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Columbia House Magazine (US)
Spring 1999

Music Interview: Tori Amos

MUSIC: What is it like to have toured all this time by yourself and to now, for your new record "From the Choirgirl Hotel", have a full-fledged band onstage with you?

I had almost made like a secret pact with the piano when I made "Little Earthquakes," and with each record I was finding different ways to work with the piano. Till finally on this record, it was integrating it with other instruments. On the other records, I would record the piano-vocal by itself, and all the instruments would be put around it. On this album, the piano-vocal was recorded live with the drummer. So that they're having a conversation with each other. And I really felt like I was ready for the piano to be more rhythmic than it was.

MUSIC: Do you find that having a band now changes the intimate nature of your performances?

Oh, yeah. There's a give and take that is going to happen. I think that it was important that people realize that the piano could-with my work-cause with other piano players you might have experienced this already, you could really find that you would get up off your feet and have this primal sense. Whereas the piano usually brings out more of a sitting-in-your-chair-and-taking-it-in kind of response. With the piano with the band, it isn't about some gratuitous backbeat. I really wanted that primal rhythm to creep up along people's spines. They didn't even know why they were moving but they felt they had to move. There's a sense of freedom in that, I think, without losing the melody.

MUSIC: Do you miss playing smaller venues?

No. Look, every space has its different rules, and you begin to learn that when you walk in. Like when you walk into an arena, it's different than a theater. It's a different show and I approach it that way. I'd probably start it the same way, because I'm starting the show right now with a certain song and I'm ending it with a certain song. But everything in between is up for grabs. And we're recording every night because we're making a live album. What I really felt was that this album had to have -- because it is about the dance of the feminine -- you know, when you put your feet in the sand, when nothing else works, no one else's advice works, the rhythm seems to give you that magic elixir that you need. And it gave me a completeness that I really needed as a woman and as a musician. Just opening the piano up to the sensuality of the rhythm.

MUSIC: "From the Choirgirl Hotel" deals with being in the depths of despair. What was the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for you?

The record is really about the life force, and that no matter what you go through, there are days that are going to be really bad days. To tell yourself there aren't any, I think, is the cruelest thing you can do to yourself. Then you think to yourself, "What have I done? How could this happen?" That's just like part of the change of seasons. It will happen and yet, I found a beauty in sorrow because I got to know her. As I got to spend time putting my feet in the water next to her, and listening to her, I realized, she likes a giggle and a high heel and probably a rave on Friday nights. It's not as if she doesn't have giggles in her world. She just understands where tears come from. More than anything, she's not afraid of them. As I really got to know this, there was a calmness that started to happen inside myself after I'd lost the baby. This record isn't about loss, but there's a thread of that in there, whether it's lovers or dreams you had or people.

MUSIC: Do you feel successful at this time in your life? What has made you happy?

I feel challenged. I try to rise up and meet those challenges. Oftentimes, you look at yourself and say, "Badly done." But sometimes you look at yourself and say, "You know, we didn't turn away from this one." Whether you work through something with a friend, or with a lover, instead of just running away from it, and pretending it didn't happen, I think that when you let the demons come, as they say, or the shadows. There have been things that I knew were about ready to walk through that door and I would have done anything to not let them come through that door, and yet, that's where you really see that we're not in control of our fate. We're in control of our reactions to our fate, but the wolf will show up at your door sometime in your lifetime, and when it does, you can choose if you are going to be devastated by it or not. I choose not to be devastated. I choose to dance.

MUSIC: You tend to draw intense fans who are often sad or lost. What is it like to have the kind of a fanbase?

Well, the ones who are there because of their own personal experiences, you, more than anything, hold a space so they work out whatever they want to work out. A lot of times, you get letters and that has really kind of reminded me that you have no idea what another person's been through. Like when you're standing in line, sizing someone up, you really have no idea by what they look like, what challenges have been on their plate. It's very humbling when you read these letters.

MUSIC: Do you answer them?

We read them. I'm not really a good answerer. The letters I get before I walk on I read before the show. And you just begin to see other people's struggles and also how they strive and how they blossom -- the choices that they make that are really courageous. It gives you inspiration.

MUSIC: You have often spoken of your songs almost as if they were human or had their own spirit. Can you say a little about that?

I feel that the creative force exists outside yourself. I think it's quite arrogant when writers think that they are the complete reason work happens. Of course I believe that there is a source. I don't know what it looks like and I don't know where it is. I feel that what writers do is they reach up and pull it down -- out of somewhere. Obviously, I don't pull things that I don't understand because I couldn't interpret them. So, I think there is a creative force and I think that you as a writer work with it. I've always believed that, since I was little.

MUSIC: Would you describe yourself as mystical?

Definitely not. I believe in magic or alchemy. Of course I feel the spirit is alive in many directions, and comes from many places. We don't know where souls go when they die. We don't know a lot of things. We didn't create the planets. We didn't do this all by ourselves. So, therefore, why wouldn't there be a creative force if it can create humans and planets? Do you see what I'm saying? Naturally it would be able to create music. I don't believe there's a human behind this force, or necessarily a being. I think the creative force is . . . my grandfather was part Cherokee, so of course I believe in the spiritual world. But I feel that a lot of times it's brought down to its most common denominator by people that try to give it a definition. I think it's more mysterious than that. And if we knew these things, I don't think we would keep striving. A lot of times people look to the art world to try to express things that are unexplainable. Some things are just unexplainable. We have feelings about the unexplainable, and that's what I write about.

MUSIC: Tell that to the scientists!

Well, you know, the great thing about it is, they figure out a bit, and then a bit more, and then there is an endless number of things that they can still figure out. It will go to infinity, which is exciting. They have to be excited to know that there will always be something to figure out.

MUSIC: Can you say a little bit about your RAINN organization?

It's the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. It's an 800 number. The idea was that I was getting so many letters in response to the song I wrote, "Me and a Gun." This spurred on getting something together, and a place where people could call and get real counseling and have someone on the other end of the line that can guide you toward your next step in your healing process. We found that a lot of people's friends who hadn't been through that experience just didn't know what to say. They're not supposed to. There needed to be a place where people could deal with nuts and bolts issues for people who have been violated in some way. We're doing something right now on this tour "RAINN Winners contest" with certain record stores--Blockbusters. You contribute to RAINN and get front-row tickets and come back stage. We've been doing that for all the American shows.

MUSIC: There's a rumor floating around that this is your last tour. Is this true?

I'm going to put out a live album for Christmas. I never said it was my last tour, no, but I think that I have no plans for coming back on the road right now.

MUSIC: Have you ever listened to Laura Nyro?

Yes I did. She's great. The Beatles were a huge influence, and Zeppelin.

[interview conducted during 1998 Plugged Tour]

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