Alanis Morissette - From angry rocker to mellow mum
Alanis Morissette has swapped her trademark angst for contentment on her new album, she tells Matilda Battersby
Alanis Morissette will, I believe, have a special place in history as the woman who penned the best ever break-up album.
Jagged Little Pill shifted more than 33m copies and was the second best-selling album of the Nineties. Now 37, Morissette has come a long way from the feisty 19-year-old rocker who snarled: "And every time I scratch my nails down someone else's back. I hope you feel it." She might look not dissimilar to her old self, her dark and impossibly straight tresses still in evidence, as well as the eyeliner and penchant for wearing leather; but the edges of her jagged pill have been smoothed off by a happy marriage and a baby. Resultantly her captivating new album Havoc and Bright Lights is, rather unusually for her, full of zest and hope.
It has been four years since the Los Angeles-based Canadian's last record, Flavors of Entanglement, hit stores. That dealt with the emotional fall-out from the end of her three-year engagement to Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds – and further cemented her "woman scorned" ethos. But in the intervening years Morissette met and married rapper Mario "MC Souleye" Treadway and gave birth to their son, Ever Imre, on Christmas Day 2010. Her new record was conceived as Ever's twin, but didn't find form until he was in his cradle.
"My son was five-and-half months old when I started recording," she said. "I had intended to work on the record while I was pregnant but that didn't happen because I was out for the count at 5pm every day." So, she set up a "makeshift studio" in her home, got producers Guy Sigsworth (Björk, Madonna) and Joe Chiccarelli (Counting Crows) to come to her, and wrote between feeds and burping. "My son's needs were obviously my priority, so I would write very quickly, usually about 40 minutes per song. Then I'd tend to my baby."
Lead single on the new album "Guardian" was inspired by motherhood. "The chorus [I'll be your warrior of care your first warden/ I'll be your angel on call, I'll be on demand'] is about my wanting to protect and care for him – and in doing so finding a new understanding about how to protect and care for myself." That's not to say that the new record is all lullabies and cooing. Morissette has kept her edginess, if not all the jaggedness, and newfound happiness appears in no way stultifying to her creativity. Havoc and Bright Lights has all the makings of another classic. Particularly striking are tracks "Havoc" and "'Til You".
How did she manage to juggle an infant and a new record? "Coffee," she explains. "Coffee and a feeling that it is OK to be a temporary soldier. It took every ounce of effort that I had. I couldn't choose between my socio-emotional intentions and my existence as a parent. Especially as an attachment parent." For someone who hasn't exactly courted questions about her personal and home life in the past, Morissette has been surprisingly outspoken about her decision to practise "attachment parenting", a term coined by pediatrician William Sears.
Attachment parenting is about affection and consistency in child-rearing, but the (controversial) element it most often gets boiled down to is that its advocates sometimes continue to breastfeed past babyhood and into elder childhood. Morissette wrote a blog for the Huffington Post in June expounding the practise: "The primary reason for breastfeeding into toddlerhood is to maintain that consistent connection, health and sense of well-being (frankly, in both the child AND the mother) until, optimally, they naturally wean," she wrote. Morissette, a vegan, is in no way ironic about her healthy, natural lifestyle choices and motherhood seems to have fuelled her enthusiasm for femaleness. She describes women as "the spiritual epicentre of the world" and talked in a recent interview about her experiences as an alpha woman and the difficulties this can bring to relationships. These day's she's an alpha earth mother, too.
"I'm backstage nursing my son. Then I go on stage and perform so my husband is there to look after him," she says. "It's actually brilliant to be able to centralise my life like this. I used to be away from people I loved a lot touring." She says the support of her husband has been above and beyond: "Luckily I married a genius who, instead of clipping my wings, fluffs them." In the video for "Guardian" Morissette wears the fluffy angel wings she refers to, in a nod to Wim Wenders' film Wings of Desire . However exhilarating the juggling act is, she admits to "permanently having bags under my eyes" and "getting 11 minutes break every once in a while".
She's full of ideas for the next stage, despite her evident exhaustion. More kids are on the horizon ("Although I can't quite get my head around it just yet") and she plans to write a book a next year. "I've been thinking about a book for a long time but I'm finally getting onto it. I want to write the overspill from the four-minute songs I write. It'll be non-fiction and will be about all the things I care about: comedy, being a woman, music."
Despite producing eight studio albums, Morissette is still best known for the multiple Grammy-winning Jagged Little Pill. Is this frustrating nearly 20 years on? "I love talking about that record," she says. "It was a precedent-setting record in terms of what I wanted and how I wanted to make music." Asked if happiness has affected where the music comes from, she says: "Passion writes. My feistiness hasn't gone anywhere. Just ask my husband. But it's true my role has changed. I'm now a protector, guarding my family."
In contrast to her serenity during this interview, Morissette wears the "angry feminist rocker" epithet she has earned proudly. "Whenever I have been one-dimensionalised in a few words like that I can see it comes from a society and media that is reductive for whatever reason. But being pigeonholed as 'angry' or as a 'feminist' is a compliment. Being part of the energy that can move things, do and say things is gorgeous. Call me angry, go ahead!"
'Havoc and Bright Lights' is released on 27 August
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