Alanis Morissette: Still crazy after all these years

Alanis Morissette tells Tim Cooper that her album of greatest hits reflects the growth of her music. But some things don't change
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The Independent Culture

When she was looking for a single to plug her new greatest-hits collection, Alanis Morissette settled on a version of Seal's song "Crazy". It was, she admits, something of a joke at her own expense. "Yes, of course it's poking fun - not only at how I've been perceived but also at what I've accurately been perceived as."

How Morissette has been perceived since she entered our consciousness a decade ago with the 30-million-selling Jagged Little Pill is pretty much summed up by the title of the new single. Initial impressions were of an earnest young woman with a tendency to babble self-analytically.

"I think during the Jagged Little Pill period the perception was that I was singularly man-hating, really angry, one-dimensionalised," she says. "Then after that I think I was perceived as spiritual, a little esoteric, out there... kinda crazy."

In reality, Morissette seems far from crazy. Nor is she as earnest as she once was. Blissfully engaged to her Canadian fiancé, actor Ryan Reynolds, she's far more fun than students of her lyrics might expect. And while she retains a limitless capacity for self-analysis, it's offset by a self-deprecating wit and a tendency to burst into giggles.

It's been a decade of personal growth and inevitable sales shrinkage since Jagged Little Pill made her a superstar with its blend of angsty feminism and angry rock'n'roll. And there's no doubt that Morissette has mellowed. "I thought I was going to die after Jagged Little Pill," she sighs. "Being in my thirties is so much better. I highly recommend the ageing thing. It's brilliant. I'm in such a better place. I'm just better equipped to deal with life now than when I was younger."

Compiling a greatest hits collection has, she said, given her an opportunity to look back over her career and assess her body of work. Or, to put it her way: "I was happy to gain a little objectivity on my own evolution - as a writer or as a human being."

Morissette's growing maturity is reflected in the evolution of her music, which has always been built around her confessional songwriting style. Her last album, So-Called Chaos - the first since she fell in love with Reynolds - replaced anger and confusion with romance and optimism. Her next one, she joked at the time, would be about altars and flowers, followed no doubt by one about the joys of motherhood.

"It would be scary if I was still writing about the same things I was writing about when I was 19," she says. "I think my rage is channelled differently now. It's less rage, it's more about reactivity. As a 31-year-old, I like to think I'm not as reactive as I used to be. Someone would say something to me before and it would be like salt in my wound and I would flip out. Whereas now the salt will go in the wound and I'll take a deep breath and think: what is going on here? I like the growing up thing. It makes for better relationships too."

She has also channelled her anger into campaigning on women's issues and the environment, staging benefits, making documentaries and writing magazine articles on subjects ranging from relationships to body image issues.

She's about to sign a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster for a long-planned self-help book. The Little Book Of Alanis (joke - she won't reveal the title) will cover "all the stuff I'm obsessed or passionate about, everything from body image to women's issues; anecdotes, stories, philosophies. I want to write a book that people can reach for when they are having a rough moment and it will give them solace or peace or feel like it's OK. My intent is to share different tools that have worked for me."

Despite that, she says her natural demeanour is gloom. "It's a concerted effort for me to not be gloomy. But I can do it and it's an effort that's well worth it. I wouldn't say I'm an outright pessimist, it just depends when you catch me... Depends how close I am to my period." And with that, the naturally gloomy Alanis Morissette leans back in her armchair and erupts into laughter.

'The Collection' is out on WEA