It’s been six years since Fiona Apple’s infamous meltdown onstage in New York. And on the fifth night of her first major U.S. headlining tour since then, it almost happened again. “I was crying during the first five songs,” she says of the show, on June 27th at Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California. “I was sitting there going, ‘I cannot believe this is happening.”‘ But Apple, 28, fought off a breakdown. For the rest of the show, she says, she was split between feelings of “I can’t believe I’m still like this” and “Wait, I’m not like that, because if I was I wouldn’t be onstage right now.” Slaying those demons was yet another personal victory for Apple, whose latest disc, Extraordinary Machine, was one of the best of 2005. Checking in from Minneapolis, Apple is in good spirits, chugging along on a tour that lasts through August. “The tour’s actually been great,” she says. “I’m having a lot of fun.”
You’re in the groove right now — do you want to be the type of artist who puts out records on a regular basis?
I could write another album in the next two months and be right back out here, or I could never write again. The songs I’ve written in the past have served a purpose — they were my way of dealing with my life. If I grow out of that, it’s fine, and I’ll figure out what to do next.
On your Web site there’s an adorable home video of you at age eight playing your first composition. How did you start writing so young?
I’d watch National Geographic or shows like Wild Kingdom and write music to go with the chase scenes — like when a lion chases an impala. I started writing lyrics when my best friend from second grade, Manuela Paz, had a fight with her parents. For some reason I thought, “If your best friend is really sad, I’m supposed to write a song for her.”
I’m not doing it. [Laughs]
Just the chorus, c’mon!
“I’m standing next to you/I’m your friend/Don’t worry/Don’t be sad….” Stupid stuff like that.
You said somewhere that you like songs “that are like speeches or essays.” Can you elaborate?
I like my own songs to play the role of a speech that I’m making to someone in my life. I love my family, but when we fought, we wouldn’t sit down and be rational. It would be like screaming fights. I figured the best way to deal with that would be to wait out the screaming, then go to my room and write out a letter to get my point across. My songs are like those little letters.
You duetted on “Bridge Over Troubled Water” on Johnny Cash’s American Recording IV. How did that happen?
I’d listened to the first American Recording, and I was backstage at a concert — U2, I think — and Rick Rubin was there. I told him I really liked it. He said, “We’re doing another one; you should sing on it.” I got really excited, but about six months went by and I felt like an idiot — I thought Rick had said that just to get rid of me. But one day he called, and I went over to his house. Johnny Cash was there, and he was really nice. He’d already put down his vocals, and there was a camera crew there, and I didn’t even know that I was gonna sing. I felt so nervous.
Your harmony part is really amazing.
That’s really not where my confidence lies. But I heard Johnny say to someone that he thought our voices went well together, so that’s what I take from the experience.
How can someone in the audience get your attention?
Occasionally, somebody will say something that is genuinely funny, and it makes me laugh and I can’t help it. But for the most part I ignore things. I’m better at doing my job if I pretend that nobody’s there. If I start thinking at all, I’m fucked.
Do you collect anything?
Well, I have all the porcelain animals that I had as a kid, and sometimes I’ll add to the collection. But I’m not, like, that active about it.
How many do you have?
Thirty or forty. I had this little thing that I’d do. [Laughs] I had a whole town of them. I’d take town pictures and have town meetings. Whenever I’d go away on vacation I’d take one as a representative, bring it to the little stores where they sold them and conduct an interview with the new animal to see if it would be accepted into the town. Then I’d steal the one I liked.
Nice! Do you carry a special drink onstage?
No, I like to drink wine before the show, but I don’t have a “drink drink.” Just tea with honey.
Looking back at the legendary “Fiona Apple freakout” show in 2000, does it bum you out or make you laugh?
I feel really sad for myself. It was really tough to go through. I was saying [to the crowd] that I couldn’t hear myself, but on the road there have been a million times before and after that where I haven’t been able to hear myself. I started crying and hyperventilating and having a panic attack, and I physically couldn’t continue. I had a meltdown. Looking back, I feel frustrated because there was somebody around me that was really fucking with my head a lot, and I was letting myself get taken down by that.
What about the ninety-word album title?
To anybody that has ever made fun of me for doing that, I say this: Are you in the Guinness Book of World Records? Thank you. Don’t leave her alone with your porcelain animals.