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Oor (the Netherlands)
May 7, 1994
The legs are spread behind the grand piano, the eyes focused continually on the audience, a mischievous smile around her lips. As if she put the Kama Sutra on music, TORI AMOS slides with her sensual voice on an Eastern manner around the harmonies she evokes with her piano playing. You can hear a pin drop. Tori sighs and groans and brings the audience to a joint orgasm.
interview by Hans van den Heuvel
photos by Niels van Iperen
(cover photo by Colin Bell, 1992)
Due to the gigantic offering it is impossible to listen to everything which is released. I knew about Tori Amos and how great she sings, and how she got many colleagues on their hands and knees, slavering at her feet with her blue eyes and nice derangeness. That her debut CD "Little Earthquakes" can be counted among the highpoints of pop history I only discovered when I volunteered to interview her in a fit of recklessness, and thus had to listen to all of her material, including the recently released "Under the Pink", with more than an average interest. Tori couples the timbre and high voice of Kate Bush to the power and intensity of Sinead O'Connor. She adds her own sensuality and powerful personality. How deeply rooted that is, showed when we let her choose questions out of a box of cards we use at special occasions. And believe me, a talk with Tori Amos is such a special occasion.
I WOULD NEVER WANT TO BE A POPSTAR. WHEN YOU'RE A POPSTAR YOU CAN ONLY GET TO BE AN EX-POPSTAR, WHEREAS I CAN GO ON UNTIL I'M 65. (CHRIS REA)
"I want to agree on that. In the end it all comes down to the music. A lot of pop stars are not musicians. They don't write their own material, they can sing, they may have personality, but they're not musicians. Someone like Bruce Springsteen is a musician, a songwriter and a rockstar. His career goes up and down, because people go through some periods of different fashions. I don't think it's an indication that he's less or more talented than Chris Rea."
DO YOU SELL YOUR MUSIC OR YOUR TITS?
"Would you ask this question to a man?"
ZZ TOP ALSO HAD TO ANSWER THIS ONE...
"It goes with the deal, doesn't it? I can't see how you can separate the physical from the musical. Creative energy and sexual energy are always from the same source of power. Passion is, to me, he key word. Whether it's passion for music, for life or for love, it's all passion. When I'm on stage, I feel a lot of passion. I transform to the mango I would want to be. But my daily life is somewhat sleeping. Then I'm more like a walking cactus. Men don't even watch me when I walk past them into a restaurant..."
IS THAT WHY YOU WANTED TO GO ONSTAGE? TO GET MORE ATTENTION?
"There are a lot of reasons to want to perform. Especially since it was suppressed at home. Religion was an important theme, and music the only way to express that passion."
SINCE YOUR SUCCESS YOUR MUSIC BARELY CHANGED. IT MERELY EXISTS FROM LESS BRILLIANT IDEAS, WHICH SEEM VARIATIONS TO EARLIER SONGS
"Hm. There are only twelve notes, so you have to know very well what you're doing to write more than twelve songs. If not, you will have worked out all of your ideas very quickly. I have challenged myself for the second CD. I've done things I've never done before: melody, harmony, phrases... Very interesting. For me. And I'm only playing 27 years. As a musician you have to ask yourself at the end of the day: have I been to places where I've never been before? Have I been pioneering? When the answer is 'not really', you have to live with yourself."
SOME PEOPLE DON'T HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT.
"But I'm a monster to live with. It's terrible. I was playing when I was 2.5 years old. I was a wonder child. While kids of my age were still pissing in their beds, I was in the middle of heavy competition, trying to explore myself, to grow. The tension and expectations were high. Until I had become a joke at some point. For 14 years I have played in bars. Where people spill beer on your piano, or shout that you should shut up. You have no illusions about fame. You are glad you can even play your own songs, and not "Feelings" or "Send in the clowns" for the umpteenth time. You lead a double life. You play in hotel bars for a living, because no-one wants to pay you for your own music. Then you have to hurry and change clothes in the car to rehearse with your band. I'm grateful for the steps I have had to make. But I'm concentrated on the question: "What will I do after this? How am I gonna challenge myself musically? "
CAN YOU SEE YOURSELF WORKING WITH A CLASSICAL OR JAZZ ORCHESTRA, LIKE SOMEONE LIKE ELVIS COSTELLO?
"Probably. I'm sure it must have excited him very much."
