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The Herald (Australia)
Newcastle, New South Wales, newspaper
Saturday, September 8, 2007

I am women

Whether she's playing several different female characters on stage, or venting her spleen, music virtuoso and sweet-sounding songwriting intellect Tori Amos is not one to beat around the bush. She tells BEN QUINN a thing or two.

While travelling the length and breadth of her native America, eternally troubled troubadour Tori Amos has been a dedicated student of gender struggles, a provocative advocate sympathetic to the so-called "place" of women in testosterone-fuelled society.

Just lately the education has become more confronting than usual.

Frightening even.

Backed into a corner, Amos has typically come out swinging with American Doll Posse, her ninth studio long player.

The 44-year-old ingenue reinvents herself as four separate personalities inspired by Greek goddesses, each one responsible for different songs. Her alter egos include fragile Pip, politicised Isabel, artisan Clyde and feminist Santa. Then there's Tori, who it's fair to say has always been a heady mixture of the lot.

Opening track "Yo George" (delivered by Isabel, an incarnation of Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt) sets the tone with the lyrics: "Is this just the Madness of King George; Yo George; Well you have the whole Nation on all fours."

No prizes for guessing who George is.

"In fundamentalist Christian America, the right-wing government and media forces give women this warped image of what they are supposed to be," Amos tells Weekender down the line from Athens. "You're either a career woman, which means you're a bitch out of one of those horrible soap operas, or you're a mother, which means you stay at home and do what you're told. Women are taking these stereotypes as gospel because they're saturated with them."

American Doll Posse is two fists raised in affirmative action. The music was first to come, dictating the nuances of each character.

"Then I started thinking, 'What is it that really gets the right-wing upset?' The thing that gets them incredibly upset is the idea not of a God, but of a Mother-God equal to a Father-God. It drives them mad and batty," Amos continues. "The psyche of a woman really is complex. My husband tells me all the time! He always says to me 'Wifey, you have no idea what I'm going through', and I say, 'Stop complaining, you're a lucky guy who gets to shag five different women and be monogamous'."

Taking on the establishment might of George W. Bush and the religious right comes perfectly natural to Amos, the third child to a Methodist preacher and musically talented housewife. She has referred to herself as "the minister's daughter in leather". Rebellion went beautifully with The Beatles.

At age five she was the youngest person ever invited to attend the Peabody Conservatory of Music. She felt comfortable from day one despite being a tiny person walking among giants. By age 11 her scholarship was discontinued because she refused to read from sheet music.

"I've always trusted my ears," she says.

John Lennon was her hero.

On that magnificent note, one wonders if she has heard Regina Spektor's recent cover of Lennon's Real Love? Spektor, a Russian-born New Yorker, has earned comparisons to Amos, Kate Bush, Bjork and the like thanks to her quirky piano hooks and all-round A Midsummer Night's Dream eccentricity.

"You know, I don't like to talk about the younger musicians," Amos replies. "There's enough pressure for them without me adding to it."

Amos moved from Washington to Los Angeles at age 21 to pursue her performance dream. Comparisons with the hauntingly beautiful Kate Bush were soon flying thick and fast.

During her first year in LA, Amos was raped at gunpoint after offering a member of the audience a lift home. She wrote about the ordeal in the song Me and a Gun, still one of the most confronting regulars in her live repertoire.

Indeed, many of her songs carry brutally honest insights into the most painful events in her life, including rape, miscarriage and religious confusion.

"Within the songs we find the solution as well as the problem," Amos says. "They're a dimensional medicine wheel from the ether realms. This is how they work."

Staying positive has been a battle at times, not just against her own demons but against the "suits" who run the music industry.

"People don't realise it's the advertisers, the corporations, that run the business," Amos hisses. "You think the industry to these people is about the artistic merit of the music? If something impacts on their bottom line they don't want to hear it, end of story.

"You're out there with your tomahawk, standing up against a cavalry of corporate right-wing Christian soldiers, and it can get exhausting. That's why I've always gone back to the warrior women who believed in fighting for emancipation of the soul. You have to light your own fire."

As an established international star responsible for numerous big-selling singles (Silent All These Years, Cornflake Girl, Professional Widow, Spark) and records (Little Earthquakes, From The Choirgirl Hotel, the covers project Strange Little Girls), Amos has always managed to get her message out there.

She believes technological developments like MySpace and YouTube perform a crucial service despite their "obvious" flaws.

"Hey, you might not have the support of the corporate world, but you can still win the battle without them if your message touches enough people," Amos says.

"In a way it's been our friend more than it's been their friend. We know the obvious downside of it instant fame and all that. The upside is it can give us direct access without having to go through the suits. Before this they could silence an artist and there was no route to get the music out through all the roadblocks. Now you can get it out to the masses."

Amos clearly worries about the future for those who possess the "artistic temperament", not least her seven-year-old daughter, Natashya, a product of her relationship with English sound engineer Mark Hawley.

Motherhood has taught her many things.

Going quietly when something riles her is not one of them.

Take for example Big Wheel, the gamboling first single from American Doll Posse. Tipping her hat to the southern electro boogie of Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams, Amos delivers a matronly warning: I, I, I am a M-I-L-F don't you forget; M-I-L-F don't you forget. M-I-L-F is a term made famous by the first American Pie movie. If you don't know what the acronym stands for, picture a desirable mother who hasn't given up on the pleasurable pastime that allowed her to become a mother in the first place.

"What did I do with my time before I was a mum, that's what I want to know," Amos laughs.

"Days when I thought it was hard being on the road . . . you try being a mum on the road!

"Motherhood makes you really grounded. If your kid's an accessory then you're nothing more than a part-time mum and you don't get to weigh in on this conversation."

Just like that, Amos has expertly steered the interview towards her distaste for "celebrity mums".

Though she doesn't name names, pop-culture boffins will have automatically formed a mental picture of Britney Spears et al.

"There's so many of them. It's a worry, but it's true," Amos says.

"I benefit so much from just exposing myself to Tash. She's so exposed to us. She doesn't have a choice in the matter. If you want to make the playing field fair, then she has to have access to her mum and dad and she has to have that latitude to stand up and say, 'You know, I don't agree with you guys' or 'I don't understand what you guys are on about'.

"But if a kid's an accessory everybody else brings the kid up and the parents only deal with the kid when they're in complete control." Amos says the benefits of being a hands-on parent are "beyond defining here".

"How my daughter sees the world changes the way I see the world," she says. "She'll say something to me every day that I would never, ever, ever have thought of in my whole life."

Natashya can be heard trying to get her mother's attention in the Athens motel room.

"Amazing," Amos says proudly.

"I constantly find myself thinking, 'Wow, Buddha's in my house and eating my food'."

"Motherhood makes you really grounded. If your kid's an accessory then you're nothing more than a part-time mum and you don't get to weigh in on this conversation."

Tori Amos is performing at Newcastle Civic Theatre on September 18.

Fancy a front-row seat for Tori Amos's concert at the Civic Theatre on September 18? Weekender has five fabulous double passes to give away! The first three winners drawn, and their partners, will also get to attend a 'meet and greet' with Tori before the show. To win, simply fill out the entry form below and send it postehaste to Tori Giveaway, Weekender, The Herald, PO Box 510, Newcastle 2300. Entries will be drawn next Friday, September 14, and winners can pick up their tickets at the Civic box office. Good luck!

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