Alanis Morissette On Motherhood, Spirituality And Her Former Self
By Robert Frezza
Singer/songwriter and now mother Alanis Morissette has evolved since her 1995 debut Jagged Little Pill, and a lot has happened to her and the music industry alone since then. Now, as a mother, Morissette faces the challenges of everyday life. “I feel like now this maternal, biological imperative is being channeled into an appropriate little human being,” Morissette states.
On the eve of her Guardian Angel tour, Morissette opens up about her large catalogue of inspirational music, her upcoming tour, and how her maternal instincts have kicked in.
What does this album represent in terms of where you are right now personally in your life?
I think it speaks to how much braver I am to delve into a deeper intimacy in my relationships – the one with my son, with my husband, even to the point where I’d be ready to get married. Intimacy was always terrifying for me, so – intimacy with spirit, other people, friends, even professional colleagues, although I don’t really write about that directly. So yes, it’s a relationship record even more so than ever before.
Is your tour going to be a big production? And also, at this point in your career how do you determine what stays in the set list and what songs you might never want to play again?
Thankfully, the cringe factor is very non-existent … for the last 17 years, so they all fit together quite nicely. The end of the show – Basically, by the end of the show I just feel really neutral because we run the whole gamut of every emotion known to humankind for me, the songs from the last 17 years, and we change the set list a lot because we have the luxury of being able to do that, and my bandmates and I want to keep our own selves on our toes, tons of songs from Havoc and Bright Lights, and we do a little bit of an acoustic set near the end of the show. We did the first show last night, and it really rendered it super intimate and more connective than sometimes the monological wall of guitars can do, which that’s got its own charm. I don’t know if it’s big, but it’s emotional and colorful and sweaty and glitter.
In the past, particularly early in your career, you often railed against individual men who had somehow done you wrong, but then a song like “Woman Down,” it feels more like you’re speaking on behalf of all women who have been wronged in various ways. What led to that evolution in song writing approach?
Well, “Woman Down” is one of my favorite songs because there really is, for me anyway, no better time to be alive as a woman than 2012. The days of old were such that women were owned and we were property and we were less than, and then we went through the women’s movement, which was an important movement, we became empowered, but in an individualistic, autonomous kind of way; neither style, neither approach afforded any kind of connection or intimacy. And then now we’re slowly segueing into this gorgeous era where we’re empowered but we also have the knowledge that interdependence can afford this connection within and connection with other people, so the women’s movement is moving in such a much better way. And that’s not to say that misogyny and chauvinism and patriarchy isn’t alive and well in so many places around the planet, including this country, but that it’s getting more and more balanced, to the point where not just females but the divine feminine itself is being more respected and revered as an important way to connect with each other and with spirit. So I have to comment on that in my music.
I was just wondering about the set list and how you vary those night by night. At the start of a tour do you lay out all your albums and songs, and some that maybe you forgot about and bring them out, and are there any rarities that you plan to bring back?
During rehearsals and sometimes sound check, actually, we’ll just look at all the songs in front of us and I’ll sit around with my bandmates, and say what songs are you loving and missing harmonically? My bandmates are a great help to me in this way, because they have an objectivity and their musicianship is so stellar that they’re able to raise their hand and say, oh, my God, I’m dying to play “Citizen of the Planet” or whatever song. As for me, it’s just the content and the stories and the narratives, I just want to make sure that I touch on enough aspects of my own humanity that it’s a varied show. I think in terms of color a lot, so I want to make sure that the whole set isn’t all dark purple. I’ve got to have some primary colors thrown in there, some … action, so I’m going to keep it positive and challenging and exaltative and harrowing and have it all come forth, angry, happy, blissed out, infatuated, pissed off.
Now that you’ve had a chance to come back and spend some time with the album, talk about how the songs have changed for you playing them live. Are there any that have already started to evolve?
“Woman Down” has emerged as one of my favorites to perform live. We actually open the show with it. And the conversations that have been born from these songs, I thought that they would wind up being exciting, but it’s taken the philosopher in me to a whole different level, to the point where I feel like these are sacred conversations that I’m having philosophically, because these songs, while they touch on the microcosm for the most part, they are entering into the more macro, broad commentary area of dialogue with people.
So whether it’s in interviews with Piers Morgan, or talking with you right now, or writing articles, answering questions about this record, I feel like I’m in my ideal, dream-come-true seat, because I get to have a little bit of social commentary, which is humility, and I’m doing it in real-time. I’m mulling over and finding these revelations around these topics and these movements at the same time as everyone else is, so I feel like it’s a very active conversation about the evolution of our own consciousness all at the same time being entertaining. It’s like back door activism. I love it.
Looking over your tour dates you crammed a lot of cities into a very short period of time. I think you have seven shows in nine days, all in different cities. As a mother now, you have a family, does it start to weigh on you a lot more now than it did previously? Have you ever thought about maybe this is a little bit too much for me, or are you continuing with this just the way it’s done?
One is that yes, it’s exhausting, so there’s no way around that one. I have to be so much more responsible for filling my cup. So the way that I do it, my temperament is incredibly sensitive so it’s my responsibility to make sure that I pepper breaks throughout the day that are incredibly rejuvenating, so that can look like being on non-stop for a couple of hours and then I need to go away for 15 minutes, or 10 minutes, or I just need to be alone with my son and nurse him or hang out with him and just follow him around.
Basically the structure of the day being oriented to my well being is huge, but secondarily and importantly, this form of service through art and through this very conversation and doing interviews and showing up on stage, it has a way of filling me up. So even though there’s a huge element of generosity and service that is inherent to the whole touring experience for me, I also receive so much from it and it really does fuel me.
