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Creative Loafing (US)
free weekly publication in Charlotte, NC
October 3-9, 2001
Strange Little Girl
Tori Amos delivers the male on new album
by Tim C. Davis
Tori Amos' new album is not quite what you'd expect from the ivory-tinkling, Kate Bush-esque chanteuse who recorded the emotionally stripped, piano-heavy favorites Little Earthquakes, Under the Pink and Boys for Pele.
Titled Strange Little Girls, the album features Amos performing 12 songs written by male artists, told through the perspectives of a female character "inhabiting" the song. Included are songs by Lou Reed ("New Age"), Eminem ("'97 Bonnie & Clyde," told from the point of view of a murdered mother near death), Depeche Mode ("Enjoy the Silence"), Slayer ("Raining Blood") and the Beatles ("Happiness is a Warm Gun").
Photographer Thomas Schenk's photography adorns the CD, featuring 12 photos of Tori dressed up in character. Amos says she wanted to talk about men-"how men see women, how men see themselves, and how the view changes depending on where you're standing."
Consenting to a rare interview, Amos described by phone her motives for the new album.
CL: When did the idea of Strange Little Girls come to you, or is it an idea you had for a while?
Tori: Sometimes it's not just one idea that makes you pick up the gauntlet and see a project home. There were quite a few different ideas that we were working on almost at the same time, and the first idea that hit me was finding this place where the men were the mothers. Right when I had my little girl, my male friends would want to talk to me about what it was like to carry a life inside you, what it was like to be a human house on heels. They would want to know about the feeling of being a host organism. I thought of a place where the men would be the mothers. And that started to take my being a song mother as somewhere similar to being a human mother, having given birth now. I think some of them would be good host organisms-if they could put the vodka and smokes down for 10 minutes. I'm just being funny, but you know what I mean. I don't know if the physicality of it all really would work. But I think the heart, in some of them, was in the right place.
CL: How did you go about picking the songs?
Tori: Well, it became clear that if I were gonna do this, I really had to have some men involved. Because if you're going to dissect them, you need to have them as your control group, and as your research group. So they started offering up a lot of insight, because the premise that came to me and stuck, and still stands, is how a man says something and what a woman hears. That kind of intrigued me and it drew me in. But first, I had to know how a man says something and what man hears. Sometimes it wasn't that extreme, sometimes it was, but it was always different-the pictures were different. And some of the songs that made the men feel compassion, I hadn't been exposed to that before. So it became multi-layered. Each song had its own birth certificate, if you know what I mean. Whoever brought the song in had stories that were intertwined with it, and that affected how I selected the songs.
CL: Were any of the artists wary at first?
Tori: No, I didn't get their permission until the 11th of the 11th of the 11th hour. I didn't approach them because I know song law, and I know the protocol, and to go to them at first presupposed that I don't know the protocol, and I do. It's not about them agreeing with me-that's not what I'm doing! They were the song mothers, and I had a relationship with their daughters. I certainly don't get along with all of the mothers of (these songs).
CL: Along those same lines, have you gotten any feedback from anybody on the album?
Tori: Slayer sent T-shirts, which is always nice. (laughs)
CL: One the songs were picked, did you work them out by yourself first? Musically, how you were going to approach it?
Tori: Every song is different-that's why it takes me a while sometimes in a studio to find it. And I always have a great team in there. Not only was there the research group, the "laboratory of men," as they were finally called, there was the whole music group, with the sound guys, the musicians and myself. Your job as a producer is to pull in a team that is right for a project. And all songs and concepts have bloodlines, whether they have been realized or not by another version. "Heart of Gold" became about bullion. Which was spurred on by the fact that the guys that had brought this song in had very cute little stories about when the song came out and how they wanted a woman with a heart of gold who would understand when they went around the world backpacking with their guy friends. And if they met up with other women that they would "have to investigate it" but that it didn't mean they didn't love them. And my head is cocking and cocking itself until I'm just going, "You're out of your mind. You want a doormat, you don't want a heart of gold." And they would say "That's not really fair." And I said, "OK, goodbye, thank you for your input, next." So that was like, OK, fine, the gals in this song feel very differently and they don't need a man right now. They're looking for a way to hold some of these men accountable. We go back to the word "power." That is misused power, which is a fundamental, core frequency on this record.
CL: I read in the press materials that each show might have a different influence, each show based on one of the characters from the record.
Tori: I hadn't had my morning coffee when I came up with that one. We'll see-I have to be honest, it's changing now that I'm in rehearsals. What's working is very apparent, and what's not is also very apparent. We'll see if the production team gets the artwork together-on the sonic side, we've got it together and I can only deliver in a show what I think is working. I can't be held hostage to my own ideas that aren't panning out.
CL: I read that you said before that your own songs are like friends-some you hold dear to you forever, while others you've slowly grown apart from. What would you call these songs?
Tori: Definitely friends; I've made some great friends. In some ways, I feel like I'm their mother.
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