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The diva least likely speaks candidly about her suspicion of fame: women, anger and music: and why she's not a ball-breaker.
Playboy: How can anyone adjust to the kind of success that you've enjoyed on the past year?
Morissette: I know. It's a little unreal. But it's what I've been after for years. I've been performing professionally for almost seven years and this is everything and more than I could possibly have imagined. But it's fun to be recognised for your work and although it's a little stressful, it's not freaking me out. This is the second time around for me as a singer. In Canada, I had had some success and I was totally miserable.
Playboy: So you're suspicious of fame and being a celebrity?
Morissette: It's an illusion because the word "fame" describes an artificial situation. Your work is known but you yourself are completely distant from your audience. There's a gap there which creates a false sense of mystery. That's what fame is. It distorts your perception, and this time around I was prepared to deal with it because I had had a bad taste on it before. The recognition is great, but fame [pauses] it's not something I worry about.
Playboy: What's the difference between your previous career as a pop singer and the harder edged Jagged Little Pill?
Morissette: The difference is that my music is more honest now and Jagged Little Pill is my diary of my adolescence. It's about all the crap a person goes through between the age of 14 and 21 and how many difficult changes you experience before you even begin to know who you are.
In my earlier incarnation I repressed my emotions just like I did in my personal life. When I was a teenage singer I wasn't ready to create in the way I knew I could because I was being pulled in different artistic directions that I found myself not being able to control. I was suffering from that and when my second album failed and my career began to tail off, I had to go back within myself and find out who I was and what I really needed to do with my artistic energy. I touched bottom a few times psychologically and everything that's happening to me now is my personal payback time. I know what it feels like to be alone in a small apartment and wondering what's happening to my life.
Playboy: Are you bitter over the kind of experiences that inspired the uglier side of some songs in Jagged Little Pill? Are you still mad at the guy who dumped you?
Morissette: No, I'm past that point. I've been past that point already for a few years. He doesn't mean anything to me anymore. But three years ago I was in pretty bad shape and my only catharsis was to write that kind of song. He's long been out of my mind, although it doesn't bother me that he might wish he hadn't been such a bastard to me.
Playboy: Many people were attracted to your album not simply because of the primal energy it exudes, but also because of the very frank and compelling sexual lyrics.
Morissette: I'm a very sexual person. I've always felt that sex is a powerful experience and that orgasm is one of the most important forms of emotional and physical release that we have.
Playboy: The lyrics are deeply personal. Did you have to dig deep inside yourself to come out with such rage and sexual passion?
Morissette: It was a very traumatic process but it was also incredibly thrilling to be able to turn my psyche inside out and put things on paper and being able to use my music to get that kind of message across. I obviously asked for all the attention by writing about my feelings and my past - that's definitely part of me. I am a very sexual person but that's just a piece of the pie. The album is about a process of self-analysis and a battle to restore my self-esteem. It's something a lot of people struggle with in order to find themselves and move on with their lives.
Playboy: Is there a lot of dark, subconscious self-analysis going on in the music?
Morissette: Oh sure. The subconscious is a great source for nasty thoughts and lyrics - especially for women because we like to explore our inner demons more than men do. Men hate to go through painful self-analysis but women are almost obsessed with it, at least I've been like that at times in my life. But my subconscious is feeling a lot better these days. [Laughs]
Playboy: Does it feel odd to be answering questions about an album that traces a part of your life that is probably long behind you?
Morissette: Yes, it does feel odd. That period in my life seems like a million years ago. I had a strong sense of determination and I was a model of self-control. And that was the problem. I was a very sexual person and I was very active without losing my virginity until I was 19. That was symbolic of my repressive tendencies. I was enjoying myself but without letting loose, without fully releasing myself.
Playboy: You deliberately chose not to go all the way?
Morissette: Yes. I remained a virgin because I somehow thought that that was the sign of a good Catholic little girl, even though the rest of my life was deviant and pervers. Lately, I've been making up for a lot of sex and other things.
Playboy: Anger is the major theme of Jagged Little Pill. Are you still an angry person?
Morissette: I think that anger is part of everyone, but I wouldn't describe myself as angry. I'm actually quite happy with myself these days, but I still get angry and frustrated about life from time to time. That's only normal. I think a lot of writers began to make too much of the anger theme and almost used it as a way of attacking me as an angry, frustrated woman.
That's the double standard in society. Men are allowed to be angry - especially male musicians - but somehow women aren't supposed to be that way in life or in music. Society has a history of repressing female emotions - especially anger and frustration - and I've used music to celebrate anger and confusion. Those emotions are just as valid as happiness, and they've been part of most of the music that most male rock singers and bands have produced over the years.
Playboy: When you arrived in LA from Canada did you experience a bit of a culture shock?
Morissette: Total culture shock. LA is another planet compared to Toronto where I recorded my first albums. Ever since I've been living here I've felt part of a big musical family. Getting Flea and Dave involved wasn't even a big deal (Jagged Little Pill features Flea and Dave Navarro from the Red Hot Chili Peppers on bass and guitar respectively). Everybody hangs out in the same clubs and wants to do as much musically as they can.
Playboy: The principle collaborative force behind your new life as an artist has been Glen Ballard, who previously worked with the likes of Michael Jackson. How did that come together?
Morissette: I met Glen in February 1994 and we developed an immediate friendship and musical bond. Glen and I soon found out that we had something special in terms of writing together. We had both been unhappy with the kind of music we had done before, and this was our chance to start fresh and do exactly what we wanted. I had met a lot of other producers and songwriters in LA but nothing ever panned out. Glen was terrific because he understood the kind of pain that I was trying to express. Other producers never bothered to listen, but from the moment we began writing together, the magic was heart-stopping.
