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Rumba (Finland)
March 13, 1998

Southern upbringing - Tori Amos

by Sylvie Simmons/I.F.A.
translated from Finnish by Katja Laitinen

Tori Amos's long waited new album has a hard history

Tori has a clean face, her red hair is behind her small "dumbo" ears and the look in her big eyes is both challenging and friendly. The first look tells that she has something very "forest-like" in her - odd, but very attractive peculiarity and charm. Just like in her music.

Tori's newest album From The Choirgirl Hotel was recorded in Cornwall, England in an old barn which had been reformed to a home-studio. The North-Carolina-born Tori is now living there with English Mark Hawley. Hawley has worked with Tori since Under The Pink, has been her "dear friend", for a year her lover and now from the day after this interview her husband. The wedding took place at the end of February in a small country village near London.

What is the most significant thing that happened to you between your two latest albums?

I wasn't going to publish my new album, because I became pregnant at the end of my previous tour. When I was third month pregnant I had a miscarriage. I had to give myself time to enjoy the pregnancy and motherhood - I really didn't have any plans. When I had the miscarriage, the music just started to arise. Do you know the feeling when you're empty inside, literally - and the hormones are mixed up and all those things happen? When I'm having some kind of crisis, the songs turn the universe upside down to find me. I have a good relationship with the Muse who usually comes to me and brings girls along and they start dragging me up. So even when I wasn't able to create new as a human being, I was able to do that as a musician.

Some of the songs of the new album are confusingly innocent and the others seem to be very calm.

It is strange 'cause I knew about my pregnancy at a very early point - just in a couple of days - so I became attached to the baby without being conscious of the danger. I didn't even think that losing the baby was possible. And when that happened - of course no one can be prepared to that, you have no idea how to feel about such a loss. The love I felt for that life had not ended. I knew that that love had changed me - I had never before been able to love and to give myself at the same time. Now I had to give myself 'cause I didn't know what else to do. At first you start blaming, the you get angry. I yelled at every existing god, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Celt and I attracted them all. I had a lot of questions. Sometimes you see how people beat their children up in a mall, and there is no since in it - why some kids are taken from the loving parents and why children are given to those who are treating them badly. That all is a part of the big mystery of life.

Nowadays I'm much more peaceful about death. A few weeks ago a friend of mine said to me that "now you understand death a lot better. If I was going to die, I really would like to meet you." That person was right, for the last year I've been talking to a non-physical being, to the spirit of my child.

Was your pregnancy planned?

The man I lived with... It was a surprise that I became pregnant. Our relationship was not brand new, but we had not been together for a long time either. The experience made our relationship closer, a much closer. I've heard that it raises you to a certain direction or to another. I hope that nobody has to live with such an experience, but I have decided to deal with it and I'm not going to hide it.

What is Choirgirl Hotel and who are living there?

Every song is a individual. I call my songs "girls" - in a way they have existed like the being who was at first outside of me, and then visited me and then left because he/she couldn't settle. The songs are individuals, they visit me, I record them and then they go to the world by themselves. I send them away with a lunchbox and a juice bottle. (laughter) Every girl has her own protons and neutrons inside her. Raspberry Swirl is her own unity and Spark has a thing of her own.

Later I started to see those girls at some hotel. Some of them spent time at pool and drank margaritas. Some of them answered the phone after gagging the person at the reception. Another girl visited the strange guy at the room number 13. I saw a bunch of people whose members were very independent yet they still worked together well. Sort of like a band. I wasn't sure about my role: Would they let me join in, did they want me to tell what they were doing or were they trying to tell me things that I had to express.

Is writing songs always like that or is it part of the crisis?

No, they always come in the same way, ever since I was a little girl. I really have to work with them; sometimes I might get this short tune that I'm trying to work with for a couple of years, but nothing happens. The songs might... [here is an expression that I'm not able to translate; Tori means that the miscarriage is possible with songs, too]... as well. Outside of me there's some kind of a source of music which is much clearer for me than people's images about religion. I feel that there is an eternal and divine source of creativity and that I make my songs with someone else.

How has the thing that you are a daughter and a granddaughter of a preacherman affected your opinion about religion?

I wasn't a daughter of a preacherman I could base a church of Modern time Nazarenes! However, I saw the darker sides of the Christian church. The problem with all the big four religions is that they won't admit their dark sides. I have a big suspicion about them all. The suspicion is very deep in me, it's in my every cell. There are some really good things about the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus had nothing do with the modern day Christianity. Both of my grandfathers were priests and then my father... Especially his mother, my grandmother, was a very dangerous woman, but everyone who knew her named her a saint. I really didn't like the woman. She would have burned me. In her opinion a woman should have stayed a virgin until she got married. A woman should have given her body to her husband and her soul to God. A woman had nothing of her own. She was my enemy and I knew that during my entire childhood.

