Occupational Therapy

Alanis Morissette uses new album to climb out of 'rock bottom'

Sep 29, 2008 at 2:06 pm

Alanis Morissette has finally learned to live in the moment. The change, call it her evolution, is evident in the lyrics on her latest, Flavors of Entanglement, which you can add to the list of strangely titled albums she’s released over the past 13 years, including Under Rug Swept, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and, of course, her groundbreaking Jagged Little Pill, which has sold more than 30 million units worldwide.

“A lot of times, I’ll write a song about something that happened six months prior or even something that happened in my childhood and I’ll take on that persona and sing in the first person,” she says. “Whereas (Flavors) wrote itself with what was happening that day. I barely, if at all, needed to bring in my journal because I would just show up and write about what was going on.”

To listen to Morissette, now 34, speak about the act of writing and recording Flavors, you begin to realize it represents for her the most mature album of her career. Something happened in between the release of So-Called Chaos in 2004 and today. She calls it “rock bottom,” a “personal unraveling of a couple of very significant relationships in my life at the time.” Amongst these would, of course, be the ending of her engagement to actor Ryan Reynolds. (Don’t worry, kids, she’s dating again; Reynolds just married Scarlett Johansson.)

She says she felt like she had a 12-year-old inside of her trying to figure it all out. But the last couple of years have seen her grow up considerably.

“(Flavors) reflects some serious disassemblings in my personal life, and it’s sort of far-reaching,” Morissette says. “It reaches into my professional life. It’s like a breaking, or a broken moment captured, and then, I like to think, a phoenix rising. It allowed me to hit rock bottom in a way that I never done before. I’d always sort of bottom-dwelled, but I never really bounced off the bottom. The best news of all for me was that there is a bottom because I used to think that emotions were bottomless and, if I didn’t calibrate it, that I would be eaten whole. So now that I know that, when I surrender, there’s a bottom and I can bounce back up. I realize the only thing that there is bottomlessness to is joy. That’s a pretty big revelation for me.”

Morissette, who admits she has a habit of gazing backwards, realizes now she was in the process of shifting her perspective from the past to the present — to the moment — when she released Jagged Little Pill Acoustic and a greatest hits album, The Collection, in 2005.

“It was a nice way for me to kind of mark a milestone and a chapter and era and then kind of clean the slate for a new one,” she says. “I think there’s the same menu of emotions available to me (since Pill, but) I am less afraid of them now, whether it’s anger or fear or pain or joy or exaltation. They bowl me over a lot less, and I’m a little less reactive with them, in that I know how to channel them. In the past they would either explode or I would implode, which I think the latter is actually even sometimes more harmful, certainly to the physical self.

“The fact that songwriting is such an outlet for me is something I rely upon now. I just have more outlets for my emotions now, I would say. And I guess that’s a testament to growing up a little bit.”

Does that mean that some of her classics have lost their emotion resonance for her? Has she finally gotten past the “angry young woman” she was labeled as when she asked, “Would she go down on you in a theatre?”

“Someone said to me the other day that catharsis is not healing,” Morissette says. “I really do believe that. There’s something to be said for writing through art or performing on stage and getting it out of my body, so to speak. But it doesn’t necessarily tie the bow on what’s going on. So however many times I sing 'You Oughta Know' or however many times I sing super-emotive songs, there’s some catharsis in it and certainly there’s value in that as I see it — but it doesn’t necessarily tie it up. It kind of becomes a ‘to be continued’ in a way.”

For the first time in Morissette’s musical career, she seems to be looking expectantly forward in her songs rather than just hoping there’s something better around the corner. She can still get angry, but it just doesn’t feel the same anymore.

ALANIS MORISETTE performs Wednesday at the Taft Theatre with special guest Alexi Murdoch. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.