Photo: Williams and Hirakawa
Bright Lights Ahead For Alanis Morissette
(GRAMMY winner Alanis Morissette is set to release her latest album, Havoc And Bright Lights, on Aug. 28. Ahead of the release, GRAMMY.com conducted an exclusive interview with Morissette, which follows below. At left, view an additional special conversation with Morissette, filmed when GRAMMY.com caught up with her during her induction into Guitar Center's Hollywood Rockwalk on Aug. 21.)
Thanks to her breakthrough 1995 GRAMMY-winning album Jagged Little Pill, Alanis Morissette is cemented in music history as one of the first female artists with the courage to expose her frustrations over failed romances in starkly honest terms, striking enough of a public chord to eventually sell more than 16 million copies in the United States. Jagged Little Pill reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, spawned four GRAMMYs, including Album Of The Year and Best Rock Album, and earned the singer a nomination for the prestigious Best New Artist award.
Morissette's raw talent continued to propel her into Top 10 stardom with subsequent releases, including her last release, 2008's Flavors Of Entanglement. In the four years since, Morissette has married rapper Mario "MC Souleye" Treadway and given birth to a son, Ever Imre.
As she prepares to release her new album, Havoc And Bright Lights, on Aug. 28, the Ottawa, Ontario native discussed developing her unique voice as an artist, the impact motherhood has had on her songwriting and plans for the future, among other topics.
At the 38th Annual GRAMMY Awards in 1996 you won four GRAMMYs for Jagged Little Pill, including Album Of The Year and Best Rock Song for "You Oughta Know." What do you remember about that evening?
I was a little bit of a deer in the headlights during that evening. I just remember having this inner conflict of my ego being so gratified and feeling very grateful for being recognized in that way. And God bless [album producer] Glen Ballard for being [recognized]. It was so lovely for me to behold. [But] at the same time the idea of competition in arts to me is sacrilege, so I was [onstage] going, "Thank you, I think, and I'm sorry, and wait a minute, I am grateful, and what am I doing here?"
Many artists have not been able to reinvent themselves as successfully as you have, transitioning from Canadian dance-pop diva to expressing your own voice on Jagged Little Pill.
For me, it was just adding what was already there, but was dormant in terms of public perception. As a kid I listened to Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Heavy D and hip-hop music, and a lot of [techno] music. And I listened to a lot of what my parents listened to — Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan — so, for me, it was this combination of loving hooks, loving technology and loving rocking out. As a teenager, I was working with [producer] Leslie Howe, so [pop] was the focus then, and the autobiographical aspect of writing songs was not something I was encouraged to do during that time; in fact, [it was] quite the opposite. So when I emancipated myself and moved to Los Angeles, I just knew I wouldn't stop until I was writing songs that felt really authentic to what was going on at the time.
Your new album, Havoc And Bright Lights, comes after experiencing the profound life changes of marriage and motherhood. Did parenthood impact your songwriting?
It just meant that I drank a lot of coffee. I didn't use to drink coffee because I would have anxiety attacks from it, and it just became this imperative drinking. And I was sleep-deprived. I still am. So, instead of having three hours to just commune and write and be introspective, I had three-and-a-half minutes, so everything became very concentrated. The writing process was always a pretty accelerated process to begin with, but I relied on it. And then it just became the 17th priority — after marriage, family and friends — and then living the serviceable vocation that I was born to live.
You're licensing your work to different labels in different territories such as Columbia Records and Sony Music Entertainment in the United States, and Universal Music Canada. Why?
It's kind of like dating. I wouldn't want to date someone who didn't want to be on a date with me [laughs]. I want to date someone who's courting me madly. So, the aspect of this that is really exciting for me is that it's a whole new paradigm of partnership. [It's a] win-win. The old antiquated system was 80 percent record company, 20 percent artist, and any artist who complained about that was just going to be seen as an ingrate. We were caught between a rock and a hard place, whereas now, it's a one-record-cycle deal — if everybody's winning, let's continue. Win-win or no deal, that's really what it's become all around the world. So I actually feel real partnership for the first time, and I think that's the new frontier. Partnership is the way. Dictatorial win-lose is so old-school.
What excites you most about the future?
What I'm excited about is the idea of having some constancy, as opposed to the old-school [cycle of] writing a record, touring, falling into a deep depression, writing, touring, falling … I think the new cycle will just be staying consistent on the social networks and writing articles*. I've been really enjoying writing articles and writing music and music for movies. I'm writing a book for next year that I've been talking about since 1999 and I don't want to hear my voice talking about it anymore. I'll finish that next year and it touches on all the topics I care about. [I'm looking forward to continuing] to be active in the conversation of evolution and women's issues.
*[Morissette has been writing blog posts for Huffington Post, iVillage.com and others.]
(Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based journalist who has written for The Toronto Star, TV Guide, Billboard, Country Music and was a consultant for the National Film Board's music industry documentary Dream Machine.)