Tori Amos

Tori Amos

This piece appeared in the Sunday Independent on March 13, 2005


THE real stars let you cool your heels before they’ll see you. Meeting Tori Amos involved a slow progression up the hierarchy of soft furnishings in the Westbury. We started in the less-than-plush chairs on the ground floor. Then, a tense 45 minutes in the enormous leather armchairs in the upstairs lobby. This was followed by a further 15 minutes on the even-more-lavishly padded settee outside her room.

Finally, we were beckoned into her cavernously-vast suite. The lady herself was apparently finishing a thought in the other room and the photographer, anxious to get a good picture, asked that I stretch out on the couch and pretend I was Tori Amos. Exhausted from so much sitting, and by now slightly incredulous that this interview would ever take place, I was happy to comply. I was just perfecting my pout when a familiar figure peered though a crack in the door.

“Er, hiiiiiii, what’s going on in here?” she asked, one eyebrow arched. I jumped to my feet and offered a stammered, suddenly ridiculous-sounding explanation.

“That’s OK,” the Cornflake Girl purred, effortlessly slipping into the groove I had made in her couch, “I do that sometimes too. Pretend to be me, I mean.”

As we began to chat, I start to see what she means. Tori Amos is famous for being unconventional. Her sometimes-impenetrable lyrics, esoteric themes and untamed red hair have meant that she has been continuously labelled “kooky” – an established industry euphemism for “female and slightly nuts, but in a sweet, commercially-viable way”. Her new album contains a duet with Damien Rice entitled The Power of Orange Knickers, but in person, she mostly eschews such wacky whimsy. There is an edge to Tori Amos.

“I played kooky for the British,” she tells me wearily. “As a woman, and as a singer-songwriter, that’s the only way I could get them to accept me. But I think that view of me has been changing for some people since I did Strange Little Girls (her 2001 albumin which she performed covers of songs written by male songwriters).

“Especially the Eminem cover. (’97 Bonnie and Clyde tells the story a man dumping the body of his dead wife – considered by some people to be the most misogynistic song in Eminem’s catalogue). The ones who thought they had locked their doors at night, the ones who were dancing in that woman’s blood; I smelled their asses out,” she adds.

But it was the cover of a song written by another man – Kurt Cobain – that made Tori’s last gig in Ireland especially memorable. On the night the Nirvana frontman killed himself she took to the stage at the Olympia and sang a haunting, pared-down version of Smells like Teen Spirit while some in the crowd wept openly. A decade on, she has made a second home in Cork and is to perform in Dublin in support of her new concept album The Beekeeper. So what can we expect?

“It’s about the greatest story never told,” she tells me. “The Beekeeper is about the creative mothers, whose stories have been suppressed. I’m talking about people like Mary Magdalene – women whose stories were played down or in some cases completely written out of the Bible. I’m a daughter of the Christian Church (her father is a Methodist minister) and I want to attack this false Christianity, and the fake methodology that lead to it.”

The Beekeeper represents a stylistic departure for Tori Amos. Her acrobatic, Kate Bush-esque voice was made famous singing intensely personal songs, often accompanied by a solitary piano. Here, she presents a more layered sound, and the lyrics are much more political.

“Well, I suppose on my earlier albums I was looking inward. This record is very personal too, but it’s also looking outward. “The flame-haired songstress was one of the few artists not to cancel tours after America invaded Iraq – and on the album, she deals with her experiences of that tour.

“This war has been hugely divisive. I’ve known couples who have separated over it,” she tells me. Tori speaks very slowly and occasionally lurches into therapy-speak, but saves herself from becoming overly earnest with a wry, and sometimes filthy, sense of humour.

“I guess you could say that I’m looking at a different kind of Bush now that I’ve discovered the distance between my navel and my own personal hedgerow,” she tells me, laughing wickedly. Now 41, and married with a child, Tori seems to have come to terms with issues which have haunted her in the past, such as her well-documented rape at the age of 23.

“I have good Bordeaux with my demons,” she tells me. “They’re showing me how not to be a victim.”

As we prepare to leave, Tori wonders aloud if someone would have time to pop over to Marks and Spencers to buy a denim skirt – she spied it on ‘Tori . . . saves herself from becoming overly earnest with a wry, and sometimes filthy, sense of humour’

another journalist earlier that day. But she’s already late for her sound check and her make-up artist goes quite pale at the thought of a trawl through Grafton Street.

Amused at the thought of Tori Amos attending award shows clad in Marks and Sparks, I offer to try and save the day by locating the coveted garment, if she’ll describe it. It’s a miniskirt I’m told, and it’s denim, with buttons up the side. Sounds more Paris Hilton than Dublin Westbury. Kooky it certainly ain’t. I might have started waiting around the lobby like a hooker but by the time we’d finished in her suite, Tori Amos was calling me her “style pimp”. And she is one entertaining trick.


~ by Donal Lynch on February 29, 2008.

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