Eight-time Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, producer, comic book writer, music legend Tori Amos is in Los Angeles on a warm sunny day. She sips on iced tea at the Sunset Marquis wearing her trademark glasses, and is soft spoken as we talk about life in LA, living in New York and London’s Jubille Line. The night before, she attended a special screening for Netflix’s Audrie and Daisy, a documentary that highlights the lives of two teenage girls who were cyber-bullied after being sexually assaulted. Amos wrote the song, Flicker, after Netflix approached her to contribute to the documentary.
Aside from her music, Amos is a vocal supporter for, and co-founder of RAINN (Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) defending victims of sexual assault.
We discussed Amos’ songwriting process for Flicker and how her own experience inspired the music for Daisy Coleman and Audrie. Amos also talks about the cyber-bullying and sexual violence endemic among America’s teenagers, and what adults need to do to help make a change.
Awards Daily: Audrie and Daisy is a tough watch.
Tori Amos: It’s a very hard watch. I sat in the audience last night, and I didn’t sit in the audience in the two New York screenings because I’ve spent quite a lot of time with the film while I was writing the song.
I was utilizing the time to meet with, and talk with Daisy backstage. After touring for so many years of my life, it’s either backstage or onstage in my brain. So, being able to meet her and know her activism, she and Audrie were the inspiration for this song. Trying to make clear that Audrie’s attack was tragic, and she didn’t live to move from victim to survivor. Her mother whom I met has become, and is, an activist. She is going into schools and talking to teenagers about the Audrie Pott Foundation.
AD: Was that the first time you’d seen it with an audience and what was that like for you?
TA: It’s very different to watch it with other people, and I needed to do that because it’s a collective conversation that needs to happen as well as a private conversation that you have with the teenagers in your life.
They might have friends over that want to talk around a table because they’re being exposed to this more than we realize. Many of them know somebody who’s had pictures sent around so we have to talk about the consequences when you hit send. We now have to pull our heads out of the sand as adults. Anyone over 21 has to realize this is in our high schools and middle schools.
AD: It’s highlighted in the documentary how there’s so much silence. You know it’s going on, and no one wants to talk about it when it happens. Who’s going to tell these kids that it’s OK to speak up?
TA: What Bonni the director has been saying is that, yes, it has to be part of our educations in our schools. But we need it with our coaches, we need to start it sooner. Once you’re getting to guys who are 15, 16, or 17 years old in our high school, that are walking into being perpetrators, we better wind that clock back. We need to start planting these seeds in them that will take root. As Charlie organically was doing with his Little League baseball team when he would say, “We’re sitting down now, we’re all going to sit and talk about this,” because he had heard a few things that the boys were saying in reference to girls. He said, “I’m not here to be your father, but as your coach, we have to talk about it because we’re not going to have this on our team. This is not what we’re about as a team.” That’s what we need, we need the coaches to get involved, and Bonni said, there is a movement that is happening.
AD: How did you get involved with this?
TA: Netflix sent it to me to see my response and if I could hear a song for the end title. At first, I was numb after watching it for the first time because I hadn’t read anything about it. I hadn’t read any interviews I’d just been sent the movie called Audrie and Daisy and didn’t realize that Audrie dies.
I didn’t understand the pervasiveness that this has become. It’s endemic in our schools, and when you’re hearing that 11- and 12-year-olds are sending pictures to a Yahoo site that these guys had set up. They’re referring to these acts as, “We thought it would be funny.” When you’re thinking that and not thinking that it’s abuse, being clueless on what defines abuse, and that that could be funny to anyone is when we have to realize, OK, wait a minute.
All these things started to swirl when I was watching it the second time. To use the British phrase, the penny was dropping. You hear, “Those type of kids go through that, not people we know, not in our schools, not with our kids. Our daughters can’t be the one’s digital bullying.”
Then you think, “They are our kids. They are all our kids.”
AD: Talk to me about the songwriting process. What was that experience like for you?
TA: You have to find a way in as a songwriter to something at the core, if it’s not about you. This is Audrie’s story. This is Daisy’s story. This is Delaney’s story. Music is ether, you have to go in as ether, and I still have to find a key to unlock the door. Even though you think I can slip in through the chimney, I’m not Santa.
