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In the span of a year, Phair had virtually gone from obscurity to indie-rock superstar. Suddenly, all eyes (and ears) were greatly anticipating what she would do next, but cracks were starting to surface.

Exile in Guyville, was still very warm from all the critical praise Phair had experienced since its release, but plans were quickly made to get Phair back in the studio to record its follow-up.

Phair first hit the studio with Brad Wood, her producer/drummer/bassist on Exile, in August 1993, and they cut some early songs. After a six-month break, the two returned to Wood’s Idful Music studio in Chicago. With the help of guitarist Casey Rice, much of the music on Whip-Smart was laid down in February.

Liz Phair in 1994. (Photo: Stephanie Pfriender)

I gave myself two allotments: Two songs on this album can be about how I feel about being Liz Phair. I didn’t put on any fake songs. I had to picture myself in a larger perspective than last year. I couldn’t write off the year I’d just gone through, but I had to pick, what does Liz Phair want to say?

Liz Phair
Ray-gun, November 1994

Constant distractions from people dropping by the studio during their initial recordings sessions prompted Phair and the team to move things to the Bahamas. There, at Compass Point Studios, owned by Island Records president Chris Blackwell, they finalized the vocals in February 1994. Final mixing was completed back in Chicago at Idful in April. From start to finish, Whip-Smart took only about a month of discontinuous work to record.

“I made a rock fairy tale. A little myth journey—from meeting the guy, falling for him, getting him and not getting him, going through the disillusionment period, saying, ‘Fuck it,’ and leaving, coming back to it,” Phair has said.

Like Exile in Guyville, Whip-Smart also features re-recorded songs from Phair’s Girly-Sound tapes; “Chopsticks,” “Shane,” “Go West,” “Whip-Smart,” and parts of “Jealousy” were all older songs that Phair included on this set.

Whip-Smart turned out to be a very strong album, despite unavoidable comparisons to its predecessor. The production is turned up a notch, and there are some unusual and inventive sounds to be found throughout. Phair’s songwriting is no also no fluke; some of her most beautiful and original songs can be found here, including the “Nashville” and “May Queen.”

My favorite songs are the ones that literally come out full-born. Dogs Of L.A., for example, came with words and tune and guitar, probably in half an hour, after I got back to Chicago from a trip to California. Those kinds of songs mystify me, because I don’t know where they came from. When I was making this album, I thought I was writing radio-playable songs, but in some weird way they still don’t fit in.

Liz Phair
Mojo, November 1994

Since the launch and success of Exile in Guyville, Matador was suddenly getting attention from larger labels who were looking for distribution deals, and one was ultimately formed with Atlantic Records. With that, Whip-Smart was poised to bring Phair’s music to a much larger audience.

Prior to the release of Whip-Smart in September 1994, Phair was feeling the burnout of never-ending press and the constant media scrutiny and industry demands. It was after a Rolling Stone cover story came out in October that year (which soured a good relationship with magazine rival Spin, who was also planning a cover story around the same time), Phair decided to retreat and canceled a planned tour for the remainder of the year.

Liz Phair on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine in 1994.
Liz Phair on the cover of Rolling Stone. October 6, 1994.

Phair’s refusal to tour incited letters and messages from her label’s legal department that she was expected to support the album through live performances or be at risk of defaulting on her contract. Her disinterest in touring also negatively impacted her relationship with Wood and Rice—with whom she allegedly didn’t communicate about the cancelation directly.

Although Phair was retreating from her music career (albeit temporarily), she was focusing more on her personal life, which was blossoming. Phair married her boyfriend, film editor Jim Stauskauskas in March 1995 and moved in with him and his son, Aidan.

The following month, in April 1995, Phair ultimately decided to embark on a small solo tour to support Whip-Smart. During these more intimate shows, she introduced several unreleased songs (most of which have never been officially released decades later), including “Beginning to See the Light,” “Wasted,” “I’ll Get You High,” and “You Have No Idea.” Cat Power and Jewel could be seen opening for Phair during some of these dates.

After the brief solo tour and a few radio performances, support and interest for Whip-Smart started to fade. The album’s lead single, “Supernova,” which was heavily featured on MTV as one of their “buzz clips,” certainly earned her more fans, but didn’t catapult her into the mainstream as Atlantic had hoped. The delayed second single, “Whip-Smart,” while catchy, wasn’t an ideal choice for the larger public and failed to receive the same level of airplay. By the time “Jealousy,” the third single was pushed, interest in the album had largely fizzled.

