Amy Lamé radio show on BBC London Live
September 14, 2001

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Tori was interviewed on the Amy Lamé radio show on BBC London Live on September 14, 2001. The interview took part during the second hour of the show, which began around 11:00PM UK time. The interview took place shortly after Tori's London concert on August 30, 2001. A huge thank you to Claire L. for sending this interview to me. I found this interview to be really good!

Amy : Tori, first of all let me say happy belated birthday. How did you celebrate?

Tori: I was trying to get Natashya to eat her dinner without throwing it on the floor at the restaurant. And screaming at all the um -they had like animals heads on the wall -it was all a real shock to us -we went out with some friends and these animals heads were on the wall and she was saying "moo" because you know, there was a cows head on the wall...oh, it's just -! She was throwing her food. So that was my birthday, trying to get out of the restaurant as quick as possible -

AL: and being a mom?

Tori: Yeah, it's great being a mom, it's just everything I ever thought it might be and times a billion.

AL: I want to talk to you about your recent gig that you did. Was the show a platform for your new material from the album?

Tori: Well I think it's sort of like um.., it being a church, my past has been so based around the church, with my dad being a minister and having directed the choir for years and being in the choir and all the hymns and religious stuff, playing weddings and funerals for him, because I was cheaper than the organist, so - being able to play a church, a working church, with your own material, that is a real magical experience to have for somebody like me.

AL: That was at Union Chapel wasn't it?

Tori: Yeah, in Islington

AL: So you chose the venue specifically?

Tori: I asked those who are they to find something really special,if we were going to play England. We were doing a little show in England and a media show in Germany and for the two of them I said "you know you have to pick something where the place inspires" so the Germans picked a bunker (laughter) and the Brits picked a church.

AL: So you felt at home then?

Tori: Yeah I did, I mean it is sort of my stomping ground, a church.

AL: And do you still hold on to your faith?

Tori: I have a different faith than I think my father and his mother wanted me to have. I don't have the heaven and hell kind of Christianity aspect - I really like Jesus I always thought he was a good guy, but I see things a little differently than he does, you know we just have different style -

AL: Do you think it's more peoples interpretation rather than him as the person that he was?

Tori: Well historically he was known to be compassionate. I mean what people write, he did believe in certain things and he did train from, they say yogis and people that, you know, believe more in esoteric thought, I guess we'd call it today, than this Christianised thought that doesn't really represent a lot of what Jesus was talking about -um, I do know that my beliefs are -people say "you don't believe in God" and I said do you mean the Christian god? And they said "well y'know, God" I said well if you're talking about Jehovah I definitely believe in him. I don't see him as the great spirit, but historically, on record we know what's been said about him and what the bible has said he has said and the projections we as people have on Jehovah and -you know - I try and avoid him.

AL: Jesus was a bit of a rabble-rouser aswell -like you (laughs)

Tori: You know I think, he questioned people and he did chase the dark. If you're in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights talking to he who was He then um..y' know that's not a short amount of time. You must have some shadow stuff to work through which I think is always good.

AL: and it's been an influence on your music?

Tori: Yeah. The religious thing it's -whether you like it or not, if you're brought up in it it's going to affect you.

AL: At the gig I heard you played lots of b-sides and lots of rarities, it seemed like a real treat for the fans. How much improvisation is involved in what you decide to play? I mean do you go in with the list and say I'm going to play x, y and z or do you kind of get the mood of the audience and do it that way?

Tori: When I heard I was playing Union Chapel I was in our little beach house and I really had a different set list in mind. Until I walked into it and began to open up to it I was changing that set-list up until the final 10 minutes, and I think that's because a space does dictate what the show can hold. I mean it's an energy force, a place, and you're working off of it, it's not just a sub-text, it really is um - y'know if this were a film the place would be the music, the under-scoring.

AL: Now what about your fans? I mean you incite such passion in people and really dedicated to you and to all of your work. How much involvement do you have with them directly? I heard you did a little meet and greet with some of your fans before the gig.

