Exploring Tori Amos' 'Native Invader' Album: Four Things to Know
If pianist Tori Amos hadn’t become an otherworldly singer-songwriter, she likely could have been a literary journalist that would have turned out equally fascinating prose.
Since her 1991 breakthrough, Little Earthquakes, Amos has made unflinching observations about topics like sexual liberation, religion and patriarchal dominance, as well as highly personal confessions about multiple facets of her life: rebel, lover, mother, survivor. The most prominent position she embodies among these roles is that of messenger, with music as her delivery method. The delicate sounds of her melodies and her crystalline mezzo-soprano are jarring juxtapositions to the significant depths of her lyrics — urgent missives wrapped in deceptively velvet envelopes.
Amos’ latest bundle of dispatches — another collaboration with “the Muses 9,” her name for the creative forces that move within her — is Native Invader, which arrived Sept. 8 on Decca Records. Her 15th studio album (which debuted at No. 39 on the Billboard 200, her 13th top 40-charting set) explores the growing division that has plagued America following the 2016 presidential election.
Speaking by telephone scarcely two weeks before beginning a U.S. tour on Oct. 24 in Minneapolis, Amos says she had been hearing stories from people like, “‘I’m losing my friend, because they’re consumed with the news cycle, they’re angry all the time, the person that I knew is not in there. The violin has left the violin case.’ And I started thinking about that. And that started to influence another energy on the record, the idea of making myself a safe place for myself, for my family, and to combat these times.”
One way Amos does this is by trying to remain neutral when watching the news or engaging with others. She admits that it’s challenging, but she knows that she “can’t listen to somebody and maybe learn something if I’m just waiting. I’m looking at people right now, having coffee, and one is talking, and the other is waiting — they’re not listening. They’re thinking about what they’re going to say.
“Maybe it’s just coming out of menopause that I’m able to do this,” she adds with a laugh. “Because at the height of menopause, I don’t think I was. Where you think, ‘No, I need to listen, and to be present, because then maybe I might make a different decision.’”
Here's four other things to know about the singer-songwriter's new set.
Native Invader shares parallels with Amos' 2002 travelogue Scarlet’s Walk.
Scarlet’s Walk focuses on a road trip the title character takes across America in a post-9/11 landscape, and it was partially inspired by tales Amos had heard about her Cherokee heritage. Prior to beginning Native Invader, Amos took a road trip through the Smoky Mountains. On the album, her Native American ancestry is referenced on tracks like wah-wah-heavy “Broken Arrow,” and she again observes America during a tumultuous historical time. Amos recalls how when she toured the United States after 9/11, people at her concerts shared what they had been experiencing.
“What was worrying then was that some songs were not being playe -- they were being blackballed on radio, like ‘Imagine,’ and there are many others,” remembers Amos. “And then, parallel to that time, [people were] trying to shut information down, and then the flooding of information in our time, flooding us with all this information. The opposite of burning books, or burning records, during the Bush era is the floodgates are open with so much nonsense that people are drowning in information, but it has a similar effect, which is to divide and conquer.”
This project is all about the “Benjamin.”
Amos experienced “a penny-drop moment” while driving to visit her mother, Mary, after she had suffered a stroke in January that left her unable to speak. It became clear to Amos that, like her mother’s body had been under attack, so had such ideals as freedom and liberty.
“I’d been getting messages through people I know from people I don’t know that were telling me that I needed to pay attention,” she explains. “They wanted to know, did I know what as going on? Did I understand who was going to be appointed, for example, at the EPA? Those types of things. I call them the Benjamins, whether they’re our lady Benjamins or the male Benjamins. That’s the song ‘Benjamin,’ where I was getting pointed at and sent things to look at to make me aware of what was really going on. As I was sitting in the hospital with Mary, by her side for hours, I would be doing the research, and the album started to come fast and furious.”
An homage to Amos’ mother, “Mary’s Eyes,” focuses on the power of one’s voice.
The track is classic Amos, filled with nimble piano and humming orchestration. Amos, who intends to play it for her mother, feels that Mary losing her voice was a key component in the record because it pushed the singer-songwriter to co-collaborate with the muses “almost with an extra precision, an extra determination, because I didn’t understand what that’s like to not be able to speak.” She realizes that she started valuing “what having a voice means and that we don’t even realize sometimes how powerful speech can be and how words can be so misused.”
She offers a blueprint for healing the United States’ troubles on “Russia.”
In a track that’s reminiscent of “Not the Red Baron” from 1996’s Boys for Pele, Amos sings that both those on the right and the left “must build a bridge” and that it’s “Time to wake/ Activate our native invader.”
“Containment is a really undervalued skill set. That’s one of the things that you have to do as a live performer, but you’ve got to be able carry and contain that level of energy for two hours, and then focus it,” she observes.
She also adds, “Watching people be angry made me realize that they were not in control of themselves. And I even saw myself acting out, as we do sometimes when we hear something on the news. The songs really reached to me and said, ‘Listen, you have got to shift the energy, Tori, because we are not sending instructions to you. We are not doing that. That’s not what’s coming… You are in reactionary mode. You need to ground yourself, and you have to out-create this destructive energy that’s out there. That’s the only way.’ ”
Remaining dates for Tori Amos’ North American fall tour:
Oct. 30 — Toronto @ Massey Hall
Oct. 31 — Ann Arbor, Mich. @ Michigan Theater
Nov. 2 — Boston @ The Orpheum Theatre
Nov. 3 — Washington, D.C. @ MGM National Harbor
Nov. 4 — Philadelphia @ The Tower Theater
Nov. 7-8 — New York @ Beacon Theatre
Nov. 10 — Atlanta @ Atlanta Symphony Hall
Nov. 11 — Durham, N.C. @ Durham Performing Arts Center
Nov. 12 — Nashville @ The Ryman Auditorium
Nov. 14 — New Orleans @ Mahalia Jackson Theatre
Nov. 16 — Dallas @ The Pavilion at The Toyota Music Factory
Nov. 17 — Austin @ ACL Live at The Moody Theater
Nov. 19 — Denver @ The Paramount Theatre
Nov. 22 — Portland, Or. @ Schnitzer Hall
Nov. 24 — Seattle @ The Paramount Theatre
Nov. 25 — Eugene, Or. @ The Hult Center for Performing Arts
Nov. 26 — Oakland, Calif. @ The Paramount Theater
Nov. 28 — San Diego @ The Balboa Theatre
Nov. 29 — Phoenix @ The Mesa Arts Center
Dec. 1-3 — Los Angeles @ The Theatre at Ace Hotel