Having reached her limit in the music machine, Phair took a break from the business to begin focusing more on her new marriage and domestic life.

The rest of 1995 was largely quiet for Phair with the exception of the Juvenilia EP, which Matador released that summer.

“I think I’ve participated as fully as anyone in preventing myself from getting that big. After Whip-Smart came out, I canceled my tour. I canceled all press. And I wouldn’t talk to anybody about the business. I decided it was more important to get back to living my life.”

Liz Phair


Whip-Smart (1994)

Released: September 15, 1994
Label: Matador (OLE 107-1, OLE 107-2, OLE 107-4), Atlantic (92429-2)
Format: Vinyl LP, CD, Cassette, Digital
Country: US, UK, Japan, Australia, Canada, India, Germany, Thailand
Availability: Common

Design by Liz Phair, Mark O
Mastered by Roger Seibel
Recorded and mixed by Brad Wood, Casey Rice
Written and directed by Liz Phair
Chorus to “Whip-Smart” written by Malcolm McLaren

Recorded at Idful Music, Chicago and Compass Point Studios, Nassau, the Bahamas, February 1994.
Mastered at S.A.E. Mastering, Phoenix

The original LP was pressed on both standard black vinyl and white vinyl.

01. Chopsticks2:06
02. Supernova2:48
03. Support System2:58
04.X-Ray Man2:13
07.Go West3:17
08.Cinco De Mayo2:43
09.Dogs of L.A.2:21
12.Crater Lake2:06
13.Alice Springs1:50
14.May Queen2:42
Liz Phair publicity photo from 1994. Photo by Stephen Apicella-Hitchcock.
Liz Phair publicity photo for Whip-Smart from 1994. (Photo: Stephen Apicella-Hitchcock)

Vocals, piano: Liz Phair
Guitar: John Henderson

Vocals, guitar: Liz Phair
Drums, percussion: Brad Wood
Guitar (talking guitar lines), soloist: Casey Rice
Bass: Leroy Bach

“Support System”
Vocals, guitar: Liz Phair
Drums, synth, bass, backing vocals: Brad Wood
Backing vocals: Casey Rice

“X-Ray Man”
Vocals, electric guitar: Liz Phair
Drums, percussion, backing vocals: Brad Wood
Acoustic guitar (Nesta’s acoustic): Casey Rice
Bass: Leroy Bach

Vocals, guitar, synth: Liz Phair
Percussion: Brad Wood

Vocals, guitar: Liz Phair
Drums, synth, saxophone, backing vocals: Brad Wood
Chimes (rum chimes): Casey Rice

“Go West”
Vocals, guitar: Liz Phair
Drums, bass, keyboards: Brad Wood

“Cinco De Mayo”
Vocals, guitar: Liz Phair
Lead guitar: Casey Rice
Drums, bass, backing vocals: Brad Wood

“Dogs of L.A.”
Vocals, guitar: Liz Phair
Drums: Brad Wood

Vocals, guitar: Liz Phair
Drums, synth, guitar (dub guitar), backing vocals, bass: Brad Wood

Vocals, guitar: Liz Phair
Drums, bass: Brad Wood

“Crater Lake”
Vocals, guitar: Liz Phair
Drums, bass: Brad Wood

“Alice Springs”
Vocals, guitar: Liz Phair

“May Queen”
Vocals, guitar, piano: Liz Phair
Drums, bass, guitar (c. western guitar): Brad Wood

Other Versions

Whip-Smart (US Advance Promo)

Whip-Smart (1994)

Released: September 15, 1994
Label: Matador
Format: CD
Country: US
Availability: Somewhat Rare

Design by Liz Phair, Mark O
Mastered by Roger Seibel
Recorded and mixed by Brad Wood, Casey Rice
Written and directed by Liz Phair
Chorus to “Whip-Smart” written by Malcolm McLaren

Recorded at Idful Music, Chicago and Compass Point Studios, Nassau, the Bahamas, February 1994.
Mastered at S.A.E. Mastering, Phoenix

The advance promo for Whip-Smart was released in a standard jewel case featuring black and white artwork of the official cover, a red silk-screen CD face, and a more simplified back cover. The tracklisting is identical to the retail release with no discernable production variances.