Tori: Well I think it's..I try and look at it like um -when you're singing for people it is a conversation, even if it's not verbal on both sides all the time -and playing alone without a band, it is more intimate, it's very different than a band. Sometimes with a band it's the four of you all having a conversation as musicians, it's a different experience. And so a show like at Union Chapel is very dependent upon a relationship. If the audience is just there to be a voyeur, I can do that, it's a little like um -.y'know, a girlie show, a peep show! But I'd rather have an emotional conversation and that setting we were able to do that because the people that were there, it was bringing up stuff in everybody, because it's a real space, it's not a pretend space that's trying to be - you know there are places that you play that are so sterile and they're not really living, breathing spaces where real life happens.

AL: Do you think you'll be able to have this emotional discourse with your audience when you go over to the States?

Tori: Well, hopefully. But that Union Chapel gig was a special gig because like I said unless I'm going to play a church in the States you can't just evoke that in a theatre or an opera house, that's a different story to be told, but when you're in the house of the Lord, you're in the house of the Lord. So when you sing God and tell him "do you need a woman to look after you?" it means something very, very different than if um -you're at the fox in Atlanta or something.

AL: Is it fair to call SLG a concept album do you think?

Tori: Somebody asked me this and I said to them, I really like you so don't think I'm being persnickity, but this person rubbed me up the wrong way and said "why don't you just call it a concept record like it is?" And I said, do you have a dog? and this person said yeah. And I said what kind is it? Well, and then she starts telling me all the kinds it is. I said so it's a mutt? Why don't you call your dog a mutt? 'cause that's what it is. And then the offence! and I said, well don't call my record a cover record then, you can if you want and I'm sure people will, but you know if you see your dog as a mutt then that's you isn't it? and then I think your dog knows that. I see this record as um - it's a special creature to me it's not, they're not my own girls but they're my foster girls and I love them. I've developed a relationship with them, not their song mothers, who are the men that wrote this, I don't have a relationship with their mothers nor do I with most of the friends I have. I don't know all my friends mothers. My friends are my friends, I'm loyal to them. So that's why when you ask me is it a concept record I think that's a clich thing and it makes everybody feel safe and if you want to call it that, knock yourself out but it means more to me than that.

AL: people need to put things into boxes don't they to understand them

Tori: Yeah

AL: Is this something that's been brewing for a long time then, these girls?

Tori: Ever since I think I did Smells Like Teen Spirit and there were other men on the Zeppelin cover Thankyou and Rolling Stones' Angie it was on an e.p. I did called Crucify in the States and Winter in England, and I think that was sort of a fortelling for me, that I would investigate this a little bit more. I mean I've been, like I told you before, I've been doing funerals and weddings for my dad since way, way back just to get pocket money, you would do "other people's songs" then. I tried to stay away from hymns and the best bit is I didn't have to do We've Only Just Begun at funerals.

AL: Have you ever been tempted to do some hymns ever? What would you do if you could?

Tori: I did this hymn 'There is a Balm in Gilead' because it used to be one of my grandfathers favourites. He was part Cherokee and he had perfect pitch and he used to sing to me when I was little, and he would sing this song and.. there's something about y'know when people sing they're almost like old spirituals. Different than the Protestant kind of, you know you get that tone deaf-y, stale (laughs) you know, your momma don't dance and your daddy can't sing hymns -yeah

AL: So how did you decide which songs you were going to include then? I mean, like you said this has been brewing a bit.

Tori: Well I got this little group of guys together and they did become the laboratory of men and they opened up their CD treasures, their song secrets - because I had to really understand how men say things and what a woman hears and to do that I had to first understand how men say things and what a man hears, so I began to see how these men heard their favourite male songs.

AL: And what was the conclusion?

Tori: Err idea held up!

AL: So you went in with some preconceived ideas of what you thought the reactions were going to be?

