With her two new babies—her third album, whitechocolatespaceegg, and her son Nick—Liz Phair drops the bad-girl schitck and gets reflective
Her 1993 debut album, Exile in Guyville, was a provocative indie-rock manifesto about mean boys and angry, libidinous girls, embraced by critics and fans alike. A year later, Liz Phair gamely skirted sophomore slump with Whip-Smart, which expanded on Guyville‘s do-me feminism with poppier songs and lusher arrangements. There was a marriage, a baby, a nice EP of previously recorded stuff — then finally talk of that difficult third album. Fans poised themselves. And poised themselves. And poised themselves some more. It took four years, but finally Phalr, 31, has surfaced with whitechocolatespaceegg, a more eclectic, experimental album than her previous efforts that combines classic songwriting with modern rock embellishments — electronic samples, distorted guitars — and crosses musical paths with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, the Pretenders, the Rolling Stones, R.E.M., and Beck. Lyrically, the album is even more of a departure, forsaking sexuality and rage to address themes of self-examination, autonomy, and motherhood. We recently sat down with the former “blow-job queen” to ask what the hell she’s been up to all this time.
SWING: Four years ago, you were a media darllng; then you seemed to disappear into a cave. Where have you been?
Liz Phair: Well, I had a baby [in December 1996], and that takes about two years of your life. When I was pregnant, that was more a songwriting and searching period. I was really internalized, and my mind was wafting around.
SWING: Was it easier to create after the baby was born?
LP:Yes. Once he was on his feet, I started putting the songs together; only, in retrospect, the intensity wasn’t really there. People kept saying the music needed more edge, and I was like, “Edge is getting up at four in the morning to feed this kid. Fuck you and your edge.” Slowly but surely, I came out of that introverted period — especially as my baby started to grow and become extroverted.
SWING: What were you shooting for with this album?
LP: I wanted to return to the songwriter-y roots that started me on the journey in the first place. When people are like, “Oh well, she’s over,” that’s when I do my best because I feel free again and I can do something that really blows me away instead of worrying about blowing someone else away.
SWING: This album doesn’t feel as motivated by anger or aggression as some of your past work.
LP: I’m still angry about a lot of things — l’m just not pissed off about relationships. I think a lot of things can fuel intensity besides that feeling of unfairness between girls and boys. I know life’s unfair, so why dwell on it?
SWING: What is a whitechocolatespaceegg?
LP: I have no idea. When I was pregnant, I dreamed I made an album called White Chocolate Space Egg. People were coming up to me and patting me on the back going, “Good record,” and then walking away. And I had this great feeling of not being pursued and not beinq forgotten.
SWING: Is that the ultimate aim?
LP: Yes. After I did Whip-Smart [in 1994], there was all this scrutiny that I didn’t really like. I felt I didn’t know what, if anything, was good about me. I had the lowest self-esteem I’ve ever had in my life. I didn’t have enough under my belt that I was proud of. I understand why people buckle under attention. We all want it, but when you get it, if everyone’s telling you who you are, then you really become lost.
SWING: Do you feel misunderstood?
LP: Very much so, but I think that anyone who is written about feels that way. Someone told me the other day that it’s a blessing to be labeled with an image because then no one will really know who you are and they can just sit there having their day with this fake thing. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to accept that yet. If I could just say, “O.K., I’m the bad girl/good girl, blowjob queen,” then maybe I’d be much better off.
SWING: Do you think whitechocolatespaceegg is a women’s record?
LP: Yes, 100 percent. Kill me, slay me. I’ve become much more interested in women again and really reliant on my female friends. When I was in my early 20s, I had guy friends and I’d do cool, harsh thinqs, and I thought all that mommy stuff was crap. And now I think my whole personality has shifted. I’m much more in touch with the person I was before I turned 17 and the rebellious years started.
SWING: So, what do you think: Are men from Mars and women from Venus?
LP: Oh, my God, I read that book. I laughed so hard because it was so queer, but it was so right. I have a son, and I definitely did not teach him to love trucks. I kept trying to show him pretty things like big purple flowers, and he’d be like, “Look, ugly orange moving trucks.”
SWING: What’s the secret to keeping a relationship alive?
LP: The most important thing is not to put the cart before the horse. You can’t ask, “Will it last all my life? Will I have everything my parents had?” Also, being best friends really helps.
SWING: How important is sex?
LP: It’s super important, but I know lots of people for whom other things are far more important. I’ve heard that there’s a major difference between the male and female libidos, but I seem to have a male appetite.
SWING: Your husband is very lucky.
LP: Not after the baby he’s not (laughs). He used to be very lucky. I just never have any energy these days. You grow to see each other as work partners, and it’s hard to find that romance again because you’re like war mates in the trenches. I haven’t overcome that yet.
Worst habit: Not writing thank-you notes. “If there’s such a thing as heaven and I get up there, they’re going to be like, ‘You ungrateful bitch.'”
Favorite rumor: She fooled around with Keanu Reeves.
Phobias: Feeling trapped. “Back me into a corner, and I lash out like a little ferret.”
Worst job ever: Steaming clothes in the back of a ladies’ dress shop in 8th grade.
Pet peeves: Loud chewing and sharing dairy products with anyone you wouldn’t French kiss.
Perfect romance: “Hanging out on a dock at night in shorts and bare feet, before you’ve kissed, when you know it’s going to happen soon.”
By John Wiederhorn
Swing, September 1998