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The Hartford Courant (US)
Thursday, October 11, 2001

Tori In Her Glory

By Roger Catlin, Courant Rock Critic

Tori Amos returned with her latest album last month, "Strange Little Girls," covering songs of male songwriters, from Eminem to John Lennon. Sunday she brings her "Strange Little Girls" tour to the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford. She spoke about it Wednesday from New York:

It's been a while since you toured by yourself on stage. How are you adjusting to that?

It's challenging. It's a different kind of show. You have a different relationship with the audience than when you're having a conversation with other musicians on stage. You can be more spontaneous.

You've often done cover songs of male songwriters before - you've done songs from Nirvana and Led Zeppelin on B-sides. What made you want to do a whole album of them?

Different reasons. The difference of how men say things and what a woman hears draws me in.

The closer I got to it, I started to think that the way that some of my guy friends hear songs is very different than how I hear them. And the picture they have going with it is a completely different thing.

Like, what they want to hear after you've made love and what you want to hear, it's like, "What?"

How do you make that clear on an album where you have to sing their words?

That's when it gets good. You don't really change too much verbally. But music is where you make your statement. And the statement is that you really don't change the words: You take a man's words and hand them right back to him. And it means something completely different without changing a word. That's what fascinated me.

Did you have other contenders for this album that didn't make it?

There were some that came very close - Public Enemy's "Fear of a Black Planet"; Peter Murphy, "Marlene Deitrich's Favourite Poem"; and Iggy Pop, "Sick of You."

Were all these songs that came to you, or were they suggested to you?

I had a group of men - I fondly called them the laboratory of men. The whole premise of how men say things and what a woman hears could only work if I understood how men say things and what a man hears. So that was the beginning of that investigation, which was endless.

Part of this project is that you're posing with all these different personas with each song. Was that part of your way to find approaches to music?

The characters sort of just found me. I realized that with every different male song came attached a different female character that seemed to have an access to me. Which was a little worrying at first. I'd look out of the corner of my eye and say, "What's she doing here?"

So that was kind of odd. But once I began to understand it, it was sort of a Cindy Sherman moment.
[Sherman is a photographer known for a series in which she portrays various female characters.]

How do these songs fit in with the rest of your songs, which I imagine you're also playing on tour?

Well, all meanings change. The songs that precede and follow change the song that you're doing. Again, it's another shift in perspective. I'm working a lot with perspective right now. The view changes, depending on where you're standing.

You were the first musical guest on David Letterman when he went back on the air following the terrorist attacks. Was Tom Waits' "Time" a song you were planning to play, or did you adapt it for the moment?

No. That was a decision made after the events.

You know, normally on television they don't want ballads. That's just not what they want on late-night television. That's sort of been a rule for years and years and years - with me anyway.

They don't want to bring it down too much. But this was such a different circumstance. When I suggested this song, they said, "If you feel right about it." And I said "Yeah, I really believe this is the right song for the right time."

I still do, in hindsight. But then, you're trying to weave a thread from broken hearts into a tapestry.

Has that been something you've been doing on tour, too?

Sure. You work with each city's emotional ingredients. This is the time where you're really challenged as an artist. In New York City, the set list is different than it was in Atlanta, because Atlanta's at a different place with this whole thing.

In Atlanta, there are certain songs you can go after. And here, there's certain things that if you sing it, it's going to mean something different because these people have been where the trains don't run. Atlanta is waiting for the other shoe to drop. They're a little bit more on the counterattack.

You know what I mean? People are in different places with it. And until you walk into the city and read what is being written, and you're there that day, you're not aware of the mood.

I did a show in Washington, D.C., hours after they announced we were counterattacking. They were dropping bombs. So that show changed from the night before in Washington. It was a very different town. Everybody there in that city knew that, as a collective, a decision had been made.

And you felt it completely differently from how it affects New York, because Washington is where the power decisions are being made, and New York is where the massacre happened. So you've got to put it under an X-ray machine, and you can't miss a single detail.

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