Musician Tori Amos

The singer-songwriter discusses the delicate ruthlessness that it took to record classical songs—as she did for her latest CD “Night of Hunters”—and the courage that she mustered to “mess with the masters.” She also performs a track from the new album.

Singer-songwriter Tori Amos has an unconventional musical style and writes profound lyrics. She rose to fame with her breakthrough '92 album "Little Earthquakes" and continued to build a cult-like following with subsequent releases. It's expected that her newest release, the classically-inspired concept CD "Night of Hunters"—her first with a string quartet—will expand her fan base even more. A rape survivor, Amos also co-founded RAINN, a confidential toll-free hotline for sexual assault victims that is ranked as one of America's best charities.


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Tori Amos back to this program. The 10-time Grammy nominee is out with a new CD and about to embark on a world tour in support of the project. The disc is called “Night of Hunters.” Later on, a special performance from Tori, but first now some of the video for the song, “Carry.”


Tavis: I was looking for your daughter in that video. I know she’s in there; in that particular clip we didn’t see her. But I remember talking about this with you some years ago when you were here. Your daughter’s a part of everything you do, almost.

Tori Amos: She is.

Tavis: Yeah.

Amos: She is, and she was developing this character, Annabelle, with me. She would say to me, in her British accent, she’d say, “I don’t know why grownups don’t solve their problems before it’s too late,” and we thought okay, let’s make Annabelle the sort of sage being, but with the voice of a child.

Tavis: Wow. To your point now, how much of your music has to do with the relationship you have with your daughter?

Amos: Well, I think she’s a huge muse and she teaches me so much. We’re very close. My nieces and nephews have a lot to do; my niece is also on this record. It’s a very close family in that way. I guess my husband is a muse as well. I’m singing the bit about him.

Tavis: I’m trying to find the right way to phrase this. It’s not so much a change of style for you. Would you accept reinvention?

Amos: I’ll accept that. I think because I came from the classical tradition that’s been in my work. It’s sort of part of the seeds. But these are variations on classical themes, so the seeds this time are from some of the iconic masters from classical music.

Tavis: When you say a variation on classical themes, that means what, exactly, for those purists who are watching right now?

Amos: That means I messed with the masters. (Laughter) I did some messing.

Tavis: You know for some folk you’re not supposed to do that, even if you’re Tori Amos. You ain’t supposed to mess with the masters.

Amos: Well, somebody needed to do it one day, and women, female composers in the classical tradition, have not been treated so well. So I thought if somebody’s going to mess with the masters, it needs to be a redhead. (Laughter)

Tavis: You’ve said two things now I’ve got to go back and have you unpack for me. When you say that women have not been treated so well in this genre, you mean by that what?

Amos: Well, they’re great composers and yet they weren’t given opportunities, and it’s a boy’s club still. It is. The pop world has really opened its doors. There’s no question about it, inroads have been made, great strides since the ’60s, and many women have been working towards this in R&B and in jazz and in pop music, rock as well, of course.

But in classical music, musical theater, I’m talking about as composers; I’m not talking about as first –

Tavis: Performers.

Amos: – first-chair violin or cello, because they’re happy for women to be the performers of men’s ideas, but when the woman is the architect, stop. No.

Tavis: The easy answer, and I don’t mean to be dismissive by saying the easy answer, the easy answer and maybe the right answer first and foremost would be patriarchy, would be sexism.

I’m trying to dig a little deeper into is why you think artistically there’s a push back on compositions by women, resistance?

Amos: Well, these are good questions, Tavis. I don’t know if they think that we don’t have the brain power. Composition is about sonic architecture. It’s very different than performing, and I really don’t know. Also in the film-scoring world it’s been very much a boy’s club.

Some of those boys are my good friends, but I do think that it was time in the 21st century – Deutsche Gramophone approached me and they said, “We’ve been really thinking about this and we know you’ve been working on this musical, so you better understand a bit about narrative. So what about doing a 21st century song cycle based on classical themes?”

I said, “Let me catch my breath, because that’s a,” you can really get that wrong and I want to go be a Hobbit and hide under a rock if you get it wrong.

Tavis: How much a risk was it, is it for you, you think?

Amos: Well, if we go back a year ago, over a year ago, I thought this through. It’s a huge risk, because I’ve accomplished some things in my world and yet I started really thinking about the idea of story and messing with the masters, and I’ve loved many of them – Debussy, Schubert, Schumann. I grew up playing them as a little girl. So they’ve been close to me.

Tavis: When you decide you’re going to, as you would say, “mess with the masters,” how do you approach this?

Amos: With a delicate ruthlessness.

Tavis: Wow – “a delicate ruthlessness.” You going to give me some more on that?

Amos: Well, I said to them one of the main conditions is reams and reams of material. I need endless amounts of classical music. I understand that every waking hour before recording it would be completely about designing and building.

It was really about targeting these themes, these original themes that I felt could be expanded upon. Don’t think that I think the originals aren’t perfect in their own way. They’re perfect in their own way. But I had to conceptualize how I was going to approach it and then they were the seed.

The men, they were the egg, so I needed to penetrate into the past and take back the seed into the 21st century and tell the story. And then together, as my husband said, “Whatever you’re doing with these dead guys, as long as they’re dead, do whatever you want.” (Laughter) I said, “Baby, I’m taking it all the way.”

Tavis: Well, I’m going to make room for some of this delicate ruthlessness right about now. Let the talented redhead do her own thing. The new project from Tori Amos is called “Night of Hunters,” and we are honored to have a special performance from Tori Amos. So you can judge for yourself what you think of what she has done. We think it’s pretty good, and that’s why she’s on the program.

Tori, good to have you on. Good to see you again.

Amos: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: Up next, a performance – stay with us.

From her long-awaited new CD, “Night of Hunters,” here is Tori Amos with the song “Carry.” Enjoy.

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Last modified: September 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm