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October 9, 2012
I INTERVIEWED TORI AMOS AND SUFFERED HYSTERICAL BLINDNESS
by Kelly McClure
photos by Kate Black
The problem with setting up interviews with people you really love, is that then you have to do them. And yes, while having the opportunity to sit face to face with someone you've obsessed over for years, while they're basically held captive and forced to answer any question you ask them is amazing, it's also terrifying because, like, what if you choke on your spit? What if a gust of wind comes a blowin' in and really messes up your bangs? What if you laugh weird and then drool on yourself? The two weeks leading up to me interviewing Tori Amos were like non-stop, internalized abdominal exercises, and the whole day after the interview felt like I had just swam a million laps in a really warm pool, and then wandered around bumming cigarettes from people, telling them how insane I felt. Amazingly, I asked her almost everything I had painstakingly planned to ask, but left out the part about how, after years (we're talking early 90s here) of forking over money on nose bleed seats at her shows, I finally earned a spot at the front and center.
The Friday before I interviewed Tori, I went to a very special show of hers at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan where she performed ALL the hits. She brought out songs spanning from her earlier albums, as well as some re-vamped versions from her new album, Gold Dust, which came out earlier this month. During this show, while the majority of the audience was making testify hands and swaying to and fro, my body seized upon itself with so many emotions, I nearly fell out of my chair. I thought that on a few occaisions Tori was looking right at me, singing directly into my life and soul. I asked her about this during our time together, to make sure I wasn't crazy, but she was like "No, I wasn't looking at you." You should really listen to that show right HERE, but first, here's the rest of our interview:
VICE: So I was lucky enough to go to your show at Le Poisson Rouge, and it was so funny to sit at the back and see everyone's gesticulations, and emotional faces. And I had to wonder, can you see that on stage? Because as I'm sitting there, and I know this is the goal of performers, I felt like you were singing right at me.
Tori Amos: When the lights are in your eyes, you can see the first two rows, but then after that, what happens with the lighting is that there are so many shadows that there isn't clarity. But what you can sense is energy pockets. You sense the energy. And you can hear at all times. You can hear responses coming back, or somebody shouting something. Over the years you can learn to not need to see. You get information from other ways. You can feel if an audience is resistant, or upset. I've played in so many different situations over the years. For instance, going into Norway and playing last year, planning that show to the letter, and to the song, because of all of the tragic murders that happened there over that summer. They were still in their grieving process. So when you walk into a situation like that, you know that they're not ready. To sing certain songs would almost be salt in the wound.
Hearing you describe that, feeling energy during a show, and sensing things change, made me think of horse back riding. Is it possible to start a show, feel a change, and then sort of steer the reigns without completely changing your set?
You just change. You just change the set. When I'm on my own, I can do that. It's more difficult when you have a huge orchestra. You can only expect a band, or an orchestra to sit still for so long, and they're lit too, but when they pop off stage, and it's just you and the audience, you can take them anywhere you want them to go. My crew is used to things changing, that's why I don't let them smoke crack before a show.
I noticed you popped a piece of gum during your show. Was that to help with your jaw?
It was cinnamon. Cinnamon gum. First of all, I believe in timing. You don't want a show to lag. And when I'm on my own, I can move it. It's in the downtime where you can lose your show. I've watched it happen. It's a dying fall. The life is getting sucked off the stage, even though the performer's still there. I like fluidity, so to stop and drink water, I don't even have the time to do that. And even if I did, a sip of water only lasts 30 seconds, and then you're dry again. So in order to stay lubricated, I pop some cinnamon gum. I recommend Trident, but if you can't get that, then Big Red.
Listening to the re-vamping of your songs, recorded live with an orchestra for the first time ever on an album like this, it was like being in a room full of ghosts. So much came flooding back for me, as a fan of your music all these years. Was it ghost like for you, or did you pick up more on the new blood side of things? Like the new life put into these older songs?
I think there were changes in that, if you know yourself, what pictures and experiences inspired songs like, say, "Cloud on My Tongue," but having played her since 1994, my life has changed so much since then. Some of the people that inspired these songs aren't really in my day to day life anymore. So therefore, new pictures, and new emotions become part of the lineage of the song. So I see them not so much as ghosts, but as geometric shapes. And they can show you another portion, or another dimension, of them that I haven't discovered yet. Working with an orchestra now, I see these songs as a dragon, so you hang on, high heels included, and you just stay. But you must repect the dragon tamer (the orchestra conductor) because the dragon can bite you. It's dangerous, and it's fun, and it's sexy. But if you get it wrong, it's a trainwreck.
