Tori Amos Has Been Helping #MeToo Survivors for Decades — Her New Album Goes Even Farther
“This could be one of those moments we look back at and say shifts began to happen.”
Tori Amos exudes a calm confidence, her piercing blue eyes focused straight ahead, blinking occasionally behind orange-tinted glasses.
The red-haired folk singer sits in a conference room in Universal Music Group’s New York City offices, surrounded by framed portraits of Jay-Z, Lady Gaga, and Lil Wayne, to talk about her new album, her activism for women and girls, and what it means to be a Global Citizen.
At 54, Amos is at the forefront of the fight for women, the environment, and indigenous rights. Her newest album, “Native Invader,” is an attempt to distill this complex moment in US history into an eclectic, hour-long musical journey.
The album, her 15th, was initially conceived as a way to look back at her roots in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, and Amos traveled to the state in 2016 on a road trip. But the narrative changed as her mother suffered a debilitating stroke and US President Donald Trump swept to an unexpected victory in the 2016 election, on the back of states like North Carolina that had previously supported Barack Obama.
In "Broken Arrow" and “Up the River” she sings about climate change and indigenous resistance. In “Russia,” she addresses political division in the United States. “Mary’s Eyes,” the album’s last song, is an ode to her mother.
Amos sat down to speak with Global Citizen just after the #MeToo campaign saw hundreds of thousands of women around the world speak out against sexual assault and some men respond on social media with the words “How I Will Change.”
The co-founder of the Rape, Incest, and Abuse National Network (RAINN), Amos told Global Citizen that in the wake of the #MeToo campaign RAINN has received “more calls than we have had in a long, long time.”
Amos began fighting for women and girls early on her musical career. Her 1991 song, “Me and a Gun,” details being raped at age 21, and in 1994, she placed the ceremonial first call to the newly-created RAINN hotline.
She has been an outspoken proponent of women’s rights, even when doing so may have negatively impacted her personal trajectory, she said.
More than 20 years after her first album, Amos continues to use her voice to advocate for marginalized and vulnerable populations. You can read the interview, below:
What’s the origin behind your new album “Native Invader”?
It all came together very quickly after not coming together at all for a while.
I had been unsettled since I took a trip back to where I was born, not exactly where I was born, but the state where I was born. I was tracking my grandfather’s story because he’s part Eastern Cherokee nation and part European and so was his wife, my grandmother.
I was just, in July of 2016, trying to pull on those stories because I found my grandfather comforting. As I took this journey and went deeper and deeper in the South, I saw more bumper stickers that had me realizing that my impression having been in New York [...] was a very different impression than I got [in the South].
As I was going down there, I had been hoping songs would come. I found myself sitting there trying to wrestle with what I was seeing around me and the magic of the Smoky Mountains and connecting with my grandfather. There was an expectation that there would be this opening of the floodgates of storytelling. Nothing came, and then November 9th happened.
I flew from California to Florida on Election Day, sitting down next to a woman around my age that had such vitriol against Hillary Clinton. It was as if cold water splashed over me. I realized there was such division occurring, and it was heartbreaking.
There’s a line in your song, “Broken Arrow” that goes, “Are we emancipators or oppressors / Of Lady Liberty? What does that question mean and do you have any sort of answer to it?
I think that you can’t be both in the same moment. I don’t see how that’s possible, although I’m always thinking about the tension of the opposites. I love a good paradox.
I think this song as a whole was a reckoning of me with my beliefs. There are consequences to voting, there are consequences to decision making. There are consequences to being complicit, as we’re finding right now in all things.
So, this song was coming out of a heartbreak place because it was written not right after the election, but several months later, when we were all seeing the consequences.
You’ve been closely involved with RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). What are your thoughts on the #MeToo movement that’s spread across social media this week?
I’ve reached out to RAINN, and we have had more calls than we have had in a long, long time. It might be the most we have had. We were actually on the phone with them a few hours ago and they’ve had to pull in all their volunteers to man the lines — woman the lines.
So it is having a huge impact, along with the news cycle with more of the brave women coming forward and talking about their experiences. Because of that, then, #MeToo brought it into everyday workplace.
What’s the role of men in listening and being a part of this conversation?
It’s absolutely essential. The change will not happen without it.
I think all of us need to be a part of “How I Will Change.” That’s not a negative, to be part of how I will change. Even if I haven’t been complicit, knowingly, I’m sure I have had dinners with the boys’ club in the music business. I’m sure I have had dinners with the boys’ club, and then they go out and manipulate a young, female artist or a young male artist. Now, I might not know it, but I should know it.
Do you believe that musicians and celebrities have an important role in being activists right now?
This has got to be something that each person feels genuine about. Not all songwriters have the toolset to write about issues because that isn’t their strength. My strength isn’t getting you to start dancing all over the room. People aren’t really like, “Oh, I want to get up and dance to something, let’s play a Tori song.”
I’m not saying that people that write dance music can’t also be writing about causes, but it really needs to come from a place because you’re being called and it feels right.
What does it mean to be a Global Citizen?
[It means] that I’m a daughter of earth, [that] earth is my mother. That means all of earth. I don’t have to go physically to a place to learn about a place and to be affected by it.
We can be very insular and isolated, whether you’re on the island of Great Britain or whether you’re on the Turtle Island of the United States.
What kinds of conversations do you expect or hope to have with fans along the US leg of your tour?
I think all kinds of conversations are going to come up. Right now in the US there’s so much going on — from people losing their homes in Houston to the fires in California. So it’s those things to what’s happening in Washington all the time.
People are finding a voice and saying “me, too” and “how I will change.” [Now the question is] how to implement it, because I think that’s really key.
This could be one of those moments we look back at and say, “Shifts began to happen, consciousness started to happen.” Even people that didn’t want it to happen because they’re pervs, realized, “No, there are boundaries. There are boundaries that I have to adhere to or I’m going to get blacklisted.”
Would you say that you’re hopeful for this moment?
I’m watchful. I’m watchful because I think you have to be scanning the horizon all around you at all times, like a good lady lizard, scanning, looking for mosquitos and flies and just seeing what’s going on in the little entertainment complex jungle.
This is the same in Washington. It’s a mirror image really.
It’s all been interconnected — from the lawyers to the publishers to the record labels to the agents to the promoters to the music supervisors on movies to the award shows.
I’ve been talking about the boys’ club for years. Has it hurt me? I would think so, yeah. I think that there are certain things that have happened, but I’m very blessed because of the fan base and that they weren’t able to shut me down, as of yet.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)