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Q&A: Liz Phair, Part 2

By Scott Deckman on November 10, 2010


Q&A: Liz Phair, Part 2

To catch-up, check out Part 1 of our Liz Phair interview.

In a continuation of a three-part interview, Liz Phair opens up about her time on a major label while at Capitol, a turn towards pop songwriting and the negative reaction against it, as well as what it was like to go back home for Matador at 21.


Did the mediocre responses to Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg push you into the pop direction you’ve worked in since?

No, the pop direction was totally about being on Capitol Records with no Matador. Like, Matador left the building and I got stuck there. Andy Slater was hired, and I thought, “Well, shit, he’s pretty cool,” so if there were ever a time to play ball, here I am, alone. I’d never signed to a major. I never wanted to be on a major in my life! I’ve always had that pop sensibility, but the full-on Matrix stuff, was really because I was on a major.

Did you really want to do the Matrix stuff? 

Well, they’re really awesome people and I did really enjoy it because what I do is I find people I really like and I make something with them. So, really, if you told me that Mike Ditka wants to make music, I literally would fly to Chicago and be like, “OK, let’s see what that sounds like.” To me, making music is about the expression of your inner musicality coming out on tape. I don’t have what other people have—“I’m part of this group, and this is who my friends are, and we’re not like you.” I’m not like that, never have been. In fact, Guyville is all about me hating people like that.

I’m guessing the backlash you experienced in the aftermath of Guyville and the successive records didn’t really touch how the indie cognoscenti let you have it after Liz Phair came out. Pitchfork gave you a 0 out of 10. How did you handle that?

[Laughs] It wasn’t as bad as you think. My touring situation, my fans, and all the things we got to do were some of the most exciting experiences I’ve ever had in music. It was mitigated by what I was living, what I was getting to do and be a part of. I learned so much, I’m such a sucker for getting new skills. I love learning new stuff. Nothing gives me a bigger thrill than that. So I was having a pretty damn good time.

But I would have to take 10 interviews in a row where people were emotionally upset with me, and I didn’t know how to take it. After interview number eight, where they’re like, “I think this is such a sellout, I think you’ve really sold everything that you ever stood for and I think that you’ve just completely turned your back on everything that made us like you in the first place”… It would really wear me down.

Well to be honest, I didn’t like it, but that doesn’t mean you sold out. You just did something different.

I have the luxury to know who I am and why I do things. I think I got a little emotional about it, like there was no reason to hate me as a person. If you don’t like the record, listen to Spoon [laughs]. You know what I mean—there are plenty of records for you. There’s no need to freak out about what I’m doing. Just don’t buy it, don’t pay attention to it.

At 43, have you come to just write these people off and make the music you want to make?

I don’t write people off, I really want them to come with me. The olive branch is still here, I’m still sticking it out. I didn’t get defensive when I was doing Liz Phair and they were bashing me. I really didn’t—go back, look at my interviews. I actually felt like I was doing therapy on them. I would meet an interviewer and I’d try to calm them down. I’m always there; my true spirit is: let’s make music!

If you wanna know the great secret to me, it’s that I love making music. Music is with me 24/7. The world could use some more music. Let’s just all keep doing that. I cannot try to make people feel one way or the other anymore. All I can do is just keep going for my passion.

You played Matador at 21 and I read you announced from the stage that you were having one of your legendary bouts of stage fright. How was that?

Once I booked that gig—I had like a month and half after I booked that—I booked this other tour. I started waking up in the middle of the night. I went from a deep sleep into a cold sweat, and it plagued me for a month before I went out.

Why did you have the cold sweats?

I freak out getting up in front of people. I freak out and once I start doing it, I’m ready to go ’cause I’ve done it my whole life. Once I get used to it, then I really enjoy it and I realize not to be scared. It’s really fun, I’m good at it. It’s good. There’s this on/off switch for me ’cause I’m a private person, essentially. I’m this totally happy little nesting creature that writes and plays. When I realize I have to go be public again, I feel like I’m going in front of the firing squad or something. It’s just a whole different me.

It’s like playing sports. When you get up there and you’re at bat. It’s scary, but what’s the worst thing that can happen?

Nothing, really because I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years and by the time I’ve got six shows under my belt, I feel really comfortable out there. If the power goes off I can carry a show no matter what happens, I think. Bottles being thrown at you… That would not be good.

How was the reception in Las Vegas?

I was so overwhelmed by how nice everyone was to me. I was there the whole weekend, I was there to see the music, just like they were. I just wandered around. I think there was this perception ’cause, like you said, those were the same people that have been upset with me. “Oh, she’s Miss Bang, she’s all Hollywood, she’s all produced.” I’m here to tell you, it is a deep misconception about me. I think they were expecting me to roll in with a posse, and I was like flippin’ around with my flip-flops and my little book bag. I’m going to see the shows, just like everybody and I’ve always been like that—nothing has changed. I’m exactly the same person that I always was. I think for them to be able to just see me and feel that energy, it was like we all hugged it out. Everyone came up to me like, “I love your music, thank you for coming.” I was overwhelmed by how much love people gave me.     F


Stay tuned for Part 3 of our interview with Liz Phair, appearing on on 11/12.

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