By Marc Spitz, Vanity Fair
At 38, Alanis Morissette has survived the kind of super-fame that sometimes devours. The singer-songwriter, actress, and activist has released nine albums over the past two decades, including her 1995 classic, Jagged Little Pill, which has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. After a four-year break--during which she married musician Mario "MC Souleye" Treadway, had a son (Ever Imre Morissette Treadway), and appeared on shows like Weeds and Up All Night -- Morissette released her ninth album, Havoc and Bright Lights, on Tuesday. VF Daily caught up with the 90s icon to discuss parenting, the long shadow of Jagged Little Pill, and that "novelty record" she may one day share. Highlights from our chat:
VF Daily: You've taken a relatively long time between albums.
Alanis Morissette: I call it the "Sweatpant Era." The Sweatpant Era is very important, but it can also bleed into being incredibly torturous as it goes on for too long. I needed time to lead the life that I then comment on later in song and in other ways.
Well, you did have a baby.
This was an exception, yeah. This wasn't just sweatpant time. This was birthing-a-child-out-of-my-womb time! To be really direct about it, I've had such incredible artistic and professional fulfillment in my life. It is a dream come true. I did commit to myself that I would not jump back into being the workaholic that I can be before I gave myself an honest opportunity to create the marriage of my dreams and to create the beginning of the family of my dreams, and that took a hot second. The breaks can inform [the records], certainly. They can also recharge batteries. I find as an artist if I'm not expressed relatively consistently, I get really depressed. I need to be having interviews like this one. I need to be performing. I need to be acting. I need to be designing a condo and ripping down walls and buying new plates and looking at fashion magazines. There always has to be some movement in the artistic department for me to not get really, really low.
To the listener, many of your lyrics are assumed to come straight from your life experiences. How much do you have to steer that now that you're changing diapers?
It isn't a willful thing or an overly intellectualized process. I actually have no desire to write a song about changing diapers, although my husband and I do have a comedy album that is pretty much ready to go about parenting. It's all very stream of consciousness with no rhyming. It cracks us up, if no one else, so some of that does have to be written. It just doesn't have to be in the context of this new record, where I just wanted to write about what it is to be a woman and a human being as my life is unfolding. All that I can really do in art is sort of dramatize and concretize and attempt to clarify what's going on in as entertaining a way as I possibly can.
You have a knack for writing specific personal lyrics that feel universal. But in your new track "Celebrity," you're more conceptual.
It's basically my commenting not just on the whole idea of celebrity but on the value system of the West. We're obsessed with looking 21 years-old forever, and we're obsessed with fame, and we're obsessed with being very, very, very rich. I have to comment on it, and on how in and of itself fame for me was relatively hollow. There was some fun in there. I love me in my 16-inch heels, and I love glitter, and I love fashion, and I love beauty. I saw that I could use fame as a means to an end, as a tool to serve my agenda of making social commentary. I can't have that forum without fluffing the whole fame machine.
Do you ever feel the urge to big-sister all the rehab celebrities? The way you navigated through super-fame is pretty rare.
I have a profound empathy for people who are in the public eye, whether they manifest it themselves or whether it happened by accident -- it doesn't matter to me. I think there's a great misunderstanding of what it is to be famous. Now it's an era of the celebration of transparency, whereas many years ago, the '90s or even the '60s, mystery was the order of the course. It was all about being mysterious and having this huge chasm between the fan and the artist, whereas now it's almost mandatory that you're transparent. Which for me is the best news.
Do you have Jagged Little Pill in perspective now, with the passage of time? With the exception of Adele's 21, there will probably never be an album like that that's so commercially successful.
I have a lot of empathy for all the Adeles, the Kurt Cobains, the Jimi Hendrixes, and the Janis Joplins. It's an amazing thing, having this Zeitgeist moment. Some of us have the capacity to weather the hailstorm that comes from it, and some of us don't.
You entered the public consciousness so angrily with "You Oughta Know." Do you have a compulsion to remind people that you are also funny?
The itch needs to be scratched. It's hard for me to write 12 songs on a record that are hysterically funny.
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