Alanis Morissette is not the queen of intimidation. She's the queen of communication. Whether it's through her honest lyrics or honest conversation, she has this ability to bring you into her space. The music on Jagged Little Pill is all about opening up, exposing the wounds then allowing them to heal.That's why she has sold millions upon millions of albums. People appreciate and identify with her.
She's speaking the minds of millions.
Her ability to communicate continues onstage. That's where the spellbinding singer immerses herself in her words and throws her entire body into the songs. And that's where her band - guitarists Nick Lashley and Jesse Tobias, bassist Chris Chaney and drummer Taylor Hawkins - supports and surrounds her, and helps her take the songs to a higher degree of intensity and meaning.
This is Morissette's very first touring band. The former teenage dance-pop artist always performed to backind tracks before, but had performed covers in bad bands at the tender age of 15, for a year and a half. "I was a rock chick," she laughs. But the 21 year old woman who blew away the Maverick Records execs with an acoustic performance at the producer/co-writer Glen Ballard's studio was never intimidated by the prospect of hitting the stage every night with a band.
"Being on stage is fun for me becuase I get to go back to the place I was at when I wrote it, which was the most beautiful, sagest, warmest place," she said shortly after Jagged Little Pill was released last June. "So for someone to tell me I can go back there sometimes five times a week, okay, I'll be there."
At the time the band had been showcasing in Canada, US, and Europe. The official tour was still a week away. "Essentially, for the next year, we're just going to be on the road,"she anticipated. And she was right.
Almost a year has passed, and Morissette and her band have become soul mates. Whereas her first appearance in Toronto at the Velvet Underground and, to a lesser degree, at Lee's Palace, was a bit disjointed - Morissette doing her vocal acrobatics as the band played along - with the lates RPM Warehouse gig, there was energy that connected the performance and a freedom to explore within the songs. Igniting and spontaneous, this was not a bunch of hired guns. It was a full round of ammunition.
"When I was auditioning the guys, I was auditioning not only their musicianship but their spirits as well," she recently explained. "I had to make sure as much as they could at that point that they understood where I was coming from musically and lyrically. There's a connected energy and mutual respect that we all feel. This is different than when I was 15, in a rock cover band, in the sense that I'm now communicating , as opposed to simply entertaining.I'm completely comfortable with being the leader and the schedule is a lot more taxing and, ultimately, more gratifying."
It's the day before the Canadian superstar would clean up at the Juno Awards.The band has just returned from a rehearsal in Hamilton, Ontario, for the televised performance of her latest hit, "Ironic, and Tobias, Hawkins, Lashley and Chaney have congregated in the lounge on the main looby of the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Toronto for a drink.
No one approaches them for autographs or even gives them a second glance as they sit in the lounge. And why would anyone? They're not in the videos. They rarely join her in interviews. To the public, only Morissette matters. And that suits the band just fine.
But as big as Morissette has become, they all still hand out together. She pulls no star trip. It's not lik ethe band stays at the Days inn and she's at the Four Seasons. And they travel on the same tour bus, too. "Most people think Alanis has her own bus with her personal masseuse and her dietition," laughs Hawkins, a native L.A.-er with an accent to prove it.
"Fame and attention? What fame and attention?" says Lashley, a charming Enlishman who played in the Virgin act King Swamp before getting married and moving to L.A. in 1991. He then toured with Numb and Canada's own Sass Jordan beofre auditioning for Morissette.
"I don't think we really see the fame and I don't think we really look for it and we don't really need it. It's just gratifying playing with her," interjects Tobias."I think the good part is it isn't directly focused on us. We get to do what we do and we don't have to worry about a lot of other shit." Today, that's a particular relief dor Tobias, who is anxious to join a yound lady for a dinner date and must excuse himself from the interview early.
The Texas-born guitarist knew immediately the Morissette gig would work out. He hadn't had much luck otherwise and sort of developed a sixth sense for what would gel and what wouldn't. He had been signed to an illfated deal with Epic with a band called Mother Tongue, the subsequently filled vacancies in the Red Hot Chili Peppers, LSD and Faith No More. he was vaccinating dogs in a Malibu veterinary clinic when he tried out for Morissette.
"Are we fully fulfilled?" ponders Taylor...
