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Dancing to her own guitar

Liz Phair shrugs off continued criticism, says her songs more honest than ever

Q+A Noise: Liz Phair

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Phair continues to change her sound the way she sees fit

By Paul Saitowitz
The Press-Enterprise, November 11, 2005

Liz Phair said she had something to prove.

Sure, her 1993 debut, Exile in Guyville — a female response to the Rolling Stones’ seminal Exile on Main Street — is widely lauded as one of the great indie rock works of the last decade, but she’d been there and done that.

In 2003, she was a 36-year-old woman who had not released an album in five years. She heard countless times there was no room in the music world for a woman over 30 — and that her only hope at a career was writing for an older, more mellow crowd.

All the negative comments eventually raised her ire — enough to make an unlikely dip into the pop rock world she had never been part of.

Instead of putting out another set of stripped-down, lyric-driven numbers, Phair employed the songwriting team known as the Matrix (who worked with Avril Lavigne and Hilary Duff) to help her pen Liz Phair.

The album was a highly produced sugary set that sounded like it could have been recorded by someone two decades her junior. Lyrically, it still challenged, but the sound was pure radio.

In addition, she launched a full-blown marketing campaign that featured several pictures of her scantily clad in pop starlet gear.

Critics and her core fans panned the set as a pedantic attempt and one last grasp at the superstardom that had eluded her, but Phair says the move was much deeper than that.

“It was a part of growing as an artist, I’m always doing that,” Phair said during a phone interview. “I didn’t want to recreate the same type of thing I’d done on the past, and at my age, this was what I wanted to do.”

Phair’s latest set — Somebody’s Miracle, released in October — isn’t quite as bubble-gum drenched at its predecessor, but it’s still a far cry from her earlier works.

Still, Phair says her approach to songwriting has remained constant; sonic quality doesn’t play a part in her final vision.

“The only thing that I’m concerned with is the melody, my lyrics and my guitar parts,” she said. “Whatever the producer does is up to them; people focus on whether something is a big or small production, but that doesn’t matter to me.”

In the past, she’s been known for racy lyrics filled with sexual innuendo and stark female opinions. The current set finds her going over the same ground, but the material reflects the fact that she’s nearing 40. Now that she’s a divorced single mom, her point of view comes from a more worn source.

One tune, “Table For One”, is lonely tale of alcoholism and dependency that Phair calls the “most brutally honest song on the album.”

“I’ve always written about personal stuff as opposed to general topics, even with my last album,” she said. “For me it’s a type of therapy; I always write one song on each album that is kind of brainless and then another that pushes my boundaries of how much information I want to divulge to the limit.”

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