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Live X (US, radio)
WNNX, Atlanta (99.7 FM)
August 5, 1994

Tori Amos interview

Barnes: If you haven't seen Tori in concert, she's sold out this time, but I'm sure you'll be back. It's amazing.

Leslie: I'm sure other artists would love to be able to demand that respect, because I've been to shows where people were chatting through the whole thing and I just want to turn around and say "Shut Up!" You know, I paid for this ticket, and I want to hear this person.

Tori: Well, different kinds of artists I think bring different audiences. Because I don't have like loads of hits and stuff, I'm known for my albums really, not just one song, so you don't have looky-loos coming to my shows, you know, 'cause you had nothing better to do on Friday night. You're coming to my shows, usually, the tickets are gone by the time those people decide to do that, do you know, because I'm not playing arenas or anything so that there's just so many tickets. The people that really want to come are aware of the show, and my shows are the most important thing in my whole musical life, it's the live side of things, because that's where things can change, moment-to-moment, I mean tonight's show will be completely different from tomorrow night's two shows.

Barnes: I want to play a song and there's a story that I remember from the first time when I saw you that you were telling about this song, and I cannot remember the way the story goes, so let's listen to the song and then hear the story about the song. It's off Little Earthquakes, it's a song called "Leather."

[ "Leather" plays from the album ]

Barnes: Now, I vaguely remember the story about grunge, somebody grunge. Tell me the story about the song, about "Leather."

Tori: Oh, God.

Barnes: You've told it on stage, so I figured it was fair game.

Tori: I'm just trying to remember which story this is. Help me out a little.

Barnes: About a grunge artist, this is three years ago, I'm trying to remember this.

Tori: "Artist" is a kind word to apply, but go on.

Barnes: Ok, and..., well you tell the story. I don't remember.

Tori: No, no, it's all coming back to me now. It's all coming back.

Barnes: You have a big grin!

Tori: No, this umm... guy came up to me and said, help me out Barnes, it's been a few grungers ago.

Leslie: I just remember you telling this story too at Center Stage and you said you didn't want to name names.

Barnes: Yeah, I remember you saying that, that you didn't want to name names. And you were just saying, someone came up to you in a bar maybe. One of these grunge guys, and was like, uhh... wantin' to uh..

Leslie: Get close and personal with Tori.

Tori: Uh, yeah.

Barnes: It wasn't me, don't look at me like that.

Leslie: I'm not looking at you like that.

Barnes: I know you're not going to say who it is, but, so what happened? Is this like a famous grunger?

Tori: Ye-ah, very.

Barnes: I'll just wonder on that.

Tori: Well, no, the thing is that the he's about getting scalps on his belt, this guy, so I mean the whole thing is, as much as my knees were like filled with water and kind of weak, and I was kind-of charmed by the whole thing, because there's a side of me that's very shy.

Barnes: Well you wrote a song about it, it must have touched you somehow.

Tori: Well, I didn't write "Leather" about him.

Barnes: Ok, I thought you were saying this song was about him.

Tori: No, no, no.

Barnes: Well, I misunderstood.

Tori: No, I actually wrote something else about him, on "Under the Pink." But the point is, he's an interesting case, because a lot of times I think that you get blown away by somebody's aura, their energy, their vibe, and what they're like on stage, and then you deal with them when they're offstage and you go "you pathetic little slime, what are you doing?" Sometimes, it's one thing to be, I don't know, wowed, he's really dynamic and... And I kinda go for the bad boys, 'cause I'm a minister's daughter, so I'm always drawn to those bad boys, but some of them are nicer than others.

Barnes: You're going to drive me crazy now, who it is, but...

Tori: But it doesn't matter.

Barnes: I know, but it makes you curious.

Tori: Yeah, but that one is, like, less important than others.

Barnes: I just remember that, "Leather" stuck in my head, because you had said a story like that before "Leather." Anyway...

Leslie: I wanted to talk about "Under the Pink", because "Under the Pink" is a little different than... It's different from "Little Earthquakes", and to me it's more like, let's look "under the pink" to find out what Tori is talking about, in a lot of the songs. And I remember when we started playing "Cornflake Girl", people were going crazy wanting to know what it was about.

