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Huffington Post Live (US, www)
August 14, 2014

Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines

interview by Caitlyn Becker

She's been making music since she was 5 years old. And now, the grammy nominated singer/songwriter Tori Amos is back, with Unrepentant Geraldines, her 14th studio album. And Tori is here to tell us more about her latest work.

Caitlyn: Welcome! I'm so pleased to have you here.

Tori: Hi, thank you for having me.

Caitlyn: You took a bit of time off between albums, how did you decide exactly what you wanted to do with Unrepentant Geraldines?

Tori: Well I was working on 2 projects, one is the Light Princess, which is a musical, and the other was a collaboration with Deutsche Grammophon, the classical label, where we were collaborating with the great masters, and doing variations on classical themes. So, I was busy, doing other projects, it wasn't really time off, but it was time away, in another genre of music.

Caitlyn: How does that work inside a creative brain like your's, when you go toward something classical versus something that is so uniquely you?

Tori: Well, I was shaking in my boots, because you realize that, when you're messing with the masters, if you get it wrong, you really never want to walk out of your house again, because as a musician, I have such great respect for all the composers that've come before that I've admired my whole life, so you have to on one hand be ruthless, with your own work, you have to find a way to be very clear, and yet you have to allow yourself to explore. So it's a paradox, doing both things at the same time. Staying focused, and then allowing yourself to scheme and dream.

Caitlyn: With all of the focus on things like auto tune and concerts with pyro technics and everything that'd be sort of the Beyonce's and the Miley's of the world are doing, are we losing classical? Do we have to make sure we hold onto, sort of where music came from?

Tori: That's a very different type of show and they're great at what they do, those women. When you perform on an instrument or you perform alone, it's a different skill set. I couldn't do what they do in a million years.

Caitlyn: You're not gonna wear a onzie, a glittery onzie on stage?

Tori: I don't think anybody wants to see that, and having said that though, when you play an instrument and you're there alone, it's very exciting because it's a challenge, you have to keep the audience completely engaged for two hours with just your instruments and voice. So it's a different type of relationship, you have to almost make your audience your band, and they become your collaborators.

Caitlyn: Talk to me about the album, Unrepentant Geraldines, the name sort of says a lot, when you get into it, it's about women not having to apologize for things, right?

Tori: That's right.

Caitlyn: Do you think we say sorry too much as women?

Tori: For all kinds of things, even without using those words, I think the greatest place where we let ourselves down, is that we sometimes think we have to be right. So whatever you and I might have said, about a topic last week, we almost feel as if we have to stand by that sentiment, even though, maybe a 15 year old has come up to the both of us and said something and we realize, you know what? Blinds off, open our eyes, just because we're older, doesn't mean we have to be right. So sometimes it's that saving face that can happen whereby we think, no I have to hold onto the idea or the belief I had last week. No you don't! And, you don't have to apologize for growing and learning and changing your mind.

Caitlyn: Do you think, I mean, so much of your album is about turning 50, is about aging, and becoming a woman and seeing yourself as a woman in a different light, do you think now, it's easier for you to stand up and say, I'm right, I'm not sorry, or I'm wrong, and I'm not sorry, and I can change my mind, in a way that you couldn't do when you were 20?

Tori: I think I'm at a place now, that I wasn't when I was 49. So it's taken many, um, I guess soul searching days, and years, to get to a place where you think, okay, there's power in vulnerability. You don't have to know all the answers. But there is a place in life where you begin to know your own mind. You have to know where you stand. So if you're always moving the goal posts, that's not a very secure place that you hold for other people. So, I try and keep my goal posts where I want them to be, but within that frame, I'm able to learn, and I think as you get older, there is a gift with aging, there are other things that aren't so easy, to ah... process, but again, it's up here. It really is up here. And you do have to tackle it, you have to say I'm not going to be a projection of what people think a 50 year old woman is. I have to cross the mountain in my own way, do it in my own, hmm, I don't know... time.

Caitlyn: And not be apologetic for not fitting into whatever sort of mold you think other people want you to fit into. What do you think are some of the things that women should stop apologizing for?

