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 --
Yes --

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.

Government forces?
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!

Of course.
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.