By Mike Bell
Calgary Sun, August 20, 2003
Liz Phair is conducting this phone interview while “lolling around in (her) bed.”
(Take a minute. We’ve got all day. You’re good? Excellent.)
Anyhoo, maybe she’s so relaxed because after months of defending herself, defending her latest eponymous release, the 36-year-old pop artist senses she’s in a safe place.
“I feel like I walked into a tribe and I was like, ‘Hi there how’s it going?’ and there were spears in my face …,” says Phair of the critical and fan backlash that greeted her new album when it was released a month and a half ago. “It’s very weird isn’t it? It is just a record.”
It is just a record — and a very good one at that. But what’s rubbing a lot of people the wrong way isn’t so much the songs themselves, it’s the conscious slide into the mainstream Phair has taken with the disc.
After three albums residing on the outside and as an indie rock icon thanks to her 1993 masterpiece of a debut Exile On Guyville, Phair has embraced a somewhat slicker direction, even employing, for a handful of the tracks, the services of The Matrix — the songwriting and production team behind Avril Lavigne’s rise.
Those clinging to their vision of what she may have been once have argued the pop direction and sexy pictorials are the sad playing out of a midlife crisis by a single mother in her 30s.
But none of that has deterred Phair.
In another move that’s rubbed some the wrong way, she’s thrown everything she has behind the promotion of the album, sitting down for glossy photo shoots, touring and, despite the nastiness, facing the critics.
While, it behooves me to remind you, lolling around in her bed.
“I’m following my own goals,” Phair says. “I’m working this record entirely differently then I used to work the other ones and they may sense that.I still think that’s something more artists should do. More artists should get involved in what happens with their music and what’s going on behind the scenes.
“A lot of indie fans have the attitude that business is the enemy of art — which it can be, no question, it can be — and they find it very offensive since I made one of those records (Guyville) that couldn’t be made if business had anything to do with it.”
The funny thing about the whole situation is that for those who’ve been paying attention to Phair over these past 10 years, the musical change isn’t that drastic.
She’s always had a poppy side, which she’s either embraced or avoided depending on what the song warranted.
The fact that The Matrix — only one of four recording sessions that produced the album’s 14 tracks — nurtured it into something that might actually get played on the radio is, she insists, a good thing.
“The way I look at it, if I can get on radio… if more people like me get on the radio, wouldn’t radio be a better place? Wouldn’t the music that people then went out to go buy be better music,” she says. “I would argue that we should all try get on the radio… But that’s just my opinion.”
And ultimately that’s what can be pointed at to scuttle most of the criticisms — her opinions and her willingness and considerable ability to express them in song alongside frank, intimate and frankly intimate details of her life.
Remarkably, though, she doesn’t worry about what she gives away. “I don’t think I’d be able to do it if I did,” she says. “I think if I were really aware of the implications of it all, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
“I grew up in a household that really respected art… so I always grew up knowing art was a place at a meta level: It’s about life, it reflects life, but it isn’t life — it’s art. And you’re free and that’s the point of it… (it’s) there to push boundaries and reveal and address uncomfortable situations.”
Or comfortable ones.
Like lolling around in your bed.