Tori: I read the Alice Walker book, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and there's umm, in that book, the mothers take the daughters to the butchers to have their, let's say their genitalia removed. And even though it's a patriarchal culture that she's talking about, and that this custom was put into practice a long, long time ago by the patriarchy, it's the mothers that take their daughters. And, what I was singing about was, it's funny how from generation to generation women really betray each other in the ladies' room. There is a whole secret society that happens, and a lot of times a mother will say "I'm doing this for your good" whether it was binding the feet in the Eastern cultures or whether it's marrying your daughter to this gangrene, smelly-breathed, old, decrepit, rotting scumbag that's 80 years old with dough. "You know, this is really the best for you," when the truth is, it's the best for everybody else. And, that's an extreme of women's relationships brought to just like, your girlfriend that you're hanging out with, but betrayal is betrayal, and I was thrown in to many situations as I was reading that book where girls, my girls, we were just dissin' each other. The things that we were doing, umm, it's like I would have never imagined that we could be so unsupportive of each other, and it was just happening while I was reading this book, and "Cornflake Girl" is the betrayal really of girls.

Leslie: Do you have a lot of best friends, I mean, best-best friends.

Tori: Yeah, I have a few.

Leslie: ..because when people ask me that, its always like, well I have a lot of acquaintances, but...

Tori: Load of those...

Leslie: Yeah. But somebody you really trust with everything.

Tori: Mmmm...

Leslie: But, that's different.

Barnes: Only a couple, huh?

Tori: Only a couple.

Barnes: You've got a couple, two or three, that you really just like would tell everything.

Tori: Well, and not just that, but then there's people that you go, Ok, if I'm in Hong Kong in the middle of the night and I need to get out of there cause I'm in big trouble, who'm I gonna call? Well, you know sometimes you have a best friend you can talk to but she might not be able to get you out of Hong Kong so you gotta have those friends too, you know?

Barnes: Exactly. But one of your friends, Trent Reznor. I was reading something about you cooking dinner for him over at that scary house.

Tori: Well, look, he's so anorexic sometimes. I just look at him and go, baby, you need my cooking honey. And he was very open to the idea because, you know, I don't think he gets much nurturing, that guy. There's just not a lot of nurturing going on. Anyway, so I went over there and I brought all my little supplies because they only have Coca-cola in the fridge.

Barnes: In case you don't know, this is the house where Sheryl Tate was...

Leslie: Sharon Tate.

Tori: Yeah. That house.

Barnes: Yeah. That's a spooky to me.

Tori: It's torn down now.

Leslie: I want to hear what you cooked, this is interesting.

Tori: Well I was gonna make him baked chicken because like, look, I'm from the South, I know how to make chicken, I've been making it since I was 10 years old, with my Nanny, my Grandmother in the kitchen, where it's dripping down your chin, and that whole buttery thing, right? Well I'm making it, and nothing's happening. I mean its just, yes it's cooking right, the oven's cooking, I've made it the same time, the same way that I've made it for 20 years. And it's not working. I mean, you know how globs of flour were collecting on the chicken. And, it just wasn't working, nothing was working, and he's standing there with his arms folded thinking he's like, I'm not applying to be your wife or anything. I mean this isn't what's happening anyway. So why are you not giving me a chance? This is wrong. This is your house. And I called my mother on the phone, things got so bad, and I said, Mom, what's wrong, I can't make this chicken for this guy, and she goes, well you know honey, I heard the Folger's coffee heiress was also in that house, and she died that night, and I think there's a curse on anything that has to do with culinary things. And I'm like, thanks, Mom.

Leslie: Mom, that's not helping out, the chicken's not cooking. Meanwhile, Trent's going, yeah right, you can cook.

Barnes: We'll take your calls, if you want to talk to Tori Amos, from "Under the Pink", this is "Cornflake Girl."

[ "Cornflake Girl" plays from the album ]

Barnes: Tori Amos, she's Jimmy's replacement.

Leslie: Yeah, Jimmy, our morning show producer's not here today. We do have a lot of people on hold that want to talk to you, but a couple more questions... Are you surprised at all that men relate to you and love your music as much as women, because I've got to tell you, there are so many men friends of mine that love your songwriting and love what you do. And it's not just the, you know, the provocative shows that you do.

Tori: I think I give equal time in my hatred, right? So that it's not like, sometimes I'm really mad at myself because of what I'm doing, sometimes I'm mad at some guy, sometimes I'm mad at some girl, and sometimes I'm totally loving some guy, so..., and sometimes I'm loving some girl. I'm not talking necessarily sexually when I speak about these things. And I think that guys feel that I'm just telling them my inner thoughts, and I think that I speak for a lot of women. I'm not saying that I'm a spokesperson, but I think that a lot of women think these thoughts. And I've heard a lot of guys say to me, I understand my girlfriend a little better because when I listen going on in that brain, I'm going, OH MY GOD, I didn't know that all these things are... I mean, girls are way thinking you guys out 10 layers deeper than you guys. Why he didn't call. We could have a conversation for five hours about why he didn't call.

