Phair Game: An Interview with Liz Phair
North Shore native Liz Phair, who made a splash in 1993 with her debut album Exile in Guyville, continues to make waves with her latest release Funstyle. Sheridan Road spoke with Liz shortly before she began her 2011 concert tour.
Sheridan Road: Your new disc Funstyle was available digitally on your website when it was first released. Did you always plan to release a physical version?
Liz Phair: Yes, always. That was part of the plan. I just needed to get that music out right then. It was a pure artistic inspiration.
SR: In “Smoke,” the opening song on Funstyle, in talking about what you want the album to be, you say, “I just think we should do something a little more Chicago.” What does “a little more Chicago” mean to you?
LP: This is a gross generalization and certainly not entirely true, but I want rockin’ good music that I can drive to, that has an American rock feel. I think what I’m trying to say is just something “rock Chicago.”
SR: Would you say that the skit-like tracks such as “Smoke,” “U Hate It,” “Beat Is Up,” and the rap on “Bollywood” reflect the influence of hip-hop on your work?
LP: Definitely! That’s a big part and no one’s asked me that. I’ve always listened to hip-hop and rap. I’m an omnivore musically, spreading my wings a little bit.
SR: Speaking of “Beat Is Up,” the character voice is very funny and very Midwestern. Did you have a Midwestern accent that you struggled to lose for your career?
LP: My mother beat it out of me from day one. I was groomed long before I had a public career. I would be talking to her about my day at school and she would be like, “Car, not cahr.
SR: Doing the voices reminded me that you’ve done some acting in the past, for example, in the movie Cherish. I was wondering if these skits were a way for you to flex those muscles again?
LP: I’m always doing voices. I have an ear and I mimic. When I was 7, we lived in England for a year. The day that we got off the plane to London, I heard the British accent and immediately went into character. I stayed in an English accent the entire year. My brother wanted to kill me. But I’ve tried to act, and I really can’t do it. I’ve gone so far down this road of individuality that I just don’t know how to do it.
SR: Funstyle includes a second disc of 10 songs from the Girlysound sessions. How would you say that your perspective on these songs has evolved over the years?
LP: There are parts of it that are so familiar. It’s like breathing, listening to that. I hear some essence of myself that’s very reassuring to me at this point. At the same time, there’s a lightness of touch and a playfulness that isn’t serious and is having fun. It’s a kind of spirit that I hope to embrace my whole life. It can be a challenge, because life is hard.
SR: Funstyle includes a second disc of 10 songs from the Girlysound sessions. Did putting these 10 Girlysound songs on CD give you a sense of closure?
LP: Possibly I’m putting something to bed to make room for the next thing. That’s how it feels to me. I heard that bell ringing, too. That’s a signal of something.
SR: Speaking of the next thing, do you think there might be a Liz Phair date at Ravinia in the near future?
LP: You know, I have to get that. That’s got to happen. I really want that to happen. I worked at Ravinia. That was my summer job for a bunch of years.
SR: Did you sing in the glee club when you were at New Trier High School?
LP: I did not, but I was a choir girl. I think I was in between an alto and a soprano. I was in the choir for a couple of years.
SR: Do you have any the favorite North Shore shopping destinations that you miss?
LP: I do like this place that just moved into Winnetka called J.McLaughlin. They’re like preppy on crack and I love it. It’s brilliant, because I grew up wearing all that stuff. We were prepped out within an inch of our lives.
SR: What about a favorite North Shore dining spot?
LP: There’s chocolate-covered bacon at D’s Haute Dogs (in Winnetka). I eat really well and half the time I’m eating raw food, but when I hit it, I hit it. I go there every time I’m in town.
SR: How often to you get back to the old Winnetka neighborhood?
LP: All the time! I come at least three times a year; a good long stretch in the summer. I bring my son home and I see all of my old friends. I do all the stuff I love.