“Live At The Shaw Theatre” with Lucy O’Brian
November 2003, With Lucy O'Brien
"the younger female artists, they're all very unique women,
with their own take on it, with their own language,
their own story to tell. There's room for everyone to claim
their own story. There cannot be a hierarchy among women."
L: Effectively, she summed up the importance of women's history when she said:
" Some have paved ways and women before me have taken their machetes in the jungle. Parts of the jungle that are not so traversed. Like Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell. Other off-shoots, such as Alanis Morrisette and Fiona Apple have
made their own path. You honor the women before you and after you. There
isn't a copyright on this story."
L: So tonight I'd like us to honor Tori Amos. (wild applause)
L: So how are you?
TA: I'm good. (smiles) So I heard someone was smoking in the toilets!
L: (over audience laughter) nooo no no! Just to start off, the obvious question really is the new collection out, what inspired that and what got you into that.
TA: (pause) well...thank god for unbinding contracts! (much audience laughter)
It started off, you know, back to the wall, but then it's kinda great how you're forced to do a double take and think "well, ok, they can do this without us."
Because they can. The kids that were coming to the shows were showing me that they had their best-ofs already, because they made them. So they would give me a different one every night and say this is my compilation that I have made. I thought, "well what access do we have?" and Husband said, "Get your hands on those multi-track tapes!"
L: So tell us, what are multi-track tapes?
TA: There are the original multi-track tapes of the music. You have your completed tapes which are masters. These are pre-masters. So this is the stuff.
L: Some of them were found in very weird places, like down the back of a fridge...
TA: It's hard finding the multis now. I found out that some of them were gone, I got a call from Husband saying that such and such was gone. I said, "Whattya mean, she's gone!?" Gone. He brought back the safeties, and that was an eye-opener for me. (to audience) Brace yourselves! While the record industry is imploding, the first thing to go are the tape libraries! (audience laughter) So we decided to bring them all in and catalog them at Martian.
L: save them?
TA: while we can!
L: You used all the originals you didn't put on 2003 mix?
TA: we thought we needed to make a rule for ourselves.
(stage whisper) You know I love discipline! (audience laughs)
So we decided, we said, OK if this were recorded in 1992, and just say, there was a drop out of a background vocal --which we came across—if it didn't exist anywhere else within that time-frame, then it's gone. You know you can fly them in from different choruses and kind of patch it together. But I felt like if an instrument was gone, then I couldn't imprint something from our time now onto that time. So we would all look at eachother and say, "OK, what genius didn't add this on?!" Sometimes you try to remember...some coked-out fanatical person came in the room saying, "Strings aren't hot this week for radio!" (aud. laughter)
L: So were any of the songs hard to revisit?
TA: Yes, there were some. Once we came up with the idea that we would love a CD from a Roman woman when Rome was at the end of its' heyday. Well, we're American—there's a parallel! (audience laughs) So we decided, why Not give the world an American woman's viewpoint and tell a sonic autobiography that talks about her own life and what she went through. Also, how social events affected her. Once we knew the basis of that, then we started pulling it all together.
L: "Playboy Mommy", you felt different then when you actually recorded it.
TA: When I recorded that, it was a painful time, as some of you know. It was odd, I remember this journalist coming to visit me when I was in London and he said to me, "Why do you have a band-aid on your arm—are you doing drugs?" and I said, "WHAT are you talking about!?" and he said, "Word on the street is you are involved in all kinds of things." "No", I said, "I miscarried." I think that then was a time of just incredible loss and emptiness and so when I was visited by what seemed like all these children and mothers from another plane when I was writing "Choirgirl"...I would walk out and almost feel their ghosts coming up from over the water, because we were in the tropics. The songs would wrap around me and there was one little girl that said she had left this plane and she loved the mommy here, but that it wasn't right. She said, "I'm gonna find another mommy like your little girl did." In that moment, the song came to me, and when I recorded it, I seemed like a grieving. When we listened back, we discovered that she had so much love, this woman, and we were comparing her with different multis of that time. The reason she made it on the record is because we had no idea, well yes, she had lost her child, but she was also given a gift to love in a way that she had never ever loved before. We all heard that when we listened back. That was a surprise.
