Ten Questions With Tori Amos

Tori Amos and I are having a staring contest. OK, maybe not. But as the flame-haired icon sits across from me on a rainy Tuesday in New York City, her piercing and unwavering gaze won't allow me look away, blink, disengage. Not that I want to. As an admittedly huge Tori fan, I jumped at the chance to speak with her about her latest effort, Gold Dust, a collection of some of Amos' most popular songs, re-recorded with the backing of the Metropole Orchestra.

Curled up on the couch of our "artist den," Tori's visiting Spinner to promote the album, and the notorious open book of an artist doesn't bat an eyelash as she jumps from analyzing the new album to talking U.S. politics and raising a pre-teen daughter. Our time together is documented below in 10 revealing, funny questions.

As a songwriter who is so invested in her lyrics, it must be interesting 15 or 10 years after writing the original song to go back and record them again when you're in a very different place in your life. Can you walk me through the process and how it was different for you this time around recording tracks like "Marianne" and "Silent All These Years"?

When you do a project like this, nothing you do is casual when you're approaching your art. But there's a danger because you know there already exists an expression of this consciousness, the song as a consciousness. And yet when I meet them, when I meet the song girls, it doesn't mean that's when they're born. It means that's when I meet them. And therefore, I don't really have a relationship with them when I meet them. The transmitter's up, and perhaps somebody's said something to me, told me a story, something's happened so that I'm able to hear that song being. I might have an experience that solidifies what this person is talking to me about. Educated women, judges, who end up in a relationship -- women, powerful women who are in abusive relationships and they might say to me, "I had a relationship with 'Silent All These Years.'" Because of this conversation that's been happening for 20 years, "Silent All These Years" has a different lineage than when I first met her. So when I first met "Silent," it was based on a few things, but now when I re-approach "Silent," there are thousands and thousands of stories of women and men around the world that have become part of who she is now. So the pictures that I saw when I originally recorded it, it would have been impossible to know twenty years later what some of those stories were.

Clearly, your music has empowered many, many women throughout the years. What's your take on the current tone of this U.S. election and the alleged "War on Women"?

The question women have to ask themselves is that in these times, there have to be issues that women have to step up and say, "The patriarchy doesn't get to make this decision for us." Sometimes we, as women, it might appear that governments can make these choices for us. And theoretically they might be able to. But I would say to you, watch them try and do it and the women will march.

Are you surprised that more women aren't getting as enraged as perhaps they should be?

My grandmother was very much a part of the patriarchy and there are a lot of women who are. There are women who don't believe in women's rights. And there are a lot of men who are very much for women's rights. My husband will tell you he was born a feminist. What's disconcerting is that I think there is a ... almost a zombie consciousness. Women aren't aware of the freedoms that might be being taken away from them day by day until they're gone. Because the culture is so distracting, so much of our time we spend on entertainment. Reality shows that, yes, can be entertaining. I have a daughter that watches all that stuff, too. But my daughter is also very aware about rights for women and she's 12. And she's concerned, very concerned. But we as a country are on the path we're on right now and in hard, difficult times, are people able to drag themselves out of their depression and their tough times and say, "I morally need to do the right thing." This is the question. Or do you have enough people, too many people maybe, on the other side, who say, "We've had enough and to hell with the moral question." I'm asking a question, that's all I'm saying to you. We're going to find out.

Speaking of your daughter Tash, I can't believe she's 12! How would you describe your relationship and the way you're trying to raise her -- are you an open mom?

We don't put limits on what she can watch because we figure she'll choose to watch it. I'd rather know what she's doing than not. Then you can have a discussion. And she's a whiz with the computer, so if one think that they're going to get around her, they're foolish. It doesn't mean there aren't boundaries. It doesn't mean there isn't the word "no" sometimes, but usually her judgment is pretty sound. If she wants to watch something, she doesn't usually want to watch things -- she doesn't gravitate to things I would say "no" over. But if I'm saying "no" to things that some of the parents in her school would say "no" to, she's going to find a way. So I think that because she has the freedom, she puts limits on what she wants to watch. She says, "I don't want to have that experience. I'm not interested in seeing that kind of thing." That show "Locked Up Abroad" -- she watches shows like that all the time!