Whip-Smart (Limited-Edition Reissue LP)

Whip-Smart Limited-Edition Reissue LP

Released: June 8, 2018
Label: Capitol Records, UMe
Format: LP
Country: US, UK, Europe
Availability: Moderate

Design by Liz Phair, Mark O
Mastered by Roger Seibel
Recorded and mixed by Brad Wood, Casey Rice
Written and directed by Liz Phair
Chorus to “Whip-Smart” written by Malcolm McLaren

Recorded at Idful Music, Chicago and Compass Point Studios, Nassau, the Bahamas, February 1994.
Mastered at S.A.E. Mastering, Phoenix

In 2018, Whip-Smart, whitechocolatespaceegg, and Liz’s self-titled album were all reissued on limited-edition colored vinyl. Whip-Smart was reissued on “Orange Smoke” transparent vinyl, as well as standard black.

Whip-Smart was a period of high highs (sometimes literally) and low lows for me personally, but at it’s heart, it’s just a really simple, personal rock record and I love it for that.

Liz Phair on Whip-Smart
September 20, 2011

“I think I had just moved in with Jim [Staskauskas] and his son Aidan. I was (as usual) running from the label pressures of Atlantic (Matador had just signed with them) and as I recall, getting threatening letters from the legal department at Atlantic demanding I tour or risk defaulting on my contract. I felt so oppressed in the midst of arguably the most successful period of my career. I had an undeposited six-figure check from my publishing deal lying on the desk in our study which Aidan’s pet-store-rescue rat reached from his cage and ate. That was an interesting call to make to my accountant. But I just didn’t want to deal with anything. My life had gone from immaturity and anonymity to having to be responsible and available and presentable and media worthy. Those were sketchy times for me emotionally. I was in love but very haunted by the attention Guyville had received. I was always nervous and hiding in plain sight, so to speak.

Much happier memories accompany the making of Whip-Smart. When I moved the recording session down to Compass Point in the Bahamas, that was a really fun experience. Brad [Wood] and Casey [Rice] and I were left alone to make our music. We would work in the mid-morning, siesta in the afternoon, and then come back to record all night. It wasn’t plush, just warm, sunny, and quiet. We got along great down there. Seems like all of us had been feeling the pressure of people suddenly interested in us for all the wrong reasons back home. The studio television had live-feed cable (or dish?) and I remember loving watching all the newscasters and sports broadcasters chat, fidget and have their make-up done in between takes. I’ve always loved reveling in the process as well as the product and I just loved that.

Liz Phair in 1994. (Photo: Tom Maday/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

“The songs on Whip-Smart (I have no idea how I titled that, lol) were very quirky and cool, I think. Nobody in the press liked it as much as Guyville (sequel syndrome) at the time, but it has aged very well. I hear so much evocative story-telling in the lyrics that capture precious snapshots of an era and it’s very rewarding for me to go back to. “

“The videos I made in that period are some of the things I’m most proud of in my career. Jim and I worked on them together and we included the neighborhood gang of artists and musicians that we hung around with in the casts.” 

“Whip-Smart was the last record for me that felt totally untouched by outside considerations. It exemplified the manner of working which I want to get back to now: everything was personal. We didn’t have to care about anything but the art (we had so much success with Guyville, everybody let us do what we wanted). It’s the last time the packaging was all my art, the last time the videos were my direction, the last time, really, my guitar was the backbone musically of what we were doing.”

— Liz Phair


“Supernova” was the album’s first single, released on July 23, 1994. It was released in multiple formats and countries, becoming Phair’s first single with the largest reach, much in part to Atlantic Record’s involvement. It also received prominent airplay on college radio and MTV featured its video as one of the “buzz clips” that year.

“Whip-Smart” was the album’s second single, although it didn’t receive a retail release. Promotional copies of the track were released in February 1995—one of which featured a special remix unavailable elsewhere. Phair directed a video for the song which was featured on MTV, but the song received limited airplay.

“Jealousy” was the final single from Whip-Smart. It too, didn’t receive a retail release, but a promotional single was issued in April 1995. Its video also debuted on MTV, but radio airplay was largely limited to college radio.

The cover for Supernova.


Whip-Smart received generally favorable reviews from critics. Rolling Stone gave it 4 out of 5 stars,

The album was commercially successful for Liz, peaking at #27 on the Billboard 200 in 1994 and staying on the chart for 17 weeks. “Supernova” reached #6 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks and #78 on the Billboard Hot 100. The title track reached #24 on the Modern Rock Tracks list.

The album was certified Gold by the RIAA.

Fun Facts

  • “Alice Springs” was the last track finalized for Whip-Smart, likely added at the last minute, as its song credits are missing from all releases of the album, including the 2018 reissue.
Supernova (1994)
Whip-Smart (Single) (1995)
Juvenilia (1995) is independently owned and operated. All relative images and media content is the copyright of their respective persons and is featured here for informational purposes only.