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The Derek McGinty Show (US, radio)
WAMU, Washington, D.C. (88.5 FM)
June 2, 1994

Tori Amos interview

An excerpt from Me and a Gun is played.

Derek McGinty: The haunting voice and lyrics of singer-songwriter Tori Amos. Her first CD, called Little Earthquakes, sold more than a million copies and generated millions of fans, among the biggest, my producer Ellen [?]. But not me, I'm an old R&B jazz guy and I didn't know Tori Amos until last night. But after spending some time with Little Earthquakes and her new release, Under the Pink, I have to say Tori Amos has recruited yet another fan. You see, Tori Amos writes the sort of songs that are so personal I wonder if anyone else could ever sing them. The haunting, eerie quality of her voice and piano arrangements are as much a part of the songs as her lyrics. Interestingly, though, the song that she may be best known for outside the world of her many fans is the one you just heard. It's a capella, it's called Me and a Gun. It is a description of a sexual assault that really happened to Tori Amos, and that tune is why she is here in Washington accepting a 1994 Visionary Award from the DC Rape Crisis Center. Tori Amos was born in North Carolina, the daughter of a minister, who was a child prodigy on the piano. She's played everything from lounge music to heavy metal before finding her niche in a sound that I would be hesitant to categorize. Tori Amos, welcome to the show.

Tori: Hi, Derek.

Derek: How are ya?

Tori: Very well, thank you.

Derek: Good. Are you tired of answering questions about Me and a Gun? Just, quickly.

Tori: Yeah. [laughs]

Derek: [laughs]

Tori: At the same time, um, it's gotten easier to answer the questions. When I first started answering the questions a couple years ago, sometimes I wouldn't know what to say or how to say it, because you live with it every day. So, it gets to be um, you know, Can we just talk about anything but this? However, when I put it on the record, there was a part of me that knew that if I was gonna put it on -- you either talk about it or you don't talk about it at all, so I made a commitment to talk about it 'cause I think it's that important.

Derek: The willingness to be so personal in what you write, like a song like that, "There's a man on my back," that's a scary, scary lyric. Was it ever frightening to you to open up that much?

Tori: When I first wrote it and sang it, um, hardly anybody was coming to see me at that point. So, I was in London at the time, and you don't think about, you don't know what it's like um, having people chase you down the street, until they do. You don't think about that happening to you. You're just singing your song and you say, Well this is very close to me and I'm ok about putting this on disc. So, we put it down and as things started, my music started to get heard, then I started to have to make the choice whether I was going to answer questions. And I chose to talk about, at first, the um, what it's like being a victim. And as the years have progressed, it's now more about healing, talking about the healing process.

Derek: You said that you wrote this song after seeing Thelma and Louise.

Tori: Uh, yeah, the movie. I had put asie my experience for years. I think a lot of women that are raped won't talk about it, just because um, you really don't want somebody to tell you how to feel. Or, you know, there is a humiliating um, helplessness. And I made the choice to just go on and be this warrior woman. So I just wouldn't discuss it, talk about it, think about it. And slowly, things started breaking down in my life. You don't handle something by not dealing with it, ever. And when I saw Thelma and Louise, um, it was the final straw, really, of me having to come to terms with it, and I wrote Me and a Gun that evening and performed it that night.

Derek: Wow. You had the music and the lyrics in one day.

Tori: Right. On the tube station.

Derek: It's as though something sort of cracked open in your head after you saw that movie.

Tori: Right.

Derek: Yeah. The interesting thing to me -- a couple of things -- first, the theme of that song, you say it's now turning more to healing, but I still got that feeling of, you know, wanting to survive the situation so that you could heal, through the song.

Tori: Well, Me and a Gun is all about staying alive. Um, and that's where I was at the time. And now, I mean, I sing it at every concert. It's my commitment to sing it at every show. If I have to sing two songs, it'll probably be one of them, unless it's inappropriate because it's a birthday or something. But I mean, if it's usually a concert setting, um, I'll be singing it. Just because I found so many people, not just women, either, but men that, they'll come backstage afterward and one out of three will have had some kind of experience where they were violated. And I believe that you can work through this "victim" vibe. You know, the idea that, well I'm ruined forever, 'cause there's so many things that come across your mind -- not being able to be intimate with men is something that a lot of women have to deal with. They may want to be, but you associate intimacy with violence, you just can't, your body has a memory.

Derek: You didn't let that experience rob you of your overt sexuality.

Tori: For a long time. I'm working through it. I have the help of an incredible male partner, who's really helping me.

Derek: Have you ever had that backstage experience -- you talked about with people coming back and talking to you. Has someone who was a perpetrator ever come up to you and said...

Tori: Interesting. No. No.

Derek: I wonder what that would be like.

Tori: But you know they're there.

Derek: Yeah.

Tori: And, again, most perpetrators have been victims, a lot of them, at some point.

