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June 11, 2004

Tori Amos
Sharing some of her hidden treasures


by Will Femia

With the release of her first official concert DVD, " Welcome to Sunny Florida," celebrated singer/songwriter Tori Amos comes to to address her fans in an open interview.

The DVD contains two hours of concert footage, and the package also includes a companion CD entitled Scarlet's Hidden Treasures, with six previously unreleased songs. We review this bonus CD and the DVD following Will Femia's interview. As producer of the interview, Will gathered questions from fans around the world prior to conducting the session with Tori Amos transcribed below.

For this interview with MSNBC's Will Femia, Tori Amos spoke on the phone, seated at an organ in her recording studio, in the midst of recording her forthcoming CD. Topics ranged from songwriting to touring to her feelings about filesharing and censorship.

Will Femia: Welcome to another MSNBC Open interview at open interview. We call these open interviews because the question list is open to the public. And for today's guest that has meant literally 1000s of questions. So with that it is my pleasure to welcome celebrated singer songwriter Tori Amos. Welcome Tori!

Tori Amos: Hi Will.

Will Femia: And you have a new release out now called Welcome to Sunny Florida and it's a live DVD as well as a bonus CD, right? It's sort of a combo package.

Tori Amos: Yes. Let's see the dates. I think it was September 4th (2003) that we filmed this. It was our last show on the Scarlet's Walk tour. So it was emotional for all of us. And if we didn't get it that day, there wasn't another show the next day.

Will Femia: Right.

Tori Amos: So we were kind of crossing our fingers hoping that we were all in good form but I think because it was we were all saying good bye to each other and rehearsals had begun about a year before that -- you can imagine a year being together through work -- there were tears backstage and a lot of giggles too because we did get to know each other really well.

Will Femia: Uh huh, as for the CD, where did those songs come from? You just had extra songs? Or you just had extra things that didn't fit on the previous album, Scarlets Walk.

Tori Amos: Yes. I think because Scarlet's Walk is the first original work that I had written in a few years that there was an overflowing of material and I had had my little girl and I had done the covers record Strange Little Girls. So I think by listening and working with other writers' material, it had kind of upped the benchmark a little bit for me as a writer and pushed me -- I think it was a needed push -- so therefore there were quite a few songs. Some of the songs didn't work within the narrative of Scarlet.

Will Femia: Right, since the DVD is a live performance, let's talk about performing live. When you perform live, are you able to transcend beyond trying to remember the keys and the lyrics to synk with the band to really connect with the song? Where is your head when you are performing?

Tori Amos: Well I think because -- let's face it you have a lot to remember and just to -- yeah, remembering lyrics is always pretty tough for me. Everybody knows that it isn't one of my best gifts. I think that it is the joke and it's good that we can all laugh about it. But remembering the music is quite important to me, and the rhythm. Because for me it call comes from the music first.

Usually I will know pretty much a finished work musically and I might only have one or two words that came with the music. You know sometimes you're writing a piece and just know that that word has to be 'anti-Christ.' You know, you just know that word will be there.

Will Femia: OK, right. Oh in fact, ...

Tori Amos: Like in "Silent All These Years," that word just came with that song. It's sort of like certain garments come with a label and the garment of "Silent All These Years" (sings phrase from song). And I knew that had to be there. Because the music is always I think the tapestry for me, that's where my focus is.

Will Femia: Right.

Tori Amos: Remembering everything else -- some nights are better than others -- yeah, it does take a lot of concentration and you do get swept away sometimes by the moment. And it is almost like having a love affair. I don't think that you can stage a love affair, if you see what I mean. You have to allow it to be free form. And you might not -- everything is not rehearsed when you're making love, let's hope not. So that's what the live performances are based around, that idea.

Will Femia: Do you start composing with the song already composed in your head, or do you just jump into it and see where it ends? The lyrics first, or the music first, how do you make them fit together?

Tori Amos: Well usually it's the music first but sometimes a song will come with the words married to the melody. Because I try and though write every day, when I write every day, I don't necessarily come up with something worth saving. I think there are two things here. If you're working on being a songwriter, there is a discipline to developing themes and motifs musically.

And so I tape everything I come up with and then I listen to it, whether I'm working out or driving around, and it might take me three hours of going through my tapes that I create. And then I'll turn around and say "OK" so there's a two bar phrase, which is maybe seven seconds out of this three hours, that strikes me as something worth saving.

Tori Amos: So writing every day sometimes yes will lead to a whole song musically that just comes in tact. But took many many many hours to get to that place, if you follow me.