Playboy: How long did it take to get a record label interested in the music you began writing together?
Morissette: It took about three or four months. We had been passing around demo tapes to various record labels, but no one was even vaguely interested until Maverick called. When we got off the telephone with them, Glen and I just looked at each other and our jaws dropped. We were also concerned a bit by all the horror stories about major labels and how they screw people, but when we asked people about Maverick they would all say go for it. It's also pretty cool because I'm the first female solo artist on the label.
Playboy: Maverick is owned by Madonna. How was the first meeting with your new boss?
Morissette: Madonna's not my boss, although I think of her as a mentor who's willing to support me and my music. When I met her, she was very down-to-earth and in touch with what I wanted to do and that's all anyone can ask from a label. She even came backstage after a show and congratulated me when my album first reached number one in the States.
Playboy: Did you talk about your relationships with men?
Morissette: Yes. That was a major part of our conversations. We're both aggressive women and we've both had to deal with men who may have difficulty responding to us because we demand a lot from them and don't want to be dominated or seduced in the typical ways.
Playboy: A lot of men think of Madonna as a natural-born man-eater?
Morissette: Well, she's not. She loves men, and has a lot to give any man she's with. But you better let her answer those questions.
Playboy: Some journalists have described you as a ball-breaker.
Morissette: I've read those kinds of comments and they're off base. Every time a woman wants to assert herself and have an equal relationship she's automatically considered to be a bitch or a ball-breaker. That's the double standard that still exists in our society. Men have to realise that the price of an equal and open relationship is the willingness to listen to and understand women who are determined and self-confident and who are not willing to lie down and get fucked.
Playboy: So you're not worried about your image in that way?
Morissette: Oh I am if people are getting this impression of me as being a negative person. I'm not asking or suggesting anything in my music that's not honest and real. I don't think it's being aggressive or man-hating to suggest that a lot of men don't treat women properly and that both sexes have to find a better way of getting along with each other. That's the ideal.
Playboy: Did Glen Ballard encourage you to be as honest as you could in your work and not to be afraid of being sexually outspoken?
Morissette: Yes, he helped show me that I have to be true to my feelings. But I don't want people to focus completely on the sexual side of the album, because that's only one part of what I'm trying to explain about a difficult period in my life. Obviously You Oughta Know has an intense sexual theme because I'm venting a lot of frustration that was bottled up inside of me. If anything the song is about letting yourself go and releasing all your self-imposed mechanisms of control. The rest of the album is about finding yourself once you begin to taste your freedom.
Playboy: When you were singing in Canada, you went through a phase where permed your hair, wore spandex tights and exposed some cleavage.
Morissette: [Shakes her head] When I was 16 or 17 I was in control of what I was doing in one way, but I didn't stop to think why I was doing it. Now I don't have to compromise any part of myself or my art to achieve the success I've had. It gives me a lot of confidence that I worked hard on something very personal, very deep, and it's paid off commercially. I guess I'm not as cynical about the process as I used to be.
Playboy: So you feel somewhat vindicated?
Morissette: In a way, yes. I know what I'm doing now - I'm making music that is honest and comes from then heart. If I hadn't done that, I wouldn't have a record deal, I wouldn't have a video, I wouldn't have an album that's number one, and I certainly wouldn't have the guts to tour. I'm beginning to live the way I want to and everything that went into the album helped me leap over all the walls I had built around myself.
Playboy: Why do you think audiences have responded so intensely and enthusiastically to your album?
Morissette: I think all the touring I've been doing over the years has shown me that a lot of people, and especially a lot of women, have felt the exact same things that I talk about in my music. That's the kind of connection every artist wants to make. It's what I live for.
Playboy: How did you hold up under the pressures of touring?
Morissette: Sometimes it felt like a nightmare because I had never done this before and so I wasn't physically prepared for all the travelling involved. But all the contact with the crowds made it very special because this time all the work I put into my music felt real.
It shows that what's considered Top 40 today is pretty close to what the underground scene was five years ago. I didn't stumble into my style, it has always been there. The words I'm singing have been brewing in me since I was 10 years old.
Playboy: How have you adjusted to your new-found wealth? Is the money just piling up in your bank account?
Morissette: Piles and piles. [Laughs] My manager laughs at me because I still shop like I'm poor. I had a meeting with my accountant who went through some financial projections for the next year. It should have blown my mind but it didn't. The only money I've really spent is on a house in LA which isn't exactly palatial. I'm not motivated by the money. I'm not into buying Ferraris and yachts.
Playboy: What has it been like dealing with friends and other musicians who knew you before your success exploded?
Morissette: Some artists I've known over the years are having a hard time being happy for me. I can understand it; some of them are twice my age and have been working for a long time with nothing to show for it. I just hope I'll never forget what it's like to be feeling down and desperate.
Playboy: Do you find yourself becoming part of the celebrity gang in Hollywood - going to movie premieres, parties, things like that?
Morissette: No, no, no. I hate that kind of thing. It's very artificial and embarrassing to find yourself in that kind of lifestyle. I've gone to a few music awards parties and that's about it. I don't see myself ever becoming a celebrity in that kind of sense. It's not what I'm about.
Playboy: How's your love-life these days?
Morissette: [Laughs] I've been seeing someone I really like. But I still don't know how ready I am for big commitments. I just want to focus on enjoying a caring relationship. I don't think you'll be hearing another You Oughta Know in the near future. God, at least I hope not!
[End of interview]