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In The Studio - Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette at Scream Studios in Studio City, California
Alanis Morissette at Scream Studios in Studio City, California (click to enlarge)

Two years ago, in the movie Dogma, Alanis Morissette played God. On her forthcoming album - delayed for months due to tense contract negotiations with her label, Maverick - she takes on a bigger role: producer.

"Playing God didn't require much," Morissette, 27, says while taking a break from recording at Doghouse Studios, a West Los Angeles facility owned by the Eagles' Glenn Frey. "There's a lot more to producing a record, but I was up for the experience."

It's a big step for Morissette, whose last two albums, Jagged Little Pill and Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, were handled by Glen Ballard, the songwriter and producer for hit records by Dave Matthews, Aerosmith and others. "I listen to my gut about what the next chapter of my life is going to be," she says. "Ever since I was nine, I knew at some point I would produce my own records - it's a natural step."

Morissette composed most of her best-known material with Ballard, but for this album she wrote on her own. "My purpose was to get back to my truths again, and there's no better way for me to do it than writing songs," she says. "My songs always change my life - if I'm at all off my proverbial path, as soon as I start to write songs, it gently pushes me back on. I'm afraid of it sometimes."

The lyrics move away from the intimate revelations of earlier work toward more universal topics. "I always thought there were my issues, and there were global issues," she says. "Now I realise they're the same."

Not that Morissette has abandoned the edgy confessionals that charged Jagged Little Pill. The song tentatively titled "Narcissus" opens with the line, "Dear mama's boy, I know you've had your butt licked by your mother." And the standout track, "21 Things I Want in a Lover", is a want ad detailing what a potential paramour should be.

For the record, Morissette is looking for someone who's masculine and feminine, is politically aware and uninhibited in bed. "I exactly mean it," she says. "If someone said, 'Hey, I'm 21 of these things, let's go to lunch,' I'd be excited. I get very specific about what I choose."

In the studio - which she has personalised with Indian statues, scarves and The Big Book of Filth: 6500 Sex Slang Words and Phrases ("Required reading," she says) - Morissette is easy-going with the musicians. "I'm a nurturing person," she says. "I know how it feels to be on the other side of the glass."

Though she remains a major international artist, Morissette saw a big decline in sales from Jagged Little Pill, which sold a staggering 16 million copies, to her most recent album, which sold 3 million. But she says that she values personal satisfaction over commercial success. "Finishing the record, that's my goal," she says. "Once I finish it and hold it in my hand, I consider it a success."

Morissette admits to being out of touch with the current pop tastes. When she's asked how many members of Backstreet Boys or 'NSync she can name, she draws a blank. "You got me there," she says. She may be older then some folks on the radio, but she doesn't feel ready to be put out to pasture. "I'm an elder on some levels," she says, smiling, "but I still feel like a little bit of the junior."

by David Wild, Rolling Stone #594, December 2001