19 September 2021 (released)
20 September 2021
As Tori Amos announces her upcoming new album, Ocean to Ocean, writer Fiona Dodwell interviews the singer and talks about what inspired the project and what fans can expect from the upcoming release...
It’s been almost 30 years since artist Tori Amos landed on the scene with her debut solo album Little Earthquakes. The release marked the beginning of an immense and unique musical journey, in which she crafted what went on to become a soundtrack of life for her generation of fans. Within the singer’s catalogue of tracks, from the hugely personal gems of the 90's such as Crucify and Spark, to her later offerings such as The Beekeeper and Mary’s Eyes, Amos has traversed sonic landscapes in a way that is incomparable to any of her musical peers.
Amos’s last full studio album was 2017's poetic and emotive Native Invaders, and a lot has happened since then. Amidst the uneven political landscape of Trump’s presidential reign, the US Capitol riots of January 2021, the Covid pandemic and the very tragic loss of her mother, artist Tori Amos carved herself a space to create Ocean To Ocean, an album which certainly serves as a soundtrack to the intervening years since we last heard from her.
I spoke to Amos and discussed how life has been for her in recent years, and how music has been the driving force behind her survival during the pandemic...
It’s been a strange time for us all with the ongoing pandemic.
How have you been, Tori? Did Covid significantly impact your music and plans?
Yes. Like everybody else, I’m sure it’s effected you as well. Anybody I talk to, like you, has had some kind of processing challenge. The way I would usually process things in my life is to travel, so to not be able to do that forced me to find other ways to process things. I don’t know about you, but the third lockdown was the one that kicked my ass. The first one was...well, we did pretty well.
I was keeping busy initially. Doing virtual stuff, like virtual signings...and then Christmas came and my niece visited, when it was allowed. But when that third lockdown happened, it was just....I didn’t have the energy. My coping mechanisms for the last two lockdowns were no longer working.
For people working in theatre and musicians, people involved in live entertainment, there was a huge grieving process. I’m not saying people in Wall Street didn’t have their own challenges... people did. Some I know were home schooling, some worked from home and
had infant children. But there was a grieving, for entertainers. This isn’t just our livelihood, it’s our life.
Fans are thrilled to hear you have a new record. What kind of themes does Ocean to Ocean explore? Are there any overarching narratives?
Yes. Well, for me I actually had a whole other record, but those songs were not helping or working. They weren’t helping me in this third lockdown place I was in, so I had to dump them all. I was low and the only thing to do was to write my way out of that hell.
Those greeting card phrases I’m allergic to... “fake it til you make it”... No! Let’s have a conversation about what’s REALLY GOING on. Let’s just tell each other the truth. So, I just sat there until I let the other songs go... and that was the beginning of writing from the present (for Ocean to Ocean), from where I was. So, Ocean to Ocean is about, how do we, in our own way, find the energy to cope and to move forward.
One of the things I’ve admired about you as an artist is how you’ve never made the same record twice. You have been quite fearless in letting your muses guide you and not treading old ground. Is this your natural evolution as an artist, or do you make a conscious choice in the sound, style and production of an album?
There is a “feet to the fire” moment. I do have people that I work with, and honesty is important and sometimes that honesty is painful. Hearing certain things can make me feel “Ouch.. “ Not harsh, necessarily, because it’s not intended that way, but there is a brutality. Hearing Mark say, “it’s not that it’s not good, but are you really feeling this song, Wife? This isn’t where you are. This is not where you are right now.”
You’re very prolific as an artist. You never seem to have shortage of inspiration. Where do you find the discipline and motivation to keep writing?
I see things as cyclical. I refuse to buy into writers block. I don’t see it like that. I think if you see things as an input, that you’re taking things in... you are reading, watching documentaries, you’re watching people, you’re listening, REALLY listening, as hard as you can — that’s part of the whole process for me. I’ve ears the size of Kansas! Sometimes it’s about observing and shaking up my routine. Experiences that make me feel awake.
I’ve personally been a fan of yours for many years and closely followed your career. I’ve seen you in concert many times too. One thing I’ve observed is that there’s no such thing as a casual Tori Amos fan. Once people sign up, they are there for life. Why do you think that is?
Well I think that’s a relationship. It’s developed over the years, like a collaboration. There’s a knowing, an understanding, that if I really try my best and push it and not settle, I wouldn’t just put something out for the sake of putting something out. It is an agreement, I feel.
Some artists play a character and people agree to accept that character, but then they step out of it. For me that doesn’t really work. There has to be... I have to understand what I am writing about.
I wanted to ask you something, it’s actually a topic I am personally interested in as a mother and a writer myself, I have found juggling the various areas of my life quite difficult at times. How did you find coping with parenthood alongside navigating your career and touring etc?
It had its challenges. Touring with a toddler! Really doing that... Tash’s life was really influenced by that. She never sleeps better than if she’s on a tour bus. She came off the road at eleven because it was effecting her school. At that adolescent point Mark and I noticed it... and Mark’s mother at the time, too. She was honest and said, I really think Tash needs to be around kids her age. So Tash went to boarding school. That was a turning point. But of course, being a songwriter and creator there were times I had to take myself off, because when you have to go blood letting, as I call it, when you really have to peel that skin back and get to the raw emotion you need to get to, as the mum of a child, you just need to take yourself off. I didn’t want my daughter to feel that from her mum. To be the writer I needed to be, to write ADP (American Doll Posse) for example, I needed to f**k off.
In terms of musical inspiration, do you find much from the current climate that inspires you, or do you mostly listen to the songs you grew up with?
Well, I mean, of course I love that music! But Tash’s boyfriend, he was with us for five months on the lockdown, so I call them Oliver’s tracks...he would play me jazz every night. He’s at the Guild Hall...much of it was obscure, some of it was contemporary and fascinating. He and Tash exposed me to all sorts of music that I have found interesting.
Thanks for your time, Tori.
Ocean To Ocean is due for release late October 2021.