In outtakes from our exclusive interview with Tori Amos, the alt-rock goddess talks about her new collection of music videos, Fade to Red.
Why was it important to you to make a collection of your videos on DVD?
Rhino approached me and I started to watch [the videos]. I realized that with sonic technology the way it is now, we could really present something that I would want to watch. So I decided to sort of pick up the gauntlet that was laid down, and try and present something that I thought would be a contemporary collection of the different archetypes that I’ve tried to carry and hold for the last many, many years.
Your videos aren’t traditionally narrative, but often your songs are not traditional narrative either. How would you describe your approach to making videos in general? Is it specific to each song, or is there an over-arching approach?
I’ve never really done a literal read on something… In “Jackie’s Strength,” for example, that was one of the ones that we decided to bring the song to life, and you have “Tori” reliving her life as she’s going through her neighborhood on the day of her wedding, and she can’t decide if she’s going to make it to the church or not. And I don’t think it really matters if she makes it to the church or not… So I felt that that was one video that we tried to bring the song story in its truest form to the visual story.
Others, of course, like “Past the Mission,” it was important to follow the bloodline of what that story was about. That was about the “old world” coming to the “new world” and saving all the “savages.” This has always been a real discussion within my family because my father’s side of the family came from Scotland and Ireland to save everybody. And my mother’s side finds this all really amusing because they didn’t think that they needed saving at all. So [for the video] we talked about how to bring this to moving picture. Instead of following the trail of Cortez, we went back in the bloodline and we went back to Spain. And Jake Scott, the director, Ridley Scott’s son, had found a village in Spain that was sort of frozen in time. And he had said that when he heard this song he really felt this undercurrent of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, which, of course, as a good minister’s daughter, I’m always writing about that. So we decided to go back in time and create something--and this is before all The Da Vinci Code hoo-hah--because if you did it now, it would just be in bad form.
And so I started off with that, because to answer your question, I take each sonic and visual--it’s a marriage--whether it’s in the still photograph that you present with the sonic work, or the moving picture. And sometimes it’s like a visual poem, or a short story. Each [video] is very different.
Have you ever said to a director, “I won’t do this or that in a video”?
I won’t let [directors] hijack a song in order to make their own point, one that goes against who the song is. But you shouldn’t walk into a partnership with a creative partner if you don’t like their treatment. I know that sounds obvious, but sometimes in the editing process [videos] have come in, and I’ll say, “Wait a minute, you have made a choice here that we didn’t agree with originally.” So you get them to do a second edit or a third edit. You always try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Some directors just hand it in and you know you’re 90% there. Some can lose their way from the time they left you back to the editing suite, back into L.A., into--I’m sorry, but the paranoia of the city--especially the entertainment industry where you can lose your way.
I mean, if you start doing things for MTV or VH1 or anybody else, then you’re a whore. You just are. And bask, love your whoreness. Enjoy it. But if I’m going to be a whore, I’m going to be a fucking goddamned good one. The songs are not here to do that. If I’m going to investigate what it is to be paid for sex--if that’s what the song is, then I’m not being a whore with the art of it. And I think you know very well that you can write something for all the wrong reasons or film something for all the wrong reasons and then you start editing and doing this stuff and you don’t even know what your work is anymore because you’re trying to please everybody. You can’t shake the western world and be in Kmart all at the same time. It doesn’t work like that.
Let’s talk about your gay and lesbian fan base. Do you have a sense of why gay and lesbian fans are drawn to your music or your sensibility? Is it an outsider perspective?
Everybody is ready to judge you guys, man… People have such an issue and they bring up the Bible and they bring up this and they bring up that, and their arguments are very weak, because Jesus, the last time I checked, was about compassion. And I see very little compassion when Christians, or any other religion for that matter, are self-righteous and judge the gay and lesbian community. I find it incredibly condescending, just as an on-looker. There are a lot of same-sex relationships that I think are far more sacred than anything in the heterosexual community, but this means that your community carries a lot on its shoulders. If you’re not going to wear people’s opinions like a second skin, then you better be reaching for something other than people’s harsh judgments. You better be reaching for, I would say, the tools to take you to the next part of your journey, which ultimately is wholeness with yourself.
It seems that a lot of what organized religion did to women is the same thing that society has done to gays and lesbians. I wonder if that’s an area where your music connects with gays and lesbians.
That’s a good point because women [were prominent] in the early Christian church, as I’m sure you know. When I was making The Beekeeper I did a lot of study that there were women prophets, and I always saw Mary Magdalene as a prostitute but as a prophet, and that was not profitable for the early church. Because clearly they needed women to be subservient if they were going to construct the patriarchy, no different than Rome was, they just needed to do it through Christianity, and therefore that’s how the structured church developed… If the gay and lesbian community were fully empowered--think about it--they would be bringing forth ideas and concepts. Other people might have to go back to their closets and open them and see what’s truly there instead of pointing the finger at you guys. And it’s no different than when women are sitting at the roundtable saying, “You know what, guys, I’m not going to hold this issue for you, I disagree with you, and I have a voice at this roundtable, and I’m going to speak.” You might just make people uncomfortable with what you have to say. Let’s face it, if everybody were truly comfortable with ourselves, we wouldn’t have any problem with you guys, would we now?