the Real: Alanis Morissette 1999
By Debbie Seagle
the release of Alanis Morissette's second CD, SUPPOSED
FORMER INFATUATION JUNKIE, she approaches
her sophomore project head on and invites her audience to meet the more
mature, spiritual, reflective Alanis. With JAGGED
LITTLE PILL serving as the
sound track for the red fury and betrayal of ended relationships, we once
again hear and feel strong emotions winding themselves around the cuts
of this latest work. However, the jagged edges have been worn and
smoothed by time,
like a shard of glass that has tumbled in life's ocean. Notes Alanis,
"In the past, when I felt infatuation with someone, I wanted to pass through
that phase, if not skip over it entirely because I felt out of control
and overwhelmed . . . relationships equated confusion and pain to me .
. . upon realizing why relationships exist and understanding myself more,
I can now enjoy the heart-palpitating phase of infatuation once again."
FORMER INFATUATION JUNKIE is seasoned
with Eastern spiritualism. The lyrics are at times basic, yet their
delivery is spiced with exotic Eastern melodies and Morissette's intense,
expressive vocals. This successful combination of characteristics
lends itself well to the stage, which is where you will find Alanis at
the moment. Currently on tour until the latter part of July, Morissette's
stage presence is peaceful and gracious, yet fast paced and mesmerizing.
Totally energized and confident, she is a consistent moving target as she
spins, dances and struts from one end of the stage to the other, while
still delivering each song with rich, sharp control. The set, which
lasted almost two hours in San Diego, was a well crafted mix of both CDs
and included a multi-media presentation of her latest video UNSENT
and a beautifully dramatic piano intro (by Dean Johnson) for her contribution
to the "City of Angels" sound track UNINVITED.
Winding down after 90 minutes of unrestrained musical exorcism, the show
was capped with an acoustic encore that brought the audience back to reality
and a normal heart rate.
recently shared some of her thoughts about the new CD, her travels and
her inspirations in this revealing question and answer session:
How can you be so revealing in your songs?
"Since writing JAGGED LITTLE PILL,
I have felt the empowerment and healing that comes from being vulnerable
and of speaking as truthfully as possible. I write from a subconscious
place whether it's about my own experiences or my observations. Everything
I've created since I was nine years old up, up until this point has been
an extension of where I was at that time. It was also a reflection
of how much I was willing to reveal at that time."
On SUPPOSED FORMER INFATUATION JUNKIE you go emotionally deeper
than you went on JAGGED LITTLE PILL. Can you talk a little bit about
what triggered your mind to plumb the depths even further?
"On this record, song writing is a very cathartic experience for me.
Dissolving what has been holding me back or confusing me by facing and
writing about it allows me to move beyond it. I still allow myself
to viscerally react to people and situations - I then take responsibility
for my role in it. My having written in a reactionary way resulted
in a sense of release (which I think was very important). Taking
responsibility for my actions and not hiding behind my own songs has resulted
in my feeling a sense of closure."
As empowerment as you say it, is to be vulnerable, is there ever a concern
that you might be revealing too much in your songs?
"There really is no emotion or part of myself
that I'm afraid to write about. The challenge is to be specific enough
that it resonates for me on an emotional level, but not so specific that
it disrespects anyone's boundary or privacy. I have also, particularly
on this record, played certain songs for people that I've written about,
all of whom understood the spirit in which the songs were written.
Unwittingly, this records encouraged me to connect directly with people."
Can you reflect about the mind set you were in that brought about your
"After having gotten off the road, I
took a year-and-a-half off and processed a lot of what I had been forced
to put on the back burner during the tour. I traveled a lot.
I made up for a lot of lost time in many different areas. I nurtured
relationships that I hadn't been able to nurture. I took the time
for painting, writing and photography. I snow boarded, played sports
and did three triathlons. I wanted to understand the truths and illusions
in my life in general, including those that lay within the music industry
and everything that I had been through. I started from scratch in
so many ways. Stopping was both exciting and terrifying, due to the
fact that I had never truly done it before. I had been taught to
keep running at all costs, for some elusive, ultimately unfullfilling reward.
