Four years after her critically acclaimed sophomore album, Whip-Smart, kicked the feisty female-rocker genre into high gear, Liz Phair, 31, marks her return Tuesday with Whitechocolatespaceegg. Once they get past the absurd title, fans might notice a more domesticated edge to the Chicago singer-songwriter on the new release. Blame that on her 1995 marriage to film editor Jim Staskausas and the birth of their son, Nicholas, now 18 months old.
Phair is traveling with this summer’s Lilith Fair promoting the album, which was co-produced by longtime collaborator Brad Wood, Jason Chasko and Scott Litt, who has previously worked with R.E.M. Also making appearances on the album are R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills, guitarist Peter Buck and former drummer Bill Berry.
Q: Is it true that you named your new album after your baby’s head?
A: Don’t you wish? God, the misinformation in this age is so frightening. No, it was a dream I had while I was pregnant, where I had an album that was called Whitechocolatespaceegg. It was this really pleasant experience where I was sitting down signing autographs, like people do at book-signings. People just came drifting up to me saying how much they liked my album. I thought, “What a great name,” but I was both horny and pregnant.
Q: Were you trying to get pregnant or was your pregnancy a surprise?
A: We did want to have a baby, actually. Everything has been right on schedule so far, except we’re a little late with the second one, but that’s because of this album.
Q: Why did you use so many different producers on Whitechocolatespaceegg?
A: Because I wanted to try out all this different stuff. I had worked only with Brad (Wood) in the past and I had fallen into a music career with him. That became the whole definition of who I was, which was a surprise to me at 25. That started this journey, so I tried working with other people and eventually came around to Brad again. I just wanted to grow and see what I could do, because I didn’t know a lot when I came into this business.
Q: The only problem is no one can hear you singing with all the other stuff going on.
A: Truthfully, my voice is low in the mix, but Brad is really good about bringing it up in the mix, so I’m surprised you say that. I think there’s just more instrumentation. There’s more competing with my voice than there was before. Tom Lord-Alge actually mixed it, so that’s really who you’re p– at. But I warn you, he’s a big guy.
Q: Speaking of fights, have you gotten into any on the Lilith Fair tour?
A: The Indigo Girls tease me because I tend to get into scraps and trouble. They sit there and go, “There goes Liz, mixing it up.” I’m always trying to cover that wild side that’s coming out all over the place. I can’t think of a fresh way to say this, but I love the tour and what it stands for. It’s so much fun having all these women around.
Q: You were one of the first angry female rockers of the ’90s. Are you bummed because it’s become trendy now?
A: I’d love to think that I had something to do with starting this whole thing. I don’t feel in any way that it’s been diluted in a bad way. My brand of feminism is “the more women, the merrier”. To me, it’s all about having women present and acknowledged, and that means in the creative arena. In art history, it’s my quest to have as many women as possible be as visible as possible.
Q: It’s funny that you switch genders on songs like “Big Tall Man”.
A: I thought it was clever of me. I realized that sometimes I write songs as a man, so instead of switching the gender to make it more appropriate, I just left it. I thought that was kind of cool. It was a little maverick move that I also did on “Only Son” and “Baby Got Going”.
Q: Describe Liz Phair as a man.
A: I don’t think it’s a far stretch to make me into a man. I grew up as a tomboy. I think I’m on the gender fence in a lot of ways.
Q: Does having a baby make it harder to be a rock star?
A: It makes it more difficult, but it makes me want to do it more. I had an ambivalence about it before. Now I have a lot more enthusiasm for life in general. Before I was feeling smaller and more fragile, and having a child made everything look so cool.
Q: Do you let Nicholas watch R-rated movies yet?
A: I’ve already gotten past that. We were in the video store the other day and we ran into another mommy friend of mine, and they were picking out “Elmopalooza!” and I had “The Nightmare Before Christmas” in my hand. I realized we’re like the Addams Family.
Q: Are you going to buy him the new Snoop Doggy Dogg album?
A: I want Nicholas to experience a lot of stuff. I will definitely censor certain things that I think are bad influences, but I am a cool mom.
Q: Does he know how to cuss?
A: He can kind of speak. If I put him on (the phone) now he’d just make noises, but he’s got a big vocabulary.
Q: Is he going to join a band when he gets older?
A: As long as he’s not a drummer. I can’t handle teenage drumming.
By Aidin Vaziri
San Francisco Chronicle, August 9, 1998