Few would have thought that one contestant on Canadian reality show ‘Star Search’ would have become a global musical giant. Few could have seen what Alanis Morisette would become though.
Back in 1995, with the release of game-changing alum Jagged Little Pill, Alanis became a worldwide sensation, selling over 33 million copies of the album and collecting more platinum discs than a most giant artists get in their lifetime. She continued to sell millions of records over the next decade, until deciding to take a bit of break after 2008’s Flavours of Entanglement.
Now she’s back with her new album Havoc and Bright Lights and we got to chat with her about the new album, being brave in songs and what it was like at the centre of the music world in the nineties.
So, what does it feel like to be back on the music scene?
It feels great, I liken it to coming out from under a rock and getting out of my sweat pants and putting my 15 inch heels back on. It’s great!
What can we expect then from Havoc and Bright Lights?
As always, it’s a snapshot of this particular time in my life. I’m a Gemini by trade, so I’m always obsessed with the dark and the light aspects of human beings and of life itself. So I comment on the under belly and the addiction and recovery, disconnection and suffering but I also comment on empathy and connecting, feeling and exaltation.
How does it feel having come back to a sold out tour and the album being so keenly anticipated?
It’s awesome! I just think of different climates. I’ve just continued to do the same thing for twenty years basically. I show up and I make sure I write a record that’s a great indicator of what’s happening in my life to the point of when I’m 108 years old on my death bed and my records will be markers of time. So, there are different contexts as well for what people want to hear. I think in the 60s and 70s people wanted to hear about social and political commentary.
The 80s were about entertainment, the 90s were about emotional commentary through imagery especially. Then the 2000s were about entertainment again, the economies were booming, so people just wanted to check out and have fun. Now I’m happy to say that I think there’s more emotional and spiritual commentary that I think people are looking for in music.
What’s the reaction been to the new tracks so far?
Great! We opened up in Europe with Woman Down. Nobody knew it, but it felt really good.
Back in 1995, what was like when Jagged Little Pill became a smash hit?
It was overwhelming. But it was also connective in some instances that I saw it as often as the case may be when people are in pain they think only they’re going through it. I know I did when I was young. When I found out that so many people related to my human experience I felt les lonely, which was nice. But as I said, I was overwhelmed. The nineties was an intense time to be selling records and to be really famous.
Did you feel under massive pressure coming off that album?
Yeah, yeah I did! It got to the point when I couldn’t go to the grocery store or anywhere outside of my house without people saying ‘When are you putting your next record out!’ So I went to India and tried to escape it as best as I could. The odd person on a train would recognise me, but for the most part I was pretty anonymous again, which was lovely.
I was and still am a people watcher. So, all of a sudden everyone’s eyes were looking at me and I thought ‘Wait a minute, this isn’t my favourite direction.’ Apart from when I’m on stage being a ham y’know. I like to sit on park benches and just watch. I still have some sort of PTSD from it or sure.
Why did you decide to go to India?
I just wanted to step away and to be honest I’m an empath, I’m highly sensitive temperamentally, introverted in that I’m very enquiry minded but with enough extrovert in me to get me out on stage and have me be a very brave, cape-wearing girl. It’s probably the Gemini thing. I needed to get away and calm my senses and get away from the overstimulation that was my life. Frankly, it still is.
You started off as a dance-pop artist, what triggered the shift in musical styles?
It was more of me not knowing I could integrate all of the styles. That’s what I love about this record is that there’s the hip-hop, technological loop aspect, there’s the rock and roll, sweaty, earthy, fire aspect. Bringing Joe Chiccarelli in producer wise with Guy Sigsworth let us blend and integrate them all.
Whereas when I was a teenager I thought, I can only write a pop record, or a dance record, or the more autobiographical singer-songwriter stuff. Everything was really compartmentalised, whereas my dream was to integrate them all. I feel this record is a nice culmination towards that end.
Your songs have always worn their hearts on their sleeves. Have you ever been tempted to pull back a little?
No, there’s such freedom in art for me and my main goal was to take the same courage that I applied in my song writing process and apply it to my day to day relationships. For a long time if I had had conflict or trouble, then I’ll just write a song about it so I didn’t have to talk to the person about it. So there was a cowardice that was permeating that whole time. Even though people were telling me how brave I was, in my actual relationships I wasn’t very brave at all.
So that’s what’s been going on over the last few years too, me being a little bit more direct with my anger and authenticity in my actual relationships. The songs are always going to be authentic and direct.
So in your time off, you’ve entered the jungle that is motherhood. How’s that been for you?
It’s a hormonal rollercoaster. It’s thrown me back into my body, before I had a tendency to be lofty and a little other worldly in some senses. This slammed me back into my body, as there’s no more animal an experience than having another human being come out of you. It’s pretty surreal and a wild ride.
You’ve sometimes described yourself as an alpha female, do you think that’s helped you?
It’s definitely helped me. That tomboy quality has always helped me. Y’know that whole Joan of Arc, cape-wearing quality. At the same time patriarchy was and still is what it was and is. Writing songs like Woman Down and continuing to connect with women and have sort of commentary on what our world is looking like is still really important.
So, what was it like when Kevin Smith asked you to play God in the film Dogma?
Well, I’ve always believed that we’re all piece of God anyway. So, I just asked him what direction he had for me and he just shook his head and said ‘Just go be God, don’t worry about it. Just do whatever you want.’ So, God would definitely have to have a sense of humour, be whimsical and be really, really sweet and kind.
And lastly, how many times have people been annoying about the irony in Ironic?
Many times, but there’s been some really smarty pants people in New York especially who come up to me and say ‘The sweetest part of Ironic, the greatest irony is that it’s not filled with irony.’ You can blame me and Glen Ballard about that until you’re old and grey!
Alanis Morissette’s new album Havoc and Bright Lights is out on CD and download on August 27th.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith