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Q&A: Alanis Morissette on Her New LP, 'Kinship' With Leonardo DiCaprio

'There is a lack of apology for the kind of person I am'

Alanis Morissette
Williams & Hirakawa 2012
May 2, 2012 4:00 PM ET

Alanis Morissette announced today that she'll release her seventh album, Havoc And Bright Lights, on August 28th. The record is Morissette's first in four years and the first since she gave birth to her son, Ever Imre, in late 2010. While motherhood is definitely a theme on the new album, Havoc also tackles many of the topics that Morissette's fans have come to expect, from social issues to spirituality.

"What I love the most now in listening back is that it covers the gamut of everything I care about," Morissette told Rolling Stone when we recently visited her in the studio in Los Angeles. While the LP's subject matter often gets intimate, the six songs that Morissette previewed in the studio are big and rocking. "Kind of epic, hair blowing in the wind," said Morisette, when asked how she plans to play the new tunes in concert.

Many of the new songs have big choruses. Did you let loose a bit more than usual with this record?
To be honest I wrote it post-partum the whole few months after my son was born, so I barely remember the process [laughs]. It was in our home, and we built a makeshift studio in what is now the playroom because I'm an attachment parent, so I wanted to be able to breastfeed. So it was literally in and out of this room, writing with Guy Sigsworth, recording, being a mom, back and forth in my house. I barely remember it and I wouldn't say I was letting loose, but I was having fun.

In "Celebrity," you call out people for their obsession with fame. It seems very much based on real people.
Yes. It was inspired by specific people that I'll never talk about, 'cause it's just rude. Do I appreciate the idea of jealousy, revenge and all these so-called dark qualities? Yes. Do I write these songs in order to engage in some public war with someone? No. And also, as with any song I've ever written, I'm also busting my own chops. This isn't just finger pointing at one human being – it could well be a composite, and the composite includes me.

Did any particular songs emerge that surprised you?
I think some of the loftier ones, like "Edge of Evolution." There are a couple of super lofty ones, and there was the option of not having those songs on the record, but I thought, "Who cares?" If you want to be entertained and you don't want to focus on the lyrics, you have that option. But if you want to be challenged and engage in the conversation that I happen to be in once in a while, this is my record.

When I first heard "Lens" it seemed like a relationship song, but there's a much bigger picture to it.
It's micro and macro, and I like that about a lot of the songs I write. It is about the one-on-one because that's most micro, close to my heart, tangible. But then it can be extrapolated to speak to the larger relationship – relationship with self, with someone's version of spirit, with each other.

The song can be read as a comment on political discourse and religious discourse.
I don't separate church and state, so rather than necessarily addressing a political conversation, I'll address the spiritual underpinnings of it – because I do believe they're bedfellows. Your political views really denote your spiritual views. And America, I think, is largely devoid of a prioritized spiritual [view], whether it's practice or a belief that is based on love and based on kindness, as the Dalai Lama talks about. It's almost like religion is co-opted by the political, ego, fear-fueled machine in our own selves or political structure, so it becomes a tool for the political campaign that's winning as opposed to, "How does it personally show up in one's life? How does it show up in your living room at 7 a.m. when no one's around?" I'd rather talk to people about their personal spiritual practices or what they believe love is. I'm born to do that. Could I enter into the political realm and dive into that? Sure, but I don't think I would want to do that.

"Woman Down" is another one that has massive spiritual and religious implications, but it's also topical. When Rush Limbaugh called Sarah Fluke a slut, were you tempted to throw it up online?
It does speak to what's going on and then it also speaks to what was going on and where we're going, some of which I know about topically and some I don't. So there's some naivety here and there, and then there's the part of me that knows exactly what's going on. As I enter more into the promotional part of this whole journey I'll be more aware of what's going on, 'cause I've been under a rock for a while. For me to comment on pop culture or politics I have to be somewhat informed, but not so much informed to the point I'm beleaguered by it all. I do believe that artists are social commentators to some degree – we have that opportunity.

They're also forced into it sometimes.
You're the screen upon which people project their vehement opinions or even light ones, and I think that's great because people define themselves in accordance to celebrities all the time. And so you're an unwitting activist. To the degree that you want to be an activist, it will either drag you through kicking and screaming or you can just consciously become one – and still be kicking and screaming [laughs].

It has to be scary at times, though.
It's scary, it's exhausting, it's daunting, it's beautiful. Some small percent is quite beautiful. It also requires the celebrities to be quite steely unless they want to get tossed about. And we see that all the time, too. I've seen it in myself and I've seen it in other celebrities. It's exhausting and we need protection.

Your Jagged Little Pill album sold millions upon millions of copies. Even with Adele, it's not likely that anyone will hit those kinds of numbers again.
I have a unique perspective that perhaps people like Eminem and Leonardo DiCaprio share. There are certain people who are in my generation who were in the hot kitchen the same time as me, and whether I know them or not is incidental. I just feel we have this wink with each other. There's a kinship because we were in a similar era in the hot kitchen.

How many of them have you met?
I've met a handful of them, and a handful of them I've never met and I almost don't need to, because we're in this club whether we show up for the club events or not [laughs]. So I'm heartened by knowing that they exist and they're still here, because for me, I had a pretty large amount of PTSD after that chapter that I'm still twitching from.

Are you also heartened by the way other people have handled that success?
Do I look at Leonardo DiCaprio post-Titanic and want to give him a medal for still being here? Yes.

Can any musician today build the kind of fanbase that you and Eminem did?
The thing you can't underestimate is the true fan's intimacy. So Lady Gaga or anybody's true fan, I don't think they're going anywhere. There are people who are into commitment. If they're connecting with an artist, I think they'll be there over the long course.

What do you take from this record when you hear it?
There is a lack of apology for the kind of person I am. I used to have some shame around my Ph.D, psychological part and shame about being spiritual, or shame about being emotional or sensitive. And what I know now, or what I feel now, is that I don't have shame for those parts. It might piss people off or rub them the wrong way or have them roll their eyes. I don't care.

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