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- Posted on Jul 21st 2008 12:00PM by Jessica Robertson
A book then, consisting entirely of stories and art inspired by her music, was certainly inevitable. To that end, Amos will release the 480-page collection 'Comic Book Tattoo,' featuring contributions from more than 80 graphic artists and writers. Amos, along with the project mastermind, artist and editor Rantz Hoseley, hand-picked each of the book's 50-plus entries. Spinner spoke with Amos about the project, including her reactions to the stories (a lesbian love affair and murder, among them) and how this collection has inspired her to begin writing new material.
Describe the evolution of 'Comic Book Tattoo.'
Well, I've known [artist and editor] Rantz Hoseley for years. He was a student at Parsons, and I had a younger friend who kind of dated him for a few weeks. I got to know him and we became friends. He started to turn me on to comics. This was in the early days, like, around 1989. He needed a place to crash and I had a studio apartment behind a church on Highland and Franklin in Hollywood. I would go to sleep at my boyfriend's place and Rantz would crash at the little place behind the Methodist church. So, I would run into Rantz every day, and I was writing 'Little Earthquakes.' He would leave all these comic books laying around, and that was the beginning of our relationship. Over the years, I guess in a way, he's sort of become like a little brother to me. He took my music to Comic-Con in 1990, maybe, and gave it to Neil Gaiman. Gaiman got in touch with me, and said, "Hi, I'm Neil. I write 'The Sandman,' and I just wanted to encourage you that maybe you could have a future in music." It was a tape with a phone number on it. I don't think he realized it was going to be released. It happened to be released, although you and I both know a lot of releases come out that nobody ever hears. So, Gaiman called me. He was gonna be in London, and we met up. I've had relationships with Neil and Rantz for over 20 years.
About a year ago, I got an e-mail from Rantz that said that he'd been at Comic-Con '07 and ran into the guy from Image Comics. He said something to the effect of "Are you really friends with Tori?" [Rantz] said, "Yeah," and they said, "Well, we did this [comic book] thing with Belle and Sebastian and we think that her music would lend itself. What do you think?" And Rantz said, "Well, it would have to be done right. It would really have to be about getting the right artist and the right story writers." [Rantz] has an artistic ethic that I have a lot of respect for. He called me, e-mailed me and then we talked on the phone. What I said was that I wanted the songs to inspire people to write a story, and I wanted them to know that they wouldn't be censored. I didn't want it to be comic book cover songs. I wanted it to be artwork. I didn't want it to be something that was safe, necessarily. And that was the beginning.
How important is the visual for you when you're writing your music or performing it?
I would say that when I am in a composing phase that I reach for visual inspiration first, whether it's art books or going to a museum or going online and looking. And the reason for this is because there are only 12 notes. You have to be really aware that if you're listening to music at the time, you may not mean to, but you could be writing another work that is so close to the work that you've been listening to. So there is a point in that process when I stop listening. I do have an intake period of audio, but then there's a time frame once I get into my writing process when I only will have visuals, pretty much, as an inspiration. Sometimes I'll have records that are referenced, say, in the mix room -- we want to go for this kind of compression or this kind of technical thing. When you're working on compositions, you've got to be, I find, very strict with yourself. There's some songwriters that aren't strict with themselves, and that's why you hear a lot of songs sounding almost exactly like others.
Is there any one story in this collection that resonates the most with you?
Well, first of all, every single one of them made the book because we felt they had to. We didn't think we were going to have this many pages. That's a lot of paper. To make a book of this magnitude, that means you were saying, "OK, the public has to invest, I have to invest, the publisher has to invest. It's gonna cost us more to make this because if you want X amount of pages, it's different from Y amount of pages." So, anybody that got into the book, it wasn't just come one, come all. Rantz called me. We talked about it, and he said, "If there's any story that we feel shouldn't make the cut for whatever reason, we won't get into. We'll say that everything here moved us enough in order to say, 'OK, it costs what it costs. Let's make it.'" Having said that, every story here, we all -- those of us in the final editing process -- wanted it to be there. As Rantz says, he thinks this is some of the best work that some of these artists have done in their careers.
How did you react to others' interpretations of your work?
I'm not offended by this book, but I'm shocked. And it's shocked in a way that makes me laugh, sometimes makes my skin crawl, sometimes makes me have to go back and dive back into that song again. I had given a brief to Rantz. I said, "This is not about people trying to, line by line, interpret and do a visual cover version of this song." Because I just didn't find that intriguing at all. The comics that I was introduced to, which was 'The Sandman,' had integrity to me. And sometimes in the storyline, things didn't always end up OK. Sometimes people die. Sometimes life does not triumph over all.
Every single piece had a uniqueness to it. I found that some of the stories shocked me, from the Spider Girls in 'Cornflake Girl' to 'Jackie's Strength.' I was surprised at the heartache that some of these stories brought up in me when the song originally hadn't meant that to me. Even as the creator of the songs, I was able to buy into where the story was taking me. And when you read some of these stories, when you see the lesbian love affair in 'Teenage Hustling,' when you see where some of these stories take us ... as the original creator, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know that I would be taken to places, weeping over songs that I didn't weep about. The murder in 'Siren,' the loss and transformation in 'Here In My Head' ... the list goes on and on.
'Little Amsterdam' -- I was intrigued by the characters that come alive and who the mother is in the story, how they portray her. She's a working girl. She's a Southern white-trash hooker. It's a parallel universe -- this comic book to the songs. I wrote in the [book's] afterword that it's really important that people understand that the stories are not visual covers. It's no different than when I look at artwork; I'm not writing a song that is supposed the be the sonic version of what I'm looking at. I go to art, sometimes, to push me to an emotional place that maybe I'm blocking. When I open an art book or when I go to a museum, the first thing that happens to me is I listen to the picture. I can hear them. Rantz was telling me that some of these artists, the reason that they chose to be involved was because when they would hear the songs that they chose -- they could see instead of listening. They could visualize. This book is something that you're going to be able to touch and feel. I'm already composing pieces because of what I've seen.
The book itself is certainly an intricate and beautifully constructed piece of art of great magnitude. Could you possibly have envisioned the final product one year ago, as you discussed the concept with Rantz?
What I wanted from this book, and what I hope people will get from it, is that the marriage of music and comics. I couldn't have told you what it was going to be like. Rantz and I had dreams about what it would be like, but these stories push me as a thinker, push me to feel things. I find that the songs themselves are drawn to them -- they're drawn to the stories because it's a parallel universe. It's not a mirror reflection. It's walking into the songs and then there's a doorway. There's somehow a dimension that you're able to cross into. So all of a sudden, 'Scarlet's Walk' comes alive in a different way. Maybe the pictures that you had in your mind when you heard in the story are different from the pictures that you're looking at when you're reading this story. I was hoping that we could have different perspectives of songs and we do. People will listen to 'Winter' and see it differently than what the 'Winter' story is. But if the 'Winter' story doesn't move and touch you, and I don't know how I can ever play 'Winter' again, because I was completely moved by the story. And yet, there are elements to this story that yes, are similar, but some aren't. Some completely twist the song and take you to almost an opposite. But I find that sexy. I love walking that line, especially if it's razor sharp.