By: Cara Carriveau
Alanis Morissette Biography
A dozen years after the breakthrough debut of Jagged Little Pill, an album which earned four Grammys, sold 30 million records and spawned a dedicated worldwide fan base, Alanis Morissette remains not only an enduringly popular artist, but one whose success stems from a fierce commitment to authenticity and, to an equal extent, vulnerability. Both of these traits enable her to climb to new ground on her new Maverick/Reprise album, Flavors of Entanglement.
Her current collaborator is British electronica producer Guy Sigsworth (Bjork, Imogen Heap), who co-wrote the music with Morissette and produced the album. Nearly two dozen songs were born from writing sessions in London and Los Angeles and eleven were selected for the final cut of Flavors of Entanglement. While hewing to a familiar process creating songs as snapshots of her life Morissette found cathartic support during a big transition in her life. “I often write in retrospect, but this time all was written in real time,” she says. “These songs served as an outlet and marking of this massively growthful time.”
Her penchant for eclecticism, whether musical, spiritual or otherwise, brought new sounds and styles into this latest effort, her first original studio album in four years. Eastern percussion and strings blend with electronic hues in the opening track, “Citizen of the Planet,” a poetic narrative of her life story and transnational perspective. Morissette’s yin/yang view of the microcosmic self being evidenced in the macrocosmic world extends to lead single “Underneath,” which reflects the quote: “don’t try to carpet the world just wear slippers.”
While deconstructing human behavior in the jarring “Versions of Violence,” Morissette offers a more personal take on being on the receiving end of crazy-making behavior with songs such as the hard-driving “Straitjacket,” the hauntingly beautiful lost-love lament of “Torch,” the clear declaration of “Moratorium,” the hypnotic ebb and flow of “Tapes,” and grateful in the aspirational “In Praise of the Vulnerable Man.” Morissette explores the often cyclical nature of learning in tracks such as the pensive, rock bottom-capturing “Not As We,” and the ecstatic freedom of “Giggling Again for No Reason,” before wrapping with the Phoenix-rising closure of “Incomplete.”
“There’s not another artistmale or femalewho can take you on the kind of emotional journey that Alanis can,” says Sigsworth. “She has this ginormous, super-massive, planet-eating emotional range. She goes all the way-10 on the Richter Scale-and we’re at the epicenter with her as she sings whole worlds into existence. She can be raging and hostile, distraught and desolately heartbroken, glowingly nostalgic, sensual, breezy and self-deprecating-all in one album.”
Born and raised in Ottawa, Canada, and Germany, Alanis Morissette began playing piano at the age of six, started to write songs at the age of nine and discovered a love of words and dance at an early age. At 11 she joined the cast of “You Can’t Do That On Television,” a popular children’s television program. She used some of the money she made on that show to start a record company with a friend and fund an independent single called “Fate Stay With Me.” At fourteen, Morissette signed a publishing contract and eventually a record deal with MCA Canada, releasing the album Alanis in 1991, which went platinum and for which she won Canada’s Juno Award for Most Promising Female Artist. Her follow-up album, Now Is The Time, was released the following year.
It was 1994, when Morissette came to the U.S. and began working with producer Glen Ballard, that she found her own voice as a singer-songwriter. “I was 19 when I first felt that writing was a channeled experience. That has a lot to do with where I was at then, having met Glen, moving from Canada and moving away from any preconceived notions of how songs ‘should’ be written. It was the beginning of a new way to approach songwriting altogether,” she explains, “I was old enough to be able to write autobiographically and stand by the philosophical subject matter in my songs.”
The result of their collaboration was Jagged Little Pill (Maverick Records), an emotionally raw collection of songs that introduced Morissette to the world and broke countless records worldwide. With heavy-rotation singles like “You Oughta Know,” “Head Over Feet,” “Hand in My Pocket” and “Ironic,” it became the best-selling debut album by a female artist in the U.S., and the highest-selling debut album worldwide. Jagged Little Pill won four Grammys in all, including Album of the Year and Best Rock Album, and Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for “You Oughta Know.” A fifth Grammy for Best Music Video Long-Form was bestowed upon Morissette for her music documentary: Jagged Little Pill Live. Morissette hauled in two more Grammys for Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for the string-laden rock ballad “Uninvited”, written for the Wim Wenders remake of City of Angels which hit #1 on Billboard’s Top 40 Mainstream chart.
