (quote unquote) "worshiping" is not, to me, the supreme creator. Anybody who needs to control and make people feel shamed and, you know, has to... This is the whole thing. It's like, "I send my only begotten son." Well, you know, that concept of sending a son, where we, as women, could, like, breastfeed him and give him milk, but he's not gonna' soil his dinky with us. What's that all about? That really bugged me. The whole concept that Jesus was, you know, not gonna' make it with a babe. What, that's gonna make him more holy?
Bob: There's a lot more instrumentation on this album that there was on Little Earthquakes.
Bob: And a lot of dissonance noise and some very strange sounds.
Tori: That's Eric being demented. He produced this record. He had a Styrofoam... piece of Styrofoam on the bottom keys of an electric piano. You know, there were cans of food on the strings. There's all sorts of stuff. And he would just go, "Tori, check this out, nrrr." And it was fascinating, because the whole idea was working with a piano, but that's all coming from real instruments.
Bob: I have to ask you about Trent Reznor helping you out on this album; Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. First of all, what did he say to you about the Nine Inch Nails reference in "Precious Things" on your last album?
Tori: We didn't talk about it.
Bob: Do you think he was aware of it? Had he ever heard it?
Tori: Yes. He is. He's aware.
Bob: He is featured on a song called "Past the Mission."
Tori: Yeah, he's singing. And this... When I was writing the song, the song said, "I think Trent Reznor would be really good to sing on me." And I said, "Yeah, I'm sure you do. But I don't really know if that's possible." And the song said, "It's possible. So just, like, make it happen." So I met him and I went up to the Sharon Tate house...
Bob: Which he is renting in Beverly Hills.
Tori: Yeah. You have to go through a bit of security to get in. And it's a very spooky house, knowing what it is and then walking... And you look in the Helter Skelter book and you just see, you see the house and it's, like, that picture... He'd be showing me the pictures going, "See this door!" I go, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I see the door." "It's... See... This is where..." They have the control room where Sharron Tate passed away. And it's just weird that when I was a young kid and we'd see the pictures in the book, I had no idea I'd ever be standing there. And standing there with Trent, it's kinda even goofier. He was, I think, wonderful for this piece.
Bob: People, upon hearing the news that you had done something with Trent Reznor, I think, to a large degree were surprised by that. But really anyone who knows you, knows that you are a huge Henry Rollins fan. I mean you covered Nirvana as a bonus track when Little Earthquakes was out. You've described your musical influence, last time I talked to you I think, as a bowl of minestrone. And that's really what it is, isn't it?
Tori: [giggle] Yeah, I mean, just 'cause you're a piano player, I think people just have an idea of what that is. They've decided they kinda have you figured out. You know, we've talked about it. You become like a cheese plate at Christmas. Everything gets laid on top of the piano. And it's not considered anything but really lightweight and background music and it doesn't get explored a lot what it can do. I'm always challenged to try and take the piano and work with it in different ways. Like on this new record I worked with a lot of loops. 'Cause I found that fascinating to have an acoustic piano working with industrial loops. But yet the piano doesn't change it's personality or it's character. It still stays an acoustic piano. It's the same girl that can just wear different dresses to the party.
Bob: Want to talk about "Cornflake Girl?"
Tori: Yeah. This song... I read Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker. And the way that the mothers sold the daughters to the butchers to have their genitaila removed. I... people are listening to this going, "Oh my God! Can't she, like, have a Twinkie and get over it?" Well... but this stuff isn't... it's not negative to me or sad. It's a very safe place to be able to talk about this stuff and also have a laugh. And we have a laugh during the record. There are moments of... maybe it's a sick little laugh, but, you know, it's a laugh nonetheless. And it's very freeing. Again, it's betrayal of women with women. I mean, guys can be pretty brutal. We all can be to each other. But women towards women is a pretty ugly thing. And it's done mostly in secret. So "Cornflake" is just the shock of, "She's gone to the other side. This is getting kind of gross. And I go at sleepy time. This is not really happening. You bet your life it is."
Bob: Tell me about this evil waitress that you want to kill.
Tori: Well, I'm a waitress, too; so we're on equal footing. So for all those waitresses out there, it's about two waitresses who hate each other. And I happen to hate this girl with a passion, and have no problems wanting to just throw her up against a wall and rip her head off. It shocked me how violent I got. It really shocked me. Because I'm just lucky that I was in a rubber room, so to speak, that I just couldn't hurt anybody or myself. I'm lucky that I couldn't play it out. Because I think people do things and, of course, live to regret 'em for the rest their lives. And it's not so hard, it's just not so hard to go nuclear. So when I say, "I believe in peace, bitch" that really kinda says it all. Because I talk about being a peacemaker and so anti-violent. And here I am ready to just rip her head off. Kinda shocking.
