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Call & Response with Liz Phair

Boys Will Be Boys: Liz Phair

In new move, bands play complete albums in concert

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After reissuing her iconic Guyville album, the musician tells her ‘complicated’ story

By Jessica Blumensheid
Venus Zine – Issue #37, Fall 2008

Exile came out when my friends and I were sophomores at a suburban Chicago high school. Our sun rose and set on that record. For completely selfish reasons, I’d like to know how you feel about having been a demigod for scores of virginal suburban girls.

Nothing pleases me more, my lovely Io. Try to cross that river, I dare you.

When you released your eponymous album in 2003, it seemed like it was sort of a “fuck you” to the indie crowd that had put you on a pedestal since Guyville came out in 1993. Now, with the Guyville reissue, it seems you’re changing your tune a bit about those times. To clarify, were you behind that album 100%, or was that time on Capitol rough since you were sold from Matador?

I was never saying “fuck you” to the indie crowd! They were saying “fuck you” to me! I was very happy with the eponymous record (until reviewers got hold of it), but it was also a hard climate to work in at a major label.

I feel like I’ve told this story a million times, but why it may not be clear is because it’s naturally complicated. Before I released Liz Phair, I had fought unsuccessfully to get off the major, having been left there after Matador divested. Since I couldn’t leave, I decided to take a shot at playing ball and did work with the Matrix, which I enjoyed, but also got to use a lot of the other tracks I had been working on for years, which sounded “pop”-ish but were really produced in low-fi ways, like the stuff with Walt Vincent, Michael Penn, and my old touring band. People freaked because the style was pop, but only a handful of the songs reflected the “sell-out” process. It was different, but I liked it! I like different.

The really tough part was behind the scenes when we started working the record and the demoralizing feeling of having to stuff your creativity down the maw of a big, corporate system. What I had really wanted and had fought for twice (at a large financial cost to me) was to get off a major and enjoy the freedom I’d had before. But since I couldn’t, I threw myself into making lemonade out of lemons. I suppose I could have sat around on my ass and whined about it, but that’s not for me!

With the advent of the Internet and with home recording becoming more accessible, there has been a flood of closet musicians “coming out” and sharing their music. Do you still record songs on your 4-track, and do you ever see yourself returning to a more DIY approach to making music?

I love the DIY approach! I totally see that in my future. I love imperfect, ambient, and “wrong” beauty in recordings, and even though the wise hostess knows she must balance out a guest list with conservatives and liberals, I love my strange quirky recordings even better than my pop.

What’s in your iPod?

Nothing. Everything. I suck at lists.

Who would you like to haunt?

Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Family.

While I never want you to stop making music, because your music has such highly narrative qualities and articulates such enormous amounts of emotional weight, have you ever considered writing a book? Maybe just a novella? Collection of shorts? If so, what kind?

I love to write. I do write. I think it’s a definite possibility for my next act. Fingers crossed.

It’s been three years since your last album, and before the Liz Phair record came out, you said you waged a campaign to get off Capitol Records. After your last record, Somebody’s Miracle, you were dropped. Was this happy news?

It was not only happy news, it was at our behest and long overdue. When that shit went down with Capitol Records — firing of the EMI guys (nice guys, by the way), Andy getting the ax, etc. — we were first in line to ask for release. There were a bunch of other managers getting their artists out of deals too.

Most of your press only mentions your early work in Girly Sound in passing, but many of your fans regard the tapes to be as brilliant and relevant as anything else in your body of work. In the past, you spoke about giving the tapes an official release — is this something that you would still consider doing?

I don’t remember saying that — I’m sure I did, but now I think it’s cool that it’s unregulated and passed around like a hard-to-find thing. Plus, I don’t have the time.

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