Derek: Good point, good point. Talk about your connection with the DC Rape Crisis Center and how that all came about.

Tori: Um, they had herd my work and they were aware of um, how it was opening things up, especially in a generation that, for the most part, people haven't been able to get to. Because it's hard for a lot of people to get to nineteen-year-old women. You know, they're not just gonna sit down and open up, you know. So um, the exciting thing about this relationship is that the DC Rape Crisis Center is helping to put in motion an 800 number. We're trying to do that with the help of Time-Warner, Atlantic Records.

Derek: What would the 800 number do?

Tori: So, if you're in um, Perdue, Indiana, or you're in Albuquerque, you can call anytime without it being seen on your phone bill. Because for a lot of these people it's within the home. Mother, father, step-father, step-mother, uncle, whatever, brother, whatever. Um, and these kids, boys or girls, can call at any time, it's not traced and they don't pay for it, and they will get connected with somebody that's closest to their area. And if they want to try and get in and see them, they can. But it's about professionals that can talk to them, not just somebody picking up the phone that can read, you know, answers, 1-10 you can answer. It's about somebody that can talk through and give a kid choices. Not just a kid, a grown person, whosever calling. Um, and we're getting help from many different people right now. This might take time to put the 800 number into affect. Until then, I'm having numbers printed at every concert of where you can call, like the DC Rape Crisis Center, or there's a Philly Crisis Center, wherever you are in your area, at least you can call until we get the 800 number going.

Derek: Speaking of concerts, recording artist Tori Amos is here in Washington at the Warner Theatre June 20th, 21st and 22nd. I understand the first two dates are sold out, but there may be some left for the 22nd. Tori Amos is also here to accept the 1994 Visionary Award from the DC Rape Crisis Center tonight at the center's third annual gala at Union Station. And her latest CD is called Under the Pink. I'm Derek McGinty, Tori Amos will be here until about half past the hour, you can call us here at (202) 885-8850 until then. (202) 885-8850. Let's talk about the second CD, Under the Pink, for a minute. Were you worried at all about what they call the sophomore jinx? You know, it's taken down such notables as say, Terence Trent D'Arby, who went from the cover of Rolling Stone to, "who?" You know, were you worried about that at all?

Tori: Well, it crosses your mind. [laughs]

Derek: [laughs]

Tori: It happens a lot. Too many times to mention, you know?

Derek: Yeah.

Tori: The truth is, it is really my third record, 'cause I did a...

Derek: Heavy metal record.

Tori: Well, I looked like a heavy metal chick. Unfortunately, it didn't sound as good as it looked, you know what I mean? But um, so in theory it was my junior record, although to everybody else it was my sophomore record. So I kind of think I had it on my side that it was really my third. But at the end of the day, you really have to, I think, not trry and make the last record, or the last movie, or write your last book. You have say, Well, I've done that. I did Little Earthquakes. I wanted to do more of an abstract painting. Little Earthquakes was like a diary. Under the Pink, you really have to be involved in it. It's definitely an audience-participation record; you have to crawl inside the painting and like, be blue.

Derek: Yeah. That's sort of like a first novel. First novels are almost always kind of autobiographical.

Tori: Right.

Derek: And so now, you're saying that you take the step to your second novel, so to speak. It's a different experience.

Tori: Right.

Derek: I um, listening to the first CD last night, I liked it a lot at first hearing. Didn't get into the second CD until this morning. And I listened to it about the third time, and the songs, I started to appreciate them more. Is that an experiencec you've heard about before with people and this CD?

Tori: Um, interesting. It has been for the journalists that way. But a lot of the kids have been able to get into the second on um, maybe because of the rhythmic sensibility in God and Cornflake Girl that I didn't, I didn't have the same rhythmic sensibility on the first record. So, lyrically, everybody like, can't, their heads are all going, "ehh? What's going on? What's a raisin girl?" I said, Well, it's ok, I'm not gonna quiz you on it.

Derek: Since you brought it up, let's listen to God for a minute.

An excerpt from the CD recording of God is played.

Derek: Tori Amos, the song is called God, it's on Under the Pink. And Tori Amos, what did your dad the minister think about this tune?

Tori: Well, we don't talk about it a whole lot. Um, although he gets a chuckle out of the fact that I stir things up.

Derek: What about your fans and the record industry, where God is not something that most of the time comes up in Top 40 radio.

Tori: Uh, Top 40 wouldn't play this. Alternative radio championed this record.

Derek: Really?

Tori: Yeah.

Derek: And it did well?

Tori: Yeah.

Derek: What part of you was talking here? Was this something relating back to your early experience where you said you kind of lost your belief in God after your assault and so forth.

