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Alanis Morissette’s back

The singer on channelling anger in music, having Madonna as her boss and breaking the rules of yoga

Image Credit: Al Seib/The Washington Post
Alanis Morissette’s eighth studio album, Havoc and Bright Lights, is scheduled to be release later this month.

Q: Hello, Alanis. Where are you?

A: I am at home in Los Angeles.

Q: What can you see?

A: I see my husband’s sink. I’m in his little area.

Q: Do you each have your own sink?

A: We have our own sinks. It keeps our marriage quite lovely. I think space is tantamount to keeping harmony going.

Q: How do you think you are perceived by the general public in 2012?

A: My whole thing is to stay the course. I see the movement in terms of the ’60s and ’70s being all about social and political commentary around the Vietnam era, and the ’80s were really about entertainment. And then the ’90s was about emotional landscape commentary and I was a big part of that (1). The 2000s were all about entertainment again with the economy doing what it was and I think people wanted a break from the inward-looking, quandary-esque approach (2) and then now, not a moment too soon, I see us segueing back into a more psychological, emotional, spiritual commentary movement in music.

Q: I read a reference to you as “the former angry young woman”. Does that label annoy you?

A: When someone says that I’m angry it’s actually a compliment. I have not always been direct with my anger in my relationships, which is part of why I’d write about it in my songs because I had such fear around expressing anger as a woman. I thought I would be retaliated against or physically hit or vilified. Anger has been a really big deal for women: how can we express it without feeling that, as the physically weaker sex, we won’t get killed. The alpha-woman was burned at the stake and had her head chopped off in days of old. 

Q: Some of your new songs deal with equality in marriage. If, for example, your husband (3) had a snack, perhaps a sandwich, but didn’t clean up after himself, would you do it and note that it’s his turn next time?

A: I definitely wouldn’t do it for him, but I also think that part of the beautiful, masculine quality is single-mindedness. So I wouldn’t interpret it as a direct affront to me. 

Q: Maybe he was just busy.

A: Yeah, he must have been in the solution mode and saw something else that needed solving and he went and did that.

Q: There’s also a song on your album called Celebrity, which features the line: “I am a tattooed sexy dancing monkey.” Is it about Paris Hilton?

A: [Laughs] No comment. But, you know, I think fame became exciting for me in the late ’90s because I could actually use it as a means to an end. I could actually have it help me serve my vocationfulness (4). I could offer comfort and upliftment (5) and be a leader and take on that responsibility, rather than see it as this daunting thing. Fame became a great tool. But I still have PTSD from the Jagged Little Pill era. It was a profound violation. It felt like every millisecond I was attempting to set a boundary and say no and people were breaking into my hotel rooms and going through my suitcase and pulling my hair and jumping on my car. 

Q: How bored are you by people saying there’s nothing ironic about Ironic (6)?

A: I wouldn’t say bored, I would say interested because I love to get to the underbelly of why things bug people so much. People must be very at odds with the idea of being profoundly stupid. I mean, malapropisms; big [expletive] deal. It’s kind of like in traffic when you’re yelling at someone for cutting you off and you’re cutting someone off too. 

Q: Pre-Jagged Little Pill, you toured with Vanilla Ice. What was he like?

A: I was instructed not to look him in the eye. 

Q: What?

A: I ended up never really being near him so I didn’t have to apply my restraint. Bless him, I think he was in the middle of the mayhem and it can be overwhelming. 

Q: Did you have any moments of mayhem?

A: There was a period of time during the Jagged Little Pill era where I don’t think I laughed for about two years. It was a survival mode, you know. It was an intense, constant, chronic over-stimulation and invasion of energetic and physical literal space. 

Q: Do you still practise Iyengar yoga?

A: Parts of it, yeah. I’m the integrator. I have an aspiration for full integration, so I do Hatha and Iyengar and I know it’s unpopular sometimes to integrate Bikram with everything, but I also do Ashtanga. 

Q: Blimey. The Iyengar one sounds a bit mad. Doesn’t it involve belts and blocks?

A: It’s beautiful. It’s probably the best experience I’ve ever had using ropes and dangling from things. 

Q That might look weird out of context.

A: (Laughs) “She uses pulleys and levers in bed.” Please protect me from that pull quote. 

Q: What was Madonna like as a boss?

A: [Hesitantly] It was an interesting dynamic. It was kind of like back to the antiquated system of 80% record company and 20% artist. There was an inherent win-lose quality to that dynamic, so less a boss and more a psuedo-partnership, but it wasn’t really a partnership because that’s win-win or no deal, right? 

Q: I’m guessing she wasn’t that hands-on?

A: We met a couple of times and she was actually quite lovely with me early on. 

Alanis Morissette’s eighth studio album, Havoc and Bright Lights, is scheduled to be release later this month.