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tori amos (interview from 2002)

While promoting her latest album Scarlet's Walk, Tori took time to chat with Emerson college students about the world and war. Now is your chance to be included in their conversation...

What was the recording process like for your new album? Do you feel this is your best work?

Tori Amos: This work was challenging because it's a sonic novel for me. I had never created in that form before. I sat with it for a couple years. I've always worked from a metaphorical pallet. I was taught, early in my life as a songwriter, that you have to keep changing what's in your pallet. Every couple months I change this. There has to be an intake to have an outtake period. I've been outputting for a lot of years back to back. When I got pregnant, it became a big intake period. I didn't set out to write Scarlet's Walk. I started to do what I've always done. I got my pallet together. For me, usually [inspiration comes from] visual books from artists. It can be dictionaries. It can be magazines of snowboarding. It can be anything. Usually this becomes a place where I start constructing. The idea that I'm just going to sit down and write great songs is a silly idea. You have to constantly be moving this pallet around or you write the same things over and over. What this my ultimate work? I don't know, but I think that every song writer has one good record in them. Then, you have to learn to be a songwriter. To do that you have to have your toolbox, or as I've called it, a metaphorical pallet.

Even though Scarlet's Walk is a concept album, does it at all include your personal feelings?

Tori Amos: Sometimes I think you have to find ways to put your personal feelings in your character. Just because you have a character you're writing about doesn't mean you're not in it. I guess there have been writers who know how to sneak around in their characters. You're not always sure what part of their personal life is in it and what isn't. It's for you to sustain as a writer and also have a life outside of being a writer. That's the trick. A lot of writers are creative and productive, but in their personal life they're very destructive. You can't do that when you're a mom. If you want to be a crap mom, you can do that. There's some sort of romanticism we've had about the tragic writer, but I think it's cliché. To be able to your personal life not in the gutter and be a good writer, you've got to sneak around. Sometimes the people in your private life don't want to be exposed. My husband doesn't even know he's in this work. Of course, he's in Scarlet's Walk. Out of the four lovers, he doesn't know which one he is. I think it's better that way.

What are your feelings on the war?

Tori Amos: We're at a crossroads right now globally. You all have an opportunity to set a tone. To get people thinking. To light torches. To create resorts in people's minds where they can go... or not. Or you can be like the corporate side of it and distract everybody. Or you can get them information. You can be a powerful force... Whether you choose to do that or not. I don't know what your generation is going to do. In 1968, a generation rose up and made a choice. They decided to look at what our government was doing. Was our government really acting in the best interest of us and the soul of the country? People asked that question. As a mass, they made a choice. They didn't all agree politically, but they made a choice to address it. You have not made this choice. When will you? When you see your friends come back in body bags? I'm very curious about your generation. I'm studying you. I don't know what you're going to do. We believe you can network better than any generation that has ever been. You have not chosen, however, to network about the most important thing you can network about. What is going to shake you awake? I have no idea. If this war takes place, we all know there's a personal vendetta here. There's oil here. Whether your media outlets are choosing to find information, it doesn't matter what side of the argument you're on. I'm just thrilled there's an argument. Nobody's talking. You're just taking what they tell you. The European students have come to me. "When are the American students going to do something?" Nobody understands your position in the world. You're the most powerful networking nation and it's atrophy when it comes to your nation. We're seen as a bully and we're allowing this bully to go unchecked.

You've been around for years. What can we expect from your "Behind-the-Music" special?

Tori Amos: Am I doing a behind-the-music special? I think I've done one of those before. Right now, it would be different. Maybe in becoming a mom, I see that you are in such an exciting place. I'm not in this place. I've had my opportunity to rise up or not rise up with my generation. Right now, our position is to hold the torch for you to pick up yours. I'm in more of a nurturing position now. I know who I am. There's some days I'm not crazy about it. But that's between me and me. It's important that the songwriters nurture the next group. There's no competition. You have a perspective I don't have. We're at different places at this fire. Some songwriters feel competitive with the next generation. That doesn't serve either of us. I can't write what they need to write right now.

What's your take on the current music scene?

Tori Amos: In every culture, you have to have your artisans. This is not, I wake up in the morning, sing in the shower, go on Pop Idol, and sell ten million records. That's not the tradition of musicians. There's always been that. People have fun and sing and they express. A lot of people are driving to the dentist and go, "I can sing better than that Mariah Carey," and go, "I'm going to do that." What is occurring right now that should make you nervous is that there's a confusion that's set in that that's the tradition of musicians. Just because you wake up in the morning and write in your journal, that doesn't not make you a writer. Sorry folks. We don't respect this apprenticeship. There is an apprenticeship to a craft. If we forget that, then we delude ourselves to thinking that we know it all. Instead of coming as a student. Right now, I'm a student. I'm studying. I'm part of a tradition of musicians. Contractual obligations are a different part of the industry. I didn't have the luxury because of contractual obligations. I had to have a level of output and I wasn't able to input. When you're not able to input, then of course you can't be the apprentice you need to be. We need to understand as a culture that we need to nurture our poets and visual artists.

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