Tori Amos unrepentant princess
There’s no getting away from Tori Amos. While other artists languish for decades between albums and only do shows once every 35 years or so (no names, no shames), Tori has been busy doing a musical for the National Theatre, a series of compositions based on classical music, an orchestral reworking of her existing songs, a new tour, an album that harks back to the early days of her career… And all this in the last five years!
Sitting in a basement studio on a warm sunny London day with just a scrap of blue visible if you peer up, Tori Amos doesn’t look anything like the 50-year age tag she’s been having trouble accepting.
In skinny blue jeans, a grey sweater, her hair bright ginger and pencil straight and with some geek-chic glasses on, she looks vibrant, beautiful, clever and cool. She looks, in fact, exactly like the Tori Amos, that strange sexual being we first met in 1992 when the album Little Earthquakes changed everything.
Fourteen albums later with that National Theatre musical under her belt and her own charity for those who have been the victims of rape or sexual abuse (RAINN), Tori shows no sign of letting up the pace. Married to English sound engineer, Mark Hawley, for the last 16 years with a 13-year-old daughter Tash who has started appearing on her records, Tori splits her time between Cornwall and Florida and is currently touring her new album.
Sit down a minute, woman!
So, the single Trouble’s Lament. Is that a good indication of what’s on the Unrepentant Geraldines album?
Not really. Every song is individual. That one has a lot of instrumentation to it. There are all kinds of songs on the record. Some are piano-based, some are blues-based, each one is its own painting.
It seems almost like a return to your early work… Is that fair to say? Because you’ve been doing some experiments lately, haven’t you?
Yes, I think that’s fair to say. And yes, I’ve been part of The Light Princess team [her musical at the National Theatre]. And what an incredible experience writing with [writer] Samuel Adamson! Sam and I were watching musicals for years, all sorts of musicals to try and understand the structure, because we wanted to make a proper musical theatre score, not a pop music type of score. And Night of Hunters [the classical music project] really fed that. Marianne Elliott was the director: she directed Curious Incident and War Horse and we wanted to portray a fairytale world, but a feminist fairytale and we didn’t want it to feel like it was dumbed down for a commercial market.
So, what is The Light Princess about?
It was very much our vision to really investigate teenagers and their fathers. I think a lot of fairytales rely on the evil stepmother and I wanted to explore a story where there were very powerful men and fathers. And how one was misguided and how the other really did want to control both his sons: if you disappoint the father because he wants you to be a certain way, does he take his love away? Meaning that love is conditional. There were a lot of gay men who have been very supportive of this musical to the point where it’s given us the energy to make the cast recording. I’m producing it, going to the studio this weekend.
You’re very prolific: there’s never long between projects.
I really think about visual artists who would paint hundreds and hundreds of paintings in their lifetime. They were committed to painting
whether their paintings got acknowledged or not, they had to commit their lives to being painters. More than the idea of being celebrities, you’re focused on the work not the consequences of notoriety. You never stop. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an input/output period where you travel and you keep building your palette.
Your voice sounds exactly the same as it used to… How come it’s not aged?
Well, you’re very kind. I don’t smoke and I think that’s been key. I’ve been working with it and paying attention to the effects when I push it in a certain way. I’ve been working on tonality. In the old days, singing over a band or an orchestra, it’s very different from when I’m singing in a studio. The idea during the recording was to try and not over-sing the track.
We know you have lots of gay male fans who are very intense about you but do you have lesbian fans?
I do but it’s a different relationship. I sing a lot about desiring men so men and I, we can talk about that. When I’m talking about what I’m trying to figure out, what I’m going through myself as a woman, I think the lesbian audience can apply it to the partner they’re with. Heterosexual men and lesbians seem to have something quite in common. I have a lesbian tour manager and she’s fantastic. She’ll come in and say, “Chicks just drive you crazy!” [laughs] She’s really funny like that.
You say you write about what you go through. Was reaching 50 an issue for you or did you just breeze through?
I didn’t breeze through. I think once the birthday came, I’d had some good advice by then but at 49, you begin to think about people that you cared about who aren’t around anymore and mortality becomes something real. My mum’s 84 and we were talking about it and how in your 30s you can keep pushing certain realities away but at a certain point you have to come to terms with the fact that we are only being given this gift for so long and it does start to speed up, it does start to go very fast. A friend on The Light Princess was encouraging me to expand my thinking and burst that cultural projection that can be put out there that you’re not vital anymore as you get older. I was trying to smash that antiquated idea.
And yet older people have more to say than the younger people the media fawn over…
You’re absolutely right. I would say to you, there aren’t as many front-line record contracts being given to women 50 and up on the songwriter side as there are to men. We see men ageing in a different way. But my daughter who’s 13 looked at me and said, “You’ve got to get your head around this, Mum, because if you don’t figure this out then what am I going to look forward to? Go rock!”
You have to carve your own path out and your own goals. It’s about how you see your relevance. You have to push yourself to keep relevant and be open and not get caught up in how you’ve done things in the past. You have to allow yourself to explore.
Unrepentant Geraldines by Tori Amos is out now
“There were a lot of gay men who have been very supportive of The Light Princess musical to the point where it’s given us the energy to make the cast recording”