Liz Phair, the in-your-face indie sweetheart, sent up "Guyville" (i.e., the male-dominated alternative-music scene dubbed as such by Chicago rockers Urge Overkill) in her debut, Exile in Guyville —a song-by-song response to the Stones' Exile on Main Street. The album drove home the point that gender has nothing to do with whether or not an artist can rock with intelligence and sexual savvy.
Raised in a wealthy suburb of Chicago, Phair studied art at Oberlin College, where she was constantly experimenting with songwriting. A friend, guitarist Chris Brokaw, later of the band Come, prodded Phair to make a tape of her songs, which resulted in her signing to Matador and recording Guyville. Her followup, Whip-Smart (#27, 1994), revealed itself to be a more introspective album —although her melting pot of punk, folk, and pop doesn't hide her frank, often sexual lyrics. The boldness and self-assurance Phair portrayed on her albums was not so apparent during her solo concerts, however, at which Phair suffered from stage fright. She took a break in 1995, marrying Jim Staskausas, a Chicago film editor who worked on her videos. She released the Juvenalia EP that summer, which featured material from her homemade "Girlysound" tapes. During 1996, she began recording a new album with producer Scott Litt, shelved the project, and gave birth to a son. Working with Guyville and Whip-Smart producer Brad Wood, she later returned to the studio, releasing Whitechocolatespaceegg (#35) in 1998. Phair explained that the title came from a dream she had while she was pregnant. Though toned down from the postfeminist friskiness of her earlier albums, the songs candidly explored themes of domestic tension and parenthood. She toured that summer as part of Lilith Fair, and launched a full-scale band tour later in the year.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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