Catching Up With Tori Amos

Catching Up With Tori Amos

Tori Amos has been called a lot of things over the last 20 years -- piano prodigy, queen of the kooks, survivor, mother, cult leader -- but there's one word she's always managed to steer clear of: predictable. There isn't a genre she hasn't dabbled in -- from electronica to big band to rap -- and for Night of Hunters, her 12th studio album and her first with classical music label Deutsche Grammophon, the singer-songwriter wrote a 21st-century song cycle inspired by classical pieces spanning the last 400 years and recruited a chamber orchestra -- and her 10-year-old daughter Tash -- to record it.

Amos recently phoned us from her Florida home to chat about the new album, why she doesn't go on the Internet, and her daughter introducing her to The Real Housewives of New York. She also requests your help in choosing songs for her next tour.

Out: To me, the first half of your catalog is made up of albums filled with really personal, autobiographical songs. The second half seems as though it's been more about storytelling and characters. Night of Hunters appears to straddle that line. Where was your head at when you were writing it, and how much of you is present in the storyline?
Tori Amos: We've known each other a long time, so we have a shorthand of talking. You ask me things that other people might not ask me and I answer things for you that I might not answer for other people, and instead, I'd just segue into conversations about shoes or wine because things are personal on the album and sometimes they're closer to the bone than others. Sometimes they're inspired by other people and other situations that people are going through. I think that because so much change is happening so quickly to so many people, I kind of pulled back and thought that it was time to investigate how a relationship shattering doesn't necessarily mean that it's a dying relationship. It could mean that the relationship is just at a crossroads. I began to see a lot of people were being traumatized by what was going on in the world. Because of these things -- whether people were losing their jobs or a family member going off the rails or a death -- I saw that it was putting strain on people's relationships and so these are hard times. I don't remember them being this hard before.

Look at the last week alone, with the riots in the London and the stock market here.
It's crazy right now and people's lives are changing in a day. With what happened in Oslo? I've been to Oslo many times and you would never think that carnage would be coming out of that city. If you had made me list 100 cities [where that could happen], Oslo wouldn't have been on it. It's hard to predict where the next tragedy is going to happen, but there's another side to when these things happen -- there's a place of looking at your own life and how you want to make changes and what changes you want to make if you're still alive. If you have another day, would you still be doing the exact same things tomorrow as today? So I decided when Deutsche Grammophon approached me to write a 21st-century song cycle, the hitch was that it would be based on classical themes. I looked at their doctor of musicology and thought This is not a small task. And she said, "I know you've been working on the musical, so you should be able to apply narrative to this project." And I said, "Well, yeah, I think I can do that, but the worrying thing is messing with the masters! That's more disconcerting." So I decided to take it to a place that I understood and a place that has mythology, because good song cycles -- there's a level of otherworldliness -- that's why it works. To me, if it doesn't have a poetic subtext going on, and the characters don't come in that take us on some kind of spiritual quest, then I don't think it will last for 50 years or 100 years. It has to transcend time in a way -- and yet reflect the time you're in.

And it's a natural extension of what you've been doing with mythology throughout you're entire career. Look at Boys for Pele.
In some ways, I've been working with myth all along. It excites me. It's potent, it's in all of us. Some people might not realize what archetypes are working through them because they haven't opened themselves to it, but we all have different combinations of archetypes within us.

All of the message boards are going crazy because though they haven't heard the album yet, they've read your track by track explanation, and there's a lot of speculation about the songs being fed by your own personal life -- especially questions about the state of your marriage. Do you think that's unfair?
I can't control it. I know that. That's OK. When they hear it, though, that's when you really get a sense of what's going on. Because the love that this woman clearly has for this man is very deep. Each person has to decide in their mind if they're going to stay together and if this crisis was really about each of them looking at their lives and making their changes. All of us have to do that to make a relationship work. You have to be working as a whole person. So if you've let yourself down or if you've become disempowered for whatever reason or if you've become so affected by the traumas that are happening in the world that you're not functioning in the relationship, then things are going to break down. But that doesn't mean that you don't love the other person.

It's a good thing I don't go on the Internet. If I did, I don't know what I'd do. I don't know what I'd do! It takes a lot of discipline, but I know that it's a pact I made in order to be a good mom and a good friend to myself and a good wife. I have to resist studying that kind of stuff. Because if I did, I wouldn't get ready for the tour. I know other artists who do, and I don't want to mention any names because that's not fair. But I know people that really study it. And it affects their decisions and I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Because I wonder Are you an artist that's completely in touch with your instincts and listening to the muses, or are you going by public opinion? And you might say to me, "Yeah, but maybe public opinion has a point to make." I get public opinion easily on the tour. I see enough people and run into enough people on the tour, and I have a think tank. I have people. Before any work is released, there are people that have heard it and I've made my adjustments and corrections within the process. And obviously Mark [Hawley, Amos's husband and sound engineer] is part of that think tank and we've been together a long time. We've been married for over 13 years and we've been working together since he did front of house on Under the Pink. Yes, we're still together. He said, "People are going to have all kinds of questions because this is a very emotional record." And I think we felt the rawness of it. But Tash [Amos's 10-year-old daughter who is also featured on Night of Hunters] hasn't really thought that. When she sees us, she just sees that we're mom and dad doing our thing -- in her mind, she's not looking at it like the public on the message boards. She sees mom and dad are still together and they're inappropriately kissing in the kitchen. It's like, "Get a room!"

