Tori Amos: Pantheons and Pianos

Categories: Music

Cleveland Scene:Of the American Doll Posse characters, which
is least like you?
Tori Amos:"Well, it depends which day you catch me on. The least
like me, the way I've known me all these years, would be Santa. That one
was difficult, just because they're all patterned after ancient female
archetypes. She was patterned after Aphrodite. I use the Greek pantheon,
as opposed to another one, because I thought people would be more
familiar with it. Having to open myself up for Aphrodite's myth and
story, I had to do a lot of homework. And my impressions were not right:
I thought she was a tart. After really immersing myself in her story, I
began to see how she would use her sexuality, and how she was really
comfortable with her body. She didn't live a life of guilt where men
decided how she felt about her physicality."

CS:Was The Beekeeper [2005] more a character or concept?
TA:"I didn't see it as a character. It was more about the
structure of the garden, and I like the idea that songs were coming from
an expression in nature. And we developed each song coming from a
specific garden. And I liked that, especially since our Biblical story
starts in a garden. And that's why the tour was the original Sinsuality
tour. And so this was a different take on the whole almost parallel
plane from where we've come from. As a minister's daughter, I don't
accept that their read of history is the accurate read. So The
was really about another viewpoint of the feminine coming
from the garden."

CS:And Scarlet's Walk [2002] was more of an overt alter-ego?
TA:"Scarlet was personified thread, the blood of the land. And it
was a journey through America, post 9/11, trying to go back and cross
the country. But not from a map you would pick up in a local store. But
more following it through trying to find ancient sacred sites as a
Native American, the spiritual vortexes that they have held secret and
sacred. And this was inspired because when I was touring Strange
Little Girls
: A medicine woman came to see me, and she talked to me
about another invasion that had happened that America didn't want to
look at, which is when our forefathers and foremothers came over and
took the land of the Native Americans. And so Scarlet is a woman, but
she is a thread that is weaving across the country, trying to remember
the story of the real keepers of this land, who had been practically
erased from our history."

CS:In the cover-songs album Strange Little Girls [2001],
each song was a character-driven narrative. Did you feel particularly
close to any of them?
TA:"They called were the name of the song, because they were the
anima. The idea here was the men were the mother-creators of the song -
all of the songs were composed by men. I chose to look at them from the
point of view of the anima of the song itself. And that way, as a woman,
I could give a viewpoint.

CS:Did you relate to any in particular?
TA:"Sure. All of them, or I wouldn't have [recorded] them. Some of
them were... It's not that I related to some of them more than others. I
think some were starkly powerful. I think the [Eminem's] ''97 Bonnie and
Clyde' read was powerful, because the song itself -you have a woman
murdered in the back, I took the point of view that she wasn't quite yet
dead. And all men have to remember: When their wives aren't quite yet
dead, that's the most dangerous five minutes. And so the song is from a
woman that' s not quite yet dead, hearing what he is saying to her
daughter, and that's the last thing she hears before she dies."

CS:To Venus and Back [1999] had some abstract lyrics, but
was it pretty much Tori?
TA:"Yeah. You had a double album of the live show and a collection
of songs that had accumulated for many years for the live side of the
disc, and then you had the future as we were approaching the millennium.
It seem to me that the Earth, as it was approaching the millennium,
needed a girlfriend. And so Venus seemed to me a friend for her to

CS:From the Choirgirl Hotel [1998] had some very obviously
personal songs like "Spark," but did "Playboy Mommy" or "Jackie's
Strength" represent a character?
TA:"In a way, as you're composing, the songs are their own
entities. And they don't have arms and legs, but they do have
consciousness. They approach me, even in a two-bar phrase. I have to
somehow have had some kind of experience in order to translate them -
but they're their own being. And there are moments, like in 'Spark,'
that I can feel with every cell, and I'm actually in the place where
that song is expressing itself, so I might be living the experience in
that moment. And others, I may have lived the experience before, and as
I translate the song, I'm able to go back in time. Or I'm able, as a
composer, to contain the song and write it and translate it. Because you
shape-shift. I make it as a half-decent playwright: Characters can
embody you. They come and they visit."

CS:Boys for Pele [1996] was based on some of your
experiences beyond the average every-day world. Where were you for that
TA:"That album, I was stepping into, in a big way, the
confrontational side of the psyche. And having spent some time in Hawaii
with Pele herself, I was in a place where I began to question the
authority of the male [or] the male-god authority, in such a way that it
wasn't just musings; it was direct confrontations. And the abuse of
power. So, in a way, I think there was a bit of Boudica, the great
warrior woman that stepped up."

CS:Under the Pink [1994] was departure form very direct,
very literal Little Earthquakes. Did you see songs like "Past the
Mission" as more of a creative narrative?
TA:"I was spending some time in New Mexico, and I was studying the
history of the Spanish and the conquistadors came in and set up the
missions, and subjugated the native people to Christianity, because
their beliefs were thought of as something of the devil, blasphemous.
And, of course, that justified all [the Conquistadors'] killing,
slavery, and abuse. So I guess as a minister's daughter, I'm made up of
many characters - we all are. Any good writer, I think, maybe just
allows themselves a little more freedom to let different aspects out."

CS:Was Little Earthquakes [1992], as it seems, straight-up
TA:"It's a diary form, I would say - a journal. But you really can
only write your journal once, in my opinion. I think you can maybe write
it twice. But you need to have a lot of time lapse before you write the
second one."

CS:When you look back at Y Kant Tori Read [1988], can you
relate to that girl, all these years later?
TA:"What I understand about that is: When you get rejected as a
composer for so many years that, if you are a capable composer, you can
pretty much compose anything. And my natural inclination as a writer was
not going to be thwarted by the record companies, and I couldn't sing in
another bar for much longer; I'd done it for 11 years. So everybody has
a different breaking point. I guess mine was seven years. And I
realized: Unless I would write something that they felt they would sign,
I was never gonna get out. So, of course, I chose to give them what I
thought was a contemporary sound at the time, a pop-rock record. And I
guess when you shop at Retail Slut one too many times, that's what
that's what it's going to look like."

Tori Amos performs Wednesday November 7 at Northrop Auditorium. - D.X.

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