Atlantic Records, New York City. 10 September 2001.
Zaedryn Meade, zaedryn.com
I admit, I was one of those Tori fans that you were probably annoyed by, discussing the theory behind her songs and the references to her obscure lyrics. But I also ended up being one of those Tori fans that was less interested when she began putting the piano a little further on the back burner and bringing the full band into her live concerts. During her most recent albums, From the Choirgirl Hotel and To Venus and Back, I started becoming overwhelmed with the frustrating fans and less impressed with the depth to the music. What I had deemed my only obsession began to wane. To the extent that I even got rid of most of my extensive collection of Tori’s CDs.
That was about the same time that the hype for Tori’s new album began to hit the Internet. The first thing I heard was that it was a cover album, and it included a song by Eminem. The fans’ responses to that small bit of information was strong – and rightfully so, as Eminem is homophobic, sexist, racist, and influencing thousands; but that’s another essay – but it only created more controversy, more talk about her new album, more discussions and debates about the level of controversy in her past projects. The most sound advice I heard, then, was to just wait until we have more information, to hear Tori’s version of the explanation, to not just leave it at Tori covering an Eminem song but to dig deeper and discover why.
Now that I have picked up the album and have had a chance to get into the concepts of the album, I must say I am completely blown away. A friend of mine said that she believed this to be Tori’s most mature work since Pele, and I must agree. Tori has taken twelve songs originally written and preformed by men and retold them through a woman’s perspective. The women retelling the stories are in the original versions of the songs, in some way; Tori went so far as to revisit the elaborate make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin and dress up as each of these characters for the photo shoots.
While waiting for the album to hit the shelves, I magically ended up with the opportunity to participate in a round-table discussion in New York City, with ten other journalists and, of course, Tori. To be able to hear about this album first hand, directly from her mouth, really opened my eyes to the depth and profundity of the statements she made with this album. As is usual with Tori’s projects, they take on so much more depth when you start to understand what went on behind them, and what is really going on within them.
This is a transcript of the round-table discussion. Rather than try to pull quotes from Tori out of context, as a fan I think it is much more interesting and valuable to just read the entire interview, word for word. (My questions, in case you were curious, were about the impact of Internet downloads and what her opinion was on feminism.)
I love the album. I want to ask you what do you think was the hardest song to get down the biggest obstacle with any of these songs?
Each song had its minefields … and I have [what] I’ve been calling “the laboratory of men”, which [was] a control group. One of the premises of the record was how men say things and what a woman hears. For me to really know that this was what I thought it was, I first had to investigate how men say things and what a man hears. There were men that were willing to be a part of this, and they all were giving me sort of like the rules. Well you know, if I give you this song and tell you my story, then are you going to turn this upside down and inside out? I said yes, without question, I am, so if you have problems with that then you shouldn’t be a part of this. And you’re gonna get your feelings hurt because I’m probably not going to see this like you do. Your opinion is valid, this is how you see it; and that’s what this is about. There was a group that wanted to be part. If they did not want to talk about a certain song, then they would bow out for that. Some of the men did not want to talk about the Eminem song [’97 Bonnie and Clyde]. They said, “I’m not getting dragged into this.” And I said, “Okay, fine, we’ll call you on Heart of Gold.” But there were some that really wanted to be involved in that – gay and straight – that wanted to be involved in that one. The thing about that one was – just to dive right in to the one that people seem to want to talk about the most – and then we can get it out of the way; two things about the Eminem track. Within seconds of me hearing it she reached out and said, “You have to hear how I heard this.” As I investigated this song with the men, not one of them, out of all the things that had been said, not one of them said, “I wonder what she went through, I wonder how she saw it.” She was nameless, faceless, didn’t have a voice – that was not their interest. Whatever the arguments were, this is what I was seeing. And immediately, I was crawling there with her, back in the trunk, hearing, as she lay dying, that she couldn’t protect her daughter, and that her daughter would grow up divided between the two of them. This was the daughter’s legacy. She would become the strange little girl. And [the song] Strange Little Girl is the daughter grown up.
So that’s one level of that song. The tricky thing was how do you enter musically into this thing. And I had another group of thinktank people on the music side, and entry point was Bonnie and Clyde search Gainsborough. So I went back in the bloodline of Bonnie and Clyde, and sonically came in that way.