Her next album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart with record-setting first-week sales of nearly 470,000 copies. The Grammy-nominated single “Thank U” also reached #1 on the Adult Top 40 chart and #2 on Top 40 Mainstream. The MTV acoustic forum “Unplugged” yielded Alanis Unplugged in 1999.
Throughout the first half of the new decade, Alanis Morissette continued evidencing that she was an artist with something to say, and she would say it in her own distinct way. In 2002 Under Rug Swept debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, its single “Hands Clean” reaching #3 on the Adult Top 40 chart. Two years later came So-Called Chaos, whose single “Everything” became an Adult Top 40 mainstay and “Eight Easy Steps” became a club hit as a dance mix. Morissette celebrated the ten-year anniversary of her breakthrough album with 2005’s Jagged Little Pill Acoustic. In November of that year, The Collection amassed a best-of anthology with 17 tracks that delivered favorites from previous albums as well as a well-received cover of Seal’s “Crazy” (an interesting foreshadowing, as it was originally co-written and produced by her future Flavors of Entanglement collaborator Guy Sigsworth)
Achieving success as a recording and performing artist, Morissette has lent her talents to other albums and forums. She’s been a guest vocalist on Ringo Starr’s cover of “Drift Away” on his album Vertical Man, “Don’t Drink the Water” and “Spoon” on the Dave Matthews Band album Before These Crowded Streets and other CDs. She wrote “Still” for the soundtrack of the controversial film Dogma and, after steadfast offerings by director Kevin Smith, agreed to play the role of God.
More recently Morissette appeared in the Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely and performed the classic “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love),” also contributing the song “Wunderkind” to the soundtrack of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song). As well as the aforementioned song entitled “Uninvited”, written for City of Angels, she contributed songs for the movies Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks II, The Break-Up and The Devil Wears Prada; on screen her other acting work includes roles on HBO’s “Sex and the City” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” along with a three-episode arc on FX’s “Nip/Tuck.” On stage, Morissette starred in The Vagina Monologues and in the off-Broadway play, (in both New York and London) The Exonerated as death row inmate Sunny Jacobs. She recently completed her first lead film role as “Sylvia” in the film adaptation of Philip K Dick’s novel Radio Free Albemuth.
She delivered one of the most memorable performances of her career last year with a riotous parody of the Black Eyed Peas’ hit “My Humps.” Entertainment Weekly lauded the YouTube sensation, which has been viewed more than 13.5 million times to date, as one of the top downloads of ’07 and praised Alanis for “revisiting the age-old question, ‘What you gonna do with all that ass, all that ass inside them jeans?'”
Among a breadth of charity work, Morissette especially finds time to support environmental causes and organizations, such as Reverb, a non-profit that helps musicians and music fans to achieve environmental sustainability through carbon-neutral initiatives. Morissette was one of the first artists to have her “Feast on Scraps” CD and DVD materials on recycled paper. Initially she paid for this out of her own pocket, but now it’s becoming an industry standard. Her passions also include women’s issues and artists’ rights on behalf of which she has written several articles as well as spoken to congress.
A dozen years after the world was first turned on to Alanis Morissette, a more mature artist remains committed to her creative path and a strong desire to help others on theirs. “I live to HEAL ruptures and bridge the human and the divine aspects of life, and I hope that by sharing my own experiences through speaking, writing and art, I can support people in their personal journeys, wherever they may be at,” she explains. “The initial writing is for me, and the sharing of it is my offering to others to make these songs and writings their own. For people to derive comfort, inspiration, validation or self-definition in accordance to what I write or how I live…this is my service.”
For more information about Alanis Morissette, please visit her official website at: http://alanis.com/