Steph Kelly sent me the following Tori interview from the November 20, 2002 issue of Hot Press in Ireland. In addition to the Tori interview, there is also a small interview with Neil Gaiman.
Hot Press interview
"red letter day"with Tori
20th november 2002 issue
by Stephen Robinson.
The first thing you notice upon meeting Tori Amos is how petite she is. Beautiful, and petite. Shes a a waif. The dress shes wearing looks as though it might be fashioned from gossamer and her trademark unmanageable crimson coiffure adds to the etheral, elfin image.
The second thing you notice about Ms Amos, and within a millisecond, is that this woman is a rock. Since her breakthrough with 1991's "little earthquakes" shes released six albums, sold millions of records, gained a reputation as one of the most impassioned live performers of her time and established a huge and ultra loyal fan base many of whom quite simply adore her. She also has a reputation as an outspoken commentater both in her music and in her public utterances on subjects such as male violence and rape.
Today, I am the last in a long line of interviewers and Tori Amos fixes on me with a pleasent yet unnervingly forensic gaze. I've listened to her new album just once, only hours before this meeting and I'm still quite overwhelmed . I've also heard the rumours that suggest she doesnt take kindly to journalists who are unable or unwilling to treat her work with the gravitas she believes it deserves. A tad nervously , I decide to open the proceedings with an observation about Scarlets Walk.
"The abums about relationships, and God, and America, "I venture. . . . she nods non-committally awaiting furthur analysis. "The snag is", I hesitate before continuing, "i cant work out which song is about which thing. . . ".
Tori Amos throws back her head and squeals with laughter while clapping her hands. "How about I tell you a little bit about it" she smiles, "and ill trust that when you write it you wont make me sound too stupid. And you'll make me sound funny. . "
"When I was pregnant" she begins, "songs started to come, but in segments, eight bars, 16 bars at a time. And then they would stop, like a thread would break. And I usually find the melody first, but often married to a word or phrase in such a way that you cant seperate them. And these words and melodies are like cornerstones that you work around. You know when its right because you can feel it, like touching something hot. And I didnt know what relationship these ideas had to each other , these pieces of songs. I thought, "I dont know what this is yet". And then I found myself in New York City on September 11 and I felt an opening, or a question. "
"People were saying that the planes were the biblical Scarlet Thread, "((unquote)from joshua 2:18 which symbolises both Christs blood sacrifice and also faith in Gods ability to deliver us in the face of adversity. SR) "George Bush had used the analogy in one of his speaches some years before, bless 'im. But I watched the masks go down and the make-up come off as people struggled to relate to this object that had been America, but was now a friend that had been attacked, a mother. She became alive in her hour of near death and people began feeling her for the first time. I know its different for each individual but I'm talking on a mass level. And I was there and I felt that".
As shocked as anyone else by those momentous events, Tori Amos felt an instinctual desire to connect with her audience and tour.
"I didnt want to make anybody feel worse" she explains, "but I felt the need to congregate and play music or bake cookies and just be at one. At a concert in New Orleans a Native American woman came back afterward, and its hard to get back there, I've a baby back there, you know! ? . But she sat down and with tears running down her face she told me that it was time. Time that those who had taken the land must take more. They must take the spirit of the land and know it. They must take the stories of the land and understand them. And it wasnt about Native American people or a modern people it was about discovering the soul of this being that we call America. In that moment the album was born".
The 18 songs on Scarlets Walk veer from the intensely personal to the universal. Indeed, it seems that the songwriter has identified two Americas. One is a place of spirituality, people, love and memories, the other a land of coldness, ignorance and image-over-substence. "And greed" she adds. "We are at a crossroads in America. The stock market is in crisis and ordinary people cant afford to pay their rent. Because some people are taking and taking and taking , even now. On the other side of that theres the dream that a lot of people, a lot of women, have about becomung famous. I want to be a dancer, I want to become famous, I want to get known. "
"Its what I'm talking about in Amber Waves, where this porn-star woman looks around after years of her life and realises that she cant get back the pieces of herself shes sacrificed to become who she is. Theres a line in that song that says "theres not a lot of me left anymore. . " I think as a nation, America might be in a similiar position".
"You know once I was talking to one of those woman over coffee and she used to do that stuff. And she'd come to an understanding with herself, it was a light conversation. But she told me that even as she was talking to me, somewhere, in someone elses room she was committing the most despicable acts on video. And she cant ever take those moments back".
The same might be true of an artist like Tori herself; whose writing is hugely personal. Once shes committed these personal feelings to a recording studio she can never take them back. "I understand what you mean, " she considers, "of course some things are personal but hopefully youre a good songwriter and hopefully you dont name names. There are some things I've kept for myself, like who it is with or about".
A Sort of Fairy Tale is perhaps one of the most personal songs on the album, as the protagonist remembers an incident within a (lost? ) relationship. Half-forgotten memories, ghosts and unexplainable thoughts are articulated perfectly, as if in a dream.