Will Femia: Right. So many of your fans have been with you for a long time and many have asked about how you have evolved over that time. Do you think your music has become softer and more lighthearted since you have had your daughter?

Tori Amos: Every record is different. I'm always changing. As a composer I think you have to. Otherwise you would write the last record again. I'm in the studio now working on the next album. And I'm not trying to write Scarlet's Walk and I'm not trying to write Boys for Pele or Little Earthquakes or any of the others because I've done those already.

I think that as a composer you have to be able to respond to what's motivating you at the time: the issues that are motivating you and just the day to day life that you have. I have some organs that I've collected -- some Hammonds -- and they're really triggering things for me because I played the pipe organ when I was a little girl.

Will Femia: What inspires you now versus earlier? How has your style changed?

Tori Amos: For maybe a year or two at the age of nine I studied with one of the church organists and I hadn't thought much about it until I started hearing Hammond music. And then I kind of said to Mark, "Jeez, I'm really drawn to this instrument." And he said, "Why don't you get yourself some."

I called my friend Phil Shenale, who has done string arrangements for a lot of my work. He's got about forty organs in his little workshop. So he turned me on to [the right] people and I started to collect these organs. Now they're really foundational for the compositions, even though some of the songs will wind up on the piano but started on the organ if you follow me.

Will Femia: Do you emotionally reinterpret your songs or do you, for a few minutes, become the woman you were in '95 when you wrote a song from 1995?

Tori Amos: A good question because I can see how somebody would ask that. It's not so cut and dry. There are some nights that I think that I walk into another time, another me, where people that are out of my life are back in my life. But that doesn't happpen as often as I see different faces that fit the circumstance.

So if I'm singing "China," I can feel the distance getting close. There might have been a severing of a relationship that month with someobody. In my little world and I see their face instead of the one I was writing about all those years ago. That's usually more accurate because I think you apply songs to your current life to make it honest.

Will Femia: Do you relive what inspired a song everytime you sing it?

Tori Amos: There's another element though here that is the songs are alive themselves and I've always said that yes a piece of it is how I am experiencing the songs when I'm writing them so of course I add my own little viewpoint but the songs are sovereign. They are their own beings and that doesn't mean they have a head and two arms and two legs. That's not what I'm saying. It's not like this alien creature like Sigourney Weaver -- an episode in that.

It's more as if it's a thought form than has its own consciousness and so sometimes especially in a live performance I feel like that these songs walk into my body and I'm just there sort of like a teapot and these songs get put into this teapot and then I serve tea. I pour it in and out of my being as I'm singing and I think that that's being the most honest that sometimes these creatures -- I let them inhabit my body -- and takeover my body, sort of like invasion of the body stnatchers. But I don't really mind that. I've really enjoyed the idea of co-creating with the source because I don't believe that anyone creates a lone. I believe that there's a force, a source, and that you co-create with this source.

Will Femia: Several people pointed out that on the new DVD "Professional Widow" have some words bleeped or cut. What is the explanation for how that came to be?

Tori Amos: I wanted "Professional Widow" on it and then when I handed it in to Epic/Sony, they came back and said, "If you want to include this, then you are going to have to come up with -- we have an issue with 'fucker' on 'Starfucker, just like your daddy.'"

This is the reason I kept "Professional Widow" on. It's almost in the climate we are in post-Janet Jackson. The censorship questions have been heightened since the FCC clampdown and the general atmosphere has shifted for what people are allowed to hear without getting [the product] stickered.

Now, if I were willing to get stickered on this DVD, then I could say what I want. But then that kind of really does what I think they want you to do, which is you knee-jerk react and say whatever I want to say and say sticker me. But I wanted those nine or ten-year-old kids that I felt needed to hear the message to be able to get this because the most shocking message that I talk about is sovereignty.

It's going against the patriarchy and finding your own voice, your own way, that you have access to source and "Starfucker" is not the shocking thing that I say. So if that's their issue, let them censor that, because what they can't censor is the sprit and I wanted that to get to kids that might not be allowed to have my work because I have a sticker on it. So that was one reason that I chose to allow Epic to do what they said they had to do.

Will Femia: Were there any other reasons?

Tori Amos: And then the second reason that I chose to let it stand is because I really wanted to bring the censorship question into the forefront. Sometimes because you get stickered, everybody just accepts that we are in a sticker world. But you don't realize how many people are not allowed to get this work because a parent will say, "No, you can't have this."