IT IS NOT OUR TASK TO LESSEN THE INVITED AT THE TABLE OF HUMANITY, BUT TO MAKE SURE THERE'S ENOUGH BREAD ON THE TABLE.
"Wow. I have nothing to add to that. Fantastic. To me this saying relates to the Last Meal [You know, Christ's one - MR], about food for the brains. But I don't think everyone's ready to take place at that table. There are people who gulp down that bread, would like to shit it out on their chairs and then piss off, going away from the place with their elbows. As an example: Pearl jam did a charity concert to save Apache Mountain in Arizona. An Apache-woman did a speech about the meaning of this concert. The audience was throwing this at her, to make her go away from the stage! Then Bill Miller appeared, he was my support act in the States and will join me at the European dates in fall. An Indian, who sings about his people. They spat at him. Until he had to leave the stage also. Eddie Vedder got so angry that he went on stage and spat back. And the audience loved that! For all those people who came to the table, there was enough bread. But look what they did with it! The answer is to give them no more. They have to qualify before they can get a piece. Else let them starve.
People have to take responsibility for the mess they leave behind on this earth. But we behave in a dictatorial manner. Because you believe in different things doesn't have to mean it always has to be done your or my way. But it turned out to be like that... You could think we would have gotten over that, with the next millennium in sight, but that's not the case.
PEOPLE GET LESS TOLERANT.
"It just stays the same. Nothing has changed. We have dips and hills of openness, but look how fast that can change. The same people who were so open-minded in the sixties were booing Sinead O'Connor at the Dylan concert. I'm sorry she had to go through that, because it was very painful. But it was so significant for the time we live in. You may protest in a way everyone thinks acceptable, but if you do it differently... I really got a kick out of the way PETA, the American movement for animal rights, protested against the use of fur. I'm not a vegetarian, but I eat healthy and respect their opinion. I just don't believe in the somewhat fascist techniques they use. Spraying paint on fur is pure terrorism! Now they were walking in g-strings, in Washington, with the motto: 'We'd rather walk naked than in fur."
NOONE WHO'S PART OF A CAPITALISTIC ORGANIZATION LIKE THE RECORD INDUSTRY CAN PERMIT PREACHING KIBBUTS MENTALITIES.
"Unless all the world is a kibbuts. When all the world would implode and you would ask me to sing a song for you, I would say: Of course Hans. Can I have some tomatoes from you? Because I need some for my salad. We'd exchange. I can't see how someone can say musicians may not get paid, while that person is paying lots of money for cigarettes. De exchange system wasn't that bad. Although even the exchange system knew a certain hierarchy. Some people had more objects to exchange than others. When you had something that a lot of others would want, you'd get more carrots and tomatoes so you could make a bigger salad. Sadly I'm not a very good merchant. That's why I have a disastrous record deal. I was signed in 1986 already. No one wanted me. So I didn't have much to say about it. Now I have to make six more records under this contract. I do negotiate after each record, but I have no choice. When I want to make a new record, they know they've got me. Despite this, I love Warner. It feels so reliable. We have fought so much through the years. I feel like they have kept me under contract because of our differences. Because they know I would piss on their desks when I don't get my way. But I try to stay fair. Also for my boys on the road. They're mostly men, I only have two women with me. We are with thirteen right now, whereas I play on stage alone. They're all needed to get the show rolling. Even there is a hierarchy. The technician is the most important one. Because without a soundmixer there is no show. You can do a show without light, but not without sound. Even with the lights there is a hierarchy. The one doing the catering is the mother of the crew. Even if it's a guy, he's still fulfilling a mother role. The tour manager is the game ruler. When they don't do things his way, or we're behind on schedule, he screams. At the end of the line it's me. Who pays everyone's bills, who gets paid less than everyone else. That's no democracy, Hans. So if I have to take the reins, I will. Because when you have to pay the bills, it's your future on the line. They can always go on to the next task. They get paid well, but it always comes back to their way of working. I do love the people, they're all my friends. I even go out with them, something that most artists won't do. But after playing in bars for so many years, I don't have that attitude of "I'm the star, who do you think you are?"
IT SURPRISES ME YOU DON'T DESCRIBE THE WOMEN IN YOUR CREW AS SISTERS.
