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Liz Phair: Exclusive Interview

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How Exile on Main Street changed my life.

By Liz Phair as told to Rob O’Connor
Harp, September 2003

It’s the story of a young, randy man. He’s got a lot of ego, but a lot of heart. He’s kinda balancing hanging with the guy and wanting to be king of the guys and also being a romantic fool. The images are just so breathtaking on that record. I’m really blown away by how masterfully (Mick Jagger) paints portraits of both the fallen, aging rock star and the young gun. He’s so able to see himself as both the king and the fool and it’s really impressive to me. The sound of the record is very emotional and my kind of funky groove and just staggering orchestration. I love that album. I could take that one happily to a deserted island.

(With Exile in Guyville) I was trying (to write a song by song response). I really was. If you sat me down and we went through it I could tell you why with each song. I was just getting very deep about it. Some songs were my equivalent to his. Like if he’s doing ‘I’m strutting after a night out and I just came out of some chick’s house in the morning and I spent the night there and I’m walking down the street and I run into a friend of mine and I’m trying to be cool but also she’s thinking ‘where you been fool?” I’ll write my equivalent of that or my response to that as a female ‘yeah, look at yourself, you bag.’ I did different things. It was either I’ll do my own version of that where I’m doing the walk of shame or I’ll lift up the female point of view. And I did all these little diagrams about what kinds of songs they were and what their structure was and sometimes I changed it and sometimes I brought in references. I had lots and lots of notes. I had lots and lots of time. My parents threw it out, another tragedy.

Liz Phair recently emerged with a provocative and rather salty self-titled fourth studio album, teaming up with a number of producers from the Matrix team to Michael Penn to Pete Yorn’s man R. Walt Vincent. Phair doesn’t see her 1992 debut Exile in Guyville as the ‘good ol’ days’ her critics long for. However, when pressed for her favorite albums — Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, Lyle Lovett’s The Road to Ensenada and Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted — there was one standout — the Rolling Stones’ 1972 masterwork Exile on Main Street — that’s as close to roots Phair is likely to come.

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