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Atlantic Records electronic press kit
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Tori Amos talks about Tales of a Librarian
I started thinking about the music that has been part of my life since I was really little - two and a half - and Natashya my little girl asked me one day "What kind of music do you make Mummy?" and I started to think about it. And I wondered, if she were to play something in 20 years' time, did I have a compilation that could tell the story of this woman that was born in the 60s when Feminism was coming alive, and when America then was at a cross-road, as we've just been.
The viewpoint from a girl who was the daughter of a minister and played in bars outside of Washington DC for congressmen and lobbyists, their rent boys and their mistresses. And I thought, yeah, I need to put these tales together and weave the story.
My fascination with stories from people sitting around camp fires, hundreds of years ago, talking about the news, what's really happening not what those who are there want you to hear is happening. My grandfather would talk to me about, he was part Eastern Cherokee, how the stories were so important for the tribe and their culture and that's how they would know the zymology of the Europeans coming in, that's how they would know, what customs would work, what tricks would be played, and it was through the stories that everything... I found, the information was passed.
So yeah, I started to think about the idea of being a Librarian. Just of my own little stories, nobody else's. But it's quite a um, it's quite a key to have, the key to a woman's stories. I think because, on one hand, my mother's people come from America for thousands of years, and my father's people were the people that came a few hundred years ago. Yes, fought in the Revolutionary War, Scottish-Irish. So the conquered and the conqueror, but both of them live in my blood, and both of them have given me a way to see the world. I am a woman who is American although I live in Europe, and I felt like Natashya, living in England, needed to see a woman's point of view, at such a time of change for women, where I did not have to get married. I chose to get married. A man does not provide for me; I am the hunter, I provide for myself. Um, where a man is not cutting my deals; I cut the deals, and yet I can be a mommy and bring in the feminine energy, not as a Feminist necessarily, like Gloria Steinham had to do. A great woman, but we're of the next generation, and I felt like I needed to try and pull the stories together, classify them in way.
I guess there's a part of me over the years that, when I started producing, um, let's face it, I had been exposed to some great producers who... they were trying to drum into me an idea of producing, and how to be detached, and how to make good decisions, so as I sat in the producer's chair, I felt that I had to go back to the original Multis, that I did have access to. Now you must understand, as the music industry is imploding, and they're you know, getting rid of so many people, the tape librarians are going in the music industry, tapes are scattered around the world. I know people that have masters that are at a niece's college somewhere and they're eating off the master piece, it's crazy ... crazy making stuff. And so, tracking down my masters was quite tricky, sometimes I had to use copies, um, but I felt like when I found the Multis, that was our truth. So that day, what was put on tape, that is what I know, not the decisions that were made in the mix room later, maybe a promotions guy walked in and said, "Hey, Tori, strings aren't cool", you know, "You're not going to get played on the radio, get rid of those strings". And the poor string player, who dies three weeks later, god knows why, not because I got rid of his strings, hopefully, but his strings don't end up on the record. Why? Because of some coke-head that thought that, you know, we were going to get on the radio. So, yes, I'm in the producer's chair saying, okay, he is a coke-head so he made a good decision about the harpist, out of there, no harpist, but the strings stand, and those are the decisions I made.
Well, sometimes you know, it is about subtlety, and it isn't always about a frequency because if you... if you have a ghetto blaster and you're playing it out of that, it all might just sound the same to you and you just might not have any high end in your hearing [laugh] anyway, you might be part-deaf, so I don't know what you're going to hear. But, I felt like I discovered passages, um, music, and maybe it's only a two bar phrase, but to me, that's important. It might be a background vocal, it might be a string line, um, but you see this is sonic structure we're talking about. This is the shape of this entity which we call a song, and I felt that it was my duty, while I still think I have my thinking capacity, before it goes, I have to go back and bridge what we did then, the musicians, um, the songwriter, the producers, and what I know now, the reasons why certain decisions got made. Sometimes we couldn't afford the right microphone, therefore there was feedback all over the vocal tape, therefore we were tweaking out essence of vocal so that you didn't get this horrible frequency. Now that was not supposed to happen, and you could say to me well why don't you let that stand, and I'm saying to you, because Natashya, when she poured salt all over Duncan's sauce for dinner, he didn't serve it, he chucked it out, it's not what was planned. So therefore, you can go back to the original records and hear all those... things... but I was kind of refurbishing, reconditioning, what was on tape, it's there, and with the technology we have today, because the computer age is what it is now, I mean, what we've done in the last 10 years, that's a mass consciousness. What you can do...
