Interview: Tori Amos
It can be universally agreed that singer-songwriter Tori Amos is one of the most iconic artists in music history. With a catalogue consisting of thousands of emotionally charged and vocally rich songs, the singers 1992 debut album, Little Earthquakes, propelled the red-headed beauty to the top of the charts and positioned her leagues above her peers.
Her hits are numerous and over the course of 2 decades she has pushed musical boundaries and genres in an effort to experiment and delight her fans and in the process, has continued to challenge herself as an artist.
From the timeless balladry of songs like Winter, China, A Sorta Fairytale and Hey Jupiter to haunting and conceptual highlights like Raspberry Swirl, Spark and new single Troubles Lament to her genre experimentation in tracks like the techno driven Professional Widow, her efforts have been successful and inspiring to fans and peers. She has delivered 14 studio albums over the course of a 22 year career to date and those records have spanned the Contemporary genre (Little Earthquakes, Scarlets Walk), Classical (Night of Hunters) and even World music (The Beekeeper).
Having recently released her brand new album, Unrepentant Geraldines, Tori has taken back to the road to deliver songs from the new album and from her 22 year career to fans. The Unrepentant Geraldines World Tour makes stops in Europe, North America and South Africa before heading down under where the singer will play a series of unique shows across Australia including a special performance at Sydney’s iconic Opera House with the Sydney Symphony in November.
While she was in Istanbul, Turkey, we got to chat with Tori on the phone where we discussed her new album Unrepentant Geraldines, the singer-songwriters creative process and what she has in store for fans when she touches down in Australia later this year. Here is what she had to tell us…
Brendon Veevers: Hi Tori, how are you doing?
Tori Amos: Hi Brendon! I’m really good thank-you.
BV: Where are we talking to you from today Tori?
TA: I’m in Istanbul at the moment on tour. Where in Australia are you?
BV: I’m in Sydney!
TA: Oh wow, Sydney! That’s exciting because the Sydney Symphony have invited me to play with them and that’s what the Sydney Opera House show in November will be. I’ll be playing with them for part of it and then it will be me doing this one woman show for the other part of it. I’m so excited. When they invited me I just started jumping up and down.
BV: That’s great news! So I want to start by asking you about your new album. You recently released your 14th studio album, Unrepentant Geraldines. The name of the record suggests an unapologetic theme. Can you tell us how you came to calling the record Unrepentant Geraldines and what it means to you?
TA: Really, when you get down to it, at a certain point you’ve got to stop apologizing for learning and growing and changing. You and I might talk about something today and when I see you in a few weeks my lens might have seen many other points of view so that when I bump into you again, my viewpoint on something might have shifted and we always don’t allow for that with each other. I hear a lot of “well you said this” and “you said that” and I’ve learned that you can still keep learning and changing. I think there was such a liberating moment when I turned 50; I didn’t come up with this until after I’d turned 50; Unrepentant Geraldines hadn’t been written – and I thought “Right, at age 50 it is time to be unrepentant for the idea that you’re gonna change and grow and learn” That’s part of life!
BV: Over the past few years you appear to have been on quite a journey musically with the release of a seasonal album (Midwinter Graces), a classically inspired record (Night of Hunters), a classically re-imagined hits collection (Gold Dust) and a West End musical with The Light Princess. What’s that journey been like and have you found that journey to be personally and professionally influential?
TA: Yes, all of those records have been a huge influence. I mean, it’s really changed the way I think and it expanded me – all those collaborations I’ve had. They have all really made me think about narrative and story and how to tell the story. I was exposed to so much through all different genres and it had me looking at structures. It has really been life changing, these past few years, in such an incredible way and it gave me a fresh viewpoint.
BV: It’s been 22 years since your Little Earthquakes debut. How are you feeling about yourself as an artist and your position within the industry?
TA: I’m not looking back. You’ve got to be present. In order to be vital I think you’ve got to be focused and have your eye on what you’re doing in the moment. That’s where the vitality comes from because if you’re living in the past then sometimes there a lethargy that can set in.
Sometimes when you go see performers that have had 14 albums or whatever, it’s possible that you go and see them and say, well “it doesn’t feel very electric”, “I don’t feel blown away”, “I don’t feel a force of energy here” because they’re not present with it.
I think that in order to have vitality in your performance and in your work that you have to be really present.
BV: The new album takes us back to pop/rock territory. Is this a genre that you feel the most comfortable and natural writing and recording within or is it a genre that you feel is able to allow you to stretch yourself more as an artist?
TA: I think the contemporary genre is very broad but I think you have to be willing to not chase the commercial game because I’ve been very fortunate that I have a fan-base that will say “as long as you keep challenging yourself, we’ll be open to it” whereby if you’re on the pop path, that can be quite restrictive.
A lot of times the pop path isn’t always the most artistic path and that really doesn’t fascinate me because I think as an artist there are a lot of restrictions there in order for you to play that game whereas I have been really fortunate that I can expand and express myself with all these different styles of music and still be allowed to continue, you know? I don’t take it for granted.
BV: While your music caries a strong Americana feel to it, you actually live in Cornwall. In what ways do you think Cornwall as a surrounding has influenced your song writing?
TA: I think that, well, the studios there and that means there are not a lot of distractions. It’s very different to the writing process because the writing process happens when I’m out travelling and when I’m on the road. I go on writing jobs to pilgrimage and write.
