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Living News: Liz Phair

Seducing the mainstream

All’s Phair in Love

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With just one spin of Liz Phair’s new album, “Liz Phair”, it’s evident that the diminutive singer-songwriter is taking a huge chance.

By Ed Condran
The Oregonian, July 21, 2003

Kiss bassist Gene Simmons, perhaps rock ‘n’ roll’s most prominent entrepreneur, once said that the cardinal rule in rock is to never alienate fans. “If they like what you do, don’t change a thing,” Simmons said. “You’re taking a big risk if you do otherwise.”

With just one spin of Liz Phair’s new album, “Liz Phair”, it’s evident that the diminutive singer-songwriter is taking a huge chance. The recently released disc, which comes 10 years after Phair floored the rock world with her acclaimed debut “Exile in Guyville,” is dramatically different from that recording.

And that departure has many Phair fans screaming that their Liz has morphed into Avril Lavigne. But the intelligent, sassy and sexy performer, who performs Tuesday at McMenamins Crystal Ballroom, doesn’t care what her fans, critics — or even old man Simmons — think.

Do you sense that your audience feels betrayed by this album?

I guess. I can’t imagine how they come to that conclusion. That says more about their lives than mine. That doesn’t bother me at all. It amazes me that fans are so tied up with what I have written. Evidently I can’t make everybody happy, and I’m not going to try. Some people’s expectations of me are incredible.

What are your fans’ expectations?

I feel so frustrated because a lot of what these people expect of me is to be either a spokesperson or a novelist. They forget a lot of what I do is musical. Nobody talks about the musical side of my work. They talk about the production style, the lyrical content. They dwell on the fact that I worked with the Matrix (which also produced tracks on Lavigne’s best-selling “Let Go”). They say I’m wearing kids clothes. I’m not out there to please them. I’m out here to do what I do. I think fans should let go of the 24-year-old Liz Phair.

Do you get the feeling from fans that they would like a repeat of “Exile in Guyville”?

If I gave it to them, they wouldn’t like it, either.

Whenever someone listens to your songs it’s akin to peeking in your diary. It feels as if the songs aren’t allegories so much as slices of you. How accurate is that?

Very accurate. Even more so as I get older.

One of your new songs, “Little Digger,” is one of the most affecting songs you’ve ever crafted. To write about your son finding you with a man other than his father for the first time…

It was difficult. The song is about looking at how my life is no longer my own. He has every right to have a perfect life — if I could give it to him. It’s impossible because his parents are always making decisions. It was kind of like a wakeup call in the midst of my divorce. I needed to write that song — how I understood the bigger picture and how much he must feel. He had to go through so much because of my inadequacies as a person.

“Little Digger” is a heartbreaker. How long did it take you to play the song all the way through without breaking down?

I couldn’t play that song without crying for a year.

What does your ex-husband think of it?

I don’t know that he’s heard it. When we were together he didn’t really listen to my stuff. I don’t know if he would like the new record. He likes more indie stuff.

What led you to the Matrix?

It was sort of accidental. It wasn’t planned out. I’m a real follower of my bliss. I wanted to record more songs. I recorded some beautiful songs with Michael Penn, but I wanted some songs that exuded exuberance. So many writers and fans are like, “She wanted to get on the radio, so she went to the Matrix.” It wasn’t like that at all. Sure, they did Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated”. They did a good job with me.

A common complaint about the new record is that you’re trying to write unabashed pop songs with lyrics that are too provocative.

I don’t think so. I think that has been my MO since (Phair’s EP) “Girly Sound,” way before “Guyville”. I’ve always been interested in couching provocative, interesting things in a superficial, appealing tune. I like that dichotomy. People who accuse me of writing very commercial songs now with provocative lyrics don’t know my body of work.

Why are fans upset about you digging young guys in song?

I have no idea. It’s so funny because that’s utterly ridiculous. There’s nothing wrong being with a younger man. The best thing about younger men is that they appreciate you for who you are. They don’t expect you to go to the dinner table and make them look good. They’re respectful of what you do, as opposed to older men, who want you to look pretty, shut up and admire them.

Would you get married again?

I would love to get married again someday. It would be different this time. I would be much more cognizant of what it’s about. I would be a better person. I used to think that you met someone, fell in love and then you married. If you get married, you better know the job description, and now I do.

What kind of man are you looking for?

Someone who makes me laugh. Someone who enjoys my personality. Someone who would not rule all over me.

Someone who likes your new album?

You can put that on the list, too.

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