Tori: Well I had a hunch right, that we were going to see differently, mainly because of the whole Bonnie and Clyde thing. I knew from the get-go early, early on that not one guy, no matter how intelligent, how caring, to the point where some of the guys didn't want to pick up this gauntlet. They would just say "you know, I don't want to be drawn into this thing, that's not how I feel about women." and I said ok fine - we'll call you when we talk about the Neil Young song. So, some of them however did, some of them were really pissed off about it, that I would want to do it, and once they understood that to be effective you have to infiltrate and I'm not one of the kinds of girls that goes out in my Birkenstocks with a picket sign - no that's not how I believe in being an activist, for myself. So the guys I must say, a couple of them said they were empathetic towards his character and one of them even said, "you know, this girl in the trunk caused him all this grief and she's a bitch" and all these things and I said. You know that for a fact then? Y'know, that she's done all these things, and he said yes and I said ok -fascinating thing not one wanted to know about her. Out of all the comments not one person said I wonder what she heard? She was nameless, faceless, powerless.

AL: It's amazing to think that this can still go on today, in a society where we feel like feminism has made in-roads and relationships between men and women seem to be improving and you're saying the opposite.

Tori: I'm saying is Joe Jackson, he said it "we think it's getting better but nobody's really sure" and there does seem to be, in the last couple of years, there' s been a weird sort of malice towards women and gay men from some of the heterosexual community.

AL: Why do you think that is?

Tori: Whether it's the alpha female, this is especially in the States, whether it's the alpha female that can bring home the bacon, be the provider and some of the men are having to compete with women for the jobs and, you know, this is going to affect the relationship in the bedroom, come on. What is a powerful male? And we as women are contributing to this big question, what do we want from them? We want them to be sensitive, and then yeah we want them to go get the gig, go get the job. What happens when they get fired? Are we nurturing or is it a turn off? Be honest. We have to ask, us women, just kind of really look at what is our definition of a powerful man? Because my definition has really changed in the last two years.

AL: Has it?

Tori: Oh yeah.

AL: And why is that?

Tori: Maybe because there was a time when I wasn't as in touch with my inherent right to my own masculinity, as a woman, to claim my animus instead of living through the men in my life to do it.

AL: That's a pretty powerful thing, I mean not many women are in touch with that are they?

Tori: It's taken a few years of a lot of digging, and another moment for me was really kind of pulling back and seeing that now, if my daughter is safe with a man and I feel safe that she's with him, whether it's a friend or whomever, then that's a powerful man to me. When they're a safe harbour, a lighthouse. And if you were to look at them or analyse them you might not think that they're "powerful men" but I think some of them are sages and have a lot of wisdom and my idea definitely is changing.

AL: How do you think the relationship between men and women can improve? What do men have to do, what do women have to do?

Tori: Well it seems to me that - don't you think in our generation now, and this spans like 40 years what I'm talking about, is that there was a time I remember as a little girl in the late 60s where freedom was a really important thing no matter what your race was, or your sexuality was, or your sex. And there seems to have been lately a sort of an anti-freedom movement taking root. That the Jessie Helms sort of philosophy, he was a political guy from north Carolina, the right wing, has sort of invaded the tatoo, pierced, hip looking people and it's become invasion of the body snatchers and you have to pull back and say, when we hate somebody, because they're not like us, or agree with us and you want to have power over somebody else to get your power, this is when you've got to pull back and say; whoops. ..this isn't about freedom, no matter how it's dressed. It's not freedom of the soul, that's for sure.

AL: One of the songs, Lennon and McCartney's Happiness is a Warm Gun, is a kind of unashamed, undisguised criticism of gun laws in the States, very much about freedom. You've kind of unearthed this character, this woman that was involved that we've never really heard about before. Tell us her story.

