Piano goddess Tori Amos dishes on her upcoming tour and titillates us with her musings on politics, sexuality and why lesbians love her
Tori Amos knows women. OK, maybe not biblically, but nonetheless she’s symbolically and artistically filling the shoes of five of them on her new album American Doll Posse (Epic/Sony BMG). Since her solo career took off in the early ‘90s, Tori has spread the message of girl power with her provocative and politically charged opuses. GO caught up with Tori during a leg of her European tour and dug a little deeper into what makes this siren tick (and tickle the ivories).
GO: American Doll Posse is a concept album of sorts on which you adopt the roles of five different female characters. How does each of the characters embody the album's message?
Tori Amos: Isabel, who is loosely based on Artemis, is focused on how political decisions affect the personal lives of average people. She’s also extremely aware of earth changes and the potential problems ahead for us as a species if we don’t address these issues. Pip is a modern warrior patterned after Athena. She is in the process of learning how to channel her anger. She can also see, in some cases, the painful reality of where a person actually is in their development opposed to where “we” may want that person to be. Santa, who contains the character type Aphrodite, understands and embodies the marriage of sacred sexuality. Beauty and sensuality both live in her realm, as does the art of seduction. Clyde carries the Persephone archetype whose realm of mysticism and the transmutation of the victim essence is being defined on the ADP tour with modern symbology. Demeter has been integrated into the Tori on this project.
Does a character or persona present itself to you in the writing process and create the music? Or do the songs come forward and choose their "mother," as you have often referred to your songs as your children?
A sonic and visual work has to be excavated on many levels. Usually the music gives me the clues to the blueprint of a conceptual work, then every detail has to be mined and sculpted for a project to have the effect that I want it to.
You've kicked off a big tour for the new album that hits the U.S. this fall. Tell us about it. Will you be in character?
All the girls, or dolls, have their own wardrobe cases and their own repertoire. The show is divided into two parts: the first being Isabel, Santa, Pip or Clyde and the second being Tori. I don’t decide who is going to take stage before Tori until I get to the venue in that particular city.
So much of your work has focused on women's issues, particularly women's sexuality. How does that fit into this album?
Sexuality is a word that is usually applied to the physical…As we all know, the mental, the spiritual and the emotional side of [sexuality] can be ignored. What happens when these other three important parts of the female essence are marginalized is a one-dimensional expression of sexuality. I see the physical expression of a woman’s sexuality as the cherry on top, so to speak. What is a must in my work is a strong foundation where [all aspects of female sexuality are present]. That way any physical action is supported by substance. The most powerful act that a woman can participate in for herself and by herself is to marry her inner erotica with her inner spirituality. When a woman does this she cannot be shamed or subjugated to a male authority’s ideology. We can be stoned to death in a public square but not subjugated.
Can you comment on how the media continues to marginalize and mock women as evidenced by the heavy publicity given to "train wreck" celebrities like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton? Why isn't more attention paid to artists like yourself who continue to provide a voice that inspires and empowers women?
First of all, you have to be willing to spread your private life open for the world to see your intimate secrets. If you’re not willing to spread, then you don’t end up on the spreadsheets. There’s always been a history of screen goddesses who have captured the imagination of the masses, but even that seems to have become passé in favor of those who haven’t really achieved that status. Perhaps, the less threatening one is, the more that the masses can think, “Oh, I can become her and have her celebrity without too much effort. After all, I can do what she can do just as good as she can,” and maybe that’s the appeal.
I'm sure you know that you have a huge lesbian following. What is it about you and your music that you think the lesbian community responds to?
Well, I’ve always been a girls’ girl and it breaks my heart that we as women can’t be supportive of each other just because we may see things differently. The competition amongst women—and I am guilty of this myself—has divided us as a force to be reckoned within the political arena. If we join forces, putting aside our differences for the betterment and equality of women, then the planet might really benefit from having elected leaders who are trying to act from a conscious perspective. Maybe the lesbian community senses that I ultimately have deep faith in us as women, and in our capabilities and our role in this very difficult and troubled world. When we are distracted as a group from the issues at hand by back-biting and attacking each other, then we are playing into the patriarchy’s plan. I do think the lesbian community recognizes when there’s an authority that covertly or overtly believes that women should be marginalized within the power structure.
American Doll Posse has a political tone, especially in songs like "Yo George." What is your feeling on how today's political climate is shaping the lives of women and LGBT people?
Ultimately, most of those in power at this time rule the masses by having the masses doubt themselves and what they believe in. Shame is a powerful tool. What the LGBT community must do in order to combat the self-righteous morality of those in power is to simply not need the approval of this self-righteous faction. They are never going to approve of a lifestyle that they fear. What the world really needs are leaders that don’t fear the choices of consenting adults. The moral judgment that is pervasive around the world misses everything that Jesus was trying to teach us. Jesus’s teachings were based on acceptance and compassion and an understanding of the word balance. I truly don’t believe in my heart that Jesus would be a part of any of the religious institutions that are prevalent today because these institutions for the most part are not based on these basic principles that Jesus was teaching.
You’re a mom (or a “MILF,” as you say in “Big Wheel”). How do you manage to juggle touring with your family life?
It’s not easy. Touring with a child is not just a minor shift in the way we do things—it is a cataclysmic shift...It’s almost impossible to become completely self-involved when you have a child on the road. The problem with crawling up your own ass is that unless something like becoming a mom happens to you, you may never come out again and stay self-involved and ultimately selfish for the rest of your life. There’s a good balance that happens when you have to meet a child’s needs. There’s only so much decadence you can partake in if you’re going to be present as a mom.
I know you’re married, but our readers are dying to know: If you could imagine being with one woman, who would it be?
I haven’t met her yet!
Be sure to catch Tori on tour this fall. For dates and more info on American Doll Posse, visit toriamos.com.