Leslie: And the thing about it is, he's... it's nothing...

Tori: No, he's watching the Cubs game.

Leslie: Right.

Barnes: The Braves game.

Tori: Sorry, Ok. The Braves game. I'm sorry, I have a Chicago T-shirt, and they make really good taffy off of them. No, I like the Braves, too. But yeah. They're off doing something and it's not personal. They can just cut themselves off.

Barnes: We're not even thinking about it.

Tori: You're not even thinking about it.

Leslie: It's a whole different level of priorities.

Barnes: Until you bring it up, and then we go, oh I didn't even think about it.

Tori: Yeah but, and then of course I'll sit and go, see if you're the one that didn't call me up you're in big trouble. Because I'm gonna sit there and nail you for like an hour, which is terrible, because then he really doesn't want to call again. But I mean we sit there and go look, there has to be a reason why you're not calling. You had three weeks to do it honey.

Barnes: Three weeks. Never heard that conversation before.

Leslie: It's the old five minute rule. It only takes five minutes. C'mon.

Barnes: How long does it take to dial the phone?

Leslie: That's right. Now what kind of man are you attracted to? A sensitive type?

Tori: Devils.

Leslie: That's right. The bad boys. You said that earlier.

Tori: Usually the bad boys. And it gets me in all sorts of trouble. 'Cause they're usually not capable. They're emotional infants.

Leslie: Now Tori, you've sold millions of albums, you've got... You're known worldwide. I mean, it's different that it was a few years back. There's gotta be more demands. I mean, how overwhelming is that? It has to be. Everyone wants a piece of Tori Amos. How do you deal with all that?

Tori: Well... It's kind of a gift that "Y Kant Tori Read" was such a horrible bomb.

Barnes: I like the stuff though, that...

Tori: The hairspray was good, wasn't it? It was really tall, and really, the bustier. I could not fit in those pants if my life depended. Too much.. too many biscuits.

Barnes: Not to stray from that, but there was a guy from "Guns 'n' Roses" in that band, right?

Tori: Yeah! Matt Sorum. But the good thing about having that thing fail horribly, and being like a joke in Los Angeles when I would walk in a restaurant. I mean I'd walk in and people that I'd thought were good acquaintances would kind-of snicker and turn away and wouldn't even say hi and you're standing there with your little bottle of hairspray in your purse, going, I get it, I'm just gonna walk out with my dignity, really, 'cuz that's maybe all I've got. So I started to understand that people diggin' you or not diggin' you is not real. If I don't make a great record next time, these guys are not gonna be here. And you because you know a friend, we have a mutual friend named Charlie, you might like call me up and want to take me out for a Coke float to cheer me up 'cuz I left a message on your message machine once and that was a nice thing to do, so you might come through for me. But I have no illusions about where people are gonna be if I don't make a great record next. You know I came through the sophomore slump, most people's second record is in the toilet, mine's done better than my first, so yeah, I'm kind-of on the map. But at the same time these days people don't give you a chance to explore too much and see you fall on your face. It's a very, hmmm... it's pretty ruthless. So right now my biggest challenge is I don't want to censor anything for the next record. More than anything, the more known you get, the more hesitant I've become recently to write songs that are gonna expose things, 'cause you think you're asking me questions about stuff that happened before, you wait till you get the next record, and, there's stuff all over the record and what I can't do is feel like I have to divulge what some of my feelings are because they might hurt people and hurt myself, but yet not let the writing suffer because you're censoring.

Leslie: Do you feel like you can do that more in your musical life than you can in your personal life? Can you separate the two?

Tori: Well, I mean as far as a writer... I've seen that writers a lot of times pull back. The more known they get, their most effective work was in the beginning for a lot of reasons. Also because, you know, they were having life experiences. A lot of times, people all they're doing is going to interviews, and they get caught up in this addiction of fame. So that they... I know a lot of people that are making records right now that don't want to talk about having a relationship, that don't want to open their heart, that don't wanna... they don't want anybody that's going to get in the way of their career. And I'm going, "what are you gonna write about?"

Barnes: Yeah, that's their best stuff, their best material.

