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Queen of Kooksville Tori Amos has just released a new album. Matthew Tood talks to her about pedophiles, cucumbers and waiting for the Maya millennium.
“I've just about stretched this penis as far as I can!” announces Tori Amos when we meet one afternoon late summer. “I swear it. I've got the foreskin in my teeth!!”
No, she's not recalling some recent sexual frolic, but expressing, in suitably Tori-esque style, the urgency with which she has to finalise the tracklisting for her latest album if it's to make its October on-sale date.
And this is the thing with Tori Amos. Her fertile expressiveness, which emotionally ripens her music to the point of it dropping from the racks of record stores, has also earned her the label of kooky loony toon. But the millions of buyers of her four albums know there's much more than this and, for that matter, her smash of summer '97, Professional Widow.
Now, the songstress who drifted through the musical smog of the early nineties with one of the greatest debuts of all time, 1991's Little Earthquakes, is back with a double CD of brand new material paired with a selection of live tracks recorded on her sell-out world tour of '98.
In the flesh, sitting attentively in a plush hotel room, she's surprisingly underwhelming. Passionate, intelligent and fiercely creative? Absolutely. But nuts? Not a chance. Step into the uncrazy world of Tori Amos.
What inspired the first single, Glory of the 80s?
"Mainly the honesty of the decadence of that decade. There's the line 'and then, just when it all seemed clear you go and disappear'. I knew a lot of great people in the eighties but at the time I didn't always understand them. Now, there's such a void in the art world, people with vision have physically passed on. It's also a stab at political correctness -- you can't say this, you can't say that; now everybody has to be called a Spanish American, an African American and I mean, [getting worked up] Oh bloody, fucking hell!!! I understand the abuses that have happened and I absolutely think recompense should be paid, but you don't do it just on a surface level. Everybody thinks that the debt has been paid to the 'quote unquote' Indians who had their land taken away from them because we call them Native Americans. It's hard when everything is so eggshell, eggshell, eggshell. I do miss the '80s. It was great, knowing that friends were on one hand dialing a charity and on the other hand doing a line of blow -- but not lying about it, being honest. None of us are this light and dark fantasy. What's dark to you may be light to me and vice versa.
"There's that media-created thing that says that you're either a Christian family type with 2.4 kids or unemployed junkie -- that if you're gay or have taken drugs or whatever, you can't be a good person. Or conscious. I believe you can be conscious without those extremes. Some people are addicts, I accept that, but you know not everybody is. You can walk into realms of altererd states and experience that and also drink water. Do you know what I mean? You don't have to crave an E tab every five minutes."
Does it surprise you that we're still at that place, that people haven't moved on?
"I'm surprised when I see, for instance, gay men being racist or women colluding with that patriarchal thing, when women are sexist against women. So men don't surprise me. Being a lioness, I know the teeth and claws of women. But, of course, women have always been blamed. We see it down the centuries -- 'if she didn't have a wet pussy then we wouldn't have been with her'. Urgh! And they have a woody sitting at the fuckin' table but they see it as this sanctified, insatiable body part. And women aren't allowed that -- if they do, they become bad. That's what the song Riot Poof is about. It's like I'm the tooth fairy, the homo fairy, and this is my present to all the homophobes. I'm leaving it under all their pillows. [She pauses] Blossom riot poof."
What is that track about?
"Well, that being a poof doesn't mean you're not a hunter, that you're not masculine, or a man. And also being feminine doesn't mean that you're not a hunter either. There are all these concepts around but now the paradoxes are starting to live."
This latest album to venus and back is so far away from your debut Little Earthquakes where you were releasing some real pain. You seem more assured now, happier. Are you?
"I think I'm more passionate now. About beliefs, people, loves. 'Happy' is such a strange word because people hang a lot on it. I mean, there are a lot of pedophiles that are outwardly happy -- most agents in Hollywood -- people high on the food chain in LA. It's strange with California, depending where you are on the food chain. The Great Whites eat and after they've flossed there's a lot hanging -- and sometimes it's people.
You're pretty high up on the food chain now yourself.