Did you rebel then or later?

It was mainly teasing: "Hey, I'm sitting on your shoulder! I'm your nightmare!" But you are English [the woman who does the interview] and my rebellion may not seem rebel for an English person. The English have no idea how the religion is in America like the Americans couldn't understand what the cover of the Sex Pistol's album with the queen meant. The worst way to insult the Americans is to question their smugness morality. The rebellion is not about what clothes you are wearing or whether you turn your back to the audience - it's not about shocking for the shock's sake. It's not about singing Smack My Bitch Up and pretending to be hard. All you do is to get your name on K-Mart's black list. It easy - and boring. So Prodigy, if you want to be hard, go to an abortion clinic and try to help those girls who have had an abortion in a front of 20 shotguns. Try to be rough and don't tell how you beat up your girlfriends - if you got the balls to do that!

You played classical piano since you were two and a half years old. Did you daydream about pop-stars? Were you let to hang posters on the walls?

I had no posters because my home was the home of a minister. We didn't decorate our home like that. But with sticky fingers I touched the album covers. Led Zeppelin was the biggest. I was a true fan.

Did you imitate Robert Plant in the front of the mirror?

No, but Debbie Harry. I wasn't good at it. I was quite good at imitating Pat Benatar - it was easy - but Debbie had style. It was like she had performed in a fashion show even if she didn't move at all. She seemed so comfortable in her own body.

How was your musical enlightenment and when did it happen?

It happened early, it was the Sgt.Pepper album. I was five and I was studying at the Peabody Conservatory. When I heard that LP, I knew that I'd never become a classical pianist. I brought the album for my teachers to listen and I said: "Here! Here it is!" He listened to it and said "No, it's not, take it away from here and practice more Mozart!" And I said that "No, no, no. If Mozart was alive, he'd make music of this kind now. It's the same thing". Ever since that day I was in a war with my teachers. Now my enemies were my grandmother and the people at the Conservatory. I was a little Boadicea.

Do your parents approve what you're doing?

My mother is a real southern lady. My dad has always liked the entertaining side of things. When he was a little boy he hitchhiked 20 km to see the Wizard of Oz and to go to the movies in the mountains. He told that he had watched Gone With Wind for 3 days and then got spanked because he had stolen a hen from his father's farm to see Vivien Leigh. I believe he respects my devotion to music.

What do you think about being a star who is recognised by some people?

It doesn't bother me. I'm no Madonna. I have no idea what it's like to have 100 paparazzis following you. Her situation is so different. My life is peaceful. I go and buy some milk and somebody says, "hi!" Then I move on. Mostly everything works out fine.

Do you have groupies?

Yes, of course I do.

Is it a sexual thing like with male stars?

It's not sexual, it's more about loyal fans. Especially in the USA - some people travel from town to town and visit 15 concerts in Middle West or they come to each concert in the Western Coast. I don't call them groupies but "ears with feet." It's more about interaction. They give me something and I give them something. This is how friendship works. Sometimes there is an audience that only takes. But some female-friends are same kind of black holes - they just take, take and take and the whole thing is about them. Most concerts however are "trades." It's not about slavery. Pissing on somebody doesn't interest me at all. And it would be even less interesting if someone is pissing on me!

Why do girl bands always seem to break up?

It's a fact and if women want to change it, they should hear how I go to a barn and start making music. There aren't very many good female players in the pop-business. There are great songwriters, singers, many divas... If I had to name 50 best singers or songwriters, about half of them would be women. But if I had to name 50 best guitar players, there would be no women on the list. About the keyboard players, there would perhaps be me and a few other women. But mostly drummers and bass-players... Good musicians are mostly men whether you like it or not. Men love their instruments, they want o jam with the others... Most women don't know how to jam. Powerful women might not be good players, but it doesn't matter - they are smart enough to get good players.

Do you feel friends or competitors to other female-artists?

When you're good at what you're doing, when you're skilled and work all the time, then there is a place for everyone and you don't have to feel threatened. Women are very competitive - sometimes it can be difficult, but I like meeting other female-artists. I'm like a female lion who kills her own prey and no one else has to kill for her. But if some other female-lion comes to me and says: "I just got a good prey, do you want a piece?" I can say "of course" - and the other way round. It becomes difficult if another female-lion comes along and envies me for that I can kill my own prey and she can't and therefore wants to harm me.

The bloody countess was a really weak person: She had to kill other women to drink their blood - Some find that kind of a person strong. I don't have to take anything from anybody to feel strong. Some women have been pretty gross about the thing that I have opened my heart. They have not understood the power of the heart.

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