...It is a little tricky, compiling your own life, because you know when I talk about a sense of detachment, I do put on the producer's hat and tell the artist, you know, you might need to go into the other room because I'm going to start editing, you know [laugh]... and, it is about sticking to the narrative. We're telling a woman's story, almost an autobiography, of a woman that was born August 22nd, um, a few months to the day that JFK got shot. Her mother did lay her on the front lawn and prayed for Jackie's strength. And that is our entry point; that's not our order, I have a different narrative going, of course, but, we go back to this woman's life, and she did grow up as a minister's daughter, and she did start playing bars at 13, um, in the inner loop/outer loop of the belt way, for both sides: the democrats, the republicans, she did have Tip O'Neill, speaker of the house, on her piano bench singing "Bye Bye Blackbird".
Um, it's important that we understand that she was brought up in America's religious indoctrination, as well as its political indoctrination. It's important that we know she was raped, it's important that we know that um, she was part native American/part European, a mutt, and that she loved and had these personal experiences as well. And that's what we're seeing, so if you found this in 50 years' time, a hundred years' time, I'm not changing a note from the past of the original Multis because you need to hear in her voice... If I sang it now, I'm reflecting. I had to go back and say no, the "girl that was raped" is singing this song. If I sing it now, I'm the "woman that's healed" singing that song, do you understand?
I do think we all have a personal archive, yes, where we can go back, if we know how to get back, and extract that information and bring it back with us here and now. And the Dewey decimal system, the way we used it in the packaging, is a way for you. It gives you other clues, hidden meanings in the songs, um, how the writer was seeing them, how she categorised these songs for herself.
Picking an order for this work, um, has been something that I've sat with and sat with. A lot of this is based on sound, keys, frequency. Yes, narrative comes into play, this is not chronological. That is not a story, that's not the story I'm writing. Those pieces exist, we do have her as an infant, we do have her um, as a toddler playing. We have all that there, but, what I felt was very important was that I have to work within sonic architecture, and I've always talked about this. You must serve that as a musician, um, and sometimes those elements that come in, it is like a puzzle, certain things do not work because the rhythms pull from each other, and it does get discordant. So, one song really isn't something you're experiencing. No different than when you're walking in an exhibition and there are paintings next to each other, well if it's not laid out in a certain way, you can want to be running from that room, and you don't experience the paintings at all. So I had to take into consideration everything from, you know, keys, narrative, rhythm, and certain songs, some sit next to each other that you wouldn't think, but there is a reason.
Well, it's a very difficult one to talk about, favouring songs, because they've been good to me over the years, many of them coming, and I've always felt that they were their own entities. Now that means, they're not obviously like you or I, or someone listening, but we go back to the idea of consciousness. A song is a conscious thought, and yes, I'm interpreting it in my way, differently than the next person would interpret this thought, but I have to, um, in a sense, try and translate, and be true to this form. So, I don't see it as my child; I see it as consciousness that I am trying to just express. So that's what I hold true to, and to play favourites is tricky, but I do find that "Silent All These Years" comes up a lot for me.
It's not a track I like to play live most, but it is one of those songs that I find, in any room I'm in, whether it's um a very cynical group of people, or a heartbreaking situation, or a bit cheeky group of people [laugh], it's one of those songs that seems to slip through, slip through easily, like water. You know, water doesn't leave that, that sticky feeling on your hands, you usually can have a drink of water and it's not going to bother you too much, and Silent is like water to me.
I think that the idea of Silent all these years is something that a lot of us go through, initially, when we're trying to find our voice. But I also think that it can be something you go through again in life, when you've chosen a path that might not set well with you, and you think you can handle it, just work maybe, and you're quiet about it, and you realise that you can't be silent anymore and you have to make a shift. And I think Silent all these years is one of these songs that always come back to me every few years when I'm making a big change.
"Angels" is a song that I wrote this summer, after touring America yet again, and seeing where we are as a country, at our cross-roads. I've been moved by people's visions, all over the world, touring... touring in Europe, and seeing where, as Americans, we have to look at our own shadows, and Angels is really a song that talks about what's really going on, their trapping Angels by the Potomac, and maybe because I grew up there, working, playing piano bar for those congressmen, for all those years, I felt like there was something that I've seen, and there's something that has to be said at this time.
