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Idaho Statesman (US)
November 30, 2007

For 'American Doll Posse,' Tori Amos took cues from performance art and classic rock

By Chad Dryden

Dating back to 1996's "Boys for Pele," whose title alludes to a Hawaiian volcano goddess, Tori Amos has spun increasingly complex concept albums out of mythology, religion and gender identity.

For her ninth studio album, "American Doll Posse," Amos called on the gods of ancient Greece and classic rock to write material for five different personas, or dolls -- each representing a stereotype of the 21st century woman.

The Greek pantheon formed the basis of the concept -- the five dolls are contemporary versions of Greek goddesses -- while the classic rock gods (David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, The Doors and others) were channeled for the music, Amos' heaviest in years.

"It's sort of Ziggy Stardust times five," she said.

It's also her most overtly political album to date, one exploring the image of the modern American woman in a country ruled by men.

Explain the "American Doll Posse" concept.

I couldn't understand how we as women could stand by and allow an administration to get back into office when they clearly don't have our interests as a priority. Without women, then it all stops. I was trying to understand, where were we as women? How was the right wing able to distract what you would think would be an intelligent group of people, the next generation down from Gloria Steinem? How did that happen? I started looking at the stereotypes that women step into and that I think are incredibly simplified and myopic. Whether it's the career woman or the tart on the red carpet, it just seemed to me that a lot of women were trapped in an image. How do you combat that? Well, you have to fight ideology with ideology. As a good little minister's daughter, I thought, well, what (does the administration) believe in? They believe in a male authority god, so what will they really be against, what do they fear more than anything? Well, that's simple -- that's a female authority.

Was it easy or difficult to modernize Greek goddesses?

As I was toying with this idea, I kind of tested it out on one of my nieces. She was 14 at the time. She was reading one of those magazines, and I just said, "Those are watered down Aphrodites. They don't even know where to hide their drugs."

She looked at me and said, "Aphro-what?" I said, "You know, Aphrodite, Athena." She said, "I don't care about Athena." And I thought, yeah right, then I'm going to make you care.

That's when I thought that these visuals had to be killer. You know that idea that if it's too loud, turn it up? I started sculpting my body, working it for a few hours a day to turn it into a body that would be able to get the attention of my 14-year-old niece and make her think, wow, f-----g hell.

I made myself a canvas in order to bring these ancient character types into a modern form that would speak to this generation. Did it take a lot of work? More than anything I've ever done. I had to change my physicality. But I don't mind it now because I'm able to do a two-hour, 20-minute show at 44. I don't know if I could have if I hadn't changed my stamina.

Good performance art is like that. I've really been drawn to performance art over the last few years, just looking at how they tackle subject matter and how they present it. It's live and you're watching it happen, and it's not written by a writer and a script. It comes from this person. As a composer, that speaks to me.

In concert, one of the dolls "opens" for you, then you take the stage.

I knew I wanted the women to come out of portraiture and to become tangible in 3-D, in human form. We started designing the show, and it made sense to me that one of the women that wasn't Tori would open the show, and then Act 2 would be Tori. The first one plays for about a half-hour, and then Tori comes and responds.

Now that the Dolls are learning a lot of Tori's back catalog, we're applying which songs work with which character. Pip is doing "Waitress" and "Blood Roses." It's about developing and arranging the songs so they fit within her show, because her show is the most confrontational. My parents will never see Pip's show.

The album's first single, "Big Wheel," was met with resistance by radio stations that objected to the "M-I-L-F" in the refrain -- was that a surprise to you?

You can say "Smack My Bitch Up," right, or you can say "Maneater," which is completely graphic -- I mean, I can see the whole thing -- and yet, "M-I-L-F" was a threat because it is not acceptable in the Christian faith that the Magdalene and the Mother Mary unify within one woman.

You cannot be a nurturing mother and erotic at the same time -- not according to the right wing, and they rule the airwaves.

It just went to show you that these stereotypes of women, they're ingrained. And when you start messing with them, then that's how you war with the patriarchy, and they don't like it very much.

What are your thoughts on Hillary Clinton? She's the first viable female presidential candidate in American history.

She's highly intelligent. She's strong. She's not warm and fuzzy, but I don't want a president that's warm and fuzzy right now. That's not what we need. We need Queen Elizabeth I. And she could be that.

If she were a man, she would be applauded for her backbone and her strength. She has leadership qualities. But with women, again, we get caught up in that, "Yeah, but do I want to sit down with her and have a cup of coffee and some cake?" I want her to go and lay the law down and bring our troops home.

We're a laughing stock in the world right now. We are a joke. And when you go out into the world, people are intimidated by her. Quite frankly, that's what I would want in our president. I don't want somebody who's going to sit and bake cookies and sing me lullabies. I have a mom who can do that.


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