When the mantra came, the second time around, the muses were there screaming like Valkyries, “Monsters are made not born.” I put it on pause. I sat there. I was swept up into Pele’s Volcano, and it was, “OK. Fire.” This is the spark, understand what it means. Understand ashes. Audrie isn’t with us anymore, her light flickered out, burned out. Daisy’s light flickered, and yet reignited, and is the Phoenix out of the ashes, but we have buried Audrie. So, ashes to ashes.
That poetry in my mind was what the muses were showing me. That took many many days to get to that. A song can take over your being, I was living with it for days. I was able to talk to Bonni and Jon. They were talking about the divided community and the silence in the community, so that’s the second verse, “When neighbors and friends only give you their burning silence.”
AD: The end result is such an empowering song. After it came out, what was the feedback been from survivors and fans?
TA: I didn’t want to fail these girls. They must be acknowledged and honored. Daisy sent a message after hearing it that said, “This is my story.” Audrie’s mother, Sheila, whom I’ve met, talked to me about the song. Part of the healing is that she and her emotional sisters have brought the song into honor Audrie’s spirit and heal from the grieving process.
AD: Last year, we had the Hunting Ground which looked at rape on college campuses, this year we have Audrie & Daisy looking at rape and social media bullying in high schools. Is the conversation beginning to change?
TA: I think that these films are getting people to begin the conversation, and yet, we have cases that are happening all the time with the Emily Doe case in Stanford. People are coming up to us after the screenings, with the hazings that are happening. Young women, as well as some young men, are being sexually assaulted with some of these hazings, to be part of sports teams.
The more that films like The Hunting Ground and Audrie and Daisy are getting to the public, there is an awareness that is beginning to happen. I don’t think we have understood how pervasive it is, kids can get caught up in pack mentality too, and become afraid to speak up about something that they might know is happening over there, or is happening on somebody’s phone because they’re afraid. They end up possibly being digitally stalked and they feel tormented by what happens on social media. For those that want to be brave, they have to battle up. It takes strength to do that, and so we have to understand that too, that some of our kids feel very vulnerable to being targeted, so, therefore they’re terrified to speak up that they see something.
Daisy’s Army that she’s building with PAVE and on social media, is about helping to give strength to, and educate about what you can do without being just a silent bystander. So that they understand the definition of abuse, and that’s key too. When they think that something is not abuse, and think, “Oh, we were just hanging out.” As if it were okay to rape an unconscious girl, in Daisy’s case. When you hear the sheriff refusing to call it rape, and Bonni brings up the question about unconscious or semi-conscious and where he stands, he goes on to say the boys were victims in this.
AD: It goes back to the silence. If they speak up, they’re going to get bullied, they’re afraid of going to the law, and then you’re also called a liar.
TA: Our criminal justice system failed Daisy. Failed. It now has to go to us as a nation to realize that all these kids are our kids. Boys as well as girls. It has to start sooner. America can be a place where we can be very prudish and not want to talk about sexuality, but the kids will then find a way to get their information, even if that’s twisted information.
You protect them by educating them. They can out-teach us. If we think we can outsmart them with technology, then we’re being naive and foolish. What we can do is talk about the issues that they’re facing through using technology.
They’re not being given the emotional intelligence. They don’t have experience.
AD: Of course not, but they have a phone and access to social media.
TA: They’re not thinking about the cause and effect of hitting send. They weren’t thinking about, this is really important, What is abuse? When are we bringing up our kids to think, “One of our friends is unconscious for whatever reason — whether they drank too much, or they’ve been roofied, because that will be at teenage parties.”
AD: And It’s been going on for the longest time, but we’ve never had social media or smartphones to capture it.
TA: That’s right. So, The boys were conscious enough to commit the acts. So, we’re back to teaching our kids how to utilize technology, and how to be involved in the computer industry, and to know how. But, we’re not giving them right or wrong skills.