Tori: While we were investigating all sorts of events that circle Happiness is a Warm Gun, this song is tied to I Don't Like Mondays and the shooting that happened, again in San Diego this past year where the kids were being killed by a kid. That kind of brought up real questions that we all had towards the gun lobby, what they were saying about this shooting, things like bad seeds do this kind of thing and it was almost like they were absolving themselves of any responsibility, and we all know that the problem is accessibility, because the chip is gonna slip, and some of my nieces and nephews, who are sweethearts, the chip slips, as Bob Geldof says in his song. And if it does, do you want them grabbing for a 38 calibre gun? I'd rather them grab for a water melon because that's what they can get their hands on! But that you can get a gun in some states easier than you can get a drivers license, that was terrifying. And my dad talks about the second amendment on this. He's the one people think is Charlton Heston sometimes, that is my father -

AL: Charlton Heston's the head of the NRA isn't he?

Tori: Yeah. My dad does believe strongly in the second amendment, but with controls that aren't in place. And then we of course have George Bush senior and George W. also giving their views. My dad threatened me that I'd better not edit him, I said don't worry, I'm not going to edit you.

AL: Does the political climate in the states have anything to do with you being based this side of the Atlantic?

Tori: Actually, it does give you sometimes a little breath to see things different -my husband's British and sometimes when he can get away form Britain it helps him just a little bit to see things sometimes from an objective stance, but the truth is my husband is really grumpy and told me he wouldn't live in that place and he didn't care about the green card and I said lucky I'm a better traveller than you. So -that's what it's down to!

AL: And do you like life here then?

Tori: Um sometimes I do, sometimes I love it. I like the people a lot -you all are very funny and I think you all are best when things are at their worst. I think that's a really - you know, you're able to kind of be great in that moment. What's hard for me here is that when things are going good people want to tear it all down, that's the sad thing sometimes about Britain is somebody's worked so hard and they're ashamed that they've achieved anything, and that gets really difficult. It's like, snap out of it! Stop the envy, get the green monster down, be happy! Get off your ass, go create it yourself!

AL: What do you make of the press's obsession with your apparent kookiness? Do you think this is just their short-hand way of describing a woman that maybe they don't, maybe can't understand? Or do you kind of revel in that and embrace that?

Tori: Well Somebody asked me if there was ever a thing that I'd done that was kind of a good thing? And I said "play kooky for the Brits!"

AL: So is it all an act then?

Tori: I think what it is, is sometimes you think you're having a conversation where you both looked in each others eyes and you didn't realise that they already had the sound bite before you began. And I do understand copy, I do understand that people need their headlines and sometimes we go back to what you said we do fall in to boxes. I've been in a box since Little Earthquakes!

AL: Are you sick of it, do you want to break out? -. I mean certainly with the new photographs and everything that go with the new album, you've got loads of different looks, you haven't got your crazy curly hair anymore -it's very different, quite shocking.

Tori: Identity is something that's - the word has come up for me a lot since I've had Tash because sometimes you pull back and become the things that people think you are, and you wear it like a coat instead of saying, y'know I really don't believe that. I don't believe in this idea, that's not who I am, I'm kind of -different than that. And over the years I'm starting to find my way, not maybe who my friends want me to be or my family but who I am and that's not necessarily the most popular person in the room and that's what I'm really finding. I'd rather wake up and have my beliefs than be the most popular person in the room.

AL: So do you feel like you're growing into yourself as you get older?

Tori: Slowly but surely, yeah.

AL: I've been on a real emotional rollercoaster the past couple of days listening to your album and I must say that I know your work but not very intensely. I'm a fan but a kind of passive fan if you will, don't take that the wrong way but I know that so many people are so passionate about you and your work and I've always been interested in slightly different kind of music, but I've had a very intense past couple of days listening to this on my headphones, and I have been nearly in tears. Do you egg your listeners on to have these kind of big emotional responses to your work? I was very shocked and very -really torn apart by these songs that are familiar to me, Depeche Mode for instance, I'm a big Depeche Mode fan -I listened to your version and your voice and the piano in the background, the haunting sounds, it tore me apart. Are you egging us on, Tori?