You talked about wanting to hear the songs, or wanting to interpret the songs as men heard them, as women heard them. Did the idea for this come up – I have a lot of straight male friends, which is bizarre because I’m a gay woman, so it’s very strange that I have these friends – but we hear things so differently, [like] speech patterns. Did it start for you there, did it start for you with regular speech or was it completely a musical idea from the get go?
First of all I think it makes a lot of sense that you have a lot of straight male friends because you like the same thing. I have a lot of gay male friends … and straight male friends also. They were both a part of this; I needed the mix of this. I had to have a balance of both; and I had the rightwing Christians involved too, I had to have them involved. Now that we’ve laid that groundwork knowing that it wasn’t just one kind of person that was voicing here, it was people with different political views, with different sexual orientation, I mean that was all playing here. What was your question again?
Did it start for you in thinking about how you hear people say, verses songs, and interpreting music?
I think it started with the idea of a place where men are the mothers. That’s the original seed – I have to go back to the original, original seed before we get into the second layer. And the original one was a loving kind of compassionate place. A lot of the men in my life wanted to know what is it like to be able to hold another life inside your body. They didn’t want to know what it would be like to be a father; they wanted to know what would it be like to be a mother. A man who could have that power. Which started to take me to the word power – and then we go to Joe Jackson, Real Men, [which brings up the idea of] how do you define a powerful man? That’s really changed for me, because I used to be up to no good. The gal in I’m Not in Love is sort of investigating that power sexual tango, where maybe it’s fun for a while but there’s going to be a loser, just every time, there will be. And now, a powerful man, it was like wow, well that’s really changed; for me a powerful man, now, is someone I would leave my daughter with and turn my back on for ten minutes. Which I must tell you, I have men that I call friends that I would not leave my daughter with. And it’s not because they’re lecherous, and it’s not because they’re going to molest her. It’s energetic – it’s psychic – it’s: this is not a safe place. So this [view of power men] has changed, it’s begun to change my view of what I used to think was this aphrodisiac of power, which was power over, of, and above somebody else. Which takes us to subjugation of women and gay men — you know when I say women I include gay men also. After that initial seed, I started being shown a lot of different thought. I closed myself off, when I was pregnant, to the outside world; and I began to see that there is an incredible rage against the feminine right now. It’s unleashing itself and playing itself out in many different ways in the West – it’s different than the East. I didn’t think if you had asked me in the 80s that there would be this incredible rage against the feminine. The gender war as we all know isn’t just out here [gestures away from herself] somewhere, it’s in here [gestures to her heart]: with my animus and where I’m holding this. And men – you know you should be scared shitless of your anima, because she’s coming up! This project started to take on these two layers of a place where the men were the mothers, and also a place where the gender war is alive and active and internal. So the words, what we say, and the power of words, that started to become another layer.
What do you think the world would be like if women were in charge?
It would be a mess.. because it’s in the balance. But until women are given equal freedoms, we’re sick – but it’s not about one gender ruling the world, it’s about consciousness. And some men are more in touch with the balance than some women. There are some women I wouldn’t leave my daughter with. Where is it that just says one sex is the one that should lead? But until women are equal – and I don’t care what the religion is or what the philosophy is, if there is a place where you know there isn’t freedom for both then you should be running out the back door.
One thing you do on this album is you change the context of these songs – the Stranglers song [Strange Little Girl] becomes about something else other than what that Stranglers song was originally about (even though they’re called the Stranglers I guess it might seem obvious). I’m Not in Love, which I always heard as kind of an innocuous but obsessive pop song, becomes almost an act of violence. Am I hallucinating something here or is this stuff really happening on this album?
It’s really happening — it’s really happening.
Is your goal from the beginning to subvert the context of these songs?
