Tori Amos On Where Art And Aging Intersect

May 11, 2014
Originally published on May 11, 2014 11:47 am

Tori Amos has been looking at a lot of artwork lately, and on a new album, she's found ways to turn the visual into the musical. Unrepentant Geraldines is a return to a familiar pop form for Amos, who has been crisscrossing the boundaries of style in recent years — as well as an artistic self-evaluation from a performer who turned 50 last year. She recently spoke with NPR's Rachel Martin about "standing by the creations" that make up her identity at midlife. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

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Tori Amos has been looking at a lot of artwork and she turns the visual into the musical on her new CD.


TORI AMOS: (Singing) Are you telling me it's over disintegrating lost and there's nothing I can do? Before you drop another verbal bomb, can I arm myself with Cezanne's 16 shades of blue?

MARTIN: That's the song "16 Shades of Blue," which refers to the artist Paul Cezanne, who is said to have had at least 16 shades of blue on his palette. It's a tune about aging from an artist who hit a significant milestone last year. Tori Amos turned 50, by the way. She's explored a number of musical styles recently from classical, where she began as a child, to a staged musical. On this new CD called "Unrepentant Geraldines," she returns to a more familiar rock form. Tori Amos joins us from our studios in New York. Welcome to the program.

AMOS: Hi, Rachel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: The title of the CD, "Unrepentant Geraldines," comes from an etching, I understand, by a 19th century Irish artist named Daniel Maclise? Am I saying that right?

AMOS: Yes, you are.

MARTIN: What was so powerful about that piece to you?

AMOS: She reminded me of the repentant Magdalen paintings from a few hundred years prior. And as I started to think about what women were apologizing for, I began thinking about being unapologetic at 50 and as an artist and standing by the creations that make up your shape. As I was getting my head around becoming 50, I began to see myself as a combination of all the song structures that have come into my life for the last 50 years.


AMOS: (Singing) Peter and Paul they did condemn.

CHORUS: (Singing) This is the day of reckoning.

AMOS: (Singing) Women like the Magdalene.

CHORUS: (Singing) She you said the savoir loved best.

AMOS: (Singing) Now you ask me if I agree.

CHORUS: (Singing) Our patron St. Cecilia.

AMOS: (Singing) With the unrepentant geraldines.

CHORUS: (Singing) Jesus hosanna.

MARTIN: You are from the South. North Carolina?

AMOS: Yes, I am.

MARTIN: And I read a quote, you had said that the South walks with me wherever I am in my world, I can't get it out of my DNA. It finds its way into several different parts of this album, especially I'm thinking about the track "Trouble's Lament."


AMOS: (Singing) Trouble needs a home girls, trouble needs a home. She fell out with Satan, now she's on the run. But I have found her quite straightforward in her contracts and her deals, she warns me when danger is loose behind his wheels and he is loose behind his wheels. Don't cry baby.

MARTIN: Often when you think about good and evil themes in country music, which comes up a lot, artists tend to use the devil. You use the word Satan, which has a different kind of religious reference to it, a religious weight. Your dad was a preacher, a minister, right?

AMOS: Methodist ministry, yes.

MARTIN: Does that language find its way into your songwriting.

AMOS: Well, he said to me so many times, oh, just be grateful you're a minister's daughter, what would you write about if I had been a dentist?

MARTIN: (Laughing).

AMOS: But, yes, Satan was very much at the heart.


AMOS: (Singing) Standing up to Satan, dancing on St. Michael's sword. I'm on her side, in this brutal war. Don't cry baby.

MARTIN: I gather there is another big influence on this recording - your young teenage daughter Natashya?

AMOS: Yes. Tash.


AMOS: She's quite something.

MARTIN: You've said the song "Rose Dover" is about how to grow up with your imagination intact, which is an interesting kind of idea. Is that - that's clearly something that you wish for her.

AMOS: I found that there's certain teenagers that have a very magical imagination and are trying to hold on to it, but sometimes they do have to combat judgment, harsh judgment from their peers.


AMOS: (Singing) If you see Rose Dover, that's her secret name, she would meet three others to keep the forest safe. She said my reality got soon called make believe, imagination's funeral, killed by the teenage me. You don't have to throw it away, throw being a kid away just because you're growing up faster every day.

MARTIN: I imagine the answer is yes, but I'm going to ask anyway - has parenthood, in particular raising a daughter, a teenager now, changed how you approach making music?

AMOS: It's changed everything, Rachel. I'm a different person. Becoming a mom was what I needed to refocus my attention. Magic glasses, I would call them. So I took off my other glasses, which might have been - I'll raise my hand - self-involved glasses, and then take off those glasses and put on mom glasses and all of a sudden it's in technicolor.

MARTIN: Tori Amos' new CD is called "Unrepentant Geraldines." She joined us from our studios in New York. Tori, it's been such a pleasure. Thanks for taking the time.

AMOS: Thanks, Rachel. All the best.

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Have a great Mother's Day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.