L: I want to ask you a bit about, you've lived here for awhile, what do you like about Cornwall?
TA: (takes a moment, then with a wolfish grin) Surfing, he said. Surfers! (wild audience laughter) No, no everybody knows I am monogamous. (laughing) My eyes are monogamous...Cornwall is this place, some of you have been to or are from. It has a lot going on there! Do you know? The other week, this woman goes stomping about town, and she's really angry at this guy, so the people and the builders all tell me. She's tearing through the town, looking for him. He is at this pub, and says to someone, "Oooh, I had better fuck off then" and off he meanders. Well, she finds him, and you know what? She runs his ass over!
I was fascinated! And then do you know what happened!? She backs up over him! Well, they took her in (to audience clapping) Hooray! Well, I found out he was walking around town the in the next few days!
L: Sounds like the Midwest!
TA: Yes, but the Midwest doesn't have the surfers...
The really good thing about Cornwall? (stage whispers) Hard for the record company to get to!
L: What do you miss about America?
TA: (long pause) weelllllll....some things! (audience laughter) Honestly!
I think the Brits are very good when everybody's at their worst. The Brits are just great. When the sun is shining, it's beautiful. You say, "Global warming is just great for England!" (laughs) Then people walk around saying, " It just sucks around here." I mean, cooome on! (much aud. laughter)
L: I'd like to ask you a trivial question now. Everybody saw you on Graham Norton last night. How does that compare with a TV chat show experience in America?
TA: well. Oooh. Because Graham is—he comes by and he sees you before the show, has a chat with you and I adore him so. You chat. (she chitter-chatters back and forth with her hands) Well! You Don't do that with David Letterman! (aud. laughter) You just don't Do that!! I mean, I think he's fantastic, they all say hi and greet you, but there is... a line.
L: it's much more formal?
TA: Much more formal, yes.
L: Speaking of America, there is another dignitary here visiting at the moment.
TA: Oh yes. (scrunches nose) Junior! [re:George W. Bush]
L: What do you feel about the hoo-hah surrounding his trip and also tell us about the song "Angels" which is your most overtly political song.
TA: I remember being in Florida...voting for Nader that day. I think...whether it was the winged ballots or the hanging chads or whatever anyone wants to say about it...It's strange how when you look back, no different than in wo years time from now, we will look back. God knows what people will do when they vote knowing that they are truly going to change the course of a nation in such a huge way. It's almost as if people didn't want to hear that this could be happening...that roles are being purged. In that book Best Democracy Money Can Buy ---it's already the past to me. Having lived in Florida during that time...I was there nursing Tash....it was the scariest. If people were told then, you all will be back in a war you thought that you were out of, if you choose to let this stand. The oddest thing, he was not anointed by the people. He is there....he took it! Sort of like that John character that you all had here hundreds of years ago. King John, the brother of Richard the Lionhearted. He kind of took it, too—didn't he? (Looks to audience) (audience seems unsure of what to say) Is that right? Yeah, he did! He took it! (audience laughs and agrees) So it's a strange thing, watching people in America, people that believed in civil liberties that have somehow talked themselves into agreeing with going into this war and agreeing with everything they are being told. Nobody thought they could be drawn in, and everybody thought that they were making decisions based on facts. That is how "Angels" started coming, this idea of being trapped from the Potomac River...because I think that people lost their will to question---almost as if something was ripped from them, this right to question.
L: it also seems that a lot of artists felt intimidated or felt that they couldn't speak out. One of the phrases in the song is about the truth being buried. Would you say it has always been important for you to speak out?
