By Cortney Harding
Billboard, April 11, 2008
To say that Liz Phair’s career has had its fair share of ups and downs is a grand understatement. After wowing critics and hipsters alike with her 1993 Matador debut, Exile in Guyville, Phair released two more solid indie records before being absorbed by Capitol Records.
Her 2003 self-titled major-label debut was a slick pop album that sold almost as many copies as Guyville, but faced a critical drubbing as her old fans deserted her. After her second record for the label performed poorly, she was dropped from Capitol and found herself at loose ends.
After a short hiatus, however, Phair is back with a new record deal with indie ATO, an in-progress new album and a re-release of Guyville, set for June 24. She spoke to Billboard about what’s new and exciting in her world.
Why did you decide to sign with ATO for the re-release of Guyville and your new record?
Liz Phair: I missed being on an indie. I never wanted to go to a major in the first place, but Matador basically sold me to Capitol, and when they divested, I was left there. It has been a long time since I could do what I wanted. When I was on Capitol, I tried to adapt and make the best of it, but I can honestly say, for the first time in 15 years, I feel creative. I don’t have to start with a mindset that thinks about how to sell the record and works backward.
Why did you decide to kick off the deal by re-releasing “Exile in Guyville” as opposed to releasing a new album?
The re-release was actually ATO’s idea initially, but I did realize that we’d never done the 10th anniversary edition, and it seemed like a good thing to do. I jumped on the idea because I wanted to work on the DVD and revisit the scene that happened around Guyville in 1993. I wanted to bring that moment back to life, and it was also a good way for me to establish my independence.
I’m also excited about the way the re-release turned out. Alan Light did the liner notes, and I’ve been meeting with artists about the packaging for the 2.0 version. There are three bonus tracks, but there is a good minute separating them from the rest of the record. It was cool to go through my closet and find the songs — some are from [demo] “Girly Sound” but they are very much of the Guyville era.
Does it ever drive you nuts that even after four more records and 15 years, people keep coming back to Guyville?
There was a period where I was frustrated, but much of that came from the fact that I was stuck in the major system and felt like my fans hated me and I was cranky. And now I’m not cranky anymore [laughs]. When I did the first pop record, I have to say it was fun for me. [Then-Capitol president] Andy Slater came in and we just decided to give it a shot. I felt like I had fun and learned a lot, although I certainly would not have made that record had I not been on a major.
Who do you think will be picking up the re-release of Exile and the new record?
I think I still have a core fan base, and there are people out there who like the sloppy Liz style. I have a feeling that my fans are older and have lives now — they are in a different place than they were 15 years ago.
What can we expect of the new record?
I was recording demos all winter, after taking a few years off, which I needed. The demos were all super cheap, and my friends all lent me their time and got involved. I’m going to start recording in mid-April and hopefully bang this puppy out. I have a strong vision that I can’t quite articulate yet, but I’m hoping it’ll be clear on the album.
Guyville was released at an interesting moment for women in 1993 — Clinton had just been elected, riot grrrl was happening and gender politics were very different. If it were released today, how do you think it would do?
I’m of two minds about the whole thing. Fifteen years ago, things seemed a lot more male-dominated, and now you get women busting out everywhere, so that’s good. But the way they are busting out is still very much within the constraints of what men want them to do. Maybe we don’t need to have as much anger as we did back then, but we still need strong women. I see all these young women on porn sites, all these sorority girls posting pictures of themselves giving blowjobs and thinking that it’s empowering, and I feel like they really missed the point.