Well, in Time, there’s a compassionate read from the original versions, and I think this is a compassionate read. I think in Enjoy the Silence there’s also a tender read, similar to the original. If you really look at it as a whole you can’ say that every song is energetically different. [In the song] Time — the character that is seeing is Death – she sees time very differently than a human would. It means something very different. and when death walked in the room and kind of looked at me and said, “It’s time that you loved, Tori, it’s not quite time to go but it’s time that you loved” that was inspired by one of the men who had lost someone, and was grieving. And I think the essence of death started to walk in the room and one of the layers to the record is that the men who brought the work and their stories and their pictures of the work, their interpretation of it, had a — it does resonate on the record, it’s there. I saw time as this man would play it over and over and tears would run down his face and he’d lost his best friend – and so not having lost my best friend I could not align, and walk in that way, but before I knew it just the presence of death she was there, in white, lovely; no horns, no spittle, no nothing – just very elegant, very knowing, incredibly grounded. And I started to have a respect for feeling mortal. So Time became a very – it started to have these projections on it.
Whereas a song like I’m Not in Love … this was a real giggle-hour for the guys, because I’m Not in Love was, you know, slow dancing with the hand in the jean of the gal – or the young lad depending on which guy you’re talking to! [It turned into] this whole walk down memory lane, and it started to really occur to me that there’s arrogance, a hidden arrogance to that, so I chose to go into the shadow of this song. The [shadow] version always exists, you can go listen to [it] — you know some men really really treasured this song, but as a woman, being told, “I’m not in love but – I have my girlfriend – but I feel this for you”. At a certain point you think, “Okay, I’m not in love either. You want to play that one, you want to play it out, lets play it out.” It gets very dark … if you really want to play that one out. Depending on what woman you’re playing this out with.
I was wondering if the placement of all the songs was deliberate. Were there other songs maybe that you had looked at, that you wanted to do but didn’t fit within the context of what you were trying to say, that you discarded? How did you go about choosing songs and where you put them on the CD?
A lot of songs, first of all, were brought up, that were people’s favorite songs … but it did not resonate with our time. Whether it’s I Don’t Like Mondays, which when the San Diego shooting happened again this year, it was clear that this hadn’t gone away. It did reflect in our time. There were some songs that I really liked and were great songs, but they didn’t make sense in our world, now, as I could see it. Just from my perspective. I could not find my entry point: I’d look at the structure and I couldn’t get in. Songs had to work – these are not all my favorite songs, by any stretch, but that’s not the point. I grew to know them and to care for them and to feed them no different than I feed my own songs – a plate of spaghetti was as full going to Bonnie and Clyde as it would be going to Winter. I was nurturing the relationship with the songs and the secrets that the songs held. Some people listen to my own songs and they find things in them that I don’t find – does that mean it’s not so? No. As the writer, I’m holding a space to try and transcribe something of the intangible into matter. But me as Tori, I have my opinion of it, and my relationship of it, but that’s very different. That’s a different thing. The pictures that I see in Winter are not what you would see if you listened to it. And that’s where the magic begins. So in the choosing the songs and where they sat on the record, of course, that’s a story in its own. Order matters. At one time I thought I wanted to start the record off with Real Men, because I thought it would be clear what we were going for, but then it just felt like nothing could follow it, so it became our bookend, it was the end.
At the beginning of Happiness is a Warm Gun, is that an anti-gun message? You said that was a news clip of when Lennon was shot, and it sounds like a politician quoting, “the right to bear arms” … What’s the message of putting those two together?
Well what Happiness is a Warm Gun is, it’s a song written by a man who had seen an ad [with this phrase], and didn’t know at the time clearly that he would be killed by one. In our day and time now, especially after the San Diego shooting – that’s why they’re back to back – there was a lot of talk going on about if there were bad seeds, and that the kids that killed each other, they’re bad seeds. I would be hearing this and it just kind of became something that I couldn’t gaze away from, which is because this is really about access, isn’t it. Because the chip slips in my nieces and nephews all the time, it’s going to slip, and it slips – I remember in my own life at that age. So if you can grab for a gun or if you can get a gun easier in certain states than you can get a driver’s license, isn’t the question accessibility? Because the question isn’t “is somebody going to go psychotic?” – they are. That’s what hormone raging is about. So the fact that we do have a Second Amendment in place – that’s my father, talking about that. Then there’s George W., speaking his little speech, and then his father speaking. I figured if I had father and son I had to have father and daughter, that was fair. Happiness is a Warm Gun is a canvas, is a place … we are a gun culture, we all know it, but when does the tidal wave get so big that you go, “Okay, maybe we need to evacuate now.” We’re hanging on to this Second Amendment so tight, the controls clearly aren’t enough, and when the kids are killing each other, when do you pull back? Maybe as a new mother. My hormones were raging too, and you just say, is there a place where you can have a gun culture but not be afraid to put more controls on it? Because you think that that Second Amendment is going to go if you just put a dent in it a little bit, then it’s like why do we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater? So this is a place that brings up a lot of questions where we are as America, by a man who wrote this who was murdered by a gun. There are a lot of things that make this very … I think this it’s a dangerous issue, but if we don’t address it, what’s it going to take? Is it going to take till people in the gun lobby have their kids bleeding? Because that’s going to happen, law of numbers, eventually one day. Where does change happen? How many kids are going to have to go through this before we say, something needs to shift. And of course there’s always the arrogant side of us that says, “We’re America, we’re in our terrible 200s.” We’re young, we can address this. It’s been in place for a little while.