Tori: Well, this is, this is all about, really, the Patriarchy. And it's not that just men are involved in the Patriarchy, there can be women involved in the Patriarchy, too. But just that whole way of thinking. And it hasn't worked, Derek, the Patriarchy's been ruling for thousands of years and look at us, it ain't doing such a great job. So it's really like, it's my little love song to the big guy, and it's, "Sit down, honey, put up your feet, have a cup of tea, I think you need some advice, to be honest with you."

Derek: [laughs] He needs a woman to take care of him.

Tori: To look after. Not take care of.

Derek: What's the difference?

Tori: Do you... Take care of is, you know, iron his shirts, make sure he's ok. This is um, more like an advisor position that I'm going after.

Derek: [laughs] Let's take a phone call at 885-8850. Robert from Burke, you're on the air.

Robert: Oh, yes, hi.

Tori: Hi, Robert.

Robert: Hi, Tori. I've got a question. How did your music get influenced by Kate Bush, and how much of it do you feel attribute to the sound you have today?

Tori: Um, interesting. When I was seventeen years old -- which was, I'm 30 now -- um, people started coming up to me while I was playing in the clubs and saying to me, "God, you sound like Kate Bush." And I would say, "Well, who's Kate Bush?" So this happened for about, I don't know, a few months. And I finally heard her work, and I didn't think I sounded exactly like her. I felt like there were moments, but stylistically and the writing-wise things were very different. Um, I think she's incredible and she gave a lot to music. She was quite a front-runner. But I try not to study her work too much, just because I was already getting compared to her um, thirteen years ago.

Robert: Ok. I find you sound a lot like her.

Tori: Mmm. Well, she's wonderful, so thank you.

Robert: Ok, well thank you.

Derek: Thank you, Robert. Joan in Rockville, you're on the air.

Joan: Yeah, hi Tori.

Tori: Hi, Joan.

Joan: How are you?

Tori: Very well, thanks.

Joan: I really just wanted to say that I appreciate your music and I enjoy it. The sincerity in it, and the fact that it's not as um, you're not after the commercialization. I love the analogy to the painting, you know, you really present what you feel. And I also wanted to ask you if you thought that being able to deal with your experience in somewhat of a public forum was -- being the warrior, as you said -- made it easier at some level. I've had a similar experience in, I don't know, having a cause might make it easier to grasp and run with.

Tori: Yeah, actually, I hadn't thought about it, Joan, like that, but I think you're right um, inasmuch that when you're talking to strangers, there is kind of a safeness. But when you talk to people that you know very well, who knew you before and who sometimes look at you with pity or they're not as objective, then you feel much more exposed than when I'm talking to strangers. So, I've always felt safer with strangers than with people I know. I've had a hard time talking about it with my family or anyone that I know.

Joan: Right. Well, good luck to you.

Tori: Thank you.

Joan: I appreciate what you're doing.

Tori: And you, Joan, good luck.

Derek: Diedre in Alexandria, you're on the air.

Diedre: Hi, Tori, how are you?

Tori: Hi, Diedre.

Diedre: Um, I just want to know, how do London audiences differ from American audiences.

Tori: Um, they're much more polite. [laughs] But they're not as passionate, so they um sometimes I think they want to scream, but they don't scream much. I went to a Nine Inch Nails concert in London, and he wouldn't come out and do an encore, just because they didn't know how to scream and bring him back. But they really liked the show. And, I mean, he's like, he'll rip your head off, his music. But um, you know, each audience really tests you as a performer. It brings different stuff out of you, um, makes my performances different.

Diedre: And why did you decide to move to England?

Tori: Because in America, nobody wanted to give me a chance, on the music industrty side. They said, "This girl and her piano thing is never gonna work, and uh, so baby, honey, cookie, sweetie." [laughs] And I got interest from the English and they said, "We understan," so I went over and started from scratch. And it was the right thing to do.

Derek: Do you have any hopes or thoughts that maybe what you've done opened some doors for some others who may have a different kind of sound. Or does everybody have to cave in the door on their own, somehow, go to England or wherever?

Tori: Well, I think it's, I think the things have changed a lot in the last few years for singer-songwriters. A lot more are getting an opportunity now. It's unbelievable how many female singer-songwriters are out there now. Um, be nice to hear some guys. Not as many guy singer-songwriters. They're all in bands. It would be nice to, you know, no Dylans, Neil Youngs.

Derek: That's an interesting thought. It occurred to me how few women are playing in bands, but the transverse of that -- or convers, whatever -- is that there are very few men out there singing and writing songs.

Tori: Right.

Derek: That's interesting. That's interesting. Tori Amos, I want to thank you so much for coming in.

Tori: Thank you, Derek.

Derek: Recording artist Tori Amos, her CD is called Under the Pink, she's in town to accept a 1994 Visionary Award from the DC Rape Crisis Center. That'll be tonight at the center's third annual gala at Union Station. And we will go out with a song from the new CD, Under the Pink, it's called Cornflake Girl. I'm Derek McGinty on WAMU.

[transcribed by jason/yessaid]

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