Tori: Oh my goodness. There are so many things, but, for being original. For not fitting in with a trend, making your own statement, that might not be what all the popular fashion people think you should be. There's a lot of shaming that happens and I think it's really difficult, when it's fun, when it's in good fun and you can laugh at yourself, then that's a different context. But I think there can be a lot of shaming. I hear about it, from girls at University, where they feel that the pressure is so high, to look a certain way, to present themselves a certain way, and men sometimes aren't under the same type of microscope. In my business, you can gray and get lines and get pot bellies and people still swoon when you're crooning a song. So it's a little bit different how that aphrodisiac can work, that idea, culturally, we can look at men as they age and still find them very attractive, so women are having to claim, you know, wisdom is attractive, we just have to claim it as women first.

Caitlyn: Do you feel like as a 50 year old mom, when you're on stage, do you still have that sort of sexyness within, is that where it lives, it isn't necessarily skin deep?

Tori: When I'm on stage, I don't walk out as wife and mother. I walk out as a musician. So, Mom, the mom in me, she's here, but she's not driving the car. Who's driving the car is the musician, who's listening to the muses, and you're an artist, and you contain a space for the songs to come and take over your body. It's sort of like invasion of the body snatchers. So you have to let the songs come in and take over. And your skin is their vase, and they just fill you up, with their energy and their essence, and you're timeless, in that moment. You have to allow yourself to be any age, any thought, any emotion. And there can't be,'re unrepentant about it.

Caitlyn: Perfect, perfect word for that. In this album though, there is a song in particular, where performer and artist does cross with Mom, because you actually sing a song with your daughter. It is an incredible song, that...I have a very close relationship with my mom, and as you listen to it, there's a portion of the song where she sort of questions things and you're kind of giving these answers, in the background, do you feel closer to your daughter now that you've gone through this process with her?

Tori: The last year has been um, a very, it was a very challenging time for me, going from 49 to 50, for all kinds of reasons. And she was the one that said to me, this is how the whole song started, "You have got to promise me that you're gonna get your head around this. Because if you don't get your head around this, and you don't go rock as hard as you did 20 years ago, what is your message to me, Mom? You're telling me that 50 isn't as powerful as 30. You're not 84!" Grandma Mary is 84, and no she can't straddle the piano stool, at 84 and rock out, she's got a little walker, and that's where she is on her path at that time. But that's a different place than 50. And I began to realize that she was right. And she said, "You have to go out there on your own, no orchestra, no band, do it, and rock." And I said "But I don't have to prove anything Tash" and she said "Oh yeah you do, you have to prove it to yourself." And that was the beginning of our promises. And there were tears in her eyes and I was completely humbled. And I broke down, and I said, "I know what to do, thank you. I know what to do now." And she hugged me, and then we went and made our song.

Caitlyn: As a mom, are you, is there a part of you that can step back from the situation like that and sort of marvel at the fact that your daughter has become, sort of a woman, is able to assert herself and assert her opinions, and humble her mother in a way that seems very wise?

Tori: You know, every day, you, as a mom, it's the most challenging place to be because you don't have the answers. Sometimes you have the answers. But sometimes, you do realize, it's your daughter that has the answers. And that's been a shift that's happened in the last couple years, that she becomes more of her own person. She ditched us when she was 11, she wanted to go to Hogwart's, and went to Sylvia Young Theater School instead in London and she said, "You and Dad will be fine, you'll get over it, and I'll come and visit you", and that was when she was 11, and she's 13, so she is on her own path, and I just, love her.

Caitlyn: That's such an amazing thing. She... yeah I love her, already. I love her. I want to bring in some of your big fans that we have here, live from our Huff Post Live Community and they'd love to say hello and ask a couple questions. First up is Jason. Hi Jason! J: Hey how are you?

Caitlyn: Jason is a digital strategist, and I know you have a question for Tori, go ahead. J: I do, can you hear me? Tori I just wanted to let you know, two of my closest friends on the planet I met camping out in line waiting for tickets for you in '97, I couldn't imagine my life without them, and I'm wondering, how many times or how often fans approach you with a story about something that your work has impacted their life, and then in effect does that influence the work you create in the future?

