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The WIP Interview: Liz Phair

Some Girls Ask Liz Phair Some Questions And Stuff

Phair Way to Heaven

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Q. I’ve heard you have an aversion to playing live- is that true?

A. Yeah- what you heard just know is probably better than I will sound later, because of the nerves. It’s just because it makes me nervous. And I don’t like doing things…no one likes doing things that make them nervous.

Q. Is it getting easier?

A. Yeah, it is definitely getting easier. Sometimes I think I’m too calm and the show is bad because I calm, I gone the other way- I’m just flat and I’m just hanging out, because you just detach from where you are for a second?

Q. Playing solo electric is a particularly brave way to do it. Is there a reason you’ve decided not to use a band this time?

A. Mostly because I want to try stuff…I want to make sure of what my sound is, my own personal sound again. Cause when I come to make, I felt that Whip-Smart, the thing that I didn’t like about it, it seems like a continuation of the first album, which- there’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what I’ve been gearing up to my whole life. But Exile was sort of like a one-off to me in my mind, and it’s a sound that I created with Brad and Casey, just for that thing. And it felt like we did it again. And I kind of lost my intensity or passion for just doing it the same way again. So going out by myself sort of reminds me what my personal groove is, what I want to be doing with the sound to people. So that I can then go in a studio and actually sort of then achieve that. I felt like that at a certain point, working with those guys and just doing it the usual way, confuses me. You just do what you know how to do, and you just keep doing what you know how to do, again and again, instead of finding of what you really want to do.

Q. Are you working on some new material?

A. Im-hym.

Q. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

A. Got a ton of stuff. My husband’s son, that we live with, my step-son, he plays bass. I’ve started, and he’ll come out and he’ll be like “Liz, check this out” and he’ll do some bass thing. And I’ve started picking up this weird picking style, like you’ll hear a lot of new songs tonight with that. That’s also because my rocker songs that are new, I feel, if they don’t know them, and I don’t have a band with them, it is harder to get into, whereas the quiet song, people expect to have to sit and listed to it, no matter what it is. So I end up playing more new stuff that is quieter, the kind of fingerpicking. Like single-note type melodies, sort of like counter melodies to my vocals, which I think is because I hear bass all the time. I don’t know- I’m writing a bunch of stuff. It’s funny.

Q. A lot of your previous material had been about sort of tortured relationships. Will a marriage change that?

A. There is no more tortured relationship than a marriage. No- I’m happily tortured. But yeah, I definitely think it changed it at first, because I felt like I wasn’t totally secure with the relationship- like would we stay together. And I didn’t want to write any songs that revealed to the world my turmoil, because he would hear them, and it would be another source of tension or something, but know that we are married I think it is going to be a lot easier. Because it is a commitment, it is like saying to someone I love you enough, that I will want you to be for that long.

Q. Dogs of L.A. is one of my favorite of your tracks. Can you tell me a little bit about the ideas behind that song.

A. That was actually- we got high and ran a Super-8 camera, up in LA. There’s a park with a little Buddha up at the top of the park. Everyone was like- the industry. Which it is, in some sense. But we had a dog with us, and Nora, had this dog that we dragging, my friend that lives in LA, around everywhere. Sort of like one of those experiences that felt like a story. You know? The whole day felt like a story. And when I got home from that trip, I didn’t need to write this at all, I just started writing it. And it was one of those songs that came out. Only a few come out fully written.

Like “Crater Lake” came out fully written. That was when I had gone on vacation, and that morning woke up, and the whole thing, words and everything, done like in one step, like an hour. The same thing with “Dog of LA.” Just like this encapsulated little story and melody line. It is about going, I don’t know. Just those little personal journeys that you think have universal significance, and it is actually just a day when you and your friends were running around, but it is like a parallel thing to another situation you’ve done in a larger sense like with your life. A metaphor. A day-of metaphor.

Q. Is it difficult usually to write songs?

A. It can be awful. It can be like, total hell. Sometimes its easy, and sometimes it is not. It fairly mathematical. It is like an odds relationship- sometimes its perfect, sometimes its half perfect, sometimes it a quarter-perfect, sometimes I can never write it. To me it does not seem like anything else you do, in particular, other than not have time, prevents you from writing songs. It is just the usual, very typical, stupid struggle with your brain.

