Tori Amos has been a trailblazer for her entire career, developing her own composing style from her earliest years, and tackling difficult subjects such as sexual violence and miscarriages on her records. This week sees Amos try yet another new direction with the release of her twelfth studio album. Night of Hunters is a 21st century song cycle, based on classical themes, which explores the breakdown of a relationship through the eyes of several characters. Deborah Finding caught up with her in a London hotel to talk marriage, motherhood and muses.
Deborah Finding: I thought your new record would have particular resonance for Huffington Post Divorce readers, starting as it does with a separation and then looking at that from the inside from many angles. But is it only after that initial shattering -- as you call it -- of the relationship, that both characters are able to look at who they really are, both to themselves and to the other person?
Tori Amos: Well, this story starts with a shattering. And, because of it, they both responded in different ways. He chose to walk out, and she was left with glass everywhere and having to take the next step. In the story, the next step is that through the night, there's a transformation. But for the transformation to happen, there needs to be an honest look at her part in things: at the choices she made for herself and the choices she didn't make for herself -- in her life and in her career. She chose to turn her back on her own force -- which is, of course, metaphorical for anything -- and to allow herself to be pulled into his world, into his life and live in the shadow of his light. That didn't end well for them because there was blame.
DF: That's been quite a common theme in your work: the idea of allowing another person to steal your power. Do you think relationships only work when the power dynamic is equal, or is it the passing backwards and forwards of a necessarily unequal power?
TA: Well that's a very fascinating thought ... is it unequal power being passed back and forth, where each one is the strong one for a while, and it's a baton race, but you're on the same team? I can see that working, especially if you have differing ways to get up the mountain. Not everybody wants to have the same career. I think what's difficult is when you have two people that do something very, very similar and they both, say, want the limelight. That's very tricky. When one doesn't want the limelight, but is also creative in developing whatever it is they are, then you can have two equal people that aren't competing against each other. I think when you are in the same field, it's difficult to leave it outside and not compete. Then when the doors are closed, that pervades everything.
DF: Do you think there's the potential for that element of competition, not just with partners but with other close family too? I know your eleven-year-old daughter Tash sings the character of Annabelle on the record, and has just started stage school. Were there any reservations about her going into the family business?
TA: Well ... I mean, I'm not trying to follow in the steps of Judy and Liza, though I adore Liza, having met her, how fabulous is she? But ... Tash is on a really different path to mine. I was a pianist/composer first, and realised that I needed to perform my own works. Whereas I think she's a performer -- an actor and singer -- first. I was never interested in acting. And the reality is that Tash doesn't sound like me at all. She discovered the blues when she was nine -- that's how she puts it [laughs]. She told me, "When I discovered the blues at nine, Mummy, then it all came together and I realised what my path was." She's done school projects on Billie Holiday and Martin Luther King and she knows that my father marched alongside Dr King and thousands of people in the 60s for civil rights. Billie Holliday is absolutely her mentor, though she's now opening up to so many -- even contemporary --people, and she's been totally inspired lately by Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." So when you ask me this question, although yes, she's getting training, she's at the Sylvia Young Performing Arts School, she pushed us to do it. I tried to talk her into maybe being a veterinarian [laughs]. And she looked at me and said, "Well, you know, you followed what you wanted to do". And I had to say, "Yes, that's true."
DF: Just thinking about Tash having grown up with, and around, your music -- is it difficult for her to hear you sing about a relationship being shattered? Does it make her worry about things between you and her dad? [Amos has been married to her sound engineer, Mark Hawley, since 1998] Or is she able to draw an easy line between the work you do as Tori Amos, and her experience of you at home?
TA: Well, Tash is all eyes and ears. If you want to know what's going on in the neighborhood, anywhere in the world, backstage -- ask Tash! And of course, she has an inside view to what is going on in our kitchen. So I think she knew that this wasn't something that was written about a specific overnight incident, or something that happened over the course of a week. I've explained to her that I've been collecting stories and experiences for years and years. And she knows that her dad is sort of a muse for me -- I'm putting that in terms of the audience listening -- I don't know if I would use the word "muse" to her, because I don't know what it would mean to her at this age. But most people that follow the arts know that composers or painters are inspired by people, and of course Mark has been one of those for me since I've known him. There has to be a privacy level there, so I try not to go into details, but if he thinks I have, he'll bring those things up!
DF: So you create these characters and put them in the context of a mythology...
TA: Yes, I needed to put it in a story form. And because this is a song cycle for the 21st century, I wanted to explore the feeling that relationships right now can be very disposable. People call their divorce attorney so quickly -- and I'm not saying that divorce isn't the answer for some people, because it is -- but, I do think there are people that don't really want to look in the mirror and look soon enough. When we were developing the character of Annabelle, Tash asked me, "Why do grown ups wait so late to fix their problems?" And a lot of her friends are from divorced households or were going through a divorce at the time of writing this. And what the kids go through, as we know if we've been exposed to it, is agony. And so I thought Annabelle should have a bit of that sensibility -- she takes the woman to task and yet in such a way that the woman can listen to her.
DF: And, of course, you've left the resolution of the story open-ended.
TA: Yes. This couple is at a crossroads and whether or not they get back together, it's really for the listener to decide. I think the importance here is not the end, but the change in the woman. There are some unhealthy parts of herself that need to die. They do. They're not serving her. But she's also able to reclaim those vital parts of herself that she had lost.
Night of Hunters is out now on Deutsche Grammophon.
Tori Amos is touring the UK, Europe, South Africa and North America between September and December. For more details, visit www.toriamos.com