Originally published in BRAG #337 November 9th, 2009
Tori Amos is a singer songwriter synonymous with artistic integrity, with pushing the boundaries of musical expression, and never shying away from challenging subject matter. In the past she has deal explicitly with taboo topics such as religious indoctrination, sexuality and feminism. She is known to be a fiercely combative interviewee who gets frosty and uncommunicative whether the interview topic hits too close to home.
So it was with some trepidation that I discussed life matters with Tori. Treading around topics of a personal nature seemed to be the sensible approach, yet she seemed to spend the whole interview discussing her daughter, explaining her reasons for disliking the interview process and confessing that her parents were a major reason for her releasing the seasonal album Midwinter Graces. She even deflected the topic of her first album and group, the ‘80s mis-step, Y Kant Tori Read with good humour. Perhaps the rumours had gotten way ahead of themselves. But the most pressing matter was why Tori Amos had fallen into the trap of releasing a seasonal album -the exact moment where most musical careers officially jump the shark. Her reasons seem less career orientated, and more personal.
“Doug Morris (Tori’s mentor during her tenure with Atlantic Records, who now helms Universal Records) -I’ve known him a long long time, and he is 70 now–he said, ‘I’ve always wanted to know what you would do if you were to make a seasonal record, what it was sound like, and what it would be like’. I said, ‘Well, it would be different’ and he said ‘Well, I wanna know, and while I am still around, while I’m still here, I want you to do it.’ I have great respect for him. I’m doing it for him, he is a wonderful person, and a motivating force… and my mother has always wanted me to do something like this–both of my parents–however their perspective of what they want me to do, and what it is may be two different things. I like the idea that some of this music is quite ancient and it’s changed; these carols have changed over the years, so I wanted to put my own variation of it, in the 21st century.
-So the selections are quite tradition tunes then?
“With a Tori twist”
When asked what a ‘Tori twist’ consists of, she is charmingly oblique.
“It’s a magical piece, a concert piece: drums and tubular bells and all kinds of instruments. The shock about the whole thing is there is nothing shocking about it. I don’t have a song where I sing ‘Merry Christmas’.”
Despite her, to be honest, unfounded reputation for being a difficult performer, Amos has played over 2,000 shows since 1992. She married English sound engineer Mark Hawley in 1998, and relocated to Cornish in England, where she gave birth to a daughter in 2000. With such domestic bliss, it must be hard to continue touring. Amos seems shocked by the suggestion that it must be difficult to keep her motivation after this time.
“Well, I like touring. Playing for people is really magical. It’s not something I have to work hard at. I mean you have to make sure you are playing and spending time with your child, but playing for people is a privilege.
-And have you managed for find the balance between playing, and making sure your daughter has what she needs as well?
“Yeah, I think so. She is at a point where she is her own girl. So she stays backstage and enjoys things, and has her own little jobs.”
Another consideration when spending endless time on the road is that the set may become a little stale, that it may come to the point where a musician could simply phone in a performance. Playing the same songs night after night may lead to fatigue, however this doesn’t seem to be a pressing concern for Tori.
“I haven’t thought about this. I think right now I have to base my sets on what I am feeling from that city or on that day. I don’t want to be confined to playing a certain set list, or certain songs that I have to play every night on tour. I have a catalogue of hundreds of songs, which means that the set is going to vary from city to city, which keeps the set fresh, for the players, and the crew, and the audience.
“What’s hard to balance is touring with all the media demands, if I am going to be honest with you. Because at the moment, I am doing three hours of interviews a day, and when I was back in the States, I was doing the same. It’s just one of those things that you need to keep objective about it, because I get along with a lot of journalists, and I have known a lot of them for years, because I have been doing this since ’91. It’s one thing to worry about the tour, and to play the songs, and I like making records, but then it’s another thing to have to put your mental thinking cap on and spend two or three hours a day thinking and talking about yourself and your motivation for every action. I am doing that a lot in between the States and the European tour, and you might find it funny, but I spend hardly any time doing European press or Australian press because the American press takes up all the time, and there are a lot of demands placed on you, because of this. People are like, ‘If you don’t do it during this time it wont be done.’
With the interview drawing to a close, there is one more topic that must be broached. Feverish Tori fans have bombarded fan groups, message boards and record companies for years, requesting a re-release of the 1988 synth-pop record Y Kant Tori Read, an album that she has famously shown public disdain for. But, seeing she has been quite generous so far, I attempt to broach the subject again, and ask if her stance has changed.
“No. No, there are no plans for that,” she said firmly. “I think its best left in the annals of time.”
Well, it was worth a shot. In the meantime we are going to have to make do with Midwinter Graces, and her upcoming Australian tour. And, according to Tori, we should know to expect the unexpected.