She's A Big Girl Now

From Q Magazine

ransformed from a huge-haired teen poppet into a venom-spitting adult - with six million album sales. Ladies and gentlemen: the fully-grown, Madonna-sponsored phenomenon that is Alanis Morissette. "I have a lot of hunger," she tells Tom Doyle.

It reads like the cheesy climax of some ropey child star bio-pic. Teenage all0singing, all-dancing starlet permanently filled with cheer finally flees the parental nest. Free of her loving family and those uncaring business acquaintances who propelled her into platinum-selling success, she is living alone in a rodent-infested apartment, deperately trying to cope with life on her own and slowly fraying at the edges. Eighteen-year-old Alanis Morissette, the perm-haired puffball pop star (Canada's answer to Debbie Gibson! Or Tiffany!) is beginning to feel increasingly isolated and confused, panicky even.

"I knew that I had to get away from everything, I knew that I was really clinging to my family and desperately afraid of so many things," she now admits. "But it was just anxiety attacks every few hours. It wasn't a good time, and now I can say that with a smile on my face only because I know that I will never be as broken as I was then."

Even more emotion-drenched and script-friendly is the fact that her mood of black misery was swept away with the discovery of one album. "The first time I heard Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes," she says, "I played the record in its entirety, lying on my living room floor, and I just bawled my eyes out. It felt like it was the first time I could relate to a woman on that level through her music and I was so grateful. I felt that she'd been through a lot of the things I'd gone through."

Flicking to the last page, we discover the inevitably heartwarming epilogue. Turning her experiences into sturdy, confessional rock songs inspired by her newfound heroine, her first post-teen album, Jagged Little Pill, goes on to sell nearly six million copies worldwide and Alanis Morissette, almost overnight, becomes an international star.

"I think you become a true adult when you can hit rock bottom and then walk away from that experience and transcend it," she muses, "and until that happens, I think you're not fully alive. It was a horrible time, but it was the greatest time because of how horrible it was. I look back on that and I know that if I were to take that link out of the proverbial chain, that I would not be here right now."

Right now being a dull, grey Wednesday in Birmingham. Out of her rain-flecked window in this Midlands business hotel, isolated within an industrial estate, Morissette has a perfectly framed view of the oversized carbuncle that is the NEC, the venue where she will soon enjoy the twin honours of being one of the "turns" at the confectionery-sponsored Twix Mix rock concert jamboree (hosted by the ever-ebullient Gary Crowley) and appearing on the same bill as David Bowie. Significantly free of make-up and lank of hair, she speaks in clear, measured tones, with only a frequently recurring hint of excitement in her voice giving away her 21 years.

On Jagged Little Pill, she is brimming with contradictions, a fact best exemplified by Hand in My Pocket (the second radio and MTV dominating release in the LP's continent conquering worldwide campaign), in which she admits in turns to being broke but happy, sane but overwhelmed, green but wise, and brave yet entirely chicken shit. Lyrically casting aside Catholicism, lecherous record company MD's and former lovers with chest expanded pride and no little venom, the album has elevated Morissette's profile far higher than any of her Janet Jackson inspired aerobic pop hoppings back home could have ever done. Initially, of course, her countryfolk were entirely perplexed by the fact that one of their squeakiest pop icons (responsible for two major Canadian hit albums, 'Alanis' in 1991 and 'Now is the Time' the following year) was now, in her new hit single, enquiring of her ex-boyfriend, "Are you thinking of me when you fuck her?"

"When I let go of the motivation to achieve the adulation and external success that I had in Canada," she reasons, "that was the minute it all started happening. I entered into this whole new territory personally and spiritually and emotionally, and inevitably that came out in the music. It just reached a point where if having to do music for the rest of my life meant that I'd have to do it on the street corner, I would have done it. "

On stage this evening at 8:50 sharp, off again by 9:20, Alanis Morissette performs an intense yet pointedly sexless set. Clad in black leather and silk with her long black tresses obscuring her face for the most part, she paces back and forth like a rabbit caught in the headlights, while puffing away with Dylan-like adequacy on her harmonica and providing note perfect vocal renditions of songs which showcase a voice that can slip between a breathy murmur and toe-curling falsetto in the space of one intensely delivered line. By the end, she is skipping awkwardly from one side of the stage to the other with no regard for how ungainly this might appear. Ttuly, she oozes all the disregard for pop etiquette of a nonchalant veteran.

"When they first heard the record," she reasons, "a lot of people said to me, 'This does not sound like a debut; this sounds like you've been through so much. How could this be?' Part of me just wants to say, 'Well, listen to this old record of mine, watch a couple of the videos, then maybe you'll understand a little more.'"

Her career began, remarkably, at the age of 10, when she auditioned for a Canadian cable TV show. On landing the job, she began ferreting away her not insubstantial wages and within months released her first single, Fate Stay With Me ("It was a story about somebody leaving somebody. A little foresight there probably...") on an independent label set up by her parents who, she insists, were neither pushy stage mother types nor, perhaps even more feasibly, hippies.