Stopping resulted in my realizing that this reward was not something I
had to search for. I already was it. And what I was
left with was an overwhelming sense of wanting to create again and a large
amount of gratitude and compassion. I feel very connected to God
in this stillness. I really didn't want to write this record from
a place of fear or pressure. I wanted to write it from a place of
being inspired. Even if I'm writing about difficulties or pain or
confusion, I want it to come from a place of love."
Can you talk about some of your travels? We're aware that you went
to India and Cuba.
"My aunts, mother and two girlfriends were
with with me from the first part of the trip to India - my girlfriend and
I continued on when they left to go back. We started off in Calcutta
and did some volunteering for a few days, traveling up north, then into
Nepal and eventually down to the south of India. What I remember
most about having gone to India was the openness that was required to go
there, the letting go of control. I was able to look at our Western
culture with a sense of objectivity and be humbled by immersing myself
in another culture that is drastically different from the one I was born
in. It enabled me to step away from a lot of things and look at my
life in a way that I had never been able to before. There was richness
and simplicity that was paradoxical and inspiring. I also realized
that the Eastern world and its philosophies are often idealized.
Being there prompted inquiries about myself, God, illusion, conditionings,
death and materialism, among other things. I realized I didn't have
to look outside myself to see who I was. I also enjoyed the eye contact
with the people there. It was a very introspective trip."
Did anything happen in Cuba that served as an inspiration for the new album?
"I saw this as the last trip that I would take before the writing of this
record. A group of us went on what was a cultural exchange.
We went to different schools and hospitals, art galleries and restaurants.
We also visited a music boarding school. I was alone in a music room
there and I started to play piano when a woman with whom we were traveling
started to dance. I was playing a very modular, stream of consciousness
song. When I finished, I looked up and there were other people in
the room. I was so deeply inspired. I know that it was time
to write again."
One of the first things we've heard from you before the release of the
album was UNINVITED, which you wrote. Walk us through that
process a little bit. What happened? Did you see the movie?
How did the inspiration take hold?
I saw a screening of 'City of Angels' and had been going
through something at the time that I felt very compelled to write about
- it very much applied to the story."
You've talked about starting from scratch. Can you tell us a little
bit about, artistically and musically, what you wanted to achieve on this
record that we didn't hear from you last time around?
I guess what I wanted to achieve for this record was to feel I had nothing
to achieve. It is a snapshot of where I'm at with less regard for
structure, experimentation with different instruments, plus even more stream
of consciousness writing perhaps than before and writing about conversations
I have with people. I wanted to produce it with Glen this time and
write some songs alone. There was a point in time when I wasn't sure
I ever wanted to do it anymore. But once I had taken enough time
off and allowed myself the freedom to not 'have' to, I was ultimately left
There are vocal stylings that have an Eastern flavor. How influenced
do you feel you've been, musically, by your having traveled there?
"I very much enjoy minor, augmented and
diminished chords. I've gravitated to them more and more over the
last few years. And then with having been around Asia, I'm sure that
sort of filtered into my subconscious and confirmed it, if nothing else."
On this album, you interestingly blend melody with language, enunciating
words in a different way. You also, at times, fit a lot of words
into a measure.
"What I'm saying is more of a priority than whether it 'fits.'
I adore language and different forms for communicating and expressing.
It was such a priority to sing what I had to say that even if it resulted
in having to fit sixteen words into a two bar area, it would be done (laughs).
I don't believe the structure of a song has to require lyrics or melody
to conform to it.
On this record you serve as co-producer. What did that involve?
"For me it entailed applying and equally adjusting and personalizing
what I had learned from people with whom I had worked before on a technical
level and trusting my intuition. Producing, for me, is very intuitive
in that the emotion takes precedence over 'sonic quality' or 'perfect'
pitch, etc. I was able to better communicate what I wanted."
