Liz Phair, the hipster queen of indie guitar rock, is talking about music she loves when she suddenly bursts into song.
But the tune she’s singing isnt’ by Big Star or the Velvet Underground or some chic cult rock act. It’s “You’re Still The One” — the lightweight love ballad by country-pop pinup Shania Twain.
“All my good taste in music comes via other people dumping a bunch of really great records on me and saying, ‘Here — listen to this,'” Phair says.
“My biggest embarrassment is that I’m really hooked on Steve Miller — but I do love it,” she says, calling from a stop on the Lilith Fair tour. (It arrives at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Aug. 17.) “People are kinda shocked at the mainstream stuff I listen to.”
Then again, the Chicago singer-guitarist has built a career on shocking people.
At first, they were simply taken aback by her talent. Unknown and largely inexperienced (aside from a handful of songs she had written and recorded in her apartment), she released one of 1993’s best albums in Exile in Guyville, a collection of idiosyncratic rock songs wrapped around ingenious pop melodies.
But some listeners were also shocked by the frank sexuality and vulgar lyrics in some of her songs. She was pigeonholed as a foul-mouthed riot grrl who set the stage for Alanis Morissette.
Her new album, whitechocolatespaceegg (due out Tuesday), is mostly devoid of sex and swearing, but the 31-year singer realizes she might have to continue wearing the “nasty girl” label awhile.
“Being filtered down into this tiny little niche hurts your pride, because you feel like you put so much more into it — that you’re such a more complex (artist) than that… But I can’t wriggle out of it, because it’s partially true,” she says.
“When the attention happened, it happened immediately. I went from writing songs in my bedroom, and never imagining being on stage, to playing in front of people who were very seriously scrutinizing me,” she says. “It was like if you took someone who’d never been skiing and put them at the top of the hill and said, ‘OK, go down this hill.’ It was terrifying.”
By Thor Christensen
The Buffalo News, August 5, 1998