Are there any songs in particular that always fight you when you play them live?
There are a couple that are difficult to play live, because they were designed more for the studio. One that I won't perform live, although I'd like to before I die, in full, is "Datura." It's designed so that the flower vocal is a rhythm. We had talked about doing it over the last few years, with the vocal being on a loop, but as of yet, I haven't been able to spend the time on making it work live. It may just take me five days. But I need to go figure it out. "iieee" is also very difficult to achieve live.
Your new version of "Hey Jupiter" that you played at the show the other night worked really well. For someone who's a fan of all your songs, hearing a new version of an old favorite is really exciting.
That song has had more costume changes than many of them. She's alright. But she has changed so much over the years. It's had to go in stages in order for it to become what it is now.
I'd have to say that my favorite new version of an old song, off of the new album, is "Yes, Anastasia." That line, "We'll see how brave you are," just hits every time. It can mean whatever you need it to mean, at the time that you hear it. It makes me wonder though, what do you think it means to be brave?
I'd say that sentiment has expanded for me over the years since 1993, released in 1994, but, I've had to come to understand what that means over the last 18 years. It's meant many different things that I didn't understand at the time. It was written from a viewpoint of specifics. The song itself is not just harnessed to those specifics. It's shown me over the years that it's about people facing cancer, all kinds of situations that I can't even imagine. Going into labor. It doesn't always have to be about grief, or a tragedy. It can be about running a race. It can be about standing up in class and reading a paper. Having a daughter, and having nieces, the word brave has re-defined itself for me. But to answer your question, maybe being brave is having those few moments alone everyday, and saying, there's something I know I can learn everyday, so it's OK to admit to yourself what your insecurities are. I don't necessarily think you should admit them to your co-workers, because you don't know if it won't be used against you.
I'm quite shocked about office bullying. I've been hearing about it a lot lately. It's shocking. And it's shocking how you can be bullied by other ladies.
Well yeah, and not to go off on a tangent, but what happens with that is that you end up being a bully yourself. Because yout think that the only way you can survive diving into this pit of snakes, is to become the biggest snake, and then you wake up one morning and you're a huge bitch.
Yes! I want you to print that. For some people there's this sense of entitlement, but when you're trying to create a product, or in our case, creating an amazing experience or event, the reason why a person stays around for 20 years, and manages to make things work, is because the ego is in the right place. Precision? Yes. Ruthlessness? Yes. Detemination, drive, yes. But with grace. You don't need to pull rank. When you really are very good at what you do, and at the top of your game, you don't need to pull rank. The mountains part for you. But when you talk to me about brave. I think it's brave to go into an office everyday. Especially as a woman.
Have you seen the movie The Master?
OK, well one of the main characters in it is a drunk, and he's real aggressive and has a lot of problems. He's told to think of something that he wants, and to put it in the future for himself to go and get whenever he needs it. What would you place into the future for yourself?
I'd say in the last few years I've had to learn a lot about life's little surprises. You know that saying "expect the unexpected?" I'd say, "embrace the unexpected," because that's where you find that life's gifts are. That's where the real inspiration and sparks are. And for me, I'd like to not be closed to different forms of creativity. I think that there's a lot to do, as women get older, in the music industry. There are some, and we don't need to mention names, who are really out there who are really singing and performing and doing it. But I'd say to women in the music industry, as they age, and get gray hair, there seems to be a different embracing by the masses, culturaly for women in the industry, then for the men. There seems to be a different judgement. I'm hoping that I can write about things that are still potent. But they're gonna be different things. Because you experience different things at different ages.
So this is random, but I just went to a psychic a couple of a weeks ago. I was on a date, and we passed a sign for a $5 psychic on the street in Manhattan, so we went in and thought it would be a fun thing to do. She really let me have it. She told me my third eye was completely blocked, and then tried to sell me all this stuff to fix it. I told my friends about it and they were all like "what are you gonna do?" And I told them that I was gonna ask you about it. So what do you think I should do? Should I fix it?
But what does that mean? When somebody says that your third eye is blocked, that means that you're looking at life in a myopic way. Put it to the poetry and the language, that makes sense to you, you're an academic. So then you can say, does this possibly mean, if I choose to engage in it, I need to see with other eyes as well? Not just with a skeptic eye. Well, you can see with a skeptic eye, but also with an eye of possibility. All six senses need to be operating. Present. You need to be present.
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