Tori: I must tell you, I'm so blown away and humbled, by the relationships that people who come to the shows make with each other. And they come and tell me their stories, to the point where um... two women met, and one wasn't able to have children, and another one decided to work with her and help her. And together, they were able to come up with a solution, so that she was able to carry the child for this other woman. And you hear stories about people connecting, who become very dear friends, and they come to the shows together, and each time you hear, wow, to be a part, the fact that I'm able to be a part of your all's lives, it's just mind boggling for me. So thank you, for including me.

Caitlyn: How do you get to find out about stories like this? I mean that's an incredible story of two women who were brought together through your music, through your artistry, and together were able to help create a new life, but how does that story get to you?

Tori: The most fun I have, is stage door. So, it's called a meet and greet, and in every city, we try and do a meet and greet. So people stand in line, and depending on if you're doing promo that morning, sometimes you only have a window of time of an hour and a half. But, people stand in line and then they come and tell you their story. I've been doing it since 1992, and without it, I have to tell you, the shows wouldn't be what they are. The shows are very much determined by what people tell me that day, and they request songs, and the songs always have stories attached to them. And sometimes the stories are not harrowing, they're not always sad, a lot of the times they're fun stories of people connecting and then their song usually, it's not always because the story is more outlandish that the song gets done, sometimes it's just, you know, "I love this song, will you please play it?" and then, "I've brought my friend for the first time," and that's how I write the set list.

Caitlyn: Do you have a favorite song that you love to play?

Tori: If I told you this, the songs would mutiny, and then not show up for me in Boston.

Caitlyn: Probably, probably...not a lot of artists are really willing to take requests like that because it's a whole process, it throws everything off, I mean I remember going to plenty of concerts where you have your fingers crossed that they just play that one song, that you really really love, and they rarely ever play that one song that you really really love. How can you be so nimble with what you're going to play at a show?

Tori: Well two things about this. One is we have a sound check every day of two hours, and that's been the discipline that we've had in place, the crew and I, I'm very close to the crew, I work with them, so they'll design the lights for that song, specifically, design the sound during the sound check, and we'll work that song up, that new song in, for the show that night. Sometimes though, fans get a little upset with me, because I might promise a song, "I'm sorry John I didn't do your song!" I feel so terrible, but he'd asked me to do "Somebody to Love" from Queen, and I had said I would do it, but the problem was, as I was listening backstage to how incredible Freddie and the vocals were, and the choir of the vocals, I thought, I'm gonna fall on my face. This is not gonna work. And Tash looked at me and said, "Mom, you don't have this one." She's back there, back stage at the Beacon, last night and said, "You don't have it, listen to Creep, you need to do that." Went out in sound check, worked it up, and thought, that's what we have to do tonight. So sometimes, you don't mean to disappoint, because I love the person who asked me for the song, and I promised I'd do it, but if you don't have it, then you can't subject people to your practice session, that doesn't work quite well!

Caitlyn: We have a video comment coming in live, let's take a listen.

A: Hi, I'm Avery. Do you think that learning how to read real sheet music as a kid hurt you? And did you ever learn how to read real sheet music at one point in time? Thanks!

Caitlyn: So being told that Avery is a drum prodigy

Tori: Wow!

Caitlyn: you yourself were a bit of a prodigy...

Tori: That's what they say!

Caitlyn: That's what they say, you went to Peabody when you were 5!

Tori: Yeah

Caitlyn: You were subsequently expelled

Tori: Yes, I was playing at 2 and a half, and I learned, Avery, by my mother and my brother playing me their favorite records. I think my mother, was a minister's wife, and when my dad would go to church, she would put on her favorite records because she worked in a record store before she married him. So out comes Fat Swiler, out comes Billie Holiday, out comes all this music. And, by the time my dad got back from church, I had this repertoire, so that while my mom was cooking making her dinner, I had her music going. Because it was more of a conservative, reserved household. She didn't just have her records on while she was making dinner, she was the minister's wife. So I learned by ear, everything, when I was young. And then when I went to the conservatory, I had to learn to read. And I'm grateful that I learned to read. I'm much better at ear, than I am at reading, but I can read, I mean pretty well. You can't just throw something in front of me and I can do Percofey at C minor or whatever. Never ever ever. But I can work something out. So I think you should read music, Avery!

