Photo: Amarpaul Kalirai.
Twenty years ago, Tori Amos released one of the definitive albums of the 1990s, one that took the tinkling melancholy of the ethereal Little Earthquakes and made it bombastic. With songs like "Cornflake Girl" and "God," Under The Pink wasn't only a hit, but it proved that a woman with a piano could snarl and growl in the same way as her grungier peers.
Today, Amos is still performing with her particular brand of whimsy, and her most recent album, Unrepentant Geraldines, has a levity and buoyancy that refreshes her music. Tori, now 50 years old, has settled into motherhood, embracing her role as a storyteller and a nurturer. In many ways, Geraldines is her most accessible work in years: fun, mystical, and filled with a knowing wink.
She's walked us through her most recent songs, and also let us reminisce about the anniversary of Under The Pink, revealing backstories and secrets to music both new and old.
About "Cornflake Girl": “I was just with somebody yesterday, Karen Binns, which is so funny. She has been my stylist since 1991, and she helped inspire the song. She was from Brooklyn and she is African-American, with white hair. She is so unique. She and I had our own language at the time, and we would be talking about things in riddles and rhymes.
"Over 20 years ago, Karen and I were talking about all kinds of betrayals, which was inspired by Alice Walker’s book, Temple of My Familiar. We discussed the way women betray each other, and how genital mutilation is such an extreme betrayal, especially if it’s by someone in your family. She and I were talking about it in depth — because we both were going through something at the time where we both felt betrayed by a friend. Not a love relationship, but a female friend. (Now, 20 years later, it’s quite fascinating that I’m friends with the woman that I had the falling out with. She thought that I had betrayed her, and I thought that she had betrayed me.)
"Karen and I were wondering, now that we are the age we are, do we actually see our part in things? You would like to think that question yourself a bit more. I don’t know if we always choose to look at our part in a confrontation or a miscommunication honestly. So, that song is about miscommunication and betrayal."
About collaborating with Trent Reznor on "Past The Mission": “I had met Trent (Reznor) through people, during Little Earthquakes. So, we were friends ,and there was good camaraderie and good vibes. We were supportive of each other’s talent and vision, as artists. I had someone ask him if he would do it and he was open to doing it. It was a really great experience. He is incredibly talented. And that was that.”
About singing with her daughter on "Promise": "She is very funny. I’m not quite sure. At 13 she loves music. She plays a couple of instruments and she sings. She also loves how films are made. She also loves storytelling. So, how she begins to tell those stories is something, as she develops and grows, she is going to find out, as an explorer for herself.”
About motherhood and growing: “Well, motherhood is one of those relationships that develops with a wild way and wedding day. Yes, there are motherhood moments happening. They are all facets of what it means to be a woman, and they are happening on this record. Your relationship to what’s happening in the world, with ‘America’ and ‘Giant’s Rolling Pin,’ changes. Romantic stories, but with a twist...There are different stories happening on the record. I guess storytelling is inspired by working on a musical for so many years. Hopefully, it rubbed off with telling stories through songs.”
About "Giants Rolling Pin": “Beth and Marlane are real women. They make pies with help from the Asiola Café. It’s a café in Stuart, Florida. Downtown. A while ago, I was having their pies and I was thinking, ‘I’m going to write a song about this amazing food.' They make these amazing pies. During Christmas, you have to get on a list because otherwise you won’t get a pie. I was thinking, when I was eating this pie, ‘This is too good. What if it had truth-telling serum in it. What if you could see through any lie in time? Then I started thinking about how people would want to get their hands on that. Then it just started rolling from there. That is sometimes how those things start. It comes from a place that’s in reality, then things start happening.
"What if our liberties would be compromised? Is there a time when the security, in any country, would cross the line…if you’re not ready to end civilization or destroy something, is there still a line whereby people with authority would not be protecting your liberty? You, who are asking questions? People brave enough to ask questions? If they feel threatened, that’s where the song started. I didn’t want to make Snowden a hero, because I don’t think there are real winners in situations like this. In ‘Giant’s Rolling Pin,’ I’m taking the layers off. But, I was curious, in the next 20 years, as technology gets stronger, and as we are better able to read other people’s information, it is no different than our medical records becoming digitized. Is there a place whereby we could be penalized, if that information were known?”
About storytelling: “People like stories. I’ve come to realize that over the years. They like to be engaged in them. People like to laugh as well as be moved. They like to allow themselves to imagine and come up with the answers in their mind. So, when you leave room for people to imagine in a song, allowing them enough room to be able to apply it to their circumstance…
"For instance, in the song ‘Invisible Boy,’ hopefully different people can see themselves in that and in different situations. Everything doesn’t have to be lumped into one situation. So, somebody thought I was talking about a boy being gay, and I said, ‘All right. Okay. If that is what you think, that would be valid. If you think I’m talking about a guy who has lost his father, that’s absolutely valid, too.’ So, ‘Invisible Boy’ can hold those different interpretations because it is the person who is listening who is defining what the song means."
About the music of today: “What I really want to say to you is that, yes, there is some very talented singer-songwriters out there. They are making their mark. However, I reckon there aren’t as many singer-songwriters being signed now as there could be. We, as a culture, have been nurturing a lot of our vocalists who then use professional songwriters. So, this has been great for the songwriting business. I’m very happy for those songwriters that are getting a lot of work.
"But then, I would say to you that we need to be nurturing our poets. And singer-songwriters, female as well as male, both of them, because if you don’t have a balance, then who is really talking to you? Who is reflecting the conscious of the time? Pop writers, formulaic writers who can be geniuses — they are very talented, and I couldn’t do their job. But, they are not always telling you what is really happening. They aren’t excavating. You need those people. We do need poet songwriters to be nurtured all the time. We need more of those out there. It is very important.”