"He'll tell you tomorrow," quips Lashley.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Taylor shoots back. They laugh. He and Lashley became friends during the Numb and Sass Jordan stints and are frequently firing silly barbs at each other.
A guitar player also, Hawkins sings and writes his own material but quickly dismisses it as "a little personal thing" he'll pursue in the distant future. "Yeah, I'm fulfilled," he says. "These are great fuckin' songs. She's an amazing writer. She's an amazing singer.We're lucky as hell. I learn from her every day. We all learn from each other, and I think we're a new situation for her as a band because I think we're better than you basic pick-up band. I do. I know we are."
Chaney is the trained professional in the band, a near graduate of Berklee College of the Music in Boston (just a few credits shy), who grew up in San Francisco. He was teaching bass and jobbing when he got called to audition for both Seal and Morissette. "This whole thing started out as her thing and she's been so great in including us in things that most pick-up bands or backing bands wouldn't get to do. She wants us to be a band," says Chaney.
These guys have the best gig a musician could hope for, travelling the world, attending the Grammy's, performing on Letterman. And they got it all the old-fashioned way, by auditioning cattle-call style. Morissette was an unknown at the time, newly signed to Madonna's Maverick lable, and Jagged Little Pill was already recorded. She simply needed a touring band.
Who knew what was ahead?
"she says, 'Here's the album. Go to it. Do what you would to it'" remembers Hawkins. "That was basically her vibe 'cause there were a lot of guys at the try-outs and a lot of dudes were like, 'I'll try to get it exact.' But she picked us on the merits of being self-sufficient, good musicians."
And they picked her for the same reasons.
"The first gig we ever did with her in Banff, she took control," says Lashley."She had a vibe that she was going to be a very strong performer right from the get-go." And the band just followed suit, strengthening as a unit.
"The key onstage, personally, is just to listen, listen really intently," believes Hawkins. "In my monitors, I always have Alanis piping loud, as loud as possible. It's always, 'turn Alanis up more!'"
The atmosphere onstage now has become very relaxed. If they flub a note, they don't sweat it. They reguse to let it ruin the show. "That just brings the vibe way down, "Says Chaney, and every show is as important to the band as it is to Morissette. It's not just a gig to them. It's a future.
"After a gig, we go straight to our dressing room, all of us, and sit around and talk the shit out of each other for hald-an-hour. It's positive. And that's the main thing for her too. I mean, that's what it's about."
What makes the guys feel so much a part of the band is her go ahead to play around with the songs, by adding intros and outros to songs like Forgiven, Not the Doctor, and All I Really Want.
"It just came through jamming around through rehearsals, and through accidentally falling upon things, "says Lashley. " She actually encouraged us to not stick rigidly to the album."
Still everyone falls into specific roles in the band. Tobias plays most of the rhythm parts and heavier, chunkier stuff and Lashley does all the acoustics and atmospheric sounds. "We don't use a keyboard player, so I've been covering some of that," says Lashley. As for the ehythm section, Taylor so very eloquently describes their groove as "pretty butt-tight."
They're at a point now where they have become involved, to some extent, in the songwriting and will most definitley play on the next album.
"We've talked to Glen and jammed with glen and he's cool," says Hawkins. "Me and her, and I think Chris had abit to do with this one song, and she has a couple of other little things. Glen's written a few of the new songs and he's got the basic idea on tape, and it's totally developed into a heavier thing. And her meoldy has really come a long way, like on King of Intimidation or Death of Cinderella some of the newer stuff.
If anything emerges throughout the interview, it's the deep respect these guys have for Morissette. They are tryly dazzled by her talent.
"We've written songs in soundcheck with her and we wrote a song in a hotel room in Buffalow," Lashley recounts. "We've seen the way she works. She's genuinely, amazingly talented. The way she can improvise a melody over a piece of music, I've never seen anything like it. The reason this album is doing so well is because they're brilliant songs."
"And it's not like one song either" adds Hawkins. "That's another thing too those bastard cynics never think about. It's not like one song, You Oughta Know, and it had this line about going down on the guy in the theatre, and that was the summer song, the hip songs, and where did she go from there? No. It follows up with Hand in My Pocket which is just as good of a song and then another one and another one."