Songs In The Key Of Sin
By Noah Michelson
-- But you didn�t seem like your usual self.
When was this?
Last May. And I heard that recently when you were playing the SXSW festival some fans yelled, �Welcome back!� and you responded, �Thank you. It�s been a rough couple of years.� What were you referring to? Were you talking about record label woes?
No. That�s just part of being a professional artist. You�re going to have the drama. [Epic Records] wasn�t a good place for me to be. It�s good for some people but it wasn�t supportive for artistry at the time. But now I�m with [Monte Lipman and Doug Morris at Universal Records] and they�re really into creators. There are all kinds of people over there. I�ve known Doug since the mid-80s. He looked at me and he said, �I know what you do. You�re at a home now where I don�t want you to be anybody but Tori and I want you to do what you do.�
That�s a gift.
That�s a huge gift. And I think in your life you don�t always get to be with your mentor. And maybe because we were apart for 14 years -- we didn�t even speak. It wasn�t a bad thing. He left Warner Bros. -- he will tell you he was kicked out of the system, locked out of his office -- and then built this empire. And while he was building his empire I was meeting other people. And thank God I did because I met some amazing people. But a lot of people -- as soon as I met them, they would be axed. So I would just get to know somebody and then after seven months they�re gone! So it was just me, Johnny [Witherspoon, her manager] and Chelsea [Laird, also her manager] really, and my crew and my team and the musicians but sometimes you�re just sitting there thinking, �Why am I handing my work over to these people who only see it as product?� It wasn�t music. You know if people are excited about music or if they�re just there to get the stock shares. And I was not in the right place. But some of those people are gone and they have a new group [over at Epic] and they�ve sent us really wonderful well wishes, but at the time they weren�t there. What I would say to you when you talked to me in May was that I was in a terrible place. And during the last two years a lot has happened. But I wouldn�t have written this record if I hadn�t been pushed -- for all kinds of reasons. I don�t want to go into all of it but �Maybe California� doesn�t come from nowhere. You�re not able to write that by having a drink with somebody who�s had the experience and you haven�t. You have to be pushed to that place. And I figure if I could be pushed to that place, then other women have been pushed to that place.
We�ve seen it before with a lot of mothers. There isn�t always a lot of support out there for them. And sometimes they just snap.
Maybe we�re getting somewhere that I haven�t gotten to before in interviews. Maybe because we�ve been programmed to be mothers in a certain way. And somehow, it�s all good and well talking about being a mistress in the bedroom and a mother at play group, but in life and in reality your responsibilities change when you�re bringing up another life. Maybe the last record helped me break down certain images I have of myself, but then events can happen to you that you just don�t expect. Things happen to all of us that seem like this is a time that people are being pushed. Where I�m pushed, you could maybe sail right through. And vice versa. But yeah -- the last year and a half or two years, just circumstances seemed to happen.
But they got you to where you are now --
You have a new album, you�re creating, you seem to be thriving doing what you want to do --
I�m on my front foot, not on my back foot. There was a place when I think I was being defeated by circumstances but I�ve made a lot of changes in my life -- Universal Records is only one of them. So many aspects of my life -- Mark [Hawley, her husband and sound engineer], Tash [her daughter], and I are [clasps hands together] but there were moments when it was us against the world and questions about -- I have strong, strong ties to America. Strong. This is my home. England is not my home. And I really have been pushed to recognize that you can live in places for years and you�re not home. I�m learning that you can live somewhere but you�re really a guest there. And once you come to terms with it -- that you�re not accepted there and that you�re there because you love somebody -- you realize there are a lot of sacrifices that you made for love. So does that put strain? Of course it does. And especially if there are outside forces -- government forces -- loading their guns at you.
You have to figure -- I travel and play all over the world and governments are broke right now. So don�t you think they�re trying to come after people? And I�ve been caught between two governments. So this has forced me to learn about the power they have. �Police Me,� �Strong Black Vine� [from Abnormally Attracted to Sin] -- you think you�re in the West, you think you�re a part of a system of justice, but my God, what I�ve had to do in order to -- I mean, I have the strength to fight a government. Luckily mine is on my side.
But that�s the thing -- it�s the old clich�: if you can come through these tests you end up all the better for it --
You do, but people kill themselves over stuff like this!
When I wrote [Abnormally Attracted to Sin first single] �Welcome To England,� England can be anywhere. It just so happens to be biographical because Mark is British. These forces were loading their guns and I was touring -- I almost don�t want to say where I was because then that fucking tax man is going to say, �You wrote it in our country!� Anyway, I got a phone call telling me, �These guys are coming after you� and I thought But I�m an American and I�ve always done the right thing! Nobody cares. Nobody cares! That�s why in the visualette there�s Tori in an American flag jumpsuit because whether you are going to your partner�s home or are around his friends -- it can be a country or it can just be going out to dinner and you just know I am not accepted! They don�t want me here! And you try so hard to fit in and you start chopping off pieces of yourself to get along and you wonder where�s the sage and the tobacco and the sacred smoke? Because the ancestors are not here -- they�re just not here! You begin to say, �There are people I like and there are things I like but in order for me to claim myself I just realized I�ve got to get on a plane and go back to what is my power spot.�
And that�s America?
I see myself more as a citizen of earth and I�m not an expat -- I�m just not. And to be one of those Americans who knows �I�m a guest� [in England] -- I�ve probably outstayed my welcome as far as the British government goes. But being forced to make a choice and then waking up one day and realizing you�re forced to make that choice or it�s being made for you and you�re saying, �Hang on a minute!� You can�t just choose. So when you talked to me things were black and that�s before a whole second part of the record got written and developed when I came back to the states for Comic-Con. And I was on my home ground where I wrote Little Earthquakes and there was a metamorphosis that happened. I passed by that little house where I wrote it and I thought, I took on a lot back then -- I can take this on. I can fight. But I had lost how to fight. I had to change everything to fight -- all kinds of people had to change. The one thing that kept me going was the love that Tash and Mark had for me. I just saw that I was becoming totally devastated and beaten. Look at the system and what the system has done and the way that people are so enslaved. And you look at Obama -- and I know he�s one man but can he turn around the subjugation of the masses to the way the system is? You know, the tax system -- you have to be a fucking brain surgeon to figure it out. And I just think people are so burdened in our day-to-day existence -- how can relationships survive when you�re thinking, Oh my God! The mortgage and the bills and the loans and the credit cards and the -- Fuck! And so it�s not just the sexual programming, it�s everything that has to crumble.