That show stresses me out!

I know, it stresses her out, too. But she'll think twice about what she packs in her bag if she's going to Bali, right?

When it comes to your own music, you've touched on some really heavy things that have happened to you. Is that something you've openly talked to her about?

There are certain things that my husband and I have discussed about the detail we will go into. Clearly, he and I are very close and have been together a long time and he went through, while I was going through, a lot of therapy in my life, to deal with situations. So when we had a child, we kind of pushed it away, and then questions will come up because of certain songs and I think what we try and do is talk about them as issues, as more than the details of things. Because healing is something, when you're a parent or an adult and you've done your work and your healing work and it's constant, healing is something I think you do through your whole life. But there's a time when you don't feel the need to go into detail because it doesn't serve anyone anymore. There's no reason to go into it. Better to let the art speak for itself and people to have the experience with the art. My shrink knows the details. We've been through it. That's a stage, and then you need to do your healing. Part of healing is forgiveness, forgiveness of yourself.

That's probably the hardest thing to forgive, right?

Yes, for all the things that happened in your mind, the judgments that you have on yourself. The mind is a funny thing. Invaders, the invasion happens here and can stay here. And that is the sharpness of the blade that can get in, in between your cells. In between, almost, the DNA. And how do you control the voices in your head? Sometimes you can't control them. And it's about writing and writing more. Through the creating, the self-destruction gets less and less and less till' the creativity really has more power than the destruction. It's the only way to deal with destructive behavior. You have to out-create it.

I love that. Switching gears slightly, so many artists have cited you as a huge influence. Out of curiosity, are there any up-and-comers on the scene right now that you have on your radar?

Yes, but I don't talk about it. This might sound really strange, but I remember a time when I had mentors, people that I really looked up to, and they might have mentioned a slew a people that they looked up to and I was the one that they forgot. And so I said to myself, if I am ever in that position, it's not necessary to leave some out because of course, there are those out there. But they're showing themselves. You know the ones that really will choose to have a 20-year career will. And others won't. Others might decide, "You know, I did two records and now I want to do something else." And that's okay too and their records are there for all time.

Having that 25-year-long career is somewhat of an anomaly in the music business -- especially for women. Do you think the advent of new technologies will help foster careers outside of the traditional record label marketing machine?

Women have to embrace getting older and refining what that means. We have to do it ourselves and then the other mediums will see the spark, possibly. Yes, because the labels are the labels. I don't know how many 50-year-olds they're signing this week. Even good artists that have been around, for women to still be able to be making records, you know, a major release, not just touring the summer tours. I'm talking about having a deal, putting it out. I think you'd see the numbers aren't as many as the men. You have the Leonard Cohens and the Neil Youngs, and good on them, and the Peter Gabriels and the Stings, fantastic, great, they're amazing. But I think for some of the women, it's more of really having to want it and be committed to it and foster it. There are some in the music business, some of the power suits at the labels, that say, "OK, we can see it. We understand this." But I'd say to you, there aren't as many as you'd like to believe there are.

I think our time is almost up, so I'm going to end this on a light note: You're a prolific songwriter, an accomplished musician on every level -- but what's something totally "normal" about you?

Well, I guess, I'm a romantic. Like a lot of women, I really like romance. I like to have the door held open for me by my husband. I like it when we have movie night. We have date night these days. Date night is very important. I also think that a good marriage happens because you get him to miss you. That means you need to take yourself away. He misses my sandwiches. I'm not a bad sandwich-maker.

What's your specialty sandwich?

Toasted, it's going to be toasted. I would say I do a really good chicken salad. But he cooks the chicken!

Tori in SOMA Magazine, wearing a beaded cape by Sorapol. (Photo by Christian Conti)

Gold Dust was kind of a disappointment. It doesn't sound all that different from the originals.