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liveDaily Interview: Liz Phair

Liz Phair: Way Complicated

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More than 10 years after the release of her first album, 30-something Liz Phair is positioned to be the next Avril Lavigne — and she doesn’t mind a bit.

By Todd Martens
MSN Entertainment, August 4, 2003

More than 10 years after the release of her first album, 30-something Liz Phair is positioned to be the next Avril Lavigne — and she doesn’t mind a bit.

Her new, self-titled set on Capitol, Liz Phair — which takes the alt-rocker in a decidedly mainstream direction — “represents me trying to get the voice of an authentic woman where young girls will hear it,” Phair says.

“I feel very frustrated with music and women and their role. I hope to God I can take my name at the end of this and make my own little recordings, but nobody made me do anything. If you hate this, point at me.”

In fact, whether the new album fails or succeeds, Phair insists she’ll win either way.

“A few years ago, I waged a campaign to get off the label,” Phair says. “If I only sold 100,000 records, I’d still make more money than if I sold 1 million on a major. Major labels give you a lot of flattery and perks, but you’re not an entrepreneur, and once you get in your 30s, that bothers you. It bothers me.”

Capitol, however, wasn’t ready to cut Phair loose. Her 1994 debut for the label, Exile in Guyville, sold 401,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan; follow-up Whip-Smart moved 393,000; and 1998’s Whitechocolatespaceegg sold 269,000 copies. Convinced that she could yet be made a pop star, for the new album the label introduced her to songwriting trio the Matrix, which co-wrote and co-produced much of Lavigne’s Arista debut “Let Go”.

The pairing resulted in four songs on Phair’s fourth effort. The album sees the singer/songwriter shying away from the oddball melodies and conversational lyrics that marked her earlier work. Instead, the new album shimmers with major-label gloss.

“At one point [then Capitol president] Roy Lott was like, ‘We want a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-double chorus.’ So I was like, ‘If that’s what you want, fine.’ I’m still writing all those quirky, weird songs. They just don’t reach people.”

Yet how can an artist who is frustrated with the major-label system be comfortable as part of it?

“I’m in a win-win situation,” Phair says. “If this record goes, I can do things on my own. But if this record doesn’t go, then Capitol will drop me because of the amount of money they’ve spent on it.”

While Phair is proud of her work with the Matrix, she knew that there would be compromises.

“The Matrix were told by Capitol that they would only get paid if they wrote hit-type songs,” Phair says. “Don’t kid yourself — that’s what I’m getting told, too. I knew if I wanted promotional dollars, I would have to turn in something to get on radio.”

It took some time for Phair to get used to her new restrictions, the Matrix’s Lauren Christy says. “For the first single [“Why Can’t I”], she was like, ‘I love this, but this is such a big chorus. Can I do that?’ We’re like, ‘Of course you can.’ The song might sound a little bit like Avril Lavigne, but what she’s saying is really edgy.”

Still, Phair anticipates a backlash from faithful fans. To placate those fans, Capitol will release a six-song, online-only EP, collecting some of the less mainstream fare that Phair recorded. Purchasers of her new album can download the songs with a special code.

Additionally, Capitol placed Phair on tour with the Flaming Lips, where she performed a brief acoustic set to introduce the new songs.

“By touring with the Flaming Lips, she’s really playing in front of her original audience,” says Sharon Lord, Capitol’s senior director of marketing. “It gets her back in the minds of everyone before her full tour,” which launched July 21 in San Francisco.

“If I’m going to be on a major label,” Phair surmises, “then I’m going to be the queen bee and have fun with it.”

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