When Brock Turner’s dad [The father in the Emily Doe Stanford case] said, “He’s going to get punishment for a little bit of action?” When you as an adult call an attack a “little bit of action,” then you know what…
AD: There’s something very wrong as a society.
TA: There’s something very wrong with us. Our generation is growing up so we are failing every day.
I felt like this movie is a call to arms. Furiosa. The land of many mothers. The Valkyries. We are coming. I’m not backing down. I’m part of Daisy’s army. She’s an inspiring person.
AD: She is an inspiration. You watch it, and wonder what can schools do?
TA: We have to empower our teachers though too, when you think about so many constraints on our teachers if they try and discipline an out-of-line teenager who’s giving them backchat and sass, and then somehow they get reprimanded because they’re saying detention.
I raise my hand and say, “You’re being discriminatory to fairy ginger people.” When do you say, hang on a minute, let’s talk about the behavior?
I don’t care if you’re descended from E.T. We’re talking about this now. I had the most amazing teacher, I had teachers that were empowered to say, “Amos! Back of the line.” When there was discipline, when there was a pejorative. I’m thankful my father could be tough. When I said something that was wrong, I’d have to hand over my car keys.
AD: There was no fear of repercussions if a teacher gave you detention for misbehaving.
TA: That’s right, Jazz. There will be teachers that will cross a line and perhaps the punishment far exceeds the crime, but now, the crimes are far exceeding the punishment, and that’s scary when the crimes are outweighing the teacher.
AD: It’s tough being a teenager.
TA: It is tough. It’s tough being a parent of teenagers, but we all have to realize as a collective, and it’s not just being a parent, it needs to be adults, that we have a responsibility to be there for our kids. There’s one thing we have that they don’t have, that’s experience.
You can not have wisdom when you’re a teenager. Wisdom equals knowledge plus experience.
They might have knowledge about some things, but they haven’t lived enough on this planet to have experience. They’re building their experience.
AD: Let’s talk a little bit about your music. You tend to reference a lot of film icons in your music. So, who are some of your inspirations?
TA: Barbara Stanwyck because of her strength. She was a role model for me, in the way she carried her intelligence and beauty. I found that an unusual sensuality, I thought, “Wow, that is a strong woman.” I always had her a guide as to how women can act. I don’t know her personally, and I haven’t investigated that, but her art spoke to me.
There are other women in film, that again you don’t know them personally, but you grow up loving them. Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were. I’ve watched it over and over and over again.
Other people have made the records, Judy Garland. Jean Harlow in the song, Not The Red Baron. That’s on the Boys From Pele album which is out in November and that’s 20 years old.
AD: 20 years. That’s incredible.
TA: Yes. 20 years. It’s been remastered. We have the A-side and the B-side. The B-sides are songs we’ve spent a lot of time on. They’re songs that weren’t released but were recorded at the time that [Producer] Mark Hawley found. I thought, “It’s time.” So, we mixed them and put them on the record.
AD: I can’t wait for that.
TA: Yeah. I was driving my FJ Cruiser. You have to drive that in high heels.[laughs] I was trying to figure out the order because it was an opportunity to take this journey, although it’s 20 years later, with these songs. When I’m ordering a record, it’s a film isn’t it? It is an edit. You’re editing the film of the album with how you begin every nuance. You have to be meticulous, or what’s the point? You will tell a different story depending on your order. You just will. You take people on a magic carpet ride that they might not thank you for. [laughs]
So, I was in the FJ in the Florida swamps, waving to the lizards and gators. And I am a lady lizard, they are my peeps.
AD: You’ve done everything from writing comic books to The Light Princess, and your music, what else would you like to do?
TA: Score for TV. Oh yeah. I think that could be really fun to utilize the music, to be really collaborative with the TV writers so that we’re also maybe telling story through music. Telling things that they’re not saying in the dialogue, and making choices that you might not want to tell so that the audience is not ahead. Or, you want them to be ahead here because you’re going to send them off the trail down there. So, that could be fun.
AD: Okay, it’s out there, Tori Amos wants to do score music for TV. We want it to happen.
Audrie & Daisy is streaming on Netflix. Flicker can be downlloaded from iTunes. A portion of proceeds will go to RAINN.