Alanis Morissette and Liz Phair have some real horror stories about the music industry.
In an interview for the Los Angeles Times, the two ’90s music icons talked to each other about coming up as young women in music at the time.
“Do you remember when I opened for you a million years ago? We went out to dinner one night, and you were talking to your label about submitting the followup to Jagged Little Pill,” Phair said.
“You’d just achieved the absolute pinnacle of success. And yet the label was saying, ‘You need to do this, you need to do that.’ And I just was sitting across from you thinking, There is no end. There’s no amount of success that gives you artistic autonomy. There’s no amount of success where commerce won’t impinge on the art. If you hadn’t earned the ability to walk into an office, drop the songs on their desk, be like, ‘You’re welcome’ and walk back out, there was no endpoint.”
Morissette recalled, “You said I didn’t have the ability to walk in and drop the music and go, ‘You’re welcome,’ and walk out. The thing is, I did do that. Their response was, ‘She’s not very open to feedback.’ I used to say, ‘I’m sorry, is your name on the album cover? It’s my name, my face and it’s my life. So you’re welcome.'”
Asked if she still felt pressure, the Canadian singer said, “A couple of times. I was like, ‘All right, I’ll re-record ‘Hand in My Pocket’ and see if it’s better,’ even though I didn’t want to re-record it and I thought it was finished. Then we’d re-record it, and they’d say, ‘No, no, no, the original one’s way better.’ Sometimes they’re like, ‘You’re a genius, but change everything about yourself.’ Some of that for sure is patriarchy. Some of it is just how the industry is. Record companies are just not compatible with artists. I’m shocked that they even let us be in the same room sometimes.
“Back then, it was a very guy-centric time. Labels, musicians: They didn’t know what to do with me. If they couldn’t f**k me, they would ignore me. It was like I was an alien. I was going to sleep with them, or I wasn’t going to exist,” Morissette continued. “There were exceptions, of course, but that was pretty much how it was. A lot of men in the ‘90s would say to me, ‘Oh, I love women. Women are amazing.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, no, no. You like to f**k women. That’s not the same thing.'”
Phair added, “You and I were both chicks in a male world writing from the point of view of being more than just a girl. I think we both saw ourselves as female but also, more importantly, human. A lot of female artists back then were either masculinized, like they had to hang with the boys and do more coke than them, or they were feminized and fit the hot girl bass-player tokenism. Intuitively, I knew I wanted more room. I wanted more territory for myself. I definitely felt lonely. Now, there are so many young women making music of all sorts, with their visions intact. They wear whatever they want. They make the video the way they want. They play keyboards, drums, whatever. They’re autonomous in a way that I couldn’t have dreamed of back then.
“I would have been accepted had I just picked up a bass and played in a male band,” she continued. “I would have been accepted if I’d been a chanteuse who wrote songs and let them be directed by a male producer. But I had the audacity to get onstage and take a spot away from a guy.”
Morissette remembered, “When ‘You Oughta Know’ was first sent out to radio stations, the response was, ‘We’re actually playing Sinéad O’Connor, so we’re good.’ Or, ‘We have Tori Amos in our rotation. We can’t add another woman. Sorry.’ That changed pretty fricking quickly.”