‘Maybe I’m a dirty girl!’
A quiet chat with the very-not-quiet Tori Amos about writing a musical, playing gay bars as a child and some other fun stuff. Oh, did we say ‘exclusive’ enough?
So, what’s the worst interview you’ve ever had?
Oh, there have been a couple. Well, two in fifteen years anyway. I was pregnant and miscarrying but I didn’t know it yet. It was one of the last interviews I did before I haemorrhaged. He said to me, ‘How do you feel about making a killing by marketing your pain?’
What did you reply?
I think I said, ‘Do you have a book deal? Clearly not. Whatever you want to write about, you need to write about, because you’re very bitter about anyone else who’s writing.’
How did that go down?
We didn’t get along. You could tell he had issues with successful women. The other one was a phoner. He had heard I had a cleaner and asked, ‘How can you, a liberated woman, have a cleaner?’ and I replied, ‘How much do you make a week, sunshine?’ and he said, ‘Why?’ I replied, ‘Because I am telling you right now, my cleaner makes three times the amount you make and you would be so lucky as to be my cleaner. Go fuck yourself.’ Then I just put the phone down.
What’s the concept behind your new album?
I play five different girls. The whole premise is that they recognise you don’t have to play cunt wars all the time, which is just awful.
I was getting gay vibes from Clyde…
Oh, were you? Well, Clyde has been abused. So if you’re going to get any kind of bi-sexual vibe it would probably be from Isobel.
Doesn’t Pip like a bit of rubber too?
Oh yeah. She’s a warrior. Well, they’re all very modern girls. We do have wardrobes for all five. I’ve asked for hand beaded jumpsuits.
Is this just an excuse to extend your wardrobe?
I know it is!
Some critics can be like, ‘Oh no, another Tori Amos record. We don’t know which box to put it in!’
I think that’s right, that’s my intention. We both know a lot of female artists have been destroyed trying different images they couldn’t pull off. For example you’ve got a talented gal, somebody on a record label is chasing a look because it’s working for a few other women and they put a lot of seduction around the idea that, ‘You can carry this off, and this is the way forward for you.’ It doesn’t work, they lose half their audience. Trying this kind of music, trying these clothes, sleeping with that producer.
I haven’t heard that bit before…
Well, we’ve all done it. If you’re doing it when you’re 43 then you’ve got trouble. There’s nothing shocking about all that for me. Maybe I’m a dirty girl. American women are either career minded ball-busters or they’re slags with no style. I don’t think it happens with men in the industry. If a few women are getting on your nerves then all of us get thrown in. If you have three orifices as opposed to two then you’re all in the same boat. Where as guys it’s very different, I don’t think that all men pay for their sins. Oh, I do need to leak something to you…I think I am writing a musical! I’m gushing but I’m under fucking lock and key.
Will you be in it?
That is not my plan. I am writing all the songs. I’m trying to be, who are those guys, I know one of them, Tim Rice…
And Andrew Lloyd-Webber?
Yes, Webber and Rice. I’m trying to be both. So I’m busy. This is such a big project, a double record, twenty three songs and the extras. You need to hear ‘Smokin’ Joe’ about how to kill a man.
How did you start out?
I went to a conservatory until I was 11 then I got booted out because I wasn’t pulling my weight. They only wanted me to learn classical pieces and I was being taught piano by a Catholic nun called Sister Ernestine who would snore through the whole lesson. So my dad recognised I was having a real crisis aged 11 and so he said, ‘What’s going to happen here? You’ve got all this promise and for what. Half your friends are going to be pregnant by the time you’re 16.’ So one night he told me to get dressed in my sister’s clothes to make me look older and took me downtown and asked in various bars if I could play piano. We ended up at Mr. Henry’s, a gay bar, and my father said, ‘I have a daughter who can play piano and she can really play.’ I don’t know who that guy was, but he said, ‘If she can play, she can play for tips. If it doesn’t work in ten minutes then Reverend you need to go.’ I worked for tips and guys would come and sing round the piano.
I read that you worked with Sandra Bernhard.
Yes I did. Very smart woman. At that time in my life, she was gracious, she had a lot of good will; she wasn’t catty with other women, which sometimes you do get.
What’s this about you and Boy George?
Oh, it wasn’t that long ago. Somebody said something who told somebody who told somebody who told somebody that he had said something nice about me.
That’s quite rare!
Is it? Well, I wanted to send him something. Somehow these KISS dolls ended up in the studio and I just thought, ‘You know what I just really think that this would be good for him,’ and so I sent Boy George a KISS doll…
Tori Amos’s new album, American Doll Posse, is out now.