"I have something against sisters at the moment. Not my sister, whom I like very much. But dominantly the women's movement. Women have this facade of fighting for the same cause, but can be so cruel, so slimy at the same time. I trust my male friends a lot more than my female friends. Men just want to get along with you. They won't nag about the fact things are going so well for me. They're happy about it. Whereas women will try and give me a complex of guilt. Make me uncertain, make me doubt myself. So that I don't dare go on stage, because I'd be afraid to have no success. Then they'd be happy, because then we're all rats in the same cage again. Only independently working women I like. There's mutual respect there. I don't want something of them , and vice versa. They're not jealous, cos they have their own lives. There are different layers in women's relations. What happens for instance when you like the same man? Or sometimes it isn't even man-related. Careers, self-esteem. Hierarchy is everywhere, Hans."
ROCK MUSICIANS AREN'T THE MOST CLEVER PEOPLE ON EARTH. IF THEY WERE THEY WOULD HAVE LEARNED A REAL JOB.
"But they do have the best parties"
WHAT, BESIDES ALCOHOL, HAVE BEEN THE MOST IMPORTANT INFLUENCES ON YOUR MUSIC?
"Suppression. As a kid you don't analyse things that much. You react very directly: 'I don't want to play with those dolls, I don't like those people. I'm bored. I will go and play the piano. Goodbye.' I never wondered: 'Why do I want to play the piano? Kids are so direct, they don't have to justify or defend themselves. They just don't want to do certain things. 'I don't want to play Ravel today. I love John Lennon. I want to listen to his record.'"
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING COMPARED TO THE BEATLES?
"I'm never compared to the Beatles."
YOUR MUSIC IS AN IDEAL MEANS OF LETTING THE YOUTH GET IN CONTACT WITH QUALITY POP IN THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE HITPARADE.
"I hope it gives them some idea that you can do a whole lot more with the piano than just playing church music on it. The piano had a hard time in the last 15 years."
WHILE THERE ARE SO MANY KEYBOARDS IN POP MUSIC.
"Now you offend me. The piano says: I'm no synthesizer. I'm nine feet tall and have very long strings. It's a whole different instrument. Pianists are no keyboardists and vice versa. Sometimes they do change. Most synthesizer players haven't got enough strength in their fingers to play the piano. You develop that. And you have to keep it up. When I don't play for 3 weeks, I lose my technique almost totally. That fast. It's such a difficult instrument.
DO YOU KEEP A DIARY?
"No. What happens, happens."
IF YOU COULD PICK A HAREM, HOW WOULD IT LOOK?
(Big grin). "There is a certain exterior that I fall for, that's true. But it would be more important though how my harem would smell. One can gamble on which guys one would like most, but I would choose someone else instead anyway. Man doesn't differ that much from the wolves, in making choices. It happens instinctively."
IF YOU HAD TO INTERVIEW YOURSELF, WHICH QUESTION WOULD YOU DEFINITELY NOT ASK? WHAT WOULD YOU ASK INSTEAD?
"Do you have an hour? 'What do you think of your new album?' What a stupid question. 'Does it bother you when you're compared to Kate Bush?' Next one: 'How does it feel to be a female singer/songwriter?'
WHICH QUESTION WOULD YOU ASK INSTEAD? ONE THAT HAS NEVER BEEN ASKED?
"Do you think you have a responsibility to release the work of which you fear the public isn't ready for yet?"
WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ANSWER?
"Would I have a career if I did?"
IT'S FUNNY YOU SHOULD SAY THIS, COS A LOT OF PEOPLE SEE YOU AS VERY OPEN...
"Everyone draws a line. One will go further than another. I am doing things of which I fear that if I release them they will be miscomprehended so heavily... There are subjects where people build a wall for in advance. They colour red before you finish your sentence. They don't want to hear it, for fear of something terrible. Something ugly. The Rape Crisis Centre refused a donation from Nirvana because of the song 'Rape Me'. Nirvana said they were attacking raping in that song. But the RCC just says: keep your nose out of things you know nothing about. We think it's offensive, we don't want your money. I first didn't like the song either. But the more I listened to it, the more I understood. I understood the typically American feeling of saying 'Hit me if you dare, motherfucker, because if you do you won't walk out of here alive.' Except a raped woman will never say 'Rape me,' that is everything she fights against.
"When I'd write a song like 'Rape Me,' I would be very aware of the consequences. I'd have to be as specific as possible. And be prepared to defend it. But if your intentions are true, you must be prepared to do this. To resist the eggs being thrown at your head. Eggs of women who are afraid to go out on the streets."
[translated by Marcel F G Rijs]
[scans by Sakre Heinze]
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