Caitlyn: One prodigy to another, learn to read the music. We have Phyllis Horridge right here live, she is a singing teacher, hi Phyllis! P: Hi, how are you?

Caitlyn: You're on with Tori go right ahead. P: Hi Tori! I'm calling from Rhode Island and I saw your concert last night and I'm going to Boston tomorrow, yay, um but I'm actually calling in regards to my voice students, a lot of them are young, and they're looking to get into the music industry and I'd just like to know what kind of advice you'd like to give these young aspiring performers.

Tori: I guess the most important thing is to develop your own style. Because if you sound too much like somebody else, it's one thing to be influenced by them, but then you really have to work on how to separate yourself from the pack. Because let's be honest if you sound too much like somebody else, then they're gonna have you pegged as a background singer other than somebody who has their own style. So I really suggest that you develop your own style.

Caitlyn: At a young age, can you develop your own style? I mean you could, but you were expected to be...

Tori: It takes time Katelyn, I mean Phyllis, it takes time, I mean as you know, you're a teacher so you know you're very proficient. Sometimes though, young students don't you see, they start sounding and imitating, but we all do, we all imitate so if they know that's how you start, but then you have to start exploring, trying on, maybe you listen to the opposite sex. So I started, um what do you call them, as a skill set, listening to Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin, listening to male vocalists, and listening to guitar players, listening to horn players, and then getting my voice to try and sound like a different instrument. Just so that you begin to expand what the vocal instrument can do. Singers, it's the toughest thing to learn because, with the piano obviously you sit down to an instrument that's been built, a guitar, it's been built, so you learn to play the instrument. You have to make the piano, you have to make the guitar, so the wood, the wire, the piano wire, all of that, is in the vocal cord, so that's the trick about that, you're having to develop your instrument. And perhaps, if you try on many different styles, then you begin to find your own, just from trial and error.

Caitlyn: I have another video comment coming in live, let's take a look. V: Hi! My name's Victoria, I love you Tori Amos!

Tori: Hi VIctoria!!

Caitlyn: Isn't it wonderful that your fan base spans little girls, to grown adults?

Tori: It's amazing. I'm so motivated by the people that come to the shows and we share the music, and they get me thinking! They get me thinking, because they'll, one little girl asked me, she said "Tori, why don't you bed time's at 7:00, so why don't you do before dinner tour, so that we can all come, but you can't use bad words, because my mom says, we could go see Tori but sometimes Tori uses bad words, so it's the non-bad-word, pre-dinner tour! I'd love to do that!

Caitlyn: Do you feel pressure to reinvent yourself, now that you've hit this huge milestone, you've made it from 49 to 50 which you said was a very challenging time period in your life, you've just put out this incredible album, what comes next? Do you feel like you have to continue to do this in order to stay fresh in this industry that's so "the next best thing", it's shows turning out "stars" at the end of 6 weeks, it's auto tune, it's teenagers in onzies, glitter onzies.

Tori: Yup, yup. Well, to answer your question, truthfully, you have to stay very focused and disciplined. And then next project coming up is The Light Princess, we've recorded the orchestra, and the actors are coming into the studio in just a couple weeks. So I'm very excted because that will come out next year. And the idea is people like Victoria, and girls and boys all over, will be able to have The Light Princess in their home, and be able to sing along with it. So I'm very excited, that's the next project.

Caitlyn: How's the process, creating a musical and characters and personalities, different than being able to just create from your heart?

Tori: Well, I would say because of the experience with The Light Princess, which was exhilarating and incredibly demanding, the songs from Unrepentant Geraldines were walking with me through the whole process. And they were my secret go-to. Sometimes they were even, I called it my panic room, because I would go into a little space, here, and sing one, just to deal with all the collaborations, because with a musical that's the most highly collaborative thing you do, it's song, it's dance, it's book, it's acting, it's many costumes, it's all these things and you're working with a creative team. And our director Marianne Elliott was the most unbelievable captain, so it was thrilling.

Caitlyn: You've done all of these incredible, incredible things, it's your 14th album, you've been in the industry like you said for a very long time, so many artists, particularly female artists, look up to you. You spoke out a lot on Pussy Riot, recently, and the relationship with their fan base, everything that happened with Putin, do you feel responsible as someone who is an icon for so many, to pave the way for and try to... I don't know, protect in a way, the younger female artists who are out there?

Tori: At a certain point in your life, you have an opportunity to hold a space, and to be supportive, not to be so harsh, in judgment. It is so easy to criticize, and when I was younger, I was the first to criticize! And criticize myself as well, but criticize other people. And thank goodness, I've been able to grow out of that, because, this is the good side of getting older, is you can hold a space and say, I might not choose to do that as an artist, but that doesn't mean that it isn't right for this other artist to explore. And not to be so judgmental. I think women in the music industry get pitted against each other a lot. And I wish that we could overcome that. But it's tricky, because when you feel like there's only room for a few, and that unless you're in the .0001%, and that they're clawing at each other, sometimes, and this is not you, but the media also makes it a cat fight. And sometimes the public likes a cat fight. So, I take it seriously, that we need to hold a space for all kinds of artists, and there is room for all the artists, if they're unique and listening to their own voice.

Caitlyn: Do we, and I mean I know you said not me and the media, but I know I'm a part of the, we're a part of the media, this sort of entity that helps create the monsters that become the stars, do you think we, media, fans, the public, focus too much on the idea of an artist versus their actual talent?

Tori: Well you know, look, it's tough at the top. That's just the truth. So if, and it's part of it, if you can't find a way to put it in perspective, and say I'm not going to take on this projection, I need to clear my head, I'm not going to read the reviews, I'm not going to chase the internet, I'm not Googling, that's the one thing I never do, I don't Google self. Note to self, don't Google self! Work on self! Make the changes. Keep creating. Take those trips. Take in other ideas from other people. What you do with your time is your choice. I think it's very tricky when you're in your 20's, not to immerse yourself, because there's a narcissim that can happen, instead of, no I'm going to work on myself, but I'm also going to listen, listen to other people, be interested in other people. So what's difficult is because, we as artists sometimes, play into the media frenzy, because they're focusing on something, so then we focus on it, instead of, "No! That's crazy!" I'm gonna take myself out of the crazy making, and get back to the art. But that does take a good family, I have a great manager, John Witherspoon has been with me since 1991 in my life. He introduced me to my husband, who I work with, I've got my daughter, I have my nieces, my sister, and a crew, an incredible road crew I work with, so I'm very lucky in that way to surround myself with people, people who will talk to me about, "You need to be aware of this, when you said this, it was heard" you need people to tell you things so that you can make your adjustments.

Caitlyn: You seem to listen, you want to connect, which is I think something that makes you very unique as an artist, and as a celebrity, people tend not to do that. I want to on a couple comments before I let you go. We asked people in our community to pick their favorite Tori Amos, Laura Heni says: "A favorite? I just cannot pick. Tori's 'Little Earthquakes' got me through a really hard time after being in an abusive relationship...and also helps me get back to painting again. She is one of my muses for sure." And then John writes in saying, "Greetings from Ireland. Long time fan, over 14 years. Met Tori at her Irish concernts earlier this year. She was very kind to me and my mother as my brother was killed in a road crash in March. Thanks Tori for giving us a little bit of brightness during that dark time." Isn't it wonderful how much you're able to be a part of the lives of your fans?

Tori: Well, it's what, you know, what we were talking about earlier. It's humbling to be included. I take it really seriously. When other artists don't listen, and don't see that it's a benefit to the artist, it's a huge gift, that they're giving us, that they're sharing with us, then we're not very clever, are we, when we don't understand the gift that's being given. So it's very reciprocal what happens. And, just to be, a part of their lives, is pretty cool.

Caitlyn: Tori, thank you so much for joining me today, it was such a pleasure sitting and talking to you, you have a very calming aura about you.

Tori: Well, it's so i can go on stage and rock.

Caitlyn: Yes, pretty much, you need to save all your energy up, cause when she's on stage, she is on stage.


[transcribed by Kourtnee Lauria]

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