Mary was originally on Little Earthquakes. Little Earthquakes got rejected, some of the people might know this, and they wanted me to take all the pianos off and [laugh] put guitars on, which then pianos weren't something that, um, were getting played a lot on the radio - this was a while ago, 1990 - and I found that Mary became very much about now, when I was in the Detroit Blackouts, very recently. When I wrote the song originally, we were going through environmental changes at the time. Mary being our Earth, Mary being the Magdalene, it is a cross-reference in the Dewey Decimal System: the idea of our Earth being a possession, the idea of "woman" being a possession, the idea of America being a possession to those who pimp her out, um, or your own country, whatever that is. And I really felt like, when I was in the blackout, that not only have things um, become clearer to me that we're again at a dangerous cross-roads, of what are we going to leave the next generation?
Because I've included "God" and "Crucify" on the album, which takes us from the Father and Son archetype in the Christian mythology idea, I felt like we had to have the Father and Son archetype politically, which George W and George Senior, I wrote "Sweet Dreams", and recorded it, in 1990, singing about events then, and strangely enough, when I was listening to it on the Multis again, I realised that this was very topical now, and that we are re-living some of the same feelings again, that in the mid-90s, when I was writing "Playboy Mommy" for instance, I never thought that we would be living again. I talk about American soldiers in Playboy Mommy, not thinking about that I'd be getting letters from American soldiers, which I did a few months ago, saying "I'm going somewhere, taking Scarlet with me to the Indian Ocean, taking Scarlet and trying to be true to my beliefs, but I'm torn". And these feelings were with me as I was compiling the record, so we re-recorded Sweet Dreams with a new arrangement.
I chose to include Playboy Mommy because, when I was listening to a lot of the old Multis, I had to be open to what I would find, not what I wanted to find, but what I would find. And yes, there were tapes that we put up, that, for whatever reason, did not weather the storm well. Maybe they weren't stored properly, um, maybe it wasn't recorded the way it should have been that day. There are a lot of maybes, but I had to pull back and make decisions based on a lot of things. Playboy Mommy I felt covered a point in this woman's life, a painful time. I think that was the most painful time of all for me in my whole life, was when I miscarried. I miscarried a few times, and this refers to that. The loss of knowing the soul that you feel you almost touched but you couldn't bring to life here on Earth, and yet there's something like a hymn, there's something almost um, I feel alive about Playboy Mommy, and when I heard it, I heard her spirit and her commitment to bringing this life to Earth, and it's joyous to me now. Maybe that's because I am a Mom, and I've... I sing it to Tash, and she sings it with me, and now, Playboy Mommy means something different because I've got to go play the piano [laugh].
Well the reason that I chose the songs that I have chosen is because they cover many different events in this woman's life, and the important thing is that this woman is allowed to tell a story now. We have to remember that in many cultures and for a long time, women couldn't tell their stories, especially in the Christian faith where we don't even have Mary Magdalene's books. They say that there are writings, of course they weren't included. We don't know her point of view. I would've loved to know it. So, I really feel like there's something that I needed to stay true to; you can't get away from who you are, even though you might want to try. Your legacy is your legacy. This woman's upbringing, Tori Amos, that's who she is, and I tried to produce a work that was almost an autobiography, a sonic one, without um, trying to make everything okay, because some things... you know, some things weren't okay, but you hear how she copes with it. You see the picture she paints to get herself to the other side.
It's funny that certain songs, at the time, might have been written for revenge or because you know, I was A-A-A, having a moment. Because some of those relationships have changed; some of those people I can have a giggle with, some of them don't even know that it's about them, and some people of course I don't see or speak to because the songs were the end of that, that was it, done, over. And the song in a way is almost, ah, another dimension, and that person cannot cross through the song and I cannot cross back to them. That's the end. So, those were also included, but it's really to show you what this woman saw, and went through, from um you know, wild passionate feelings to, having a fantasy about somebody and that's not who they were.
Coming up against "Professional Widow" now, is delicious. At the time I had to cock my head, um, because I had just been in a real, you know, musician space, going back to harpsichords, early keyboards, and trying to, in this contemporary quote-unquote pop world, pull in a classical background, while the suits in the music industry were telling me what I needed to do to stay around, and I would say, "Yeah, but for you or for my soul?" And you know, they're not interested in your soul, unless they're drinking out of your shoe [laugh] and you're partying that night. But honestly, I had to um, have a laugh at the time with Widow, but I love it now. I can really enjoy it, and I've included it in a way that it's with other Pele songs, which I felt needed to be there, songs that have a gospel choir, and songs that have brass, that we recorded in Ireland, so I felt like the whole Pele experience needed to be covered, but it's covered [laugh] in its extremes, but Pele was a very extreme time for me.