TA: Well, I think if you are an artist lucky enough to have a group of people who will be there with you if you speak out, then you have to. There were some artists that did speak out and they realized that the people who came out to listen to their music believed in things that were abhorrent to them. That's a real strange one, isn't it? Those of us that had audiences with somewhat similar-ish interests had to speak. Pearl Jam, Moby—they are speaking. And you have to trust to ride through the Clear channel wave. (much audience applause)
L: Thank you, Tori.
[she plays "Angels", "Jackie's Strength", and "Winter"]
L: Thank you very much indeed. That was really very moving. The acoustics are great in here. It must be nice to play where you can really rely on the acoustics.
TA: Yeah, and the men behind them...(audience laughter)
L: I want to go into the creative process with you.
TA: There is a forum that I have to propel me so that I don't sit and watch "Neighbors" all day! (audience laughter) So I drag my butt over to the piano in the piano room in the studio. It's great that we have that now, years ago, it was the same only a much smaller room and a much smaller piano! Usually I put on my little tape recorder and play different motifs for about an hour. Then I look at visual art books—in the old days, I'd go to the library and check then out—I then make notes and try to catalog images that meant something to me. By the end of this, I would have hundreds of motifs that have struck me and made me think of something. Then you piece them together these maybe two-bar phrases. "Amber Waves" was much like that, I knew a little bit of it,
I knew: (sings a bit of the song). I had that for months! (audience laughs and claps) But I just couldn't think about what kind of machine he had!! What am I doing? Ok, I don't ask questions, not supposed to ask questions! It took me awhile to realize that he is a film director. (to audience) I know you guys are looking at me like I am out of my mind! (aud. laughter) But what happens next is kind of fun. If you are a crossword person, this is like the ultimate crossword puzzle! You've got maybe 20,000 two-bar phrases and you start matching them up. Kind of like an internet dating service—that line goes with this one....Maybe that's why they don't make that much sense sometimes...(audience laughs & claps)
L: You say there was one song that took ten years to emerge.
TA: What was that one...That was a little thing I am going to play in a bit. It was a piano intro that reminded me a bit of "Winter". You don't get a lot of those songs
Every week, so I was kind of happy about that. It became this love song about these Scottish people (aud. laughs) and I realized that maybe somebody cared about it. In fact, there was this guy called Richard that liked it--- I don't know what happened to him? (more laughter) I had a verse and a chorus and I just blocked it out of my mind...So it was based on something I read, a folktale about these lovers who were going to get together and the British came and he was killed and the girl was made to marry a British person. And she wanted to kill herself and so I was intrigued by that story. I was working on it and it just didn't develop. So then, years later, I can see it happening. I was going to go to Romania and visit Vlad the Impaler.
L: as you do.
TA: as you do!! I was really drawn to that place. Plus, Ahmet Ertegun, who was the big kingpin in the industry, basically he could fuck your life up—if he wanted. He was the guy that made Atlantic Records what is was. (o audience) You know who I am talking about? (they do) Good! But anyway, we got on very well in that kind of way that you do, and he said, "Well my wife is Romanian and you could go with a professor to see that historical time." So this song starts coming back to me, then I started to write this whole other thing, and we were going to go to Turkey afterwards, as you do, you know following Vlad's footsteps and then stay at Ahmet's palace. Then something happened. The truth, I started bleeding and couldn't stop. I said, "Jesus, Husband, I don't think I am going to get to go see Vlad the Impaler" and he said, "Darling, I think you have already been impaled."
(audience laughter & applause) So then, that multi just sat around.
L: It's a shaggy dog story, isn't it!?
TA: It is! And then finally it popped up again when I got a letter from a girl who had lost her best friend in the bombings in the Middle East. She was a teenager and her friend was a teenager and they had played together as kids and she said, all of the sudden she was gone. Then it started to make sense and it came together in a couple of hours.
L: Which song was this?
TA: This was "Seaside'.
L: Can you tell us about some of the other songs? How they suggested themselves to you?