I think because I’ve been touring since the summer with my husband and my son. My husband, Soul Eye, is opening up for our shows on this particular American tour, and our first show last night was a serious dream come true because I just watched him from the side of the stage with my son wearing his noise canceling headphones and I just thought this probably is the best moment of my life, watching my husband, who, I fell in love with him as a fan first, I didn’t think I’d have the gift of being able to actually go on a date with him, but he’s such an amazing stream of high consciousness and so for him to be playing with me on tour with my son in my arms, who incidentally loves the communal traveling and touring….I’ve never seen a happier little face in my life than when he’s backstage with all of us.
To know that his well-being is taken care of, to know that my husband is expressed and kicking ass, and that I am as well, that’s high-fives all around. So, yes, the schedule looks harrowing and it ups the ante on my having to take responsibility to take time and be quiet and rest whenever I can.
Is it hard to tap into the energy and anxiety that fueled such classic songs as “You Ought to Know,” “Hand in my Pocket,” and “Ironic” today?
It’s actually not hard. I think that the anger, all of these emotions are just part of the human condition, so my husband can attest to the fact that I still have anger and that I’m still feisty and fiery. It just shows up in different ways. I think if anything I’m less reactive and less irresponsible in that way. But the emotions themselves still move through me at a really accelerated rate. It’s now more that I can corral it and I’m a little more responsible for that huge life force moving through me. I think anger and joy are two of the biggest life forces that can move mountains and worlds, so I just have to be careful with it. But I use songs like “You Ought to Know” to channel rage that I might have. If I’m going through something particularly challenging I look forward to singing those songs at night because I can move that energy.
Our culture, if I can make a broad stroke statement about America, having traveled in the way that I have, sometimes we have a tendency to forego the somatic, physical aspect of things, because we’re so bright in a lot of ways as Americans, we’re so in our heads and so intelligent that for me to be able to be on stage and move my body and move the energy and have the more feminine aspects of performance and art, be heralded and be praised by evidencing it on stage, is one of the things that I feel like I’m here to offer.
If you could go back 15 years in the past, what advice would you give your former self?
I would say take a shower, and I would also say you don’t have to do it alone. I think if I would have changed anything back then it was that I didn’t have a lot of support, I was pretty insulated and isolated and I didn’t trust a lot of people, so I definitely connected with God a lot, but I would have had a little bit more human being support around her.
Has becoming a parent opened up new facets of creativity for you?
I think if it’s opened up anything it’s opened an appropriate maternal tendency. Instead of trying to rescue or dysfunctionally care take ex-boyfriends, I feel like now this maternal, biological imperative is being channeled into an appropriate little human being, so that’s great. I have less energy now to do it inappropriately with other people, whether it’s with employees or with friends. In a way it renders all my other relationships really clear and formally makes them functional, so that’s nice.
In terms of how being a mama has affected my art, I think the song “Guardian,” the chorus is just singing my great passion for protecting, period, so that mama bear fierce thing definitely has come out in that chorus and in general. I also just care more. I feel like my heart has opened more and more, both because of, well, more than both actually, there’s my marriage that has opened my heart a lot, and then being a mom has definitely cracked open my heart, and then doing all this inner work and ascension work and reading, I just read non-stop. I’m just doing a lot of inner work around wanting to soften this really hardened heart that I had. But somewhere in there was a little soft heart, so it’s coming out more and more.
How has this album helped with your spiritual growth?
I think it’s more how my spiritual growth has helped this album, in a way, I would flip that around, because as I evolve and become more and more aware that there’s so many different words that can be used light, light body, God, I call it the “one permanent,” the one thing not subject to duality in all these complex terms that do their best to attempt to touch on what spirit actually is, and naming the un-nameable.
I think that a big turning point for my spiritual growth was after Jagged Little Pill, when I had reached and grabbed the brass ring and swallowed it, frankly, there was no other direction for me to go in that egoic sense, because I had broken all kinds of records, I won all the awards that I was “supposed” to win, or supposed to strive for in the American dream, so then there was no other direction for me to go but within and to ask even deeper inquiry fueled existential spiritual questions.
So that experience of that kind of fame, that quality of fame, really kick started a spiritual, it didn’t really kick start it, but it kicked it for the second time into a whole other category of devotion and steadfastness. I don’t want to freak people out when I write songs. I don’t want to turn it into a record that is almost too much to bear, so I temper some of the content so that it’s not overwhelming. I don’t even want to overwhelm myself when I’m singing sometimes. But the live shows are very spiritual for me.
Do you think your definition of success has changed?
Yes. I think there’s the ego’s definition of success, which is fun and sexy and seductive, and that’s all what it is. I don’t even actually view that negatively. I think it’s just the ego having its way. And then there’s the definition of success in the super ego, which is my living my purpose and my being of service. And then there’s what John Lennon alluded to when he said “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” And then the third part of my answer there is then I just look up and I notice what’s actually happening and then that becomes me being aligned. Because for a long time I just thought if I’m out of alignment, if I’m off track somehow everything’s wrong. But now I just noticed that wherever I am is the track and this is what’s happening, and if there’s anything I’m looking at these days it’s to define what enough is, because I think what can happen when fame or wealth is achieved there’s this tendency to chase it even more. So if you make a million you want to make ten million. If you make ten million, you want to make a hundred million. Then you want to be a billionaire. So it begs the question on a spiritual level what is enough, what is enough. So defining what enough is has become a way of defining what success means now for me too.