Last Friday Tori Amos released her 15th studio album, the beautiful Native Invader, and she is about to embark on a series of UK dates including the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 4 October. Dave Cross met up with Tori to talk about the album and its themes and inspirations.
Hey Tori, how are you?
I’m great thanks Dave.
I want to talk about the new album, can you explain the title Native Invader?
It can mean different things which was why I was drawn to it. They are two words that you might not necessarily think can work together, but they actually work in different ways and the two words together are something of a paradox which intrigued me.
Can you give me an example of that?
My mother Mary had a stroke while I was making the record, and that is a native invader, her own body turned on her and that’s a negative example. Being pregnant is an example of a native invader but that’s positive, so Tash my daughter is a win. Even though you could say she lived in mummy condo for nine months she was giving to me as well. Looking back in time I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that some of my European immigrant ancestors intermarried with first nation people and were probably land grabbers taking land from the natives. They probably thought that they worked for it because they were in the army but they were still taking
it from other people.
When you were writing and recording the album the American election was happening, how did that and the result affect the songs?
Yes, I was in the States at the time and what happened on and after 8th November has an energy which I have never seen or experienced before. I think it was maybe the same at the end of the sixtes after Doctor King and Robert Kennedy were killed when there was an emotional tsunami full of aggression. My grandfather told me that the civil war had changed people forever, families had turned against each other and some of those effects are still being felt today.
And you believe that’s true again?
Yes, the real lightbulb moment for me was realising that people were voting for this person or that political ticket with the philosophy that people need to be changed and fixed because they are different. How can you be friends with someone who voted for a person who wants to deny who you are? To witness these things is heartbreaking.
Earlier in the year Debbie Harry said that Trump’s presidency could spark creativity in music because artists would need to protest, do you think that’s true?
Debbie is very insightful and she has seen a lot in her life. I think that yes there are artists right now, in different mediums, that can only process
what is going on by channelling it into a form that gives something to people that has its own energy to help deal with the negative energies. It’s not just about one person either, it’s about a movement which is very aggressive
And this has influenced you and the album?
Yes, I heard a lot of awful stories about people being threatened and intimidated and it made me want to write about the energy that’s out there.
I’d like to talk about some of the tracks on the album, if you can tell us about them, starting with the opening song Reindeer King?
It’s about losing things. It could be losing something from someone or a physical thing, like the loss of the permafrost in the Artic for example, which is something that didn’t have to happen. Losing something not because of natural erosion but because of our actions or a person losing something because of an outside force like social media. The downside of the internet is the real brutality that can be there. We humans can decimate another person digitally down to the blood and the bone just as easily as we can decimate something natural such as the Artic environment.
A song I really like is Cloud Riders, it’s just the most gorgeous pop song with some lovely imagery and a great energy…
It’s kind of to do with time and those emotional tsunamis I mentioned before that are happening quite frequently and I wanted to apply some Nordic mythology and imagery to that.
I think my favourite song on the album is Up the Creek, I just love the music with it’s lovely Middle Eastern feel, what is the song about?
That’s interesting that it’s your favourite. It’s about whatever you want it to be I guess. When I was younger we used to always ask my grandfather, Papa, on a Friday, ‘Are you gonna come home with the pool hall hot dog?’ because we had them every Friday night, and he would always answer, ‘Good Lord no, then the creek don’t rise.’ He had Native American ancestry mixed with Irish and that was something he probably heard from his grandmother, so that was where that came from.
Quite a few of the songs, such as Wildwood and Benjamin, which are both beautiful, are talking about science, the planet and what we are doing to the environment, that’s obviously important to you…
Well, yes absolutely. Benjamin is about the fact that agencies such as the EPA, that’s the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of the Environment are supposed to be protecting the natural world but really what’s happening is that they are protecting the big oil, energy and sugars companies who have no hesitation about destroying the world. There are people out there, who I call the Benjamins, although they can be male or female, who are trying to show us what is really happening. There are things happening in America behind the scenes that mean we are losing protection for basic things like clean air and water. And really whatever political aisle you aline yourself to, or don’t, surely we should all be fighting for and entitled to those things, it’s very basic.
And finally, you are doing some shows soon including the Royal Albert Hall, will you be doing some older songs as well as songs from this album?
Oh yes of course, always. I love to perform a mix of songs. People often make suggestions for older songs and I always think about them, but don’t always oblige and people think I’m being ornery, which I can be a bit I know, but it’s usually because I don’t feel I can actually do the song properly. But yes, the shows will have songs from across the years.
Tori Amos’ Native Invader reviewed by Dave Cross
In the past few years Tori Amos has given us albums inspired by classical music and songs for theatrical shows alongside more conventional studio albums. Native Invader, her 15th album, moves her squarely back into the mainstream whilst retaining that etherial quality that sets her apart from other contemporary artists. The album started off as an exploration of her Tennessee Smoky Mountain roots but in the middle of the writing and recording the US election happened causing, as she says ‘an emotional tsunami’ which can be felt across the album. The other main theme is the environment and what we are doing to the planet which she effortlessly ties into comments on the political state of America. There are some beautiful heartfelt songs such as Chocolate Song, Wildwood and Benjamin which showcase her songwriting and the beauty of her voice. There are also some standout pop songs with Cloud Riders and Up The Creek being great examples of the gorgeous production to be found across the album. If you loved Tori’s early work such as Little Earthquakes or Under the Pink then you will find much to appreciate here but Native Invader is most definitely an album of the modern world to. Beautiful, heartfelt and striking in its music and lyrics.