For the first episode of DirecTV’s “Music in High Places” series, which debuts Friday and airs throughout the month, Alanis Morissette made a pilgrimage to the Navajo Nation’s Canyon de Chelly, a national monument in Arizona, where she not only performed for the program, but also got a crash course in Native American culture and theology. The premise of the show, a sort of MTV-goes-National Geographic, is that artists trek to ancient or sacred vistas, absorb the area’s culture and then perform acoustic sets with a breathtaking view as the backdrop. So far, Brian McKnight, Shawn Colvin and Sugar Ray are lined up for future episodes (McKnight in Brazil, Colvin in French Polynesia and Sugar Ray in Mexico), each of which will also be expanded into Webisodes on musicinhighplaces.msn.com. The experience, Morissette says, helped her recharge and regroup for the work ahead of her on her next album, which she promises to get cracking on directly following a much-needed vacation in Mexico.
What was it like shooting this show? What did you get out of it?
You have to dive into the culture, so our episode started on the reservation. We had tour guides — Daniel was the first one — and we talked about philosophy and higher powers. We got along very well, and he answered me honestly, which was refreshing. We talked about what we thought about western civilization, white people, family, women, God . . . everything. They’re not overtly religious, more spiritual than anything else.
Did you tell him you were God? Well, at least in Dogma you were . . .
[Laughs] No, no, I don’t know if he would have gotten that. It wouldn’t have been funny to him. If I said I was God, he would say, ‘Yes, so am I.’ And that would be true. They believe God is in everything and everyone. He wouldn’t get it.
What knowledge did Daniel convey that was of particular interest to you?
The role of women in their culture. It’s a matriarchal society, or at least it started as one, and over thousands of years, it’s shifted into a patriarchal one. It’s more on a pendulum, and things ultimately shift back and forth. But for them, women take care of a lot of the physical aspects of life and children’s upbringing, and it’s entirely up to the father to teach the spiritual aspects.
Did you feel like you learned a lot?
So much. And how do you impart all that? For a one-hour show, how do you split up the time to share the culture without it just being the periphery? It’s a challenge. There’s so much information.
Did you feel like a guinea pig, since it was the first episode?
I got to be the guinea pig! And I love it. I always feel more often or not like a guinea pig in my own life. I’m constantly in different cities and places. And this one was pretty amazing. They showed me these hand print paintings of people from thousands of years ago, up on this ridge. Amazing. We shot most of it in these ruins in a canyon, and then we performed at another location in a valley.
What did you do for the performance part of the show? It was acoustic, right?
Very unplugged, very raw. We did “Uninvited,” “UR,” “No Pressure [Over Cappucino]” and “Baba.”
How long was this experience? You must have made quite a trek . . .
Probably most artists wouldn’t want to trek hours and hours into the middle of nowhere to explore, but I loved it. I flew from Los Angeles to Phoenix, where we took a propeller plane to Flagstaff, and then drove for three hours, and then another two hours by horse. I have no problem sitting on a plane for hours, though. I read like crazy, I’ll have my nose in a book, meditate now and again, stretch. I’m always mapping out where I want to go next, writing down things on napkins at restaurants. I’d like to go to mid or North Africa. Zaire. I’m just passionate about traveling somewhere other than the usual metropolitan cities.
When you get back from your vacation in Mexico, what’s next?
I’m about to dive into the writing for the next album, which I do in my head. The actual making of the record, that’s the last ten percent. Ninety percent comes from living, traveling, my diary. And the rest will come forth in the studio.
What’s the new record going to be like?
I have no idea. I’ll probably know about ten minutes before I’m finished with it. I’m trying out different chord changes, trying to be relatively spontaneous. I think I’m going to produce it myself this time. I always want to stretch and scare myself. And it’ll just have to form itself, be a snapshot of where I am, at the moment. And however long or short it takes, it doesn’t matter.