With a new album and the Lilith Fair under her belt, Liz Phair is an exile no more
After Liz Phair’s four-year absence from the music scene, expectations for her new CD, whitechocolatespaceegg, were high. Having dazzled both critics and fans with her 1993 debut, Exile in Guyville, and its follow-up, Whip-Smart, Phair was crowned the indie-rock poster girl. Thanks to her candid (she calls them incredibly raunchy) lyrics about love and sex, this Winnetka, Illinois, native instantly became the angry-yet-accessible rock chick who all the girls wanted to be and all the guys wanted to date. A daunting image to live up to — and not one Phair, now 31, was sure she still wanted.
“It was such an odyssey for me to get off Whip-Smart,” says the petite Phair, in between bites of salad at the Bongo Room, a trendy Chicago restaurant. “I felt like I hated the music industry, and all the attention. I was miserable. I don’t want to sound like I didn’t care what people thought, but I had to grow and make music that excited me again. If I still talked about the way I felt when I was twenty-four, I’d be dead inside.”
The result is Phair’s most personal and daring album yet. Although whitechocolatespaceegg is a far cry from her first two CDs (note the lack of references to bad breakups, one-night stands and sleazy guys), Phair says it’s her most honest work because this time she had nothing to prove. “When you’re angry and you take a stand emotionally, you’re really protecting yourself,” she explains. “This is more factually revealing about my life.”
These days Phair is equal parts regular gal and rock star. “It’s wickedly intense on tour,” she says, “but when I’m home I’m pretty much a mom.” She lives a relatively mainstream life in Chicago with her husband, film editor Jim Staskauskas, and their two-year-old son, Nicholas. She drives a sport utility vehicle, is part of a mommy group and has Madonna’s Ray of Light in her CD changer.
Phair’s foray into domesticity hasn’t stopped her from expanding her audience, though. This past summer she toured with the Lilith Fair. At first Phair’s lo-fi sound struck her as out of sync with the high-powered Sarah-Natalie-Paula fest. “After I got over the insecurity of being like, I’m a bar band next to a bunch of divas, I’m going to get fired; I realized that what I did was different.” But different is just fine with Phair right now. Of her new CD and her more mature image, she says, “I feel like an artist again. I’m doing the right thing, and going in the right direction. And I can’t explain it any better than that.”
By Fiona Gibb
Seventeen, December 1998