'Angry' label irks Morissette Rock star: Transition from happy pop songs to the music of rage is not so odd, says Alanis Morisette. It's a matter of growth.

January 30, 1996|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

When Alanis Morissette was 10, she recorded her first single for a tiny label in her hometown of Ottawa, Canada. When she was 11, she was a regular on the children's television show "You Can't Do That on TV." When she was 15, she had a successful career recording bright, happy dance-pop in Canada, where she released two albums and won a Juno (the Canadian equivalent to the Grammy).

And when she was 20, she released an album called "Jagged Little Pill." Full of songs about anger, lust and courage, it struck a chord with listeners -- particularly young women -- that continues to reverberate. So far, the album has sold more than 6 million copies, earned Morissette six Grammy nominations and made the singer's current tour the season's hottest ticket. (Tonight's show at U.M.B.C. sold out in just four hours.)

Still, the question for some listeners is this: How did Morissette, now aged 21, go from clean-scrubbed teen star to angry alternarocker in such a short time? As she explained in a recent telephone interview, the transition wasn't an easy or obvious one.

Q: Obviously, your album is doing incredibly well now, and your career is on the upswing. But as always seems the case, there's also been a backlash. Does it bother you to read such negative reviews or profiles?

A: I think I've been pretty resilient toward it, for the last eight or nine months. What I try to keep in mind is that there are going to be a lot of articles that are going to be misrepresentative of what I'm about as a person and as a writer. I hit the proverbial wall of being overly frustrated a couple of weeks ago, when I just saw yet another article that I felt just did not get it. At all.

Didn't get it in what sense?

Didn't get it as in, [it] saw me as 'the ever-depressed, ever-angry Alanis Morissette,' who is 'the poster girl for rage,' [the] 'alterno-girl who was the Debbie Gibson of Canada in her youth.' It's so one-dimensional, and so selling me short.

It's funny, though, because I had a similar discussion with someone the other day who found it hard to believe that anyone could go from writing dance pop to cutting a record like 'You Oughta Know.' I said, 'Well, weren't you a different person at 15 than you were at 21?' But, once a person steps out into the limelight --

You're not allowed to evolve, and you're not allowed to change. Especially if it's a drastic one.

My explanation for it is not a simple one, and because it's not a one-second answer people get right away, they tend to form their own opinion and not really listen.

When I was younger and started doing music, I was immersed in the mid-1980s, when music was more sense for its sense of entertainment. I wasn't writing to communicate anything, and I was definitely not ready on the self-esteem level to indulge myself and all my personal turmoil.

I wasn't prepared to be unadulterated; I saw music as a way to perform and entertain people. Make them smile, and take them away from reality.

Also, the environments that I was in sort of tried to lead me to believe that songwriting was a black-and-white thing. You were writing a song, and there was nothing spiritual or overly emotional about it. It was a very menial thing, really. There was a part of me that disagreed with that, but because I was 14 or however old I was and didn't have the experience, I wasn't able to stand up for myself and say, 'Listen, I disagree with this way of writing, and I'm going to do it my own way. See you later.'

Because I had had the [commercial] success, whenever I stood up for myself and said, 'Listen, there's gotta be a different way of doing this,' they would say, 'Hey, you're at the top of the charts. You're a famous 16-year-old girl. What are you talking about?' You know?

So I would think, 'Oh, right. Duh.'

But eventually you got away from that.

Right. I moved away from my personal and creative environments, and just grew up, essentially. Took responsibility for my own life and didn't feel like I had to have someone do it for me.

Then I eventually moved to Los Angeles and wrote with so many different collaborators. The only thing I learned out of writing with those people was what I didn't want.

I continued to run up against the 'You know you can't write that, young lady,' you know? 'You're too young to say that.'

I just kept thinking no, this isn't right. And when I met Glen [Ballard, who co-wrote and produced "Jagged Little Pill"], it was like -- without saying it, he just said to me, 'You can be whatever you want.' And I thought, 'Wow. OK.'

Musically and lyrically, it was just so pure and so spiritual for me. I felt that he wasn't judging me, and I felt that he had enough security within himself to give the ball to a 20-year-old and let her go with it. As opposed to saying, 'Here, young lady, I'll do it for you.'

With that encouragement, and with that belief, and with that openness to the spiritual approach that we took, it just sort of wrote itself.

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