What you oughta know before seeing Alanis Morissette

by Michael Hamersly

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

27 October 2008


After two forgettable dance-pop albums, Canadian singer Alanis Morissette found her true voice and exploded into rock history with the raw album “Jagged Little Pill.” Its hit “You Oughta Know” became an empowering anthem for women all over the world. The album went on to sell 30 million copies, making it the bestselling debut album by a female artist in the United States.

Morissette, on the road in support of her latest album, talked to The Miami Herald about her experience on “Star Search,” channeling her anger and appearing nude in the video for her song “Thank You.”

What can we expect from your show?
We play up to five new songs from the new record and then songs from everything I’ve written since 1994, like a greatest-hits show in a way. And I started the set list from scratch - we were doing shows earlier in the summer in Europe, and when I got back to America I just cleaned the slate entirely and carved up a new setlist. The whole first half of the show is kind of like water, where one song segues into the next and then it breaks down into an acoustic set, and then I’ve got a couple encores.

You were on “Star Search” as a child. What do you think of “American Idol”?
I think it’s great - it’s torturous and horrifying and awkward and shameful and exciting and silly, and a lot of really, really talented people are having this incredible opportunity to share their talent publicly. There’s some killer voices out there, and how great that they’re being heard?

How did you morph from “the Debbie Gibson of Canada” to the fierce voice on “Jagged Little Pill”?
Well, I went from 15 years old to 20, and for women and young girls, that’s a pretty pivotal turning point. Every woman at some point in her life has that turning point where they no longer sublimate what they’re feeling, and as a Canadian I was definitely a passive-aggressive creature, and it served me well in my art. So I bottled it all up inside and later it exploded and came out in lyrics and music and movement. If I had a daughter who was really upset I’d prefer her to take it out in music rather than unload it on someone’s face or punch someone out. Channel it into art, my dear! Don’t hit your neighbor.

How surprised were you about the success of “You Oughta Know”?
Well, everything was a surprise at that time. I remember Glen Ballard, whom I wrote the record with, turning to me while we were creating it, saying, ‘‘Alanis, do you have any idea what’s happening here?’’ and I was just so kind of blissful, writing songs that meant the world to me. I had envisioned myself touring the planet since as far back as I can remember, so that was all that really mattered to me at that time. I had that egocentric youthful thing where I thought I was the only person on the planet in pain (laughs), so when a lot of people related to it to the extent that they did, I thought, ‘‘S—-, there’s a lot of people in pain out there.’’ And then my continuing to make music really took on a life of its own in terms of it serving my life’s purpose, to serve people, because I could see that my making music was serving people.

Did the success of “Jagged Little Pill” frighten you a bit when it came time to record the next album?
Yeah. Because I consider myself to be this hypersensitive creature inside this rock star’s body and lifestyle, so it was really difficult. I felt I had one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator. And I was trying to calibrate it but also be in the middle of it, so it was very overwhelming for me.

What inspired you to appear nude in the video for “Thank You”?
Actually, the idea for that video hit me in my shower - I was thinking about the song and its simplicity and its baring itself, and I just thought, ‘‘Wouldn’t it be great if I could just walk around New York City or grocery stores in just a symbolism of being naked everywhere I went?’’ Less about overt sexuality and more about the symbolism of being really raw and naked and intimate in all these environments where you’d seemingly need protection, like in a subway and those kinds of places. So that hit me in the shower and then we executed it.

What do you think when you hear a singer like Avril Lavigne or Pink who’s so obviously influenced by you?
I’m flattered if they are in fact influenced, and some have been very verbal about it. I’m excited when women can feel free to express themselves. It’s a very confusing postmodern time for females and the feminist movement. I finally feel like I’m getting my bearings, because I heard this great quote from someone who said the feminist movement gave us independence, but it didn’t give us love. So I see all these young women trying to figure out what footsteps to follow and what virgin snow to put tracks in. There’s a sort of lack of definition of what feminism means. I see a lot of women, myself included, struggling through that, even in music sometimes. And it’s fascinating to watch - it’s exciting to see us all define what 2008 means for a woman.

Where are you today, as a songwriter?
Really faith-filled in the process itself. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when I walk into a studio there will be a song. So there’s a real confidence that comes with that, and certainly a humility as well.

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