Tori: Well um,Amy you know I think, when the songs came, sort of waltzed through the door and said "you have to look at me, you have to sit down with me". With these particular songs, which I didn't write, I don't have the key to the front door to them. When you have your own song child you do have DNA testing, you would be their mom. That's not the same here, so I would have to sit and see them really - flay themselves and show me what's inside and then they could zip themselves back up in our versions so that they could be contained in some kind of form, but you have to put them under an X- ray machine and see what's there, not what you think is there -y'know I would go oh yeah I was making out with so and so to that song' and I have those pictures and they would whisper to me "that's not all I am Tori, I'm not just you and John McGowan making out at a party when you were 11!" Ok it's not about me! So then I would sit and crawl into them and let them crawl back into me and then they would take over. And so you sort of become -you know like those mud huts in Africa -where there's a tribe of people that's very ancient where they make like cities out of mud and almost a castle out of mud and then the rains come and sometimes it just tears it all down again and then they have to redo it. Well, that's very much how I tried to become, like mud, so that the songs could form and then once I went to the next one, the rain comes and it tears you down again and then you re-form for another song and you just let them completely take over.

AL: How does that differ from you creating your own material, writing your own songs?

Tori: One of the big things that I just said before was first of all I do a similar thing, but because there's no reference for anybody, nobody saw my own little children in utero, they didn't see it on the ultrasound, so nobody saw, like songs from the Choirgirl Hotel when they were 4 months old -you know, the feet are webbed, you don't have feet, they're fins, I didn't know that until I went to an ultrasound - Well song formation is similar but again nobody has any reference to where these songs came from that I write. It doesn't mean anything really, that process. But because these, on SLG, you can go and they live somewhere else, as essences but now you can compare them, and what I loved about being with them is the secrets that each one of them had and they would all say to me "you know we do have song mothers" and I said yes I respect that, I might not particularly agree with your mothers' politics but I respect that you have a mother and I am not she. And they told me, unequivocally that there're some things that you only tell your mother and there're some things that you don't tell your mother and so I really tried to understand and hold that space, what that was, to see if there were shadows in the songs or things that wanted to be said or just a different intention, or to support the one that their mother had said like in the Tom Waits version.

AL: You're off to America soon for your tour. Any news and tid-bits that you can tells us about you coming back and performing in the UK?

Tori: Um...I think we're back early December and were doing a few shows in the UK, not just London.. so that's good. I hope we get up to Scotland because the Scots are always - I can't understand a word they say! But they scream things from the seats and you know, just to try and figure out what they're saying, it entertains me.

Here is a report on this radio show from James Hirst:

    They recorded for 45 minutes, and apparently both Amy and Tori were really happy with the recording...

    Apparently she had a book with her, which had a page for each "character" from the new album, with about six shots for each character. I suspect it's not something that's going to be generally released, but a nice item to be able to get your hands on, and hopefully it means there's more pics from each session that they're holding back for later release.

    She said she'd deliberately asked the record company to come up with venues appropriate for the music, hence the union chapel, and again seemed really happy with the gig. It looks like the reason details about a European tour aren't released yet is because it's still being sorted out, and they're still trying to ensure the "right" venues, but she did say it would involve several dates in the UK, not just London ones.

Liz Garlinge tells me that Amy Lamé talked about this interview recently in a posting to the mailing list for the London Club "Duckie". Amy said:

    mad as a box of kittens, that's what someone once called Tori Amos....

    Anyway I must say I have been a very passive fan of Ms. Amos, until yesterday when I interviewed her for 45 mins for the radio and she is the most amazing woman....she's just about to release her new album, which is a collection of 12 versions of songs by men, given the Tori once-over....Lennon & McCartney's Happiness is a Warm Gun, Boomtown Rats I Don't Like Mondays, plus others from The Stranglers, Velvet Underground, Neil it, listen to it on your headphones, and let me know what you think.....and if you'd like to hear the interview, it's going out Friday 14 September sometime between 10 and Midnite on BBC London Live 94.9 fm

    And she's got ginger hair, which is an added bonus in my book!

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