Tori Amos

Twenty-five years af­ter her star­tling break­through al­bum Lit­tle Earth­quakes, Tori Amos re­mains one of our most beloved and be­guil­ing singer-song­writ­ers. Along the way, she scored a won­der­fully scan­dalous dance hit with Pro­fes­sional Widow (“It’s gotta be b

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Tori Amos is a real artist: she starts talk­ing about her “muses” when we ask what in­spired the songs on Na­tive In­vader, her typ­i­cally rich and po­etic new al­bum.

But she’s not grand or de­tached in the way some­one who talks about her “muses” could be. The day be­fore we meet at a smart ho­tel next to Tower Bridge, Tori hap­pily shared screen time with Shane from Westlife on Sun­day Brunch, TV’s most cen­trist dad­friendly show. And she ends our interview by of­fer­ing her very funny (though not very ac­cu­rate) at­tempt at a Bri­tish ac­cent.

That al­bum ti­tle is no glib sound­bite – it’s po­lit­i­cal. “About a year ago, lots of peo­ple with Euro­pean im­mi­grant an­ces­try were talk­ing about how Amer­ica was made for them”, Tori ex­plains care­fully. “And the muses kind of said, ‘What about Amer­ica’s First Na­tions peo­ple? Did you all for­get about them?

Yes, you have. Be­cause... geno­cide.’ Peo­ple weren’t talk­ing about that part of our his­tory be­cause as Amer­i­cans, we haven’t claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for how we treated our First Na­tions peo­ple. And it’s ab­so­lutely shock­ing. Peo­ple were talk­ing about be­ing ‘Amer­i­can na­tives’ when they’re com­pletely of Euro­pean im­mi­grant an­ces­try.

“I’ve got Na­tive Amer­i­can blood in me, but more Euro­pean. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that peo­ple in my fam­ily prob­a­bly stole land from the Na­tive Amer­i­cans.”

The in­jus­tice and hypocrisy of this sit­u­a­tion led Tori to coin the phrase ‘na­tive in­vader’, which ini­tially seems not to make sense.

“So then I thought, ‘Is there a frame where these words that seem to be op­po­sites can live to­gether?’ Well, my daugh­ter Tash is kind of a na­tive in­vader, too – she hung out in ‘mummy condo’ for nine months, rent-free! So I re­alised they can.”

Po­lit­i­cal con­flict is one of many tan­gled threads that make up Na­tive In­vader, but the al­bum is more evoca­tive than ex­plicit. Tori Amos, the wo­man be­hind uniquely al­lur­ing hits like Corn­flake Girl and Cru­cify, is never go­ing to write a song called Don­ald Trump is a Dick­head. To­day, she refers to the pres­i­dent with sear­ing dis­dain: “The master show­man... I don’t men­tion his name.”

But she’s un­der no il­lu­sion about how harm­ful he could be for LGBT+ peo­ple. “Of course your com­mu­nity is un­der at­tack, so the nat­u­ral re­sponse is to fight back”, she tells us. “But the key is al­ways: how does one fight back – and be ef­fec­tive? Be­cause you bet­ter un­der­stand the skill set of this thing you’re try­ing to re­sist. Oth­er­wise, you’ll get trounced.” Or end up scream­ing into a vac­uum? “Ab­so­lutely – and then you’re not achiev­ing any­thing ex­cept laryn­gi­tis.”

Tori’s affin­ity with the LGBT+ com­mu­nity stretches back more than 40 years. At 12 years old, af­ter wil­fully los­ing her pres­ti­gious clas­si­cal pi­ano schol­ar­ship, Tori found a new cre­ative out­let playing at a gay bar in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Her father, a Methodist pas­tor, acted as her chap­er­one. To­day, Tori says she still strug­gles when­ever Chris­tian­ity is used as an ex­cuse for in­tol­er­ance.

“My mom al­ways con­sid­ered her­self a Chris­tian and she wasn’t judge­men­tal. But there are peo­ple who say that be­cause of their re­li­gion, they’re not go­ing to do cer­tain things – like marry a same-sex cou­ple, or bake cakes. And I don’t un­der­stand that. It makes no sense to me and it made no sense to my mother. I can’t tell you what her views were on [equal marriage] be­cause she never spoke about them. But I do know that she was al­ways very lov­ing to any­one from my crew that I in­tro­duced her to, what­ever their sex­u­al­ity.”

Tori’s rec­ol­lec­tions are espe­cially poignant in the light of re­cent fam­ily events. In Jan­uary, her mother Maryellen suf­fered a se­vere stroke which left her un­able to speak.

Any­one who’s seen Tori live will know, schol­ar­ship or not, her pi­ano playing is in­cred­i­ble. On re­cent tours she’s gamely cov­ered ev­ery­thing from Bana­narama’s Cruel Sum­mer to Madonna’s Frozen – and a YouTube video of the lat­ter went vi­ral.

“There’s this lounge lizard in me that likes learn­ing songs be­cause that was my trade for so long”, she says with a smile. “A lot of those songs are re­quests. I re­mem­ber the young lady who re­quested Frozen. That song re­ally meant some­thing to her. I’m para­phras­ing here, but she’d been ill, and the ill­ness had made it so that she was al­most frozen move­men­t­wise. She got bet­ter, but she was still deal­ing with the emo­tional trauma. When I heard her story, I went, ‘Right, we’re do­ing this, and we’re do­ing it right.’ What you felt when you watched me sing that song was her story. It wasn’t just T do­ing a cover. It was me giv­ing a voice to this young wo­man’s journey, her ex­pe­ri­ence.”

As the interview wraps up, we ask Tori if she feels part-Bri­tish yet. Af­ter all, her daugh­ter goes to school in Lon­don, and she and her hus­band spend part of the year in Corn­wall.

“No, I’m an Amer­i­can here. I don’t al­ways get the jokes, but the nice thing is I don’t have Bri­tish bag­gage. I don’t make a judge­ment as soon as I hear some­one’s ac­cent. With me, it’s just, ‘OK, so you’re com­plain­ing about the weather again.’ Do you know what I love about the Brits? As soon as you get a nice day, it’s too hot for you!” Then comes Tori’s Bri­tish ac­cent, fol­lowed by laugh­ter: “It’s BOOOOIIIIILIIIING!”

The next day, Tori per­forms for jour­nal­ists and fans in a tiny Lon­don the­atre. Af­ter­wards, she comes through to the bar for an im­promptu meet-and-greet. Ev­ery­one who wants a photo gets one; she ap­proaches us to say thank you for our interview. Tori Amos: not just a real artist, but a real nice per­son.

“Your com­mu­nity is un­der at­tack, so the nat­u­ral re­sponse is to fight back.”

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