TA: Well, some songs I think work better in a live context than others. They just do. We really tried to get "Take to the Sky" on the album but Matty looked at me, the drummer this is, and he said, "I miss the people. I miss the people clapping to the rhythm." I said, "You miss people? They clap wrong?!" (audience laughter)
But he missed them so it didn't make the record. Because what are you going to do when the drummer is down on something?
L: You're going to play "Silent all these Years" which is an old favorite, isn't it? (applause)
TA: I think the funny thing about that little song is when we put the multi up , we found a few string parts that hadn't been included in our original and that was a real treat, because the string arranger, who arranged for many greats like Frank Sinatra. I adored this gentleman and he died very soon after "Little Earthquakes" so to find pieces of his work, it was just like a kiss from the other side, a secret that was left.
L: when you are doing your songwriting, do you find hours & hours have passed and Mark is wondering where you are, everyone's left wondering...?
TA: (pause) I don't think anybody asks! (laughs) (in stage whisper) "Leave her !"
L: like Beethoven, eh?
TA: Well, I am getting a little hard of hearing...The thing about the writing process, there are some songs that you work on for a long time, "Snow Cherries" was one of those and you know, as a write, you just know what the story is. Then sometimes you know characters and certain traits they have, but you don't necessarily know what's going to happen to them. And an album is very much like that, there needs to be some kind of cohesiveness and so when you begin the writing process you have to---for me, anyway, I get a pallet of ideas that I surround myself with. It can be books or paintings—I tend to stay away from music because you don't want to steal so you go to other mediums. You listen to music but if it gets ingrained, you begin to think it's yours, and that's bad...I changed every few weeks, all these things that have been infusing a process and then sometimes you bring things in that you never thought would be up your street. I bring books that make me choose words that I wouldn't because you have to keep pushing yourself. As a writer, I mean, after you have written a few hundred songs, you have to keep pushing...
L: it's not about rhyming "fire" with "desire", is it?
TA: I'm an assonance girl myself...(much aud. laughter)
L: tell us about the inspiration for "Cooling".
TA: "cooling" was written in Ireland and was supposed to be on "Boys for Pele" and I think that was similar to "Honey", which made "Tales of a Librarian". "Cooling" didn't because we visited the multi-track and we put up a live performance next to the multi and the multi just didn't seem to have the confidence that the live performance had---so I felt that it didn't represent what "Cooling" is, who she is.
L: Who is she?
TA: She's one of my favorites. I play her a lot just because she is one of the closest songs to my heart and we did it when we filmed the live show, the last show and I did it. But "Honey", on the other hand, we had a performance of it and I am still kicking myself that it didn't make "Under the Pink", because it was supposed to.
And I listened to some second engineer who said, "I didn't really like that song"— (said with scrunched nose to great audience laughter)
I mean who the fuck is she?? Nice gal, but come on! You don't make decisions like that, especially as a producer—that was minus ten points as a producer for me. Bad! So now you have to go back and say, when someone makes a suggestion like that, "let me think about it" and sometimes you have to take a sleep before you kick a song off a record that for month & months had been part of the order, part of everything. I put a B song on it instead.
L: "Pretty Good Year" –tell us about that one, it's quite celebratory.
TA: That has been a very tough song to play in the last two years, I think. Even though we had Tash, and she's such a magical...twinkle pie! – Everyday there is just something that makes me happy that I have one more day. But singing "pretty Good Year" based on things happening in the world and in my home country, it is very tricky....
L: And this lastly, what can we look forward to from you in terms of new material coming up?
TA: (long pause) hmmmm.....(audience laughs) there's a book coming...about process, with Ann Powers, who is a journalist, used to be a New York Times critic-- one that everybody went ,"ah Jesus Christ, did you have to give her my CD to review?" and you know, you love her, but if she slashed your record, it was a tough day. You get over it, but...anyway! We writing it together, its about process and she doesn't work for the Times anymore, she's moved on, and God! She's lightened up since she left the New York Times. (much aud. laughter)
L: Well thank you very much Tori, and I'll leave you to play your songs...
(audience applause as Tori heads for the piano...)