I wanted a kid to go buy it without having to have anybody's permission. Because the real message, as I said, isn't me saying "cock" or "fuck," you know. My eight-year-old nephew says that all the time. It doesn't take any mental giant to say that. But I did really want people to see what, in the Land of the Free, what it means to say what you want and what the sticker, kind of, where the bar is, if you see what I mean.

Will Femia: Right. Speaking of laws of the land, what are your feelings about others individual covering your work and also downloading music from the internet?

Tori Amos: Okay. Obviously there are two separate questions there.

Will Femia: Although they are associated: music as community property.

Tori Amos: Yes, fair point, which we'll talk about. I think that other people covering my work is exciting. I'm really open to that kind of thing because I think interpreation is an artform so yeah, I'm open to that. Community property fascinates me because let's not dodge it, this subject, by going back and forth. The core of this issue is do you value this musician? Do you value this artist?

Like when I walk into a painter's workshop, I just don't start putting things in my purse. Because I want them to continue to create and I want them to pay people well and not have nine-year-olds in the back getting, say, 20 cents an hour doing God knows what for them in that room where they do sculpture.

I think what is important to me is that people have to look at themselves in the mirror. And they can call this file-sharing, they can call it whatever they want. But, you know, it's about how do you show an artist that you value what they do? By taking it? That's the question.

Now that's what you have to ask yourself. Because I'm very clear on it. I don't feel comfortable taking stuff because it shows that I don't value what you do. Because music is ether now, we can, you can shroud it by saying it's sharing doing this, but I see it very simply. Taking is taking. And valuing is valuing. And these are the questions that we have to ask ourselves.

If there's a wine that I like, wine tasting is something that I'm all for. Tasting music and then deciding, well do you want to buy a case? Do you want to buy a bottle of it? Well I don't really want that one, but I want that one. But then you know putting a case in the back of your trunk after you've tasted it is a very different thing. Do you follow what I am saying?

Will Femia: Sure, yeah.

Tori Amos: It shows that I don't respect the winemaker. You know what, at the end of the day, I want them to keep making that wine. So they are a small vineyard or a medium size vineyard. They have people working at that vineyard depending on that. People don't think about all the people, the busses and the trucks and the roadies. When I pass by Texaco, I don't say, "Well you know you guys downloaded my songs, so give me free petrol." It just doesn't work that way.

If we were in a bartering system and so everybody that downloaded my music came by and dropped some carrots by, we'd be fine. We'd be clearer. But you see we are not in a bartering system so how do you show value. And this is a question that I'm asking you. Because at the end of the day, we all have to sit with ourselves on this and it's not can you get away with it or and I've always said "If you don't have it, if you don't have a way to show you value it, financially, then take it because I'd rather you have it."

But, and sometimes it's "Tori, I'm strapped this week." Then take it, but at a certain point when do you become a taker? That's the question. And that's something a whole generation is going to have to ask itself.

Will Femia: The word is out that you are back in the studio working on a new album. What can you tell us about the new project?

Tori Amos: Right now I'm talking to you from the studio and the phone is on top of this little organ.

Will Femia: What can we expect on the new album? Is there a cohesive theme or music style coming through?

Tori Amos: Well, I think because the Hammonds are here in the room with the piano, there's going to be, that is, there's a marriage there. So there's a relationship right there alone from the instruments. And as you know relationships can get testy and relationships can get divided and yet relationships can also stay inside you and come in and live inside you.

And that's really sort of the framework for the record. It's very relationship based. No different than the piano is having a relationship with the organ. And somedays they get along very well and some days they don't. Just like I'm sure you and your lover or you and your friend or you and your parents, I think everybody knows what I'm talking about.

And I must return to the question of whether being a mom has changed my music. Of course, but a breakup changes it. A lot of things affect the music. I'm not writing a children's record. I think that my relationship with Natasha of course is talked about on the album. But because the album is about relationships, that's one relationship. And of course I see things different because of this three and a half year old in my life that you know makes me see everything differently. But I'm not writing a children's album now.

Will Femia: And you're not touring for Welcome to Sunny Florida but you will tour for this coming one?

Tori Amos: For this new album, yes. In 2005 I'll be touring -- with the piano and the Hammonds.

Will Femia: And with your daughter?

Tori Amos: Of course, oh yeah.

Will Femia: Does that restrict how far you would go? We had input from all around the world when preparing our interview questions -- Singapore, Malaysia, Lebanon, like pretty much every country in South America -- would you do a tour of that scope?

