By Gregg Shapiro
Windy City Times, August 20, 2003
On her first new studio disc in five years, a slick, eponymous commercial departure on Capitol Records, Liz Phair still maintains the energy and spirit of what made her so enthralling on her previous albums. There is no shortage of sex, a mainstay of Phair’s, as you can hear on the censorable first single “Why Can’t I”, the “young guys rock” attitude of “Rock Me” and the “favorite underwear” reference of “Favorite”.
Phair also still has a flair for the graphic as you can hear on “H.W.C.”, which stands for “hot, white come (sic)”. Other Phair originals, including “Good Love Never Dies”, “Take A Look”, the Who-bombast of “Love/Hate”, and the absolutely heartbreaking “Little Digger”, about a child that catches his mother with another man, indicate that the whip-smart Guyville exile is there lurking under the fishnet stockings, heavy eye makeup and provocative posing.
Gregg Shapiro: Some of your songs have been covered by gay men, including “Fuck And Run”, which was done by Frank Rogala on his Crimes Against Nature disc, and David Clement who has performed “Gunshy” in his live shows. How does it feel to have made that kind of connection with the queer community?
Liz Phair: It feels really good. My tour manager was asking me about that the other night. He asked, “Do you have a really big gay following?” And I said, Yeah, I think I kind of do, I think I have that. And he said, “Why do you think that is?” And I said, I think it’s because we both have a common interest in getting the uptight sexuality of America a little looser.” I think they really appreciate the fact that I’m willing to push boundaries to get people to accept wider ranges of sexuality and roles.
GS: I’ve been trying to convince a Chicago queer punk band called Super 8 Cum Shot to cover “H.W.C.” (a song about the restorative powers of “hot white cum”).
LP: Oh, good! I like their name a lot!
GS: Speaking of gay men, and of “H.W.C.”, it sounds like you’ve gotten in touch with your inner gay man on this album…
LP: (Laughs) I beg to differ. I’ve gotten in touch with my inner woman. We’ve just denied women their right to be this way.
GS: Then women and gay men have something more in common.
GS: Would you say that you have benefited from your acquaintances and friendships with gay men?
LP: They’re my friends. I don’t really look at them as providing… I wouldn’t say that my Asian friends are providing me with “Asian help”. I’ve known them (my gay friends) forever, since high school. They’re my friends.
GS: On the song “Rock Me”, there is a line, sung to the younger guy, that goes, “you don’t even know who Liz Phair is.” Do you really feel as if you are unknown to segments of the music-buying public?
LP: Totally. Now, more than ever, I’m aware of it because of the radio play that I am getting. A lot of people are like, “Yeah, I’ve heard her name before.” I never felt like a super huge star. I never walk around my life like a big star. I wouldn’t even want to. In fact, if that ever happened to me, it would probably be a really annoying thing. I’d like to be able to turn it on when I want to, but I wouldn’t want to have it with me all the time (laughs).
GS: The beautiful, heartbreaking and lullaby-like “Little Digger” is one of my favorite songs on the album. Have you ever considered recording an album of songs for children your son’s age or younger?
LP: I’ve often thought about that. I’ve tried to do stuff like that. I can’t reign in my own creativity. It just does what it wants. I’ve tried to, believe me. I can’t structure it; it won’t work. It’ll sound flat and dull. It’s kind of like therapy for me. What comes out needs to come out then. I can’t channel it. If I could, I’d be a lot wealthier (laughs). I’m at its mercy.
GS: You sang on the Sheryl Crow song “Soak Up The Sun”, which was remixed for club play and became something of a dance club hit. Are there any songs on the new disc that you would allow to be remixed for club purposes?
LP: Totally. We were even talking about it. I’m trying to remember which one. We always wanted to “Flower”, from my first record. It doesn’t have to just be the dirty songs. It could be other ones too. I love that idea. I love giving songs a life beyond the ones that they’re allotted.
GS: Could you ever imagine yourself becoming a disco diva?
LP: (Laughs) No. I want to dance. I don’t want to be the one playing in the clubs all the time. I want to be the dancer. I love to dance. I love to get my freak on.
GS: I recently saw the movie Thirteen and I heard your song “Explain It To Me” playing over the closing credits. Is it important for you to have your music heard in a cinematic setting?
LP: It is. I am a big movie fan. I watch movies all the time. To me, they are so powerful. I am one of those people who watches them wide-eyed and un-cynically. I suspend my disbelief. Thirteen was so moving to me. I completely felt, again, what it felt like to be that age and to have those kinds of issues. I was crying by the end of it. To have my songs in that kind of context is one of the most meaningful things that I can do with my work. Other times, I just toss them off. It’s not a big deal or it’s a cool movie. But sometimes you get to be part of something that resonates.
GS: Speaking of movies, you have been doing some acting, including playing the office ice princess Brynn in Cherish…
GS: …and you are in the forthcoming Seeing Other People. Are you enjoying exploring that aspect of your talent?
LP: I love it. I had five lines in Cherish and I have one line in Seeing Other People, but I had more fun per line doing that stuff. I absolutely made the most of it and had the greatest time. It’s so different from what I do, but it’s similar. It’s a whole different creative, emotional journey. I’ve got friends who do it so well — I do not do it well, but I really like the feeling of trying to do it. I definitely want to be like Lyle Lovett.
GS: That’s not a bad thing to strive for.
LP: That’s my goal.
GS: Finally, are you, as you sing in “Extraordinary”, just an “ordinary, average, everyday, sane/psycho super-goddess” or is there a different way that you might describe yourself?
LP: No. I mean I hate to upset everybody, but that’s exactly how I describe myself (laughs).