Bob: The other extreme, "Baker Baker," is another song from Under the Pink that is a beautiful ballad; kind of in the "Silent All These Years" vein, would you say?
Tori: I mean... I think my ballads kinda come from the same girl. So, you know what I mean? She shows up and says, "Okay, I'll kind of give you one." And this girl... "Baker Baker" is something I haven't really explored before. Because it's me letting down a male. Usually I'm talking about men letting me down. And this is another thing that I had to be honest about. Which is that I've been emotionally unavailable to certain men in
my life that are very, very loving and very giving. You know, we talk a lot about how women are so giving and men are emotionally unavailable. Well, that's not always true. "Baker Baker" kinda makes me really sad.
Bob: One thing that seems apparent from the songs on this new album, is that your religious beliefs continue to evolve; which is particularly evident in the song "Icicle."
Tori: I was taught a belief system where there wasn't really any room to discover my own belief system. So whether it's in "Icicle" or "God" or "Past the Mission"... where from "Icicle" where the girl masturbates to
survive that whole sexual, shamed, repressive world which I grew up in. So at ten years old, I would think these things and feel really bad that I had these feelings. And when they would put the wafer on my tongue, you know how they put the wafer and "this is the body of Christ" blah, blah, blah. And I'm going, "You know, this doesn't feel really comforting. I mean, my little warm hand on my little warm spot would feel much more comforting than this stale wafer." And "Icicle" is kinda the tragedy on the record, but that girl's really brave.
Bob: "Bells for Her" sounds like there's a toy piano in the beginning.
Tori: What that is, is Eric and Phil totally destroyed this upright
piano, in a wonderful, wonderful way. They detuned the whole piano and then
muted the three strings to a note. So they muted two strings out of
three on the whole piano.
Bob: Your vocal is pretty haunting there, though.
Tori: It's funny. When I was doing it, it felt like I was being zapped by this presence and I didn't know what I was saying from word to word. And I had to sit down and write down what I said to learn it. But it was, again, it's about the disappointment of when when a close friend betrays you or you betray them and you don't know why it's falling apart. But there's that sense of loss and you just can't go back. I tried to figure it out. I tried to figure... I said, "Now wait a minute. We're two people who can have a conversation, yet I can't get the tail of this kite..." We'd look at each other and try and have a conversation and then couldn't resolve it. It just can't be resolved right now.
Bob: When you go out on the road to support this new album, is it going to be just you and the piano again? Or are you considering using other musicians this time?
Tori: No. Only after the show. [giggle] It's me on stage with a piano.
Bob: You enjoy the confrontation aspect of what goes on between you and your audience.
Tori: Well I like to stir it up. I mean, I feel like when I stir in my songs... I stir things up so that in my own life it's kind of a little road map for myself; it just makes me go. Well there's a place that I can work on something, and here's another place that I'm not looking at. And it's nice to acknowledge that I've been silent all these years, but then what am I gonna' do about it? I mean, how am I gonna' live the rest of my life? Ok, I was silent, now what? When I play live, I'm more alive than any time 'cause I'm very, very present. And you know I set my parameters before a show each night, I bring different spirits to the party to work on different things. And the audience dictates what I bring 'cause I tune in to them. I'm always backstage a couple hours before a show or I've been wandering around, and I tune in to what they are. Where at my hotel I tune in to who they are and what they are. And it might sound like "that's not possible," well, it's possible if you believe it's possible.
Bob: On the last album you dealt with some highly personal subject matter. You told me once that that was a result of sort of a day of reckoning for you. You found yourself sitting on the kitchen floor, in Los Angeles I think, and I'm quoting you here, Tori. You said "Who am I? Why am I withering emotionally? Why am I dead?" Were these new songs born through exorcising more demons or are you coming from a different place now?
Tori: Well I think there are always demons. You know, if you want a Halloween party just call me up. But this time... this record was in a way more exhausting for me. Because the last one was very liberating 'cause I was just beginning to acknowledge things that I had hidden for so many years. That's me allowing that. It is. So I was a victim in a situation. If I keep allowing that memory to run my life, then who's doing that? I can turn that around. And I'm turning it around.