Alanis Morissette is calm, friendly and all smiles as she sits for an interview in a stark room in the depths of Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, just 