"(Laughs)Well thats why its called a Sort Of Fairy Tale you know? And people will identify with the song whatever way they will. But you also play against type sometimes. The music for me is where the secrets lie, the lyric can only tell part of the . The music has never been just a backdrop for me. Different instruments take on different characters. In Crazy for example the guitar becomes the character at one point and the music tells you his secrets"
The intense sense of spirituality pervading Scarlets Walk prompts me to ask if she believes in God?
"I believe that. . . . " she pauses, "This is a complicated conversation. If a Christian is sitting here right now and believes in somebody they're calling God then I believe that's God for them. And I believe in the Christian God in that he exists mythologically, and hes here right now. But the divine spirit, the Great Spirit of the Native Americans , encompasses all these Gods that people have. But this concept of 'my gods better than your god' or this is THE god , a Christian God or an Islamic God or the Jewish God. . . . I believe they all exist in the pantheon, all part of the Divine Spirit. And I respect the faith of other people. "
As Scarlets quest draws to a close over the course of the album does she find a resolution , an answer to her questions?
"She crosses the land and her feelings become personifed, like temptation in 'Crazy' and the madness in 'Carbon'. They come into her life and she has relationships with them and at a certain point in 'Your Cloud' you have this couple, or one of them anyway decides that 'we need to break apart, we need to divide this up'. But then youre thinking, parts of me are now you. I'm a different person because of you, I carry you in me. Its like the land, you cant keep cutting it up and dividing it up. There is a thread that ties all of us together and you cant segregate that. And the massacres, the brutality, the births and the sacrifices are all a part of her. And the same is true of governments. "
"In 'Scarlets walk' the Europeans arrive hundreds of years ago but not to visit or to scare but to take everything. And in 'Virginia' the nation personified in that song as a woman loses her identity and even forgets her own name. Thats Scarlets realization, its time for her to give back. And she also realises that we all have a choice as to who we let into our lives".
Has having her daughter Natasha led to a sense of calm and comleteness in her own life?
"(Laughs) I'm guessing you dont have children right? My daughter thinks its ok to swing from towel rails, thats not very calming! But having people in your life that you love is all important. And then there is that sense of fear in that people can be taken away from you, like my friend the beautiful Kevin McGuire who photographed me when I was pregnant and feeling like a beached whale. Kevin was a gay man, he dined on men but he loved women and he showed me the beauty of giving up my body for another person, And those photographs are still there for myself and my husband. He appears on the album on 'Taxi Ride' and I know I cant talk to him now but I know I have his love. And thats what really keeps us going I think, simply love and the wonderment of it all"
Will she be visiting Ireland during her tour in support of the new album?
"Yes, we will come by Ireland. Itll be very simple, I'm thinking that Matt who did the drums, John who did the bass and keyboards. I want to keep it simple, not like a rock band. I'm drawing the map right now"
Interview with Neil Gaiman
'Sandman' and 'Coraline' author Neil Gaiman on his friendship with Tori Amos:
"I was first introduced to Tori in 1991 when I was a guest at the San Diego comics convention and a guy gave me her tape. He said a friend of his had written a song about me. . . I initially threw it in the car with my Scandinavian death rock collections and eventually I got around to playing it. It was most of what became 'Little Earthquakes' with extra demos that later appeared on b-sides I think. It was amazing.
Tori was living in London at the time and gradually we became telephone buddies. She became convinced, erroneously I have to say, that I was a prophet of great brilliance because id told her exactly how the English press were going to treat her for the next five years. For album one they'll love you. For album two they'll have some problems but they'll tell you what you should do. On album three they'll be incredibly hurt that you haven't listened to their advice and you'll get screeds of hatred and invective. By album four they're saying 'Hey havent you gone away . . ' Of course Tori didnt know that anyone in England could of told her the same thing.
We met up shortly afterward in the Canal Brasserie in Londons Soho where she was playing. The audience consisted of the guy who owned the bar, a journalist from 'Melody Maker', Tori's publicist and myself. Its funny because now shes playing venues like the Royal Albert Hall and shell ask me afterwards what I think. I invariably say. 'Well it wasnt the Canal Brasserie. . . ' And even now she'll ring and discuss whats shes working on. On 'Scarlets Walk' I wrote a letter to a friend of mine describing what Tori had told me about the work and I sent her a copy of the letter. Somehow her publicists got hold of the letter and contacted me asking if they could use a paragraph from it in the sleeve notes. The album itself is brilliant, a voyage of discovery that echoes Tori's own voyage of discovery as the toured the US in the aftermath of September 11, because of course she was in New York at the time of the attack. I was so worried about her. Theres a song called 'Wednesday' on the album, and I also lobbied for a song called 'Carbon' which has me in it! Shes a magic person. She even lent me her house in Kinsale in order that I could finish 'American Gods'. She's a very special person."