You’ve been talking about this think tank, this group of people who brought you songs. Which ones did you bring in, knowing that you wanted to do? Obviously you probably were familiar with Real Men or I Don’t Like Mondays, maybe not Raining Blood… which ones [were yours]?
All the ones that got rejected.
Peter Murphy, Marlene Dietrich’s Favorite Poem. I loved that. I loved that. But he took it from the point of view that I would have. He held that space. I have a couple bee sides that I did … After All by David Bowie, it’s a bee side, it’ll come out as one. And Hoover Factory, Elvis Costello, but I didn’t pull it off. Close, very close. The one that I really wanted to pull off was Iggy Pop, Sick of You, with the harpsichord. I thought, a baroque version of Sick of You would be really great. But the day that I was ready to do it, I woke up and thought, “Okay, I can do Sick of You today,” the harpsichord was not ready to go, and my piano tuner was at a piano tuning conference, and I couldn’t get him back while I still had the nerve.
These songs are told through the eyes of different women … is there any particular reason you did it that way, or why you chose the different characters?
Each one is different, how I arrived at it. There isn’t a pattern that was applied. With Happiness is a Warm Gun, the character did not arrive until I was in the thick of it. I couldn’t find my entry point on that one — I knew I was going to do it, and I knew the Second Amendment would be a backdrop for this and I even knew it was going to be linked with I Don’t Like Mondays but I couldn’t find her. The men started giving information, as they were delving into it, that at the wee hours in the morning – the information that I was giving anyway, the research that they were doing – in the wee hours of the morning Mark David Chapman called for a call girl. I still didn’t have it yet – I said, “Investigate that more,” and “What happened, what occurred that you can find out.” Well what occurred, it seemed, in his own words, he asked her to perform a service. Maybe many, but one that was documented. He asked her to be silent. So immediately, because of Silent All These Years from my own work, I had my own entry point. Because I understand that, that place of being silent. So I was able to hold that call girl’s space. And that’s the … I guess you would say, the tone. And [that’s] how I could hold it for the musicians and everybody to come in, and we chose to do this nine and a half minute version of music from the point of view of a woman that understands silence.
Why Strange Little Girls for the first single, and the title?
I call my own songs the girls, and these are strange ones. And it just so happened that Strange Little Girl was being offered up at the time. It was important for some of the guys that The Stranglers were represented. One of them put together the Peaches and the Beaches and I just said no, no. And I discovered Strange Little Girl… I didn’t know that song, and it became this very different — I heard it really differently. I didn’t see it like some of the guys saw it, which was wow, this mysterious dark pained girl that they’re having fantasies about. I saw it like she was something that a lot of my women friends can become sometimes which is this “Danger, danger, warning, leave now, exit stage left quickly.” And that’s what it became.
I’ve heard that Strange Little Girls was available on the Internet before it was released in stores. How does the availability of your album on the Internet affect the message you’re trying to get across, or does it?
Well I don’t exactly know how the Internet works, with all the downloading or the streaming or whatever you call it. I really believe that if you are in a place where you want to take music, then that’s the place you are in. But it’s a reflection on you really, not me.
