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Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette


Alanis Morissette may be the prime example of the saying, "The only constant is change." Throughout her career, she has constantly embraced musical, personal, and spiritual evolution, with her own growth honestly, sometimes painfully, reflected in each new music release. This ongoing challenge to her audience to grow with her, and to herself to keep exploring new insights, has kept her amongst the most engaging and satisfying songwriters and performers on the scene.


From writing her first song at the age of nine and founding a record company at 10 "Because nobody would sign me," Morissette has felt compelled to express herself and to share both herself and what she sees as the state of the world with her audience. "It's that imperative thing," she says. "I just couldn't not write. For me it was dancing, acting, singing, comedy, physicality. It was this energy that just moves through me and I have to corral it. It's a big responsibility, I think, for all of us to corral the unique voice that we all have, whether it's literal voice or otherwise."


Her songs have always been slices from her own life. Even when she was first signed to a Canadian label at 14, she was writing deeply personal, autobiographical songs, despite her record label's vision of her as a dance/pop artist. "There was a little bit of a ceiling in terms of what was expected of me as a young artist. I think the precedent had been set that I was a pop artist that wasn't writing autobiographically, so when I attempted to write a little bit more of an authentic storytelling kind of approach it was met with admonishments. I think that when my first record went platinum it was known as kind of pop, and any evolution was actually scary to them in terms of [the] bottom-line. When I hear, 'Don't evolve,' my head wants to explode."


Her desire to progress as an artist and songwriter was at odds with the label's vision, and something had to give. "I had a problem with a lot of things," she says, "especially anything that implied that I couldn't move forward or grow or evolve, definitely. And I was also encouraged to not -- to keep rhyming. If I wrote words that didn't rhyme, if I wrote something that was a little risky, according to them, they would just say, 'Don't.' So I would say goodbye. I had to keep going." And keep going she has, with dense, occasionally cryptic and emotionally powerful songs that always reflect exactly where she's at.


It was during this early period that Alanis began to collaborate with other writers, first with Leslie Howe, and then later with Serge Côté. Collaboration has continued to be an inspiration and welcome challenge for her over the years, as amply demonstrated by her work with Glenn Ballard on Jagged Little Pill and Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie right up to her world-beat-tinged creations with Guy Sigsworth on the 2008 release Flavors of Entanglement. "I think I was born to connect and born to create the third entity. You know: me and them equals three. So I just enjoy the magic that comes from stretching outside of my jurisdiction to meet this collaborator, whomever it may be, and they certainly have done the same, so there's always this kind of scariness when we're writing." Her respect for the collaborative process remains deep enough for her to refer to it as "sacred."


Whether working alone or with a collaborator, she likes to work quickly. Most songs on Jagged Little Pill were written in 45 minutes or less. "If a song takes longer than 45 minutes to write, it was not meant to be written," she says. "I often just feel that songwriting is like having a conversation, so I don't belabor an interaction I have with somebody. I'm particular and I can be perfectionistic and chaotic, depending upon my visceral response to a mix or to a lyric. So it's not that I don't tweak a couple of things here and there, but often it's done right away."


Writing so quickly and personally may be what makes her songs carry the power and genuine emotion that's the hallmark of her work. "All I know is whether I'm having a visceral response to something, period. If the lyrics write themselves it means that it's coming from this place that is beyond something that I can describe. It's a very spiritual sort of process. Without sounding too pretentious, it's a very channeled process for me and I'm humbled by it." That seat-of-the-pants, just-let-it-happen approach also extends to album titles. Just a few weeks before her new recording is scheduled for release, it remains unnamed. When asked why, she says, "Because I do it at the last second and we are now in the last second. I usually decide right when I'm having the photo shoot and the final mixes are literally being done as we speak at a studio across town. So what I'm doing over the next 72 hours is I'm going to listen to them all repeatedly and there'll be one line that'll jump out."


Also important to Morissette is her commitment to social involvement and charitable action. To her, it's all tied together with the music. "When Jagged Little Pill was released, I really turned it into my using this career of mine as a way to serve. So I was able to blend charitable causes and social activism into my music," she says. Those concerns have been wide-ranging, from equality issues, to food relief, fair trade issues and cerebral palsy research. She's acutely aware of the responsibility that comes with a high public profile. "I think as an artist we're all social activists by default. We're not even aware that we are. We're putting ourselves out there for people to define themselves in accordance to us. That is a huge deal. It's a huge responsibility and a lot of energy. So I don't take that lightly. I'm not overly precious about it either, but I think it's a big service for those of us who have the staying power to stay out in the hot heat."


The new recording, as always, reflects what's happening in Morissette's life right now and what's important to her. Her description of the music is that it's about freedom, bravery, empowerment and that she's looking forward to the conversations she believes it will open. She also says, "It's a little bit more rock than I've been doing over the last few years and always harmonically interesting enough for me to get the chills."


Looking toward her upcoming tour, she's still overwhelmed and amazed by the power of music to move and change people's lives. "I've always known music has been so powerful a [means of] communication because when I would sing songs in Beirut and all over the planet where there were literally barely any English-speaking people in the audience, there was such a connection. It was really emotional. So for me, music is this ultimate language. It's where God comes into the room.


"It's such a beautiful blend of physicality, spirituality, emotionality, musicality. It just blends all the top favorite checkmark things of my life into one little tiny fell swoop. So for me it's also cathartic. It's not always healing. I can sing certain songs that are filled with rage and vitriol, but doesn't necessarily heal that relationship that I might be singing about, but it moves the energy. So that's exciting.


"And then it also allows me to engage into the conversation on a larger scale. I get to be in the public eye and having a conversation about whatever topic might be exciting to talk about at that moment. What I love about it is the ongoing aspect of it, that there's a conversation that continues to unfold. I think I share this with a lot of artists that I know, that I just never feel like there's any finish line."


Unlike some artists who seal their past material into a time capsule, the personal nature of Morissette's songs continues to resonate, even for her. "Sometimes I'll listen to a record 10 years later and just think, wow, I feel as though I wrote that song for myself, but my later self. There's a song on the DVD Feast On Scraps called "Sorry To Myself." While I was writing it I wasn't thinking. There was some element of intellectualism when I'm writing, but mostly it's just get it on tape. And then I'll listen to it a few years later and just think, wow, this is exactly what I'm going through right now. So when people sweetly come up to me and say you really were the soundtrack through my divorce or when I left college and I was freaked out, I can actually understand what they're saying because of my relationship, certainly with my own songs, but with other artists, too. I know how much music can sort of capture a time for a human being. So I feel humbled that I can offer that to people."


With a new recording being released, a new tour about to start, Alanis keeps on embracing the changes life presents, and by making them part of her work, helps us all, maybe, to make a little more sense out of our own changes.

 
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