BY Matthew Breen
November 24 2009 9:55 AM ET
You’ve given over 1,000 concerts. How do you maintain the energy to tour?
It does take energy, but it gives you energy too. When you’re playing and you’re having one of those magical moments where the music is coming to you, almost from another dimension, and you feel like you’re traveling through time though you’re not leaving your chair -- there is a love affair that you have. It’s monogamous with 5,000 people all at the same time. We go back to this term, but there is this spiritual side. You have a soulful relationship with them too. It’s all these things. It’s spiritual, emotional, physical, because when you’re making music, you do have a marriage with the musicians you play with. It’s not necessarily sexual, but it’s something I can’t describe. It’s a different kind of relationship, but it is a marriage. So when you’re playing with these [musicians] up there, and the crew -- there’s a marriage with them too. They’re all part of it. I feel that when I’m doing that, there’s nothing else that does that in my life like that.
As a woman, there is nothing greater I can do that gives me more pleasure than to allow the songs to come, be a canvass, get out of my own way, just zip it, shut up and let the songs sort of take over my body and have these relationships with these people. There’s not one thing I want to do [more]. Travel to the middle of the galaxy? No. I’m okay with that. I can give that up. You can have that one.
To play music, there is nothing greater for me, so why would I want to miss a show? It’s a privilege to play, and I also don’t want to mess people around. I hate that idea. It would really piss me off. I put a night aside, got childcare, you know? You go out to dinner, you go see a show, and that artist just bails on me? I just don’t know if I’d be able to trust that artist again. That would really upset me, because I have a life too. I know people have lives. I realize that, so I take it very seriously. I want them to know that if [they] make plans [to see my show, unless I] cannot get myself off of the floor because I’m so ill, I’m going to be there. I’ve only cancelled once because of my health, and that was in London, and I had food poisoning.
How do you mentally prepare before you go on stage?
I shut off all contact with the outside world for an hour and a half or two hours before the show. So if somebody dies, they have to wait for the show to be over for me to know about it. I just can’t. The personality part of myself needs to get exorcised -- sort of like Linda Blair but without the pea soup. So I have to get Tori -- the gal -- into the backseat. The day-to-day stuff, what’s going on in her mind, the personality quirks, she has to move aside, and then the discipline of the artist for 45 years needs to step in and become a canvass. The songs are the palette that I work with, and there are hundreds of them. There are hundreds more if you allow yourself to take requests and do covers. Each show can be a unique painting, a sonic painting that will never be the same again if I can just focus and let the artist do what she does. But that means that I have to shut everything out and just can’t be distracted.
I don’t write the set list until maybe the last 30 minutes, which can drive everybody mad. But I need to get a sense of the city I’m in, what’s happening up until the last minute. In a city, things can change, including everybody’s mood. I’m pulling from the events of the day that week in that city, in that town. There are people who are always telling me, “This has happened in Chicago this week. You need to know this. This is the tragedy. This is the fun thing that’s going on.” You need to know the collective. I ask that, so I know what I’m walking into.
Have you changed your relationship with the piano over the years?
I don’t need to prove I’m a piano player. I know that. If you make enough records [the] composer’s side needed to stretch. I think the player in me recognized that if I didn’t let the composer stretch, then I wasn’t going to write stuff that the piano player would want to play anyway because it would start getting derivative. Maybe the piano player [in me] said, “Okay, well if the composer starts writing with all of these other instruments in mind, then when she comes back and writes, maybe something strictly for the piano, then it will have opened up in some way.” Architects, I think -- having met quite a few in my day, and I really love talking to them -- when they do build different kinds of buildings, they take all of that experience to something else. So when they build a house again, everything they did when building cathedrals that size, when they take it back to building a home, they still use everything they’ve learned. I needed to stop building houses and build some big works before I go back and do that... because I will. I’ll come back and make more of a piano record.