Tori: What are you talking about? Going from one limousine to another. Yeah, it's really gonna interest a lot of people. I mean, I don't believe in not living, and, at the same time, when you start writing that you feel more exposed, 'cuz more people know stuff. And so a lot of times the tendency is to pull back, and I just made a commitment whereas anything that I write about has to be non-censored. No matter what people think. I don't have to answer questions. I can just say look, go figure it out for yourself.

Barnes: It's in the song. Figure it out.

Leslie: Wanna take a few phone calls?

Barnes: The change from the first band, your band with Matt Sorum, into "Little Earthquakes" is such a... it's a big difference in the approach and everything. Weren't you working at piano bars and stuff at night in L.A.

Tori: Yeah.

Barnes: What made you evolve out of the big hairspray, pop-band scene? I mean the way that band was or how you perceive it into "Little Earthquakes" which is like, such a...

Leslie: It's like a diary.

Barnes: What made you say, something... I'm going to go at it differently. Or I'm gonna like go a different direction, or I'm gonna...

Leslie: I'm gonna finally do what I want to do?

Tori: Actually...

Barnes: You lost your hair spray.

Tori: No. I just took a shower.

Barnes: You took a shower! That'll do it. Hey, Nancy, you're on with Tori Amos.

Nancy: Hi. How are you doing?

Barnes: Doing good.

Nancy: I wanted to ask Tori a couple of questions. First of all, what sort of unusual things she might receive from fans. My daughter and some of her friends drove up to Knoxville a few weeks ago, a couple weeks ago, and really enjoyed the show. Her friend Mark has recorded a tape and left some roses for her, and he's very much inspired by Tori. And I'm wondering what sort of unusual gifts she gets and what she does with them. And also, what age group she thinks more of her fans fall into.

Tori: As far as age group, it's like most of the shows are all under 25. Now, maybe that's because, I don't know, getting a lot of college play, and that's who's really coming to the shows, mostly. As far as gifts, Krispy Kreme's, we've been getting a lot of doughnuts. We get a lot of food treats back there. Somebody made us spaghetti in Tampa during the shows because they knew I was doing a double show and they were worried that I wasn't going to be able to eat anything good, so these guys made me some spaghetti. 'Cause they know I love spaghetti.

Leslie: So, food is a good thing to bring.

Tori: Well... sometimes.

Leslie: NO, NO!

Tori: Chu... My tour manager's walking, going no, vodka, vodka, vodka!!

Leslie: There you go.

Barnes: Thanks Nancy. Let's take another one here. Matt? You're on with Tori Amos.

Matt: Hi.

Tori: Hey Matt. What's up?

Matt: Nothing much. My brother Conner says hi to you.

Tori: Hi Conner.

Matt: This is great. My question is when and why were you inspired to start playing the piano the incredibly powerful and really sexy way that you do?

Barnes: There's some cute pictures of her in Rolling Stone at about 5 years old playing a little piano.

Matt: Are they that provocative?

Tori: No.

Barnes: No. I'm sorry... About playing the piano...

Tori: When I was 13 I started playing bars, and people were so rude. They treated me like I was part of the wallpaper. So I said, hang on a minute, if I'm gonna try and communicate with these people we have to, like, have a conversation, even though naturally theirs is silent and mine isn't. But we have to find a way. So just imagine. I'm doing this to Leslie and Barnes in the studio. If I'm singing like this, right, I'm just singing my song, you're just watching, you're a voyeur, you've got no thing happening with me. Now I turn to you like this and I'm singing to you and we got a conversation happening here. So it was really about... Shows to me have to be about a relationship. I mean, that's why I do them, and that's the way I look at them. And if I were cut off from you, then we couldn't have a relationship.

Barnes: You want to get the energy back from the people, like you were saying earlier.

Tori: Yeah. Plus physically, if we looked at it from a physical way, my body cannot be more supported than it is, nor could it be in more pain , but if I could show you at some point why it works, my back legs thrown back which supports my whole torso and my diaphragm, my accuracy on the piano has to be as accurate as I can make it. If I don't have the strength to play, if I'm just sitting there, look, like on a stool rocking back and forth, I don't have... you could push me over, but there's no way you could push me over with my back leg supporting, it's like my foundation.

Barnes: Have you always played like that, like when you did the piano bars and all that? Have you always played in that style?

Tori: When I'm performing. When I was performing. When I was just doing cocktail piano, you know, I was in a polyester dress, and I had my thigh-high boots in my little beat-up Mustang. In the back, I'd be changing at a red light, when I got off from work at the Marriott.

Leslie: Barnes is really enjoying you demonstrating that too.

Barnes: Yeah, thank you. Let's play another song from "Little Earthquakes", this is "Winter." Thanks, Matt.