Because if I taste wine, and I like it, I’m not going to put the bottle in my purse, because I want them to continue making that wine. That’s what I want them to do. And I actually understand what it takes to make good wine a little bit, and if you’re going to treat people right and value – value – what it takes … I’ve been playing since I was two and a half, this is what I do. So if you’re at a place where you need to take it, then you take it. And then there might be one day a place where you go, “Okay, I just want to show my expression of gratitude that this work has done to me.” And then you might buy it. Now if we’re going to get into a barter system, and then you say to me you’re going to cook me spaghetti if I come over and play a song. Well if the song sucks, you might not want to give me like a lot of your precious sauce, I don’t know. But maybe I say, “Well the BMW in the driveway is kind of cute I think, for a few songs … ” Where does the bartering stop and begin?
So if we’re going to walk down this road, I’m not afraid to say that I think it’s a question of the person who’s doing the taking. You have to wake up with yourself and if everybody thinks music should be free, than the scary thing is in thirty years when all the musicians have gone and become something else and you don’t have your musicians anymore because they’re doing — you know, they’ve got to do a day gig. And maybe there’s people that have resentment, also, in them, because you’re not doing what you want to be doing, whoever you are, so why should the musician do what they’re doing and get paid for it? So there’s a hidden resentment. And I do think it’s a reflection of the person who’s doing the taking. But if you’re at that place, I say then take it. But that’s about you.
Have any of these artists heard your versions of these songs?
Well I’m not necessarily warm and fuzzy with all these artists, so I don’t know any of them personally. Some of them — Slayer sent tee shirts — and you know, little messages have come from certain ones but certain others … No, I have not sent the bottle of champagne and the record to everybody and said, you know, thanks, because that’s not what this is about. This is not a tribute record. I have respected their work as a fellow songwriter, and to go to them in the beginning and say, “I’m going to do this,” pre-supposes that I do not know how to do this. I do know the protocol, I do know the etiquette. I do know how I would want my songs to be treated. But I also think that I wouldn’t want to be — I’ve had my say with my songs. I am not subjective. So to pull me in, you’re — I’m just going to be paranoid if I in six months know that somebody’s going to be doing Me and a Gun from the point of view of the rapist, I don’t know if I really want to be on the think tank on that. But I trust that the song, if it’s a powerful songwriter with integrity, will be airtight and they will have done their research.
Some of these songs are very moving, and probably a lot different than the artist had intended. That’s all I wanted to know, was there, “Oh, you opened my eyes I never saw the song like that before.”
Songwriters usually don’t say that, the ones that I know. But there has been an acknowledgement in quite a few of them, and then there are others that are very very quiet. And I think is actually the right response in some of the cases.
It seems that strange little girls are the most interesting. Do you want your daughter to be one? How do you think she’ll be treated by the world if she is?
Good question. Any time you’re unique I think you become a strange little girl, any time that you sort of don’t try to be like anybody else, you’re going to stick out. And that’s going to cause a certain amount of heartache, I think … Just because – for me anyway – when you stand out, sometimes, because of your beliefs, it can be lonely. And I’m really trying to not stop her from trying things. Her big new thing is ghetto blasters, she loves ghetto blasters. However the one ghetto blaster that she wanted was Barbie ghetto blaster, and you know: Barbie does Latin, Barbie does hip hop, Mommy goes nuts hearing Barbie all day. I didn’t — I took the heads off Barbies, because my sister had them when I was little. So I’m having to just kind of go, this is her choice, I’m not going to do to her what my dad did to me which was take away Led Zeppelin, I’m not going to take away Barbie.
You’re going back on tour now, how are you going to perform these songs? What are you looking forward to most?
Well, I’m not going to wig up every night if that’s what people are asking. I’m going to walk out as me. And you will be able to see and view the women, they will be present in photograph form because they exist, you know I can’t just — I can’t find them as easy as they can find me it seems. But when I have their song going or music something that — even some of them you know this might be their song but they had songs that they liked, and while we were photographing them I would discover maybe that one of them likes Miles Davis, this would just kind of come up. So in getting to know the characters and their back-story, that might be woven in the concert. But I’m not walking out as a different bewigged woman every night.
Two-part question: you are evidently aware of Cindy Sherman, the photographer —
Very aware, yes.
And — she obviously fed into this?
Yeah in a huge way. She’s been one of my favorites for so long, her work has been a real cornerstone for me. So — yeah. I really love her work.
You have inspired a fanatical following. Often I find when artists get that kind [of following] where they interpret your songs, and they feel passionate like that, they often don’t understand what it is that [the fans] are passionate about. Is this a mystery to you?
If you can remove yourself — if you sat in my seat and wore my shoes — if you could remove yourself from this and sort of get the ego out of the way — which I can do for maybe five minutes a day but — if you can do that, then you sort of realize that people are having relationships with the songs and what it’s bringing up in them. I do work a lot with archetypes, that’s what I’ve been doing a lot of my musical life, I’ve been fascinated by it. We all are drawn to different archetypes, through history through mythology, and not one of us has the same combination of what we’re drawn to. I know women who are much more drawn to Athena than Aphrodite. And vice versa. Then there are women that have some slices of each, some 90% some 2% and some have Hades in them, some women have Zeus in them. With this record, I do think that many of the archetypes of that Pantheon are represented. Some of them are held by the men who originally did the song — you see what I’m saying? There’s the rape of Persephone so Hades is there, and Zeus did plenty of raping too. So there’s that there, but there’s also, you know, the — I would say the Jesus myth, the compassion myth is there, and it’s weaving through the work, too. I’m really just drawn to that, it’s what I read, it’s what I breathe, and it’s always going to be a subtext.
I think people are drawn to that – not me, necessarily, at all.
Those people feel so passionately about your work, and now you’re doing versions of other people’s songs. Are they going to need to interpret this differently? They want this intimate exposure of you as an artist and now they’re getting something else.
Don’t you think that you really learn a lot about a person by the choice that they make? And this isn’t about the obvious – the record – but if you go under a layer of skin and don’t get distracted, then you start to realize; all these women, whether you like them or not, there’s something in them that I can relate to, or I couldn’t have held a space for them to enter. So the girl in I’m Not in Love, she’s very dangerous to me because she’s playing a very dangerous game. And I’ve walked down that road before, I really have, and it’s a road that can always seduce you. Depends who walks into your life, you might walk down that road again, you just don’t know. It’s a scary realm, that realm. I don’t think I am she or like her, but she was able to house herself in me, so that says something about me — I’m able to hold that essence, even if I’m a bit afraid of her, and I think it does tell you a lot about an artist. It’s very telling, which character they choose to align with in their own songwriting — I mean if you just sit and study it you learn a lot about that person.
Going back to what you were saying earlier about your songs and your relationship to them at their conception … I was wondering, based on what I was hearing, was it more challenging to take songs that already existed and find your relationship with it, is there any way to compare the two at all?
Well, I have a DNA code with my own songs. I have a key. I am their birth mother. I’m not the birth mother of any of these songs. If you look at each one of them as a sonic structure, to be able to really crawl behind the eyes of the song itself and sit with it and hear its secrets and understand the psyche of each one — and you also have to be referencing the birth mother’s point of view because as I’ve always said there are some things you only tell your mother, and there are some things you never tell your mother. So I had to work with both of those.
What’s your favorite persona and song combination on the album?
Two different things – my favorite song, just me as Tori you mean, not the one I’ve done the best necessarily at all, but a song that I really hum around the house: Rattlesnakes. That wasn’t a song that was big in my life when it came out and it’s just become something that I really love. But as the women, the characters, I really like Raining Blood. I really like her. I don’t think she’s with us anymore, but when I met her and I began to see her story: she was in wartime, and she did things that I think she thought she would never do, for causes she believed in because she was at war. She saw death on a day-to-day basis, and she chose to infiltrate, and become part of the French Resistance. Do I think she made it? No, I don’t. She has two stories written for her — Neil Gaiman did impressions of my impressions, he was one of the lab of men. He said, “If you’re going to do impressions of men I think a man needs to do impressions of your impressions.” I said, “I think that’s fair.” So his impressions will be — you’ll be able to get them, in the album there’s a line from each one of his impressions attached to the woman, and he’s written a dual story for her that she made it out and she’s 80 and in Miami somewhere, a little French lady, and another story where there are bones beneath the French earth that dreamed of a daughter’s wedding.
You seem to know a lot about these different characters. Are the fans going to be able to learn the history of all these different women in such detail?
