Liz Phair is driving her sport-utility vehicle too fast down suburban streets outside Chicago, with baby Nicholas, 20 months, gurgling in his seat, when a cop comes up behind them.
“Wait a minute,” she says in the middle of a phone interview. “I’m going to get pulled over by this policeman. As I’m chatting away, driving over the speed limit . . .”
She slows down and the officer passes, and soon she’s back to talking about her newfound frame of mind.
“I’m on the ball existentially right now,” she says, explaining that she’s finally conquered her legendary stage fright, after 14 dates on the Lilith Fair tour.
“I really like performing now,” she continues. “I’m not so completely baffled by insecurity. I can kind of like realize what an electric moment it is.”
She was hesitant at first, she said, to perform again after a three-year break and suddenly face Lilith audiences of 20,000 or more.
“It was like jumping off the high dive, but what the hell,” she says. She tried to draw the Lilith audiences in, she explained, and could see it working from the stage. That acceptance, and the support of her new band, gave her courage.
It was a new Phair that Lilith audiences were seeing. Back in 1993, when she emerged via the stunningly frank and impressive Exile in Guyville album, she was modern rock’s best hope. The follow-up LP, Whip-Smart, was even better, yielding a hit single, the hard-driving “Supernova”.
But her stage fright kept her from touring extensively, and soon she fell in love, got married and had a child, removing herself from the scene altogether. She became a suburban mom, concentrating on home and family.
“I wrote the whole time,” she said. “It was a pretty intensive writing period.”
And she recorded some of those songs during her pregnancy.
“I was really pregnant,” she recalled. “Like when I was recording ‘Ride’, believe me, I was really huge.”
“Ride” is one of the songs on her new album, whitechocolatespaceegg (a title that came to her in a dream), which is made up of songs about her experiences over the last three years. To complete the album, she went off by herself for a month to a remote cabin and wrote intensively.
“With this album it was really important to me to give each song a dramatic landscape, the way I imagine them in my head,” she explained.
“I wanted the style to be very varied, to have all these different moods. To me, it’s an emotional portrait of a woman, so each song had to have a different kind of emotion. It centers on one person, and what was going on in my life. I wanted all my sides represented.”
Which is why there are songs about domestic bliss and motherhood, as well as her signature X-rated confessions about her overactive libido.
But her sexual frankness isn’t for shock value, it’s a mature search for truth.
“I hope there’s progression,” she said. “I hope there’s some kind of growth.
“It was really important to me with this album that it be authentic, and that my life be reflected in it.
“All of these albums are timepieces. I can see my whole life right in them.”
By Patrick MacDonald
Seattle Times, September 24, 1998