Tori Amos gave several different organizations the opportunity to participate in a round table discussion in Buffalo on March 13. When Amos arrived she walked around to each of us, leaned over looked us directly in the eye and shook our hands. She had our attention from that point on.
Round Table: Do individual writers as opposed to artists influence you?Tori Amos: I look a lot to visual artists, I started doing that maybe about 12 years ago. Before that I was mainly influenced by other musicians, when I first began.
Then writers without music became part of my world. You start with the musicians when you’re young and you take in as much as you can. At a certain point I realized I had to reach further.
I started thinking there’s another medium that I’m really missing out on here. So I developed a kind of library somewhere. I am continually bringing in books from all over the world and I don’t know all of their names, it’s that diverse.
I surround the piano in the piano room with the books. And a lot of the times I am just pushing myself to try and have a conversation with the photographs or the paintings and its opened my musical vocabulary up.
RT: Is it hard for you to balance your sex symbol appeal versus your substance as a songwriter? Does it disturb you how some people judge for external qualities?
TA: You’re so cute. What sex symbol appeal? You know what, now if you would have asked me this question in 1994 I really don’t know what I would have said to you. At that time I would walk off stage and become completely segregated form the person that played.
I think that was where I was at that time because of my life and my choices. I put all of that imagination and other life into the music and on stage. And when it was time to come off the stage I had a twisted half-life.
Not to go into detail, but it got very disturbing and that’s why I wrote “Boys for Peel.” I think that making “Boys for Peel” — whatever it did or didn’t do for people — it was a huge move for me personally. I guess it was professionally, too, because there weren’t any heads on it.
It was a trying point for me so that I can sit in front of you today. I decided that I had to walk off stage and take that person with me, back stage, back into my bedroom, my kitchen.
RT: Would you ever consider collaborating with Neil Gaiman on some sort of bigger project like, maybe rock music of a film and you scored it?
TA: Don’t think that we haven’t sat on the banks of many an ocean and talked about it. Let’s face it he’s a cornerstone in my life. He’s a spiritual brother. He is very much, as you know, an influence and a friend. The only question is — would we kill each other? And that’s a big question.
You know friendship is sometimes the one thing holding us back. Friendship is so lean, meaning that when you have a good one do you test it like that? We’re still on the fence because sometimes you come out on the other side. Look at Webber and Rice. I mean it’s different ’cause they wrote songs and we wouldn’t be doing that. It’s one of those things you have to think about. It’s not a little thing you’re asking and I know you know that.
RT: Obviously for any mother pregnancy can alter things. I wanted to know how being pregnant and carrying a child affected you musically, afterward and before?
TA:I think you have hindsight of course that we are able to sit here. Being pregnant probably healed a lot of previously unhealed stuff. Like the stuff we were talking about.
I think that just the act of becoming a beached whale, can blow out a lot of stuff. I mean you would be amazed how, because it wasn’t about having a child, having a little person meant [to] me. It was about being in a damaged place that had so much poison, to be able to create life it was a huge transformation chemically. To have this area as a woman means something other then abusiveness or manipulation, or seduction or you know the dark art.
Dabbling in all that energy by becoming a mother was a sense of servitude to creation that I think might have just healed me and I think I forgave myself just by sitting on my egg for nine and a half months. It changed me in a way that I can’t even calculate.
RT: Your words are very intense and very personal, do you ever think that your fans are missing your point? I mean your lyrics are very open to interpretation, do you ever feel that your fans are interpreting them in ways that you haven’t intended?
TA: I read a [writer’s comments] not that long ago, about people reading her work. I had done the thing that she was criticizing. I kind of pulled back and thought she never wants to come between the work itself and the reader.
That day she felt she had been burned. Let’s face it we don’t write alone and if you do, good luck. As writers we have to let the work live. I’m humbled by people pointing out symbols that I didn’t really get. And as a writer I think it just takes so much stress off you to let it live.
It’s none of our business what people do with it afterwards. People are having their own relationships with it. I find that when you try to explain it and when you try to control it, oh my God, you begin a web of what am I doing.
RT: I wanted to know if you did anything special for this year’s Valentine’s Day or how involved [Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network] was?
TA: RAINN has a continuing kind of commitment, I think what is really important about RAINN is that it becomes bigger than any of the people that contribute to it. It’s a place for tears from pain and from joy. I try to walk a delicate balance between becoming overly emotionally involved. When you contribute to something you have to not be taken from it.
Talk about a society taking responsibility for what it’s doing. But it doesn’t, therefore we have to find ways to keep it going.
When you think about RAINN it’s not about one person or any one event. It’s not about the ego, it’s about the unity.
RT: Being a mother, do you think it will effect you musically, in the way you write your songs?
TA: Well sure, because when you put somebody on the earth… Some mothers don’t put their children first just because maybe they become mothers too young and they are resentful. So it’s different. It’s a different dynamic, not all mother and daughter relationships are great.
I’m an older mother and I had three miscarriages and as painful as they were I would not wish them on my enemy, much less a friend. I do think it has made me value life and children in a way that I didn’t before. I mean I am a little embarrassed to say that when I was pregnant the first time I was planning the tour.
McGuire can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.