By way of background: Liz Phair's 1993 debut, Exile in Guyville, created an avalanche of critical acclaim and greasy-haired imitators. Her follow-up, 1994's Whip-Smart, had clenched-jawed critics screaming sophomore slump. Stories of her famously bad bouts of stage fright crackled over the wires. She got married. Had a baby. Fussed around for four years making her latest record, whitechocolatespaceegg. Started the 'egg with Scott Litt, that hotshot producer guy who works with R.E.M. Ended the 'egg with Brad Wood, that low-profile producer guy who shaped her bedroom-mirror churnings into her first two records. The arty smarty-pants girl grew up. So what's the big deal? Speaking with Phair via telephone, Seattle Weekly found out.
King Cat Theater, Monday, September 28
SW: You give good interviews. Do you think that's a million times more powerful than being the blow-job queen you sang about on Guyville?
Liz Phair: Well, we'll see how far Monica [Lewinsky] gets with being a blow-job queen. . . . Do you think she'll write a book? I hope she does. This has got to be a brilliant book, because she's very smart.
You think she's smart?
I do. And she's got a huge motivation—that attention thing. At home she's probably morbid and depressed and lackluster. . . . Then, in another [place], she's the opposite—vibrant and alive. She was gunning for it. There's a great writer in that.
Most people assume songs are autobiographical. Why do you think that is?
I try to explain that [my songs aren't autobiographical], but I get a backlash. However, while whiling away the hours between the last record and this one, I really got into Lyle Lovett's Road to Ensenada. I have always followed the Julia Roberts saga—long ago we went to camp together and she was the only celebrity that I had actually laid my hands on. I truly believed that this was the album of their breakup. It was such a thrill to go through the whole album and imagine what went on between them. I did not want to know or hear that this had nothing to do with Julia. I totally understand the need to feel that these stories are leading somewhere.
In the spirit of populism, I asked the members of the Liz Phair 6'1 e-mail list to send questions to you and I've picked one. Dan_Osborne@compuware.com asks the embarrassing question: Did you ever intend your work to be music you can masturbate to?
No. I definitely did not intend it to be music you could masturbate to. But I did intend it to be a rallying cry. I wanted music that would either get you moving or inspire you to be cooler or better than you were, or music to comfort you when you felt like the world really sucked. But masturbate!? I could imagine it to possibly be foreplay music for guys to let the girls know how down he is, or for a woman so she could be like, don't mess with me. But the icky thought of someone getting off to blow-job queen. . . .
So was Lilith Fair like summer camp?
Yes! I made so many references to camp at Lilith. Sarah, Natalie, and the rest, they were big stars. Big performers. It gave me a sense in music of somewhere to get to. Like senior class. And they were really nice to me like the seniors would be.
What do you think you'd be doing if you weren't a rock star?
I'm getting pretty good at painting my nails. I'm not kidding. For a temporary amount of time I could be a manicurist. A very temporary amount of time. Until I scraped together enough for my new gig as a novelist.
In your recent publicity photos you look a lot different. You're sporting this Cindy Sherman-esque, country-club-tennis-champ look.
That's so funny that you say that, because I've been looking at these pictures of me and thinking that there's a lot of Cindy Sherman going on there. You never know what they're going to do to my picture. I have the same attitude that she may have had at one point: here's the camera, now let's see what kind of drama that we can hopefully portray. But the stuff you see from the Lilith Fair—that's just what I wear. Guyville happened in the period in my 20s when I was working very hard to look different than I was—to ignore where I came from. Now I don't give a shit. I just wear what I always wore, which is very preppy.
Is Brad Wood your deodorant, bra, or lipstick?
He's somewhere between all three on different days. Deodorant because he takes the stink out of my ridiculous chord structure, giving me a more flowery bouquet around a generally lax personal songwriting hygiene. A bra because without his uplifting expertise, people would probably not listen to my music as much. As for lipstick—I'm his lipstick. I'm the color.