There are four different covers because one woman couldn’t represent all of them, as the cover, so there were four women that we felt wanted to be that. And if you open the concertina then you’ll find all of the women there back and front, it’s like a little gallery. It makes no sense since you haven’t seen it.
But is there a history, an actual story, the detail… ?
The stories will probably show up on the ‘Net, and in the tour book. But there’s just a line of each, you’re just getting a line from each one, because I wanted you to get to know them musically first, and have your own impressions and your own relationship with them, if you want to, before it gets told and defined exactly who they are. Because these are Neil’s impressions of these women — because he knows the back-story, and we spoke for hours and hours and hours, but you have to play by your own rules. If I’m going to do impressions of the men, then a man needed to be able to do impressions of the woman. And I thought that was fair.
How important was the visual aspect of each of these women to you?
Very. A lot of time spent trying to put together who they were, and to define — without getting into the ridiculous. It’s not about shock value, putting warts on some, some have leprosy – then you just walk into theatrics and it’s very easy to start achieving that. But if you just kept women as women that wake up and have a job to go to, or are dead but had friends, had family, and you don’t bring the prosthesis people in, it’s very tricky … because it just has to be women that you run into. There was a whole team on the visual side, too. Lot of people involved on this record.
A lot of consultation?
Is there any kind of message that you’re trying to convey to your fans with this album?
Building bridges. Whether it’s internally with the male and female, or externally, we really have a gift and one cannot take the freedoms away from the other, and if we want to do that — why, why do we want to do that? If we want to do that, don’t you think it’s because — as a woman, if I want to take freedoms away from the men and subjugate them emotionally then there’s something in me, my male, I’ve got a war with him in here [gestures to her chest], I believe that. Same with the men, if they want to subjugate the women or the gay men. There’s something in me. This is about my relationship with me or your relationship with you. You know as Joe Jackson said [on the song Real Men], “If there’s war between the sexes, there’ll be no people left.” But it’s… not external as much, that’s just a reflection, it’s really just in here I think, in here.
If you could summarize your album in one word, what would it be?
Exhausting! [Laughs.] No. Putting it together was — you know, feet held to the fire. Because when you’re doing a work like this there are references. When you’re doing your own work there are no references, you don’t really know the process, there’s nothing for you to compare it to — I did come to understand that you’re taking on songs that mean a lot to people, it’s like you’re almost messing with the sacred. But we’re talking about, I think, the gift of perception. I had no idea sometimes how my husband would hear something I would say to him. I didn’t mean to offend, I didn’t mean to emasculate, I didn’t mean to — but I’m seeing the words that I’ve just said completely change our relationship. Was it the way I said it, was it the way he interpreted it? It’s both. But he speaks English and I speak American, and that’s really difficult sometimes. For me on this record, it’s true, we crawl behind the eyes of the men, even the men with me, and I hung in their heads for a while. That’s true. But the men can crawl back over that bridge, and crawl into the skin of these different women and see and hear how they heard what the man said. And I think that’s the gift and I think it’s a fair exchange.
In the past you’ve mentioned that you don’t really consider yourself a feminist. So many of your projects have been really empowering to women, they’ve really been about raising women’s awareness — that seems pretty feminist to me. What do you think about that word and what does it mean to you?
Well, the word is just — the thing about the word is, it’s like Christianity. They’re very similar. I believe in Christ, as an essence, I have a lot of time for Christ. But Christianity in its word has so much attached to it that it isn’t about Christ’s message, it really isn’t. And I think feminism is not about excavating the internal and knowing the feminine, I think sometimes feminism is about hatred, sometimes. With good cause – it’s fair enough – but that’s not really where I am right now. I think I was born a feminist, and then at about five decided okay, Gloria Steinem, yes, this makes sense. The movement when it was happening at the time it was achieving certain things. Now I think it can be associated with a bitter consciousness. I am not bitter. I believe in a place that is about equality for both sexes — or whatever your sexuality is. And I don’t necessarily think that feminists are for that. So of course I’m for women’s rights, are you kidding? Just go look at my work! But I’m not going to align myself necessarily with a term that I think needs to acknowledge the successes that it’s had, the incredible strides that it’s had, which the word doesn’t necessarily acknowledge. So Christianity and feminism are similar words to me. I really really love Christ, but I’m not a Christian.