"You have to keep a check on it when you get gluttonous. I mean, you've gotta lay some down sometimes because it won't be there forever. And this is where the Christian girl in me comes out. [She smiles. Tori's father is a minister]. You know, I am a daughter of the church and strangely enough I'm giving Christ a blow job. But I don't think he's rejecting it. The Christ that I believe existed is not the one that we're taught, not this fuckin' pussy that I don't even want in my crew, much less in my bed. The Christ that I follow is one that the churches have hijacked and deluded and confused everybody with. To me he was a shaman, no different from a lot of these women and men. We have a lot of people that have vision -- as musicians, some as writers -- Alice Walker, John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Janis. If you look at all the great artists and cultural figures there is a common thread, a common message. It's a sort of unspoken law but I think all these different people are onto something, they all say it in different ways."
Your music seems to connect quite deeply with a lot of gay people.
"I get a lot of mail from gay men who've been molested, a lot of people who've been hurt."
Is that what the song Merman (from the recent No Boundaires Kosovo benefit album) is about?
"It's inspired by a man with integrity, such deep integrity that I married him. It's about having someone heal your whole life. I'm talking about the times when lines have been crossed by men. Men can be dangerous, like in the song Datura about how sometimes they can bring you gold and sometimes they can be the bearer of poison. The plant Datura is a hallucinogen and it's like men. If you get the right amount you'll walk into the garden and become a woman, but if too much seeps in in the wrong way and at the wrong time -- it'll kill you. So yeah, Merman is that. When I was touring last year and Matthew Shepard got murdered I was dedicating it to him. A lot of guys were asking me to sing it for him and it just kinda took a life on of its own."
There are a lot of gay references in your songs. Hey Jupiter and In The Springtime Of His Voodoo come to mind. Where does that come from?
"Different things. Sometimes I've been really pissed off. A few of the men that I've been involved with have not been sure of their sexuality and it's been like: [shrieks] Could you go practice on your sister! As long as she's consenting. No I'm kidding, but there is that thing -- the bi thing. I'm just being very honest with you here, it's not like any bullshit. I know women that swing both ways and I haven't wanted them, but I get it. I don't love that smell, that essence is not what I choose -- the essence of male is what I'm drawn to, it's like good wine for me. But with men that swing most ways, because I've been drawn up in it, I'm not subjective. I got really hurt by these guys -- it's like, why couldn't you have been more honest? If I'd known, it would have been fine, but they didn't tell me that they didn't know if they wanted moist -- or muscular and dry. And if you don't know that, I'm nowhere really. At least if I know we're going moist then I've got a fighting chance -- I have the tools. If you're a vegan and I'm a rocket and parmesan, then I'm half way there. I know you're a vegan -- I might be able to sway you -- but those boys didn't want this parmesan cheese. So it's a tricky thing. But with gay men -- in my dressing room when they turn around when I change -- I think it's really cute because I'm safe here and I know it. If there is a straight man in the room, even if I know we're just friends, it's a different thing. I'm like 'Leave the room'. I know that you're not gonna take stuff off my salad because you don't want that. Gay men taught me how to give blow jobs on a cucumber."
"Oh yeah, truly. And if I had teeth marks on that cucumber -- minus ten points. With gay men the nice thing is that we share a common love, a common scent. We like that red wine, that woody smell and they're not jacking me off. And the bi thing, having been jacked off once or twice very painfully, has been really hard. Just not knowing if they want Tony or Tori has just been really, really hard. Heartbreaking."
You pretty much paved the way for the wave of '90s female singer songwriters. Does it bother you that you don't have the commercial mega-success that the Jewels and Alanises of this world have?
"Well, I'm not great with numbers, but I do understand that I don't. [Laughs] But I see it a lot differently than I did a few years ago. Before, I might get insulted that some people couldn't open up to my point of view, but I think I've really had to understand that I'm a small vineyard."
A medium-size vineyard.
"Ok then, but not a conglomerate. There are benefits though, because once you kick in on that mass level it's hard to contain it. As an artist not everybody's mother knows who I am, whereas you can become this mass marketable commodity. And that can be tough because you can feel lost in the product."
What are your thoughts and plans for the millennium?
"I'm gonna sit this one out. I'm waiting for the Mayan calendar which is going to be 2012. There are a lot of people who want the apocalypse to happen -- or at least their concept of it with fire, burning and brimstone. They're mainly people on the internet who want to be the bad guys, they wanna be cast in that film. They wanna be Jaws in that 007 movie, but in truth, the apocalypse is already here, because we're losing people. Not in a physical way, but like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. People don't question anything or think anymore. Their minds are wiped by society. You can see it in their eyes, that there's nothing there. There's no imagination and it's sad. Very sad. It's definitely time to wake it all up there."
Glory of the 80s is released on eastwest on 1 November
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