What do you do when you you're not being "Tori Amos the musician"? Are you on P.T.A. for Tash's school? Do you watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey?
I actually sat with Tash at Easter and watched The Real Housewives of New York from the beginning. She said, "Mom, you're going to get addicted!" I sat there eating popcorn watching the whole thing -- I couldn't believe it -- from early morning until late at night. My sister was flying in and we were waiting for her to show up and it wasn't a great day outside and so we watched an entire season! It was crazy! But I couldn't watch it ever again. I said, "I can't do this, Tash -- I'll never work again!" I have a musical to get together. But I do work a lot, I won't lie to you. I'm not on the P.T.A. -- Mark handles everything at the school. She's in a British school, so he deals with all things British -- which is good.

What's the deal with Kate Borkowski? There are rumors going around that you are her mentor, and there are rumors going around that you've never even heard of her.
Hmmmm. Is she a writer?

She's a musician who recorded some of her new album with Marcel van Limbeek [Amos's longtime mixing engineer] -- some of it on the piano in the Martian Recording Studio in Cornwall, which I know is available to be rented by the public and you have nothing to do with that. But she's written a song about you and her interest in you and the way she mimics your mannerisms in her interviews is obsessive -- to put it mildly.
I don't know her. I know that Marcel worked with her.

But you're not mentoring her?
No! I'd be shocked if she played on one of the pianos in Cornwall. Hold on a second, let me ask Mark about this. [Amos puts down phone and returns after several seconds]. Apparently she played one of the B'sendorfers in Cornwall, but that's news to me. The crew has a lot of projects they work on when I'm not around. That album was just something Marcel did when we were off traveling somewhere else.

Your dad is now releasing music, too.
Apparently so! [Laughs] I know about Ed Amos's song' um' um'

"Hello Mr. Dollar!"
Yes! He's always had a point of view. He's a very motivational preacher. I feel like this an extension of his preaching.

It feels like that.
I said, "I'd be careful about using the word 'musician,' dad, because there are people who are 83 years old that have been playing their instruments for 80 years. But to call yourself a poet? That's fair and respectful."

Tell me about the upcoming tour.
I'm not doing Night of Hunters as a complete song cycle every night. I don't get Tash and I don't get Kelsey [Dobyns, who also sings on the album's title track] and I figure people coming to the shows more than once will get tired of that really quickly. Also, you can't respond to what's happening in the world unless all the songs are there on the palette. Some songs will be alone at the piano -- if they're not orchestrated that doesn't mean they won't get played -- unless it's "Datura," of course [laughs].

What's up with that? Are you ever going to play it?
I don't know [somewhat wearily]. I don't know how I'd do it! I might one day -- I have to do it one day but this isn't the tour to do it. I'd have to have all the flowers. But, yes, we are looking at all the songs from all the records to be arranged for the quartet. We have our "A list" -- but I really want you to get the Out readers to tell us which ones they want to hear and then send it to me. I've done my "A list," but I haven't done my "B list" or my "C list."

That's amazing. We'll have them leave their suggestions in the comment section. People are already talking about what they want to hear.
Well, what do you want to hear?

"Father Lucifer" -- you've changed the arrangement of that song so many times, I'd love to hear what you'd do with it now.
That's a great idea. What else?

"Flying Dutchman."
That'd be very challenging. But yes, I need to consider that. We've just done the "A list." When I say "A," it doesn't mean my favorites, it means different tempos -- it is a grouping of songs from the catalog that I thought would work with songs from the new record. For instance, one song from the new record that won't be ready to go when we start the tour is "Battle of Trees." That's going to be one of the hardest ones to achieve -- it's sort of like "Datura" -- without the flowers [laughs]. It has to be arranged for quartet. It was originally arranged for octet.

Do you want to reveal a few titles that made the "A list" to whet fans' appetites?
I'll tell you what might make the "B list": "Ribbons Undone," "Pandora['s Aquarium]," "Siren," and possibly "God." That might make the "B list." The reason that's not making the "A list" is because the songs on the "A list" are all "ground-up," meaning if I recorded it with the Metropole [Orchestra] or it had strings on it originally, then it has a chance to make the "A list" because we have to have enough songs to have a full repertoire for an hour and a half show or whatever by September. And we only have five days of rehearsal. So those songs that made the "A list" aren't necessarily the songs that I wanted to do first. There are a few, without mentioning any names, that have never had an arrangement, and I said they have to be the ones that we do ground-up first because I need them to tell my story. And each night it has to be a little bit of a different narrative but one that still works with the idea of a shattering that happens, and then each night we find something. And depending on what's happening in the world, we don't know what fragments we need to reclaim. It might be compassion, it might be intelligence, it might be fury. That's what the woman is doing in Night of Hunters -- she's reclaiming parts of her soul. It's easy to blame other people in your life, whether it's friends or people you work with. But let's be honest -- a lot of times you blame the person you're in love with. Especially if you've been in love with them for a long time. If we were as respectful to our partners as we were to complete strangers at Benihana [laughs] -- everyone is so respectful at fucking Benihana, and then you're thinking What are you saying to your lover when you get in your car? It's about being aware of how you treat the people you say you love. We forget that.

To suggest a song you'd like to hear Amos play on her upcoming fall tour, leave a comment below. We will forward all suggestions to her at the end of the month.

Night of Hunters is in stores September 20. For more info on Tori Amos, including upcoming tour dates, visit her official website and follow her on Twitter.

Tags: Music