Since her 1992 debut album, Little Earthquakes, Tori Amos's star power has been constant. The record, and her follow-up, Under the Pink, both went double platinum in the U.S., the latter earning her the first of her eight Grammy nominations. It was followed by 1996's Boys for Pele, which was the beginning of Amos's acting as sole producer of her records. "It is an alternative, bloodletting record of a woman confronting the patriarchy," she tells me of its release and its twentieth-anniversary reissue last year.
Amos is humble as we sit discussing her career and the release of her fifteenth studio album, Native Invader. Yet there are reminders around us that make it impossible to forget how long she's been making her confrontational, compassionate art. The view from the top floor of the Manhattan building we're in includes Madison Square Garden, where Amos famously performed in 1997 for Tori Amos: Live From New York, a concert benefitting the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, an organization that Amos has been involved with since 1994.
Her work with RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual-violence organization, continues to this day. Prior to Native Invader, Amos had most recently released the single "Flicker" to accompany the 2016 Netflix-original documentary Audrie & Daisy, a harrowing look at sexual assault and cyber-bullying. Amos's involvement with the film aligns with her concern for how to protect our teenagers. After wrapping its promotion, she took a trip through the South designed to retrace her mother's lineage and was faced with thinking about what it means to be a daughter to a world that demands that women be protected.
For Amos, what most shaped the form of Native Invader were the results of the 2016 election and the stroke her mother, Mary Ellen Amos, suffered in January, leaving her unable to communicate. Amos is frank about discussing both of these subjects, and her generosity in doing so makes me think about the merciful place she locates in her music. She's been called various forms of otherworldly throughout the years, but as she again proves on her new album, Amos is very much of this world. This is just what a person sounds like when she refuses to give up on it.
Thora Siemsen: Native Invader is your fifteenth studio album, a record that looks to and reckons with nature. Where were you staying while writing these songs?
Tori Amos: They came at different times. It all started with me taking a road trip. I've done quite a few of those in my lifetime. They seem to trigger something. It's like a pilgrimage.
TS: You road-tripped through North Carolina, where your mother's family is from. How did it feel to reconnect with that part of your roots?
TA: It was exhilarating and scary. We got lost on the back roads for hours. There were no rails. We would just stop the car on a ridge and get out. It was overpowering being surrounded by nature in that way, taking time to find the waterfalls. We went through towns and we would listen to people. We spent our time walking in nature. I was hoping for a song. I didn't get any songs there. None. What I said was, if they wanted to come in the future months, that I would try and be a good listener.
TS: The songs found you back at home?
TA: They found me across the country. I was with Netflix at the time working on Audrie & Daisy, so I was traveling a lot. My mother was starting to get ill, I was speaking with her a lot, telling her what I'd seen on the trip, and she started to tell me all the stories she could remember. I didn't know at the time that she would lose the ability to communicate.