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Tori Amos doesnÕt do anything straight. Regarded as one of the premier singer-songwriters of our time, the gay iconÕs veered off every which way — into babe-blasting-piano rock and baroque-influenced orchestrations; not to mention seasonal songs, straight-up pop, adult contemporary and gender-bending covers.
“Night of Hunters,” her 12th album over several decades, taps into 400 years of classical music for the backdrop to the musicianÕs conceptual damsel-in-distress narrative. ItÕs some of AmosÕ finest work in years.
On album release day, Amos called in to chat about the if-you-were-lesbian talk she had with her daughter, her message to anti-gay Christians and how Òit gets betterÓ might not be the best way to prevent suicide among gay youth.
How do you celebrate a new release?
ThatÕs a really good question. WeÕll probably have a glass of champagne tonight. Some of the team that put so much energy into it is with me, so weÕll gather and show gratitude.
With alcohol, naturally.
Well, champagne. You know, a toast is a toast. ItÕs more about the camaraderie.
Do you still travel with a wine cellar when you tour?
You know it.
YouÕve said, ÒI knew more about shoes than classical music.Ó What was your crash course in 400 years of classical music like?
I donÕt know if it was a crash course. I was at the conservatory for five, six years studying only classical music there. I wanted to be a composer. I knew that I was not going to be a concert pianist for all kinds of reasons, but you have to really be dedicated and devote your whole life to playing, for the most part, someone elseÕs ideas and thoughts and feelings. I felt much more that I had the soul of a composer than the soul of an interpreter. I felt closer to the sonic architects than I did to the Horowitzs of the world.
It sounds a lot like an extension of your last album, “Midwinter Graces.” Did working on that project inspire this one?
I think it did inspire me, because working with carols and doing variations on them was kind of me cutting my teeth on how to approach the idea of variations on a theme and to expand upon an original theme from another time. I did gain some experience by doing that, but I must tell you — hand on my heart — I did not think about going up to (classical record label) Deutsche Grammophon and saying, ÒUh, excuse me, IÕm gonna mess with the masters. Will you all pay for this?Ó ItÕs not something you do. ItÕs like calling up black op and saying, ÒHi, can I blow some shit up? IÕm available!Ó It doesnÕt really work like that.
But they approached me with the idea and I thought it was pretty bold, and I found them to not be reticent about it but saying, ÒWeÕve studied your work and we think youÕre ready to do this. We know youÕve been working on the musical (“The Light Princess”) so you should understand narrative to a degree.Ó And then they said, ÒYou know what, how about a 21st century song cycle based on classical themes?Ó And I said, ÒHow about a drink?Ó
Do you think this is a project you wouldÕve even considered 20 years ago?
Oh, are you kidding? I think having worked on the musical now for 5,000 years IÕve learned a lot. (Laughs) IÕm working with these incredible creative minds and that has really pushed me as a creative force to expand my ability as a composer. In the pop field, the composition form is quite regimented. I can see it right now: If I had turned in almost 10 minutes to one of my favorite people in the whole world, (record label exec) Doug Morris, he wouldÕve looked at me and said, ÒTori, what arÕ you doinÕ?Ó
How do you feel about the disappearance of the singer-songwriter from mainstream, because you were born out of that?
I was born out of that, and IÕm still that, but I needed to take the singer-songwriter by the hand and say, ÒHoney, we gotta expand.Ó This French journalist said, ÒAre you willing to be honest and admit that what you really are a conceptualist and youÕve been disguising yourself as a pop star?Ó (Laughs) And I said, ÒWell, geez, I love contemporary music, I love pop music and I love the idea of the singer-songwriter. ThatÕs part of my soul. But maybe there is another part that needed to expand — a composer in me.Ó
Does having your 11-year-old daughter, Natashya Hawley, on four tracks mean youÕre trying to turn her into a gay icon, too?
(Laughs) Well, I donÕt know if IÕm trying to turn her into anything! SheÕs turning herself. She helped me develop ÒAnnabelleÓ (a character on “Night of Hunters”). I designed it, but she helped develop the character. SheÕs been pushing me about the musical and she realized she was too young to play any of the girls and she said, ÒLook, I could stuff my bra!Ó And I said, ÒStop stuffing your bra!Ó So Tash is very proactive.
SheÕs grown up with gay people in our life. We have people from all walks of life on our crew — gay women and gay men that we work with. SheÕs been brought up in it.
She had no choice — look at her mother.
Yeah, I know! (Laughs) But she knows very well what I think. I had a chat with her once that if she ever came home and said she was a lesbian then thatÕs her choice. And she said to me: ÒMom, IÕm not a lesbian. Black guys are hot.Ó
YouÕre from North Carolina, which has previously banned gay marriage and is now seeking to amend that to the state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. How do you feel about this legislation, as it affects such a huge part of your fan base?
What I think is so strange. It is. (Laughs) If anybody calls themselves a Christian, I donÕt see how you can ban consenting adults. I just donÕt understand how you can see yourself as Christian and have no compassion for another personÕs path. It goes against the Christ-like energy and light that I was brought up with.
My mother and father, theyÕre both Southern, have opened up, especially my dad. He had to really stretch as a Methodist minister, but heÕs embraced the idea that gay people deserve rights. IÕm really proud of him that, as a Methodist minister, he was able to make that shift and see that he did need to see it differently.
He took me to a gay bar when I was 13. HeÕs come a long way, so letÕs put it that way. So I think thereÕs hope for people who are judgmental, but what they have to say themselves is, how can they call themselves a Christian and then insist that gay people donÕt have the right to be married? Then gay people shouldnÕt have to pay taxes in the state of Carolina!
Is there hope for Michele Bachmann or people like her?
I donÕt understand people. Again, IÕm a ministerÕs daughter, I was brought up in the church; I do know the political side and how it works. If I could sit down with these people youÕre mentioning, IÕd say, ÒI thought Jesus was about love and not about judgment and damnation. I thought Christ came to question the judgment of a very harsh God.Ó I just find it completely against ChristÕs message. I donÕt know what theyÕre representing, but theyÕre as far away from Christ as my Bible teaching taught me and, you know what, I was brought up in the church! IÕve gone to church enough for almost every woman in America!
With all the bullying and suicides among LGBT teens in the news, have you considered writing a song about that?
Could you send me some information about that? IÕm not aware of all that you speak about.
ThereÕs been a series of suicides among gay youth in the last year due to bullying, with 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer reported most recently. The It Gets Better project was launched to give kids hope and remind them that itÕs not the end of the world.
But it is the end of the world to them. When you are being bullied because of who you are, the shame of that is so great that it does seem like the end of the world and like theyÕre not accepted in this world — and theyÕre not being accepted by part of this world. And yet, the people that are not accepting them and bullying them call themselves Christian, and that is a lie. You are not a Christian if you treat people like that. I donÕt care what office youÕre running for. You just are not. That is not the definition of walking the Christ-like path.
When artists say itÕs not the end of the world, I donÕt know if thatÕs the approach. I think the approach is acknowledging what theyÕre feeling and hopefully creating a space where people feeling bullied can go to.
This next election, itÕs so important the gay community become very aware of whatÕs going on and be very proactive about your rights as human beings. The fact that gay people are not treated as if theyÕre human beings by some of these people who are running for office, itÕs barbaric. Whatever you think I am, I would like to be in a society where weÕre enlightened, and I just find it all very primitive and that weÕre regressing mentally.