The extremes of having "Me and a Gun", and "Bliss" on the record, so there was "Me and a Gun" and "a man on my back", the song about the rape, into "Father, I killed my Monkey". I thought things were improving then [laugh], and um, it was important that we take you out of this woman's rape in a way that shows you how she has transcended. It is not a love and let go experience, and I have found over the years, being part of RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, and just hearing the letters from so many people, that you cannot be anywhere but where you are with it. And sometimes you may physically be gone for years, but they're still here. Now, how do you extract that? You can't find it when they probe you then, but it's as alive here, and she had to go inside herself and get out the voice that was subjugating her, and making her feel like that she committed a crime, and that she wasn't able to be passionate again. So she goes after that thinking, that patriarchal thinking, of subjugation, whether you're being raped physically, or whether it's psychologically, because the Church has done that for thousands of years, in all religions. How? They shame you, and they don't hold a place for you to become "whole", you know, they don't want you to become whole, in many cases, and that is what she's striving for.
When I see this work, what I was trying to achieve, was the medicine wheel, the idea of the Native American medicine wheel, which includes the four directions, and the four directions brings in different ideas, and different um, cultures, and light and darkness. It comes from all sides, and as above so below. So, in ceremony, um, you give tobacco to all six directions, and I tried to call in the songs as far as I could, in my own... what would you say?... in my Dewey Decimal System, to represent these six directions in this woman's life.
The reason that autobiographies are tricky, the reason that I was comfortable with song, putting it in song, is because we're hearing her voice at the time, so I'm not the person right now, singing Silent All These Years. You're hearing the person that was having such a hard time, just sitting up on her piano stool again, in a little house in L.A. behind the church, who for years and years and years had been rejected. Saying this piano thing, and this, is never going to happen, and for her to find that in herself is what we're hearing. Not me singing it to you saying, yeah okay, the piano thing worked. That's not what we wanted to hear. Autobiographies, because you don't have that, we can't go back to that voice, of that 24 year old having that conversation. We can't go back to that 12 year old who was writing that passage, but we can with the Multis, work with the material that was written at that time. So that's why I chose it in this way. There is a book coming that I'm working with this great writer, about process, creative process, and how to pull ether into tangible.
I do like my shoe collection. I must say, I do think that, if we're talking about stuff, I'm working on building a library as you know because, I mean, we do live in the sticks, and I like it when people come to visit that they can go and curl up with a book, you know, from anywhere, any culture, whatever you're interested in. There's a point of view. And it makes for good conversation. I think that's really important at the dinner table. But for those people who are size 7, they can have a really good time [laugh] wandering around, as long as they don't go into the cow pasture with, you know, the low Butans, I'm okay.
I think to be a part of music, music is something that chooses us, and it is truly an elixir. I've never experienced anything in my life like music, because it doesn't make demands in a way that a relationship does. I do feel like it's boundless and endless. And when I've read that there's tone out in the galaxy... I was reading somewhere the other day that there was a place that had a B-Flat, that was its tone, one of my favourite keys, and I just was thinking to myself, the idea, the sounds that the universe makes, creates, and we're a part of that, when we want to give up and have a hard day, or we feel like we don't fit here on the planet, we have this opportunity to be part of creativity and that is just... that's why we're here.
Okay, "Snow Cherries from France" took a long time to write, yes, about 7 years maybe. Um, I finally finished it this summer. And it's not that it was just finished as far as a song goes, but I couldn't seem to find the point of view to sing it. I went back and forth, depending on if I was mad at my husband or not, I mean, it kept changing. But then finally I found a place with it, that I began to understand what it was saying to me, and in the recording I changed some of the quotes that he had said originally, no, she says. And because of that, it all began to make sense. So her position in it changed from when I started to write it, and she's a little more involved. She's a little more up to shenanigans than I thought she originally was, and that's why it worked.
I feel like, for whatever reason, this group of songs wanted to be together. Some songs people will say, how could you not have included this and that, and then you say, well I do have three strings, four strings songs on the record, and for instance, we included "Pretty Good Year" on the DVD because, again, for that moment in time when I was playing it that day, it was the last show, it was sound check... I only played it two other times on the whole tour. I mean like I'm talking about 150 shows, and for, again, that moment in time, Pretty Good Year was our way of saying goodbye to each other, the musicians, people I've loved, lived our lives together for many months, and in a year that's been filled with war, and we've had friends die - this year - and a boy came up to me and he told he had terminal cancer and he said, "Will you play Pretty Good Year for me?" And in that moment, um, she came. Her moulding when it came was not in good shape, so she was not going to make the record, but in the final hour, Pretty Good Year made the DVD, so those are the decisions that got made.
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