[ "Winter" plays from the album ]

Barnes: Barnes and Leslie and Tori Amos. It's 10:04. Steve's show has been preempted.

Leslie: Cancelled. Steve: Go ahead, go ahead.

Barnes: A couple things I want to touch base on. The first time I ever heard "Little Earthquakes" I was driving around, it was raining, and "Me and a Gun" came on, and I had no idea what to expect on the album, and I came to that. What a chilling song. And I know you've just got an abuse hotline and you're co-founder of this organization in Washington.

Tori: Yeah. It's called R.A.I.N.N.

Leslie: Tell us a little bit about that.

Tori: It's the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network that we set up, the little group of us. What happened was I was getting so many letters, mostly from young women, who just haven't resolved anything. Maybe this is still happening if it's happening in the home. Or if it happened a long time ago and they can't really get on with their lives, you know they're waking up every morning and going through the motions, but maybe they can't be intimate in a relationship now, it just keeps coming back. And, a lot of them haven't chosen to get therapy from somebody that could really help them. So, we figured that, what can you do? I mean obviously, I can't do it for them, and I'm not trained, I mean I only know what's worked for me. And I've had to like pick myself up out of the dirt and kinda guide myself although I've had some really wise... ones, we'll say, in my life that gave me some incredible insight. And I don't know if everyone has the opportunity to run into wise ones like this, I've been very lucky. Part of it's because of what I do. I've met some of these people. So we decided, there are 341 rape crisis centers that have people you can talk to, that have been through it, that can at least help you take that next step. Sometimes you just need to talk to somebody. And instead of hearing, oh I'm so sorry that happened to you, I mean like you don't need to hear that, you need to hear, Tori Ok, you gotta look at this, you gotta look at this is what you're doing to you. And maybe you won't always get that depending on what person you're talking to on the other line, but you might try again and get somebody that you do relate to. This 800-number takes you to the closest rape crisis center near you.

Barnes: "Me and a Gun" was a way obviously for you to work through some of your stuff.

Tori: Yes.

Barnes: I mean, that was... And you do that still in concert, right?

Tori: Every night. It's my commitment to myself to do that song. Yes.

Leslie: Well, let's take a few more calls. These people have been holding.

Barnes: Ok. Lisa. Hi, you're on with Tori.

Lisa: Hi Tori.

Tori: Hey!

Lisa: Umm, my friend...

Tori: Oh HI!

Barnes: Get right up in that phone, Lisa.

Lisa: Ok, sorry. I just want to say that I love you and you have no idea what you've done for me. I'm a writer and I really admire your writing style and your words, are just, they're phenomenal. I was wondering if you could give me some of your own personal writing techniques.

Tori: Mmmm.... Well, I trying to think of... I've been developing things for like over 25 years, so sometimes I can't even put them into words. It's more the tummy test. When I'm ready to throw up, I know a song isn't finished yet. And when I can eat, I know that I can. Sometimes it's that simple. I mean as far as the structure of a tune, there are two things that have to be operating at all times. One is complete instinctive writing, and then the other is the sculptor. Now the sculptor is the one that goes, Ok, so we kinda have a verse here, but this line has to be gutted because it isn't saying what we need it to say. And then another part of you goes, yeah but this came to me, and I was having an experience, and I was eating a banana when I was walking down this dirt road, and it just really, really worked for me. And you're going, yeah, but honey, it sucks. So, I mean, you have to have two things working at all times, which is your skill side and your instinctive side. And sometimes I don't really know, if what I've done, it might be really, really cool, but if it hasn't nailed me in the gut, if I don't have that little fishhook on my intestines, then it ain't happening.

Barnes: Then you know what to look for.

Tori: If you're not, like, crawling or OWWWW, or weak in the knees, or like HMPHHH, then you don't have it yet.

Leslie: I think that's great advice, Lisa.

Barnes: Thank you, Lisa. Hey Joe, last call. You're on with Tori Amos.

Joe: How's it going, Tori.

Tori: It's going Ok.

Joe: Good. I just want you to know, my cousin and I, we absolutely love you. The question I have, with your music, it has a way of touching a lot of people and kind-of opens up people to you as somebody or themselves. The song that really means the most to me is "China." What exactly does that song mean?

Tori: Well, you gotta figure out what it means for you. I'm just the writer. I think it's real important that people... I'm not here to dictate to you guys what you should think something I said means, because I'm a nut-case. I mean, I don't think you want to know what these things mean to me.

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