Can you walk us through your song writing process and your collaboration
with Glen Ballard?
On this record we wrote songs much in the same way that the songs for JAGGED
LITTLE PILL were, in that it was very
stream-of-consciousness. Glen and I would write the music and I'd
write the lyrics at the same time. When I wrote alone, music and
lyrics were written at the same time as well. All the songs were
written in a day and recorded that same night in order to capture the spirit
on tape. It's my favorite way of creating. There were a few
songs this time around, like in the case of 'That I Would Be Good,'
and 'Would Not Come,' where I wrote the words first
and then wrote the music alone or with Glen later."
In looking at your lyrics and listening to them, it seems sometimes like
there's no real editing of the lyrics from their creation in your mind
to their journey onto tape. Can we talk about that artistic process?
"Songs, or any form of expression, are unself-conscious moments or snapshots
captured on film, tape or canvas or paper. Even if it may change
in a week or in an hour or in ten years, it will remain a representation
of that moment."
When you're in the studio creating, are there any things that are trying
to distract you from that purity?
"That which distracts is that which usually inspires me."
Let's talk about your connection with your audience.
"I think the charm of doing what I do - and the reason why I could do it
for as long as I did - was seeing people take what I wrote and have it
inspire them, repulse them, or validate them in some way. It became
an opportunity for them to define themselves in accordance. I would
watch people in the audience and know that they were not solely there for
me. They were there for themselves as much as if not more than they
were there for me, which is the most heartening part of all this."
When did you know you had finished recording the album?
"The moment I feel the songs truly reflect that particular time in my life
is the moment that the record is done. In the case of this record,
we were technically 'done' at one point. But I felt intuitively
that we weren't and I wrote 'Sympathetic Character.'
When we completed recording it, there was a resounding 'you're finished'
in the air for me."
What instruments did you play on this album?
"When I was writing alone, I played guitar and bass and piano. On
the record I played flute, piano and harmonica. On stage I play the
flute, harmonica and guitar."
Is there anything on this album that you feel that you've never done before?
I had never expressed what I've written about in a way that I did on
this record. I enjoyed playing with my voice and feeling how it had
strengthened from having heavily toured and rested . . . Playing flute,
new instruments, producing formally, stretching, less structure, writing
more about other people. More responsibility, less fear, exploring."
In your songs, there are other people's experiences - and your conversations
with them - that have been weaved in here. Can you reflect on this
"People fascinate me and I enjoy observing
and writing about them and recounting conversations, delving into their
perspective and honoring them in doing so."
Why did you decide to do a warm-up club tour before "officially" launching
your world trek in January 1999?
"I wanted to start intimately and very much wanted to connect with people
in a close way, start from scratch again, live in the moment and not base
this tour and record on anything from the past. Letting it be what
it wants to be today, on every level."
O.K., if the new record were an actual food, which one do you think it
"It would have to be a food that at times can require something of
you (like corn on the cob) and at times be easily eaten (like canned corn).
You can cook it (or not) and then when you eat it, it's messy - whether
you dress it or not. And there are more kernels than you sometimes
a real intimacy going on throughout SUPPOSED FORMER INFATUATION JUNKIE.
On "That I Would Be Good," when you play flute, you really can hear
your breathiness on it. There ws no need to go back and make it "the
perfect flute performance."
"I love something being real and to me that's perfect, whatever that is."
You were on a treadmill. What was it like to realize that you could
actually get off of it?
"It was liberating, exciting and terrifying. I've begun laughing
again, making up for a lot of lost time on emotional levels, on traveling
levels, on relationship levels, physical levels (sports), exploring my
own spirituality. I felt humbled, inspired, afraid and grateful.
I feel younger now than I ever have in my whole life. When I was
14, I felt 40 years old and now I feel both eight and 80. I discovered
the world on many different levels with the energy that had always gone
solely into my 'career."
Morissette Cd's and Cassettes are available from Maverick
are on Sale now at Cd Universe.
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