Liz Phair will be at Showbox at the Market at 8 p.m., Tuesday. Tickets $25-$27. Ages 21 and over.

It’s hard to believe, but 15


SW Exclusive Interview: Liz Phair


Liz Phair will be at Showbox at the Market at 8 p.m., Tuesday. Tickets $25-$27. Ages 21 and over.

It’s hard to believe, but 15 years have passed since Liz Phair made her brutally honest and sexually explicit debut in indie rock. Harder to believe still is that she's a 41-year-old mother (she's hotter than ever) who's back on tour to promote the 15th-anniversary reissue of the beloved album Exile in Guyville. Phair chatted with us from Los Angeles about the Guyville phenomenon, the new album she’s working on, and why she’s over being labeled a “sellout.”

Are you surprised with how much momentum Guyville has maintained after all these years?

I was really excited for the idea of reissuing the album. I feel like Guyville was such a touchstone for it’s time. It was when all the female acts were rising out of indie rock and it felt like a vindication of sorts. There was so much pent-up frustration people had going on and now we get to come back together and look back at time in our lives. I feel like the crowd and I… we’ve been through some wars together [laughs].

You were 26 when you got signed to Matador Records. Since then you’ve been married, divorced, and given birth to a son. What's it like to be playing your original material this time around?

It was such a deer-in-headlights experience back then. I just prayed to get through the set. I didn’t really know what I was doing. Now when I perform I really try to get into another state. I try to remember back to when I wrote the song and what I was feeling.

Plenty of your listeners grew up listening to you, but you’ve also got a new generation of fans who’ve just discovered your music.

I actually had a mother come to my show with her nine-year-old and I was horrified. I wanted her to cover her ears for some of my songs. But I also think I’m benefiting from the bad state of affairs— girls are scraping for role models with substance to identify with in our culture.

The other day my son had a homework assignment to write about why a particular historical figure is important and he was complaining that one of his classmates picked Coco Chanel. He said, “She’s just a fashion designer.” At first I agreed that it was pretty weak, but then I thought about it and said, “You know what, Nick? Honestly, if you’re a girl and you want to pick a historical figure you identify with and you don’t want to pick a man, you don’t have a lot of choices.”

In music, we see a lot of pop queens, but not many singer songwriters who are being honest and baring their ugly side.

Speaking of pop queens, you enlisted The Matrix (producers for Avril Lavigne, Britney Spears) on your 2003 eponymous record and ended up getting slaughtered by the critics and fans.

It has taken me five years to even understand what the hell was up their asses about it. The way I look at music is that if there’s an artist I like who changes their style, I ignore it. But people really attacked me personally. I think part of it was misogynistic. Slowly, after speaking with many people, I also kind of figured out that my career was based on word-of mouth. I was raised up by the people. It was so much about each person picking up the record and giving it to a friend, putting their reps on the line and boding me “Indie Queen.” They felt a sort of ownership. I didn’t realize [changing my sound] would be hurtful to them.

My other theory is that people nowadays rely way too much on their musical and movie tastes as a way to assert their identities. Seriously, you let music dictate your life to an extent that you get that upset because somebody made a pop record? I’m like, get a fucking identity.

They labeled you a sellout. But it seems like they also missed the irony of the effort—for Christ’s sake, you were combining catchy pop melodies with lyrics about jizz.

[Laughs] Humor to me is super important. I always thought there was something very funny and tongue-in-cheek about that kind of pop. I thought “Hot White Cum” was great. But a female reporter literally took an attack on me and said she felt sorry for my son for having such a disgrace for a mother. It was such a shock. But that’s how serious [the criticism] was.

Does the scrutiny affect your creative process? Rumor has it you’re working on a new album.

Yes, it’s about three quarters finished. It’s got a much looser feel to it. I get fucking frustrated because I can’t play a lot of instruments so I try and do different things with my voice. This time around I’ve done a lot of playful backing vocals. I was joking the other day that it’s like Enya’s music.

Once in awhile outside opinion definitely crosses my mind. But I can’t make artist decisions based on that. I’m very rebellious. I don’t want to work for other people. And I’m certainly not going to work for the critics. I guess with that attitude I’m gonna sink or swim.

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