Although it’s been more than five years since Exile in Guyville jolted listeners with its frank depiction of female sexuality, only recently did Liz Phair get to witness firsthand the effect her lyrics have on audiences who’ve never heard them. Speaking from her home in Chicago — where she’s preparing to embark on a tour in support of her acclaimed new album, whitechocolatespaceegg — Phair explains that her performances as a participant on the Lilith Fair festival often generated reactions she hadn’t expected.
“It wasn’t until I saw myself juxtaposed with my peers, with all these other female songwriters, that I realized how shocking it is to stand up there onstage and sing these things to people,” Phair tells Wall of Sound. “With Lilith, a lot of people who were there to see Sarah [McLachlan] or Natalie [Merchant] or someone else just weren’t that familiar with my work. A lot of times I was performing for a kind of neutral audience, so to hear something like ‘6’1″‘ [from Exile in Guyville] was an affront, in a way, to the audience. I was totally surprised — it wasn’t until I played to those audiences that I understood how I came across.”
For Phair, much of the past four years has been dedicated to constructing a viable family life with her husband and their newborn son. Fortunately, this period away from the public limelight hasn’t exacerbated her longstanding sense of stage fright, which she insists is something she’s nearly succeeded in putting behind her. “I’m getting there,” she says with a laugh. “I have to say, I like performing a lot. I look forward to it now. It feels more like an opportunity, rather than feet-to-the-fire time.”
By Russell Hall
Wall of Sound, September 1998