"If anyone were to meet my parents, they would quickly realise that it was self-motivated," she argues. "They were open minded enough to realise that if I was that passionate about something, they should encourage me in it. They were the kind of parents who, if I came home with a report card and I had Fs in certain subjects and As in others, they'd encourage me in what I was interested in as opposed to questioning why I was doing badly in other things. They were very supportive and they let me do things that the rule books on parenting would probably say not to. they let me travel and do a lot of things well before I was 15 years old."

Is the PR description of you as a child prodigy an accurate one?

"Pretty much. I was doing a lot of things from an early age. I spent a lot of time with adults and I just never thought that I couldn't do anything, so I did it. At that time I was listening to everything from Abba to Bob Dylan, whose voice I didn't enjoy, although I liked what he was trying to communicate. I probably didn't understand half of what he was talking about, but it sounded interesting. I loved pop music, anything I could hold onto, just chord changes that provoked some sort of emotion in me."

Are any accusations of brattiness reasonable?

"I don't think I had enough self-esteem to be bratty. But I was precocious and I held myself like I was 40 when I was 11 years old. But I wasn't a brat at all, though I teetered on being obnoxious now and then. I had a lot of energy and it was hard to sort of...come down."

Signing to MCA Records, she embarked on a pop career that would yield a string of lightweight dance hits and a fame that would last throughout her "difficult" teenage years. Boyfriends, as with most fledgling pop artistes, were not on the agenda ("I was a very flirtatious person, but I don't think I was emotionally able to be in a relationship"). The marriage to her record company ended acrimoniously and she left for Toronto to attempt to pick up the pieces. On resurfacing from the aforementioned hell, she relocated to LA, where she met Glen Ballard - a renowned Californian producer living largely off the royalties of Man in the Mirror, the hit he penned for Michael Jackson - who became her musical collaborator on Jagged Little Pill, the majority of which comprises their original demos, with vocal and guitar parts committed to tape within a matter of one, or at the most, two takes.

An extended trawl of record company A&R departments began, the trials of which are documented in Right Through You, a song that includes the widely-quoted line concerning the MD who, as she claims in the lyric, wanted to "wine, dine, 69 me". One 15 minute meeting with Guy Oseary at Madonna's Maverick label bagged a deal, though not the highest potential figure ("I don't want a lot of money, I want a lot of faith") - and the release of You Oughta Know, the searing debut single from the record, was accompanied by statements from her conical-bra sporting company boss about how she could relate to Morissette being "slightly awkward but extremely self-possessed". The singer herself is keen not to draw any parallels.

"I have a lot of hunger, which I'm sure she had," she reasons, "but I think we're motivated by different things. I have no problem with making mistakes and falling on my face publicly; she's been pretty flawless with her public persona. That can be argued about, of course: I guess it depends on what your perception of falling on your ass is. I don't know...I could talk about the differences between Madonna and me for hours, but I don't want to."

In keeping with her relaxed approach to public embarrassment, she is fiercely defensive of her past and her shift from sugary disco to filthy-mouthed rock, although, rather notably, she went to great lengths to ensure that MCA couldn't re-issue her previous albums in an attempt to cash in on her recent successes.

"Yeah, I initiated those records not being available anywhere, and I think it was misconstrued as my being ashamed of it. But actually part of me wants people to hear my old music because it validates the emotions and the reactions that I write about on Jagged Little Pill. The main reason behind it was that I din't want people going out and buying this record and then going back to the old records thinking they were part one and part two because they're not, and so people would feel very disappointed. But I have absolutely no regrets. How can I possible spend the next 80 years of my life feeling bad about who I was or what I was doing when I was 16 years old?"

Another noteable knock-on effect from that period is Morissette's current image, founded upon anything other than flesh-revealing titillation.

"Sure, that's in reponse to what I felt was the emphasis when I was 15 or 16," she admits, "the big hair and nice outfits, and alittle cleavage here and there. When I first went to LA, I went almost to the opposite end of the spectrum: I didn't wear an ounce of make-up, I didn't wear anything that was uncomfortable and I still don't. Even recently there has been the odd photo shoot where I think, 'Am I wearing this because I want to or because I feel I have to? And if ever there's that question, I don't do it. There was one photo session I did showing a bit of cleavage and I freaked out at first when I saw the pictures because it brought back so many memories."

It is her image, combined with the often graphically sexual nature of her lyrics, which makes Morissette so fascinating. Still, if her music wasn't quite so marvellous, the cynic could say, Kooky woman, shock provoking couplets, softly purring voice which periodically mutates into a banshee's all sounding a bit too familiar.

"I guess some people do write lines to court controversy," she reckons, "but I wouldn't do that. It's not in my nature to do something in order to get a reaction from somebody. None of this is affected. I think we're all crazy. I think we're all fucking nuts. It's simply a matter of how much you display it."

And Alanis Morissette wears it very, very well.

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