Alanis Morissette is the marrying kind. The Grammy-winning singer/songwriter behind hits like 'You Oughta Know,' 'Ironic,' and 'Uninvited,' Morissette was recently ordained as a minister so that she could conduct marriages—including gay ones.
'There's a good three or four people in the back of my mind that if or when the time comes I'd be honored,' she says. But more on those marriages and whether you should ask Morissette to execute your same-sex ceremony later. We've got an album to discuss.
So-Called Chaos (Maverick Records) is Morissette's first album of new recordings in two years. It's a deliciously lush, melodic, and lyrically revealing work addressing relationships, self-esteem, grudges, guilt, joy, and personal responsibility. 'They're all personal songs,' she admits. 'Sort of underneath, in my unconscious. I find I'm so much more courageous in my songs than day-to-day life and when I listen to them I think, 'wow, this is what I'd be really be thinking about or mulling over if I were in my most vulnerable place.'
Today, Morissette is in great spirits, laughing often, and game for discussing subjects vulnerable and impermeable. Raised in Ontario, Canada, Morissette found public recognition at age 10 on 'You Can't Do That on Television,' a zany young adult/children's show that aired on Nickelodeon in the States ('I loved my little short here-we-go haircut,' she reminisces). From there she focused on music and, at 14, signed with MCA Canada. In 1991 her first album, Alanis, snagged Morissette a Juno, Canada's Emmy equivalent. In 1995 she hit international gold—and platinum—with the 30 million-plus selling Jagged Little Pill. Grammy awards and more albums followed, including 1998's Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, 1999's Unplugged, and 2002's double whammy of Under Rug Swept and Feast on Scraps. She also made occasional thespian turns on HBO's Sex and the City (in which she smooched Sarah Jessica Parker) and Curb Your Enthusiasm, Off-Broadway's The Vagina Monologues, and Kevin Smith's feature film Dogma, in which she played God.
Summer, 2003. For two years, Morissette maintained a distance from instruments, songwriting and the studio, only putting creative pen to paper in her daily journal. Then, one morning, 'my gut—and this is typical of how records start to take form—said 'it's time,'' she recalls. ''It's time to start writing,'' and with that she returned to the studio.
Morissette regularly collaborated with writer/producer Glenn Ballard until Under Rug Swept, at which point she decided to go it alone. 'It's a very patriarchal not only world but industry and I wanted to prove to people and myself I was capable of doing it, as a woman and on my own,' she recalls. While satisfying, the time-consuming, technical details-intensive experience left Morissette more than ready to welcome other producers, male or otherwise, into the steering room again.
Close friend Tim Thorney worked on So-Called Chaos' recording and production stages while producer John Shanks (Melissa Etheridge, Stevie Nicks) later entered to polish things up. The trio ultimately sired a soaring album that boasts sparkling William Orbit-esque flourishes and dashes of Eastern exotica. 'There's some instruments I've always been drawn to that are typically heard in Eastern music,' Morissette notes. ''Knees of my Bees' has a beautiful sitar solo—that instrument baffles me because I can't even come [close to] playing it. But I have this fantasy of creating unity on a record stylistically with different cultures and sounds. I might do that on the next record. We'll see.'
Morissette considers each album a snapshot of her mindset and life at the time. Asked what distinguishes So-Called Chaos in that regard, she proffers that 'there's a lot of busting my own chops. In older songs like 'You Oughta Know' and 'Narcissist,' [I'm pointing my finger and blaming other people]. The difference is my taking a little bit more responsibility, laughing at myself, and seeing my role in [things] now. It's a split!'
Musically illustrating her point is the song 'It's Not All Me,' which goes: 'It's not all my fault/ I may remind you/ But I won't take it all on/ I'll take only some of it.'
'I think it's a mark of evolution, thankfully,' she adds.
Judging from the ditty 'This Grudge,' Morissette hasn't yet been able to evolve past holding certain cases of ill will. 'Unfortunately,' she laments. 'There are certain people I've written about for the last 10 years and I got to a point where I thought 'wow, I'm writing another song about this person and this has to stop!' My aspiration is to just chill out on that a little bit. But it's not like I consciously do it. I can say I've forgiven somebody but somewhere within me I know that I harbor [resentment].'
That said, an individual she repeatedly lets off the hook for errs and heated collisions is Ryan Reynolds, her boyfriend of almost two years. 'Well, as you may know, a good relationship has its moments!' Morissette acknowledges with a laugh. 'Challenges and stuff to work through. In my opinion a committed relationship is all about healing each other, evolving, and being on this sacred, fun, crazy path together.'
Yet when they do have a fight, does she throw on a hateful song and storm off, leaving him to stew in it? 'You know what to put on in the middle of conflict? A love song,' she insists, 'so that they can remember. If we could each remember who we really are then it wouldn't lead to that craziness. It's the forgetting that causes all the suffering. So I think I'd throw on 'Knees of My Bees,' which I wrote about him.'
An earlier, unsuccessful relationship served as inspiration for 'Doth I Protest Too Much,' a denial-steeped song that includes the lyrics 'I'm not threatened by every pair of legs you watch go by/ I don't cringe when you stare at women, it's just a thing called guy ... doth I protest too much.'
'I tried to be this perfect, secure, completely self-possessed person,' she recalls, 'but really deep down I was freaking out. And [the song is about] the liberation that comes from admitting it. If I can admit I'm insecure and freaked out and totally unstable, then I can just calm down because I'm not spending all that energy trying to hide it.'
Conversely, on the title track Morissette expresses a desire to hide nothing, singing the line 'I want to run naked through the streets!'
'Sure,' she enthuses, 'I feel we live in this crazy culture that sends a message that we're to be ashamed of our bodies, our sexuality, our fat, and our whatever. Ahh! That liberated feeling of running and not caring—I'm naked anytime I can be naked.'
Morissette, who appeared at March's GLAAD Awards in Los Angeles, is candid about her experiences with queerness, admitting that she partook of sexual experiences with a female friend during her 20s. 'It was lovely, I loved it,' she shares, 'and while there's part of me that deeply wishes I was hardcore homosexual, unfortunately I feel I am deep down heterosexual. I really think [gay experimentation is] a right of passage and I highly recommend it to anybody who's pre-lifelong commitment. Wouldn't this planet be a different place if all fraternities and macho communities were required to experiment with their sexuality? I think it would be really great, it should be like required reading.'
With hopes to marry off her friends, gay or otherwise, Morissette took an online course and was ordained as a minister, a process that mostly involved filling out paperwork ... and waiting. 'There was a four-day [waiting] period where I don't know what they did,' she recalls. 'A background check? Do they deliberate? Look at your credit, to see if you're financially stable enough to marry someone? But it was unbelievably easy.'
Unfortunately, our President is making it anything but easy for those who would marry a same-sex partner. Doth he protest queer unions too much? 'In my opinion,' Morissette laments, 'he's definitely defining the perspective that he sees life from, but it's just tragic to me that he's in a position where he can affect it.'
But he won't affect Morissette; so if you're homo and want to get hitched, give this minister a buzz.
'Absolutely!' she happily replies. 'At least say something and if I don't do it myself, I'll find somebody who can!'
So-Called Chaos is in stores this week. See www.alanis.com . Alanis performs with Barenaked Ladies July 21 at Tweeter Center.