By Mary Huhn
New York Post, October 2, 2005
After her mind-blowing debut, 1993’s Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair could never quite live up to the high expectations of her indie-rock fans or her major label.
So, a decade later – and in the spirit of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” – Phair released the pop-minded Liz Phair, produced by the same star makers behind Avril Lavigne. Our heroine then began dressing more like Britney – even vamping, clad in only little more than her electric guitar, on the album’s cover.
Cries of “sellout!” could be heard from here to Seattle, but Phair stuck to her commercially loaded guns, ready to aim at the mainstream media. Recently divorced, she claims the move was a business decision, although she also says she remained true to herself with the effort.
Now Phair is back with her fifth album, Somebody’s Miracle, out Tuesday.
“I pushed for an earthier sound – more guitar-driven,” the singer-songwriter says. “And I wanted the songs to have a mellower feel – not wow, pow, look at that! Last record I was a little more showoff-y. This was trying really hard to convey ideas and evoke stories.”
That’s what she does best.
The Post caught up with Phair, 38, before the beginning of her new tour, which stops at Irving Plaza on Oct. 17 and 18.
Where are you?
I’m in L.A. – just at home. Everyone asks me that, and I always feel bad. I’m like, “I’m in my son’s room.”
Who takes care of him when you’re on tour?
We kind of shift around. I’ll take him out for the first week, and then he’ll come back for a couple of days. My parents will come out and live with him for a week. Then he’ll be with his dad until I get home. He definitely benefits in some ways, and probably also suffers in some ways from all the upheaval, but he’s pretty used to it now.
You said that one reason you went so pop on Liz Phair was to help support your kid. Did that plan work?
Yes, it did work and it was smart. I was in a bad financial place. At the very least, I got that work pace back and I supported the live act and I got better at that. I reached out to the fans and got that going again. It was important to me to get back into the habit of working, not taking it as a lark that just happened to me in my life. [I said to myself], “OK you’re a music artist. Get moving! Take care of yourself.” It was a good thing in a kind of feminist way, and I’m not kidding. Before that I don’t think I ever proved to myself that without a fallback position I could take care of myself.
I never had to grind my teeth at night and sweat it out and make sure I was OK with my decisions and think about business and how it works. It was a huge step for me in growing up. And now I’m like, OK, everything could fall apart, but I have the tools I need to learn how to work. It was really important for me.
What took so long to get there?
Just fuckin’ selfish childishness. Nothing good at all. Who wants to [work] if you don’t have to? I’d much rather go out, have a good time while I dream away my day.
You’ve been married, you have a kid, you have a new boyfriend. What’s it like to sing “Fuck and Run,” with the chorus, “I want a boyfriend”?
Every time I play these songs it’s more like a Rorschach test. It’s kind of like I say this prayer every night, and it’s a really simple prayer. It’s a way to let me know what the issues are going on with me. Every time I say a line, an image will pop into my head about what’s going on it my life. When I sing, “I want a boyfriend,” I don’t really feel that line. But when I talk about (sings) “You almost felt bad / You said that I should call you up / But I knew much better than that,” those [words] resonate for me right now.
In “Rock Me”, from your last disc, you talked about wanting to play Xbox with a younger guy. Is your current boyfriend younger than you, and do you play Xbox?
(Laughs) Actually he is younger, and we do play Xbox and GameCube together with my son, because it’s the only thing my son loves. It’s like the drugs for kids.
What did you like about your acoustic tour?
It was a way for me to bring what I see the songs as [they are] to everybody else. Because there was such a furor about the last record – and I understand why there exactly was – I also want to show what my musical experience is – with my music – and, it’s always me and a guitar. That’s how I write my songs. That’s how I play them and practice them. I’m very much a bedroom guitar player. So they don’t strike me as so shocking, the way they do once they’re all dressed up in a studio.
Do you feel abandoned by your fans, the way they may feel abandoned by you?
I don’t feel that way just because of the touring season we had last year. There were some new fans, but there were still a lot of old fans coming to the shows – it was great.
My live experience was so different than my media one. I feel that [rock critics] just got pissed off about that record. I don’t think that everyone else felt quite as outraged. [The critics] were just like, “We don’t like the pop,” which I can live with. I can deal with it. The personal attacks bum me out.
Perhaps people take it personally because you’ve revealed so much about yourself.
I think that’s an illusion to some extent. The songs do reveal a lot about me, but every song is still a fiction in some way. It could be really revealing, and yet just like anything, there’s still another me – there’s still “Elizabeth Clark Phair” there. Doesn’t that mean I’m good? Because if they really feel that they know me – that’s what I’m trying to do anyway. I’m trying to be intimate with people and evoke their own experiences with my songs.