“Events have been happening very quickly in the last year, and it was about me being open to different energies and really listening,” Tori Amos told Rolling Stone during an August sit-down in New York’s Flatiron District. The artfully eccentric singer-songwriter says that unpacking and understanding this time period – both on a personal and global level – was an integral part of the creation of Native Invader, her new 15th studio album.
“A lot of our job is listening,” she explains. “And then, only through the silent muse, you begin to start hearing the story that our ancestors want to tell us, the messages they want to send us.”
So with encouragement from her sister Marie, a member of the Association of American Indian Physicians, she set out on a road trip through the Smoky Mountains, exploring the Deep South with a friend named Johnny as the election battle raged on and further divided the country. She stayed attuned to the news, attempting to remain neutral as tensions throughout the nation rose exponentially.
“It was about discipline,” she says of her approach. “What I was seeing was people wanted change, but the question was if they would benefit from the changes they were hoping for. But that was the beginning because then things started to really change after that.”
What changed was personal tragedy; Amos’ mother Mary Ellen fell ill and would have a stroke come January, rendering her unable to speak. Prior to January, however, the elder Amos was sharing in her daughter’s process, recalling her childhood in North Carolina and advising the singer on where to visit and which family members to see on her journey.
“While [dealing with my mother’s illness], the country was having this election happening,” she explains. “We were seeing families divided with each other. It’s very emotional, and I hope that’s on the record.”
As she saw her mother become trapped in her own body following her stroke, Amos found herself affected deeply by the painful, politics-induced division amongst American families. “The division was something that I found really heartbreaking,” she explains. “It was clear that somehow the respect for difference went.”
These personal tales made their way into songs like “Broken Arrow” and “Cloud Riders,” tracks off Native Invader that poetically references the political climate and resistance of the moment. In conversation, Amos is careful to never use Donald Trump’s name, focusing more on the salt-of-the-earth supporters and resistors who have been affected by his election and new position of power. For Amos, it is less about him than the movements around him.
“My place is not to get distracted by the master showman,” she says with a smirk. “When he has the levitating lady happening over here, then he is throwing a few knives at the other lady, then rabbits are coming out of his hats, you’re watching these things while all other kinds of things are happening behind stage.”
Keeping her mind clear of the “master showman,” Amos keeps herself focused on family. She continues visiting her mother, who can recognize a few songs and can sometimes communicate through melody. And her 17-year-old daughter Tash contributes vocals to the Native Invader song “Up the Creek.”
“We just spent two weeks together, Grandma Mary being up the road in her home, and Tash has been showing me shows and playing me music and that’s been an amazing thing to share together,” Amos says.
One album they’ve shared is Lorde’s Melodrama, a piece of music often compared to Amos’ most mainstream material. Lorde and Amos actually share a bit of behind-the-scenes history, having both been signed by record-company CEO Jason Flom. “Maybe I was 16 when he came to see me, and my father picked him up in a dog collar,” she recalls with a laugh. “It’s a fascinating little orbit.”
Tash has started writing her own songs and has begun to understand her own place in the political sphere as a dual citizen of both American and Britain (where her father and Amos’ husband is from). “She’s becoming creative with these emotions, looking at me and saying, ‘I was born in America and brought up in Britain, but I can’t vote in either country while decisions are being made,'” says Amos.
Like her daughter, Amos is still grappling with the post-election decisions being made, especially as many of those decisions appear to solely benefit white, Christian men. “I don’t understand how you can get to a place where we’re facing an assault on our earth – our land, our water, our resources – and somehow people think they’re gonna be above it,” she says, noting her particular passion for the environment. “But I’m just a piano player.”