I don’t write in Cornwall, that’s just where we record the records, you know. Cornwall is really clear. When I say that I mean that there is not a lot of thought pollution because were in the middle of agricultural land so there is not a lot of, you know, inundation of thoughts and ideas – you can think for yourself, you can think your own thoughts. And we put a lot of time into the recording of the records and are able to do that there because it’s my husband’s recording studio, Martian.
BV: Your husband of 16 years also plays a professional role as your sound engineer. Is it difficult to draw a line between your personal and professional lives?
TA: I think that when you work together and when you are creative it can be very passionate (laughs). He just walked past me and made me laugh.
You know, sometimes it gets fiery in that studio. But, also, you need somebody that you can trust that says “look, you don’t have it yet. You need to go and do it again” and I’m quite dependent on him as a team player. I mean, he gives me some feedback on things that sometimes I really don’t want to hear and that can be uncomfortable but it’s also really fun and inspiring. We push each other.
BV: We have seen you live numerous times over the years and we are amazed at your ability to play two pianos at once, tap a tambourine with your spare foot and sing flawlessly all at the same time. Is this a technique that took time for you to perfect?
TA: It’s something I’ve done for a long time but I also think that discipline plays a role. I practice for a couple of hours each day and I think that you have to have your technique very strong and I think you have to be energetically in the space.
The songs give me the energy to be really present with them and you have to allow your entire body to be taken over by the songs. You are really a vessel, you know? You’re a container for the energy that comes through so you have to step in and out of these different roles from being the wife and mother and then when I take to the stage I’m the musician and it’s a very different kind of energy force that you are working with and so you have to be really grounded. You don’t play from your hands; you play from your core. And also, you let the piano play you and that really gives you another type of synergy, you know? Then it becomes a relationship between the instrument, the songs and yourself and that’s what gives you the strength to do it.
BV: While most artists perform the same set list each night when they go on tour, you mix things up by playing a different set list. Is each set list chosen on the spot or do you plan ahead? Is this also a way for you to keep things fresh for yourself and fans who come to numerous shows?
TA: It works on every level because people are engaged then. It’s going back to the idea of keeping present. If you’re present, that’s where the changes can be made and where shifts can happen.
If you’re doing a show that you do every night, going through the same routine, that routine means that you can be kept in the past. You’re physically there but you are mentally not there.
To do a song that I’ve never done before I have to be so focused and I sometimes mess it up but don’t you see, it really racks the stakes up and when you rack the stakes up you are creating more of an opportunity for narrative and drama to happen so that’s when it sort of becomes a chemical and electric thing. I am at those stage doors and I’m hearing peoples requests and while I can’t do everyone’s requests, because I can only work a couple of things up in a sound check, I can’t work 5 things up because it’s impossible because I’m having to get my head around the songs and I’m having to relearn and rearrange songs from old records. If I haven’t played it at a show yet then it probably means that I haven’t gotten my head around it yet.
So, I can work a couple of things up – 1 cover maybe that would be new and 1 of my songs. I get a two hour sound check to work out those songs and figure out all of the other songs I’m gonna play along with the requests, but don’t you see, that’s what makes it so fun. It turns up the frequency and the excitement. It’s what gives you the rush and it’s what gives the audience the rush because they’re engaged. So, it is a conversation that needs to happen.
BV: You are known for your very complex songs and thought provoking lyricism. Can you talk to us a little more about your creative process. How does a Tori Amos record come to life – what are the steps?
TA: The songs drive everything so I have to go write the songs but that happens while life happens; while I’m on the road, usually. Then I will usually play Mark some songs and I will then get some clarity on which songs seem to be coming together and which ones aren’t and you know, its collaborative in that way. I work with him in a very intimate way.
Then we start arranging things and things really go from there. Because it’s his studio we don’t have to book time in because it’s a private studio. We can decide to record something whenever we want and there’s a lot of liberty and freedom in that. It makes it more organic.
BV: So going back to the tour, what are the plans for a tour of Australia?
TA: We come over in November. We finish Europe, do South Africa, do America and we’ll be there in November. It will be this one-woman show. There are plenty of covers to be done and the idea is to make each show unique.
The Sydney show, because the Symphony will be there, that will be what that show is – it will be kind of unusual from all the others but each day I’m at the stage door everywhere in Australia and I’ll be taking those requests and hopefully a couple of new ones will go in every night.
BV: Thanks so much Tori.
TA: Oh, you are wonderful. Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.
Tori Amos’ brand new album Unrepentant Geraldines is out now.
Tori will be playing the following dates as part of her Australian Tour this November:
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE, SYDNEY – TUESDAY NOVEMBER 1
PALAIS THEATRE, MELBOURNE – SATURDAY NOVEMBER 15
HER MAJESTY’S THEATRE, ADELAIDE – SUNDAY NOVEMBER 16
RIVERSIDE THEATRE, PERTH – TUESDAY NOVEMBER 18
QPAC CONCERT HALL, BRISBANE – FRIDAY NOVEMBER 21
TICKETS ON SALE 10AM FRIDAY JULY 18
My Live Nation pre-sale: 1pm Monday July 14 until 5pm Tuesday July 15
Ticket Agent pre-sale: 1pm Wednesday July 16 until 5pm Thursday July 17