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Liz Phair Reveals Her Mojo

An Interview with Liz Phair

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Liz Phair admits to continued frustration that, due to her gender, she only holds a limited access pass when it comes to the male dominated music business. But please note, she says she’s got nothing against guys. In fact, she’s crazy about them.

By Roxanne Ruben
ROCKRGRL, June/July 2003

Liz Phair admits to continued frustration that, due to her gender, she only holds a limited access pass when it comes to the male dominated music business. But please note, she says she’s got nothing against guys. In fact, she’s crazy about them.

Separated from her husband for the past three years, Phair sheepishly admits she still has not finalized the paperwork. She finds it comforting to have her estranged husbnad located just around the block. Does this make the woman who once penned, “Fuck and Run” old fashioned? Perhaps a bit but don’t worry, she hasn’t lost her naughty edge.

With the release of her self-titled fourth album — her first in five years — Phair is out to prove that marriage plus child (son Nick is seven) plus the subsequent demise of a marriage equals a reconfigured woman. She’s in touch with her mojo and is, once again, a one-woman sexual revolution.

The new album was recorded in Los Angeles, tapping the creative forces of Avril Lavigne producers, The Matrix, as well as Michael Penn. While Phair didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Penn, she is adamant that there was no row between the two. Basically, Phair underwent a change of creative direction based upon events in her life and needed to rework a lot of the material so it was more true to her feelings, conveying the emotional roller coaster ride she’d just emerged from.

Phair revealed her thoughts to ROCKRGRL about life, love, and, of course, music.

Do you enjoy being single again?
Well, the divorce papers aren’t final. It’s been three years. I like the fact that I’m attached to somebody. He’s totally supportive. He lives here and helps take care of our son. What is it about women and having a man to keep the world at bay… to protect us? For me, it’s a feeling of being unsafe, not being protected enough. I hardly ever feel it now but there’s a feeling I’ll get at night sometimes. I want there to be a man in front of my life. It’s like there’s nobody driving the ship. As independent as I am, I never expected to feel this way.

Did you learn a lot about yourself going through the divorce?
A disappointment in life can also reacquaint you with the dark side. You kind of get that, “I’ve been tossed around, didn’t live happily ever after, I didn’t just trod off into the sunset” thing. I came up against a lot of parts of myself that I struggle with. There’s a toughness that comes back. You go through some tough times and I was very unhappy about a couple of things. I had to work through my own pain which helps you reclaim a certain side of yourself. It is chaos, but I’ve been through some of the highest times in my life since my divorce. But you are definitely aware you’re not in Never-Never land any more.

How did this impact your songwriting?
It made me a little more real about it. Journalists and old fans sometime have an attitude like, “Thank God she doesn’t have a daughter.” After what I’ve been through, I’m like, “You don’t like it? Well, this is real even if it isn’t your experience in life.” You get kind of jaded.

Are Michael Penn’s contributions a big part of this record? I’ve read conflicting stories.
All this buzz is floating around and it just got spun out of control. When we finished our record together, I didn’t feel it represented what I needed it to represent, where I was in my life and how I was feeling. All the songs are great, I just didn’t feel complete. I needed to put together an album that spoke for me, represented how I felt and where I was in my life. What Michael and I did together just didn’t complete me. He didn’t like a lot of the songs I ended up using. He didn’t want to record those songs but that was my story. What happened in the end was good for everybody because I went back, I fired my manager and suddenly I was free to do what I pleased. I went back to all the sessiosn I had recorded over the last five years and took my favorite picks, the ones that I connected with the most. I told my story. It was like taking back the record.

What inspired you to write “H.W.C.”?
It is kind of sing-songy and happy-go-lucky but it’s also about me. It was the most empowering thing I could say. It kept bugging me that it wasn’t on some of the earlier album mock-ups I had made over the last five years so I made a choice to put it on the record. I loved this guy and we were having great sex. I was in control as much as he was so I wanted to share that and make this statement.

How did you end up singing backup on Sheryl Crow’s single, “Soak Up The Sun”?
I was waiting at Sunset Sound where they were doing drum tracks on my record. I was out playing basketball and Sheryl was trying to record this song. She heard the basketball going “ba-boom” against the wall and she was like, “Who the fuck is that?” She comes storming out to tell the person playing basketball to shut up and it’s me. She’s like, “Liz?” I’m like, “Sheryl! How are you?” She said, “Come on in. Do you want to do backup?” It was totally spontaneous. It was really fun. The minute I got in the booth and heard it — she didn’t tell me anything about the song — I was like, “This is the single! I just scored so massively! I’m doing backup on the single!”

In the past, you’ve had some intense bouts with stage fright. How have you learned to deal with that?
Practice. When I first started out, everyone knew who I was when they came to a show. There was a cultish thing about it. It’s hard to play for an audience that knows all the words. It’s nerve wracking because the connection is so intense. I got a good kick in the pants from Lilith Fair because I had to go out in front of 25,000 people. It was impossible to be afraid.

Do you think the music business lets the guys “just be” while female artists seem to come and go in a more cyclical manner?
What annoys me at the very bottom level is why women — who are 60 percent of the population — can come in and out of favor? How is that possible? It should be a type of female music that comes in and out of favor but women should always be represented. Why are we a novelty that can either wax or wane as an entire gender? It’s staggering if you really look at it. Women are in fashion this year but men are always in fashion. Different styles of their own self-centered music are in fashion but women can come or go. It’s a club that we don’t belong to.

What do you think about how female artists are depicted versus their male counterparts?
A major label will get a hold of a guy band and they’re thinking they should get them new haircuts and get them new clothes but they don’t say, “How big is his cock,” or “How tight can his pants be,” and “Can we pretend he’s having an affair with his bass player?” Women are still viewed through the eyes of sex. Men are not interested unless it’s about sex. It just highlights the fact that it’s still the men making the decisions. They’re the top dogs in terms of how culture is viewed. Until my dying day that will bug me. And on my dying day it will probably still be the same.

I love men. I hang out with men and I’m gaga for men. I had a lot of male cousins and brothers who were all older guys so I naturally look through those goggles. With this record, I took it to the industry. I got my little paws into how the record industry works. That was my boy’s club fetish over the last year, boning up on how the industry works.

What’s Liz Phair’s credo for living?
I’m not going to spend all my time going against culture, I’m going to enjoy life, have a man, have a family and do the cute girl thing or whatever. But, I’m going to push the rock along a bit. I wish everyone did that. You don’t have to kill yourself, just push the rock a little bit.

Featured Image: Phil Poynter

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