Tori Amos: Well that's a good question. Sometimes you can't go everywhere. Because you have to think about we do take Tasha everywhere and we have to think about how much stamina she has. We can not do a tour as extensive as the Scarlet tour, that was one of the longest tours I've done in a long time.

This will be shorter and it will be done in two spurts. I think one in the early early spring or the late winter, you know in the kissing of winter into spring, and then we'll break and do a summer tour. I think I'll probably go out with just the piano and Hammonds to start and then the guys -- Matt and Jon -- hopefully, if they're available, will come out with me.

They are going to come here in just a couple of weeks to record the new material. But yeah, there are certain countries of course you want to go to but we have to sit down and be realistic as parents and it's not like the old days when I could just say, "OK, let's go."

Will Femia: Right. I certainly thank you for taking this time to chat with us Tori and wonder if there's anything you'd like to wrap us up with some closing comments.

Tori Amos: I would just like to say to everybody that God I miss playing, I miss playing live, I miss everybody and hearing from people and their viewpoints. Let's face it, it does make me question how I see the world by hearing other people's vision and I really do miss everybody at the same time I've taken a lot of time to just intake and sit and play and I'm ready to stir it up again as they say and hopefully I'll see a lot of you all out there. I really miss seeing everybody.

Will Femia: Tori Amos, I thank you very much for joining us. The new DVD is called Welcome to Sunny Florida. More can be found on

Tori Amos: Bye-bye, and all the best.

Editor's Note: The original streaming audio version of this interview is available online here [no longer available]. The transcription published above was prepared by Musical Discoveries, having asked permission of Will Femia and MSNBC. The interview is credited to Will Famia and Tori Amos; copyright © MSNBC 2004

~ ~ ~

Welcome to Sunny Florida

Review by Russell W. Elliot

When was the last time you felt truly alive -- your heart flaming, your mind burning, and each pore as open and fiery as the sun? So writes the label about Tori Amos' latest release, her first commercially available live concert DVD, Welcome to Sunny Florida (Epic (USA) EVD 58269, 2004) which includes a six song bonus CD Scarlet's Hidden Treasures in both jewel box and amray case versions. The DVD contains almost three full hours of material with bonus features that incorporate an interview with Tori Amos and another with her mother, both conducted by director Loren Haynes.

As voted for at No 5 in Rolling Stone's poll of greatest live acts, Tori's live performance soars, burning like hungry wood then settling like a cool mist over its landscape. Fans remark on attending 40, 50, 100 and 150 of Tori's live shows during interludes prior to the concert footage. Her voice shines with moonlit hues and angel wing tonres, the essence that has propelled Tori to international success, selling over twelve million albums worldwide and helping her to become one of the most beloved and respected artists of our time.

Welcome to Sunny Florida. The DVD (Epic (USA) EVD 58269, 2004) captures the final performance of the 2003 Scarlet's Walk tour that ran for a year, boasting over 150 shows throughout Europe and North America. Says Tori, "This tour started when the war was in full swing and emotions were high. The journey was about trying to find our rellationship with to the soveriegn being we call America. She who is sexy and young to some, an old grandmother, or an unapproachable being to others. My job as a troubadour was to hold that space for everyone, to hold a space for all the opinions so people could walk away looking at their shadows, looking at their hearts, defining what they believe in. I wanted each show to be a metaphorical fire."

Tori on Bosendorfer, Wurlitzer, Rhodes and vocals is joined by Matt Chamberlain on drums and Jon Evans on bass. Their triangle acts as a magical platform allowing the sound to surge into orange coals of sonic bliss. This is indeed Tori Amos live at her finest. "This triangle shape brought the balance of female and male. With the three of us, we were able to find enough space, because sometimes it is about the breath, the conversation between the instruments. This tour was my favorite, it was incredibly long and sometimes hard, but there was so muck that it just glued us together," says Tori.

The engaging arrangements revealed on the DVD more than justify the international acclaim the artist has achieved. In fact, she has had eight Grammy nominations since 1994. The industry has consistently recognized her talents, nominating her in categories including Best Alternative Music and Best Rock Female vocal for songs "Raspberry Swirl" and "Bliss," and albums Under the Pink, Boys for Pele, To Venus and Back, From the Choirgirl Hotel and Strange Little Girls. Indeed there has been very little work from Tori Amos that has not received critical acclaim.

In Welcome to Sunny Florida, directed by Loren Haynes, the artist's work is perhaps more spectacular than any of her studio projects. It highlights the part of Tori's career that has inspired unparalleled success, continually engaging her current fans while gathering more with her live performance. The nineteen-song main set (including brief interludes) with three additional encores, recorded on September 4, 2004 in West Palm Beach, Florida, captures the unique and intimate way Tori interacts with her audience whether on stage, on film or on television. The concert footage runs for over 2 hours and 15 minutes. With her body swaying between the pianos, her feet and hair making their spirit known, often playing more than one instrument at once, and her voice lifting like night diamonds in the night sky, the sensation of communion is palpable. The DVD also contains backstage footage, crew interviews, and an endearing discussion with Tori's parents. It is indeed a tremendous package, and a special one for both those that saw Tori on this tour and even moreso for those that missed out.

Tori remarks, "I wanted to do this for the crew, for all we'd been through, and for my daughter, Natashya, so she can say, 'This is what my mommy loved to do.' I was saying goodbye, in recognition of this journey and to those 5,000 people sitting there opening themselves up night after night. In order for a live performance to work, you have to bring the audience in as the other instrumentalists. There is nothing like it in the world when it's right, and that night it was right."

~ ~ ~

Scarlet's Hidden Treasures

Review by Jamie Field

The bonus CD accompanying the Welcome to Sunny Florida DVD includes six tracks written and recorded during the Scarlet's Walk period but felt unsuitable by Tori for inclusion in that already 74-minute studio recording. The CD provides close to 34 minutes of previously unreleased material. Okay, up front, let's get rid of any notion that these may have been omitted from that album because they were in some way inferior to the songs that eventually appeared. These songs maintain the incredible high standard of Toriís recorded work. Indeed one of them, "Seaside" is among the most beautiful that she's ever written -- recorded with just her Bosendorfer -- it's a wonderful example of the songwriter's art and of getting absolutely the right feel in a performance. This song alone is worth the purchase price; everything else can be considered a bonus.

"Ruby through the Looking-Glass" is perhaps the song that would fit most obviously into Scarletís Walk; a characteristic verse and a chorus that echoes musically some of the themes and ideas that she uses on that album. It's easier to see why "Bug a Martini" might have missed the original cut. It does have a different feel from all but one of the other tracks here and from the Scarlet's Walk album, with Tori forsaking her Grand for a Rhodes electric piano.

"Apollo's Frock" weighs in at over eight minutes and "Indian Summer" barely any shorter and it makes "Frock" the longest Tori track, bar some of the remixes of course. It was probably their length that resulted in these two songs being left off Scarlet's Walk. There's an extended piano introduction to "Apolloís Frock" -- perhaps lacking in cohesion for those of you with a long memory or who have inherited a record collection -- the structure is a little reminiscent of Neil Young's "Last Trip to Tulsa" on his first solo album, though of course "Apolloís Frock" has the distinct advantage of Toriís gorgeous voice which sounds as warm on this song as any other. Lyrically this is the finest track on the CD.

As well as appearing on the audio CD, "Tombigbee" also opens the encore section of the DVD, perhaps a little surprisingly given that the DVD contains no songs at all from the Choirgirl Hotel album. It's another song in a similar vein to "Bug a Martini" again featuring the Rhodes. For the closing piece, "Indian Summer," Tori is back to voice and piano. It is a beautiful song, but at almost eight minutes it does outstay its welcome and it's very rare for Tori to release a track that loses its impact before the final chord dies away.

"A Native American woman came to me and gave me a message saying that our relationship is not to the government, because governments change, but to the land itself. Have we given back, are we being good care takers or just takers? She inspired me to write Scarlet's Walk. The songs on Scarlet's Hidden Treasures are an extended part of that story. They wanted to be heard in their own way and I liked the way they sit together," says Tori.

There are moments when Tori looks up from her circle of pianos, the air around her shimmering with heartbreak and hope, when one is aware of the beautiful alchemy that only an artist such as Tori can create. "It is like you light a match and then it goes and you have to be able to become the forest that is burning and yet still survive so that nobody walks away feeling burned, everyone seemed to be committed to staying in that fire, it is about passion and the delicate walk between the sacred and what we determine to be profane," she says.

Perhaps we could wear aliveness meters over our hearts showing a scale from one to ten. One being the least alive -- dull, cubicle gray, monotonous -- and ten the most alive -- tingly stomach, bright orange and deep purple, the thing that you look forward to more than anything else. If you average eight or less on the scale then it is time to make a change, to leap towards somethingn real. Tori's newest fire will help each of us take that leap.

2003 live photos by Alison Evans, Sony/Epic

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