Q. Are you happy with the level that you are at? Do you wish it had happened slower?

A. No, no. I’m ready to get bigger. I just don’t want to do what it takes. But, no. I felt like once I figured out that I could say no to my label, and that I could kind of put a halt on the whole process. There is a process. And partially because of people like you. A good deal of it is because there is a process to make someone famous. It is a do-able thing. If you have a decent talented horse, you can run it in a race, and it will do decently, and you can figure out how to make it do better. And people feel more affection for it. Once I figured out that there really is a very serious formula to this, then I could pick and choose more, and I could say I’m ready for this, or I am not ready for that. And I look at it just straightforwardly, like what am I ready to do now. Like now I felt like in the spring that it was time I got out and played some songs- and I didn’t want to throw together a studio band of people that I wasn’t going to work with again, and I thought so go by yourself. And when it comes time to record the third album, which I hope to start in the fall, eight track it this summer, go in the studio, then I’ll know. Then I’ll feel like secure in what I can do. And then I can build. Like a foundation. A solid foundation.

Q. Some people say you’ve created a persona for yourself. Do you think that is the case?

A. That is deep bullshit. That is total bullshit. Everything that I have created has been just what I normally would do, just in an extreme circumstance. It is totally just part of my personality. I was like this all of my life. I was as affected as I am now, you know what I mean? Maybe more so. Maybe more egotistical, like walkin’ and…Now I don’t ever do the kind of social power moves I used to, because people will point. And remember. But I have been the same type of person my whole life. I swear. Ask my parents.

Q. You recently told an interviewer you were “A B-Grade Feminist”. What does that mean?

A. Just because I don’t think I am as cognizant as I should be of people and women that don’t have the good fortune to not think about it, that really are treated unfairly, in maybe a financial way, which can really just- it is a whole different thing than saying ‘I don’t think those guys talk to me’ or ‘I don’t think those guys let me come up with my guitar sound because I’m a woman.” I think that I am remiss in not involving myself more in issue that are not about how you feel about being a woman. Issues that are more about ways that women are misused by the government or society, or the cultural ideas. I think I do it in art to some extent, by how I live my life, but I think that there is a lot more that you can do. And right not, since my time is taken up doing things for myself, like getting married, being in love, doing stuff making my little home, or going out and making my career, it tends to…not doing enough for other people. So that’s why I call myself a B-grade feminist. Like the kid in class who shows up for class, does the work, but isn’t really putting their mind to it. Like you know what you should, but you are not doing it.

Q. What do you hope to achieve with your third album?

A. I want to make what I keep always wanting to make. You walk in with these humungous visions, you walk in with as much hubris as you can muster..This will be the most important record.. And then you work, and then some of it’s like “Wow!” and some of it is never going to work. {I want to make} a super-great album. This excellent album that everybody want to listen to. That turns from and goes ‘That’s so lame’. That everyone related to, and everyone thinks is cool. And everyone feels moved by, feels like they were taken on a story. Like a story album. The kind of stuff you associate with a certain period in your life. I listen to this album then, when I was doing this. And I walked the subway with it, and I walked…I do that with like Pavement albums and stuff. That’s the kind of album I want to make. Those kinds of albums.

Q. Do you like the studio? Are you comfortable going into record?

A. I love the studio. Seriously fun. It’s behind the scenes. Then you are taking your little pasty self, and its like being the wizard of oz. You are sitting behind, doing the knobs, and you get this huge vision. Or you can potentially. That’s very exciting. Living larger than life for those brief moments when you are making this stuff happen.

Q. Do you want to produce?

A. You mean like other people?

Q. Or your own stuff.

A. I want to do what I usually do which is tell people I need it to be this kind of thing. No, I don’t want to produce. I want to determine the sound, the tone. Producing to me involves technical stuff, and I don’t want to that kind of stuff. Leave that to people that are naturally inclined. I just want to set what kind of song it is going to be, how it is going to move, how it is going to rock. If it going to be big or little, or lots or instruments or none.

Q. Is there something that people don’t know about Liz Phair that you want them to, or anything they know that they should?

A. They know plenty. Cup just wrote an article on my hometown that I was forced on tour by my label because I hadn’t fulfilled my contractual obligations. Which is total bullshit. For better or for worse I make the decisions. I don’t get forced into anything. I may go along with stuff that I think better of later, or have a horrible, shitty experience with and I say, like don’t do that. I guess just that. You have more control than you think. You just pay the price. You don’t get to be glamourama 95, huge super-super star. But when I look at what emotionally goes on with people like that. I couldn’t be in Liz world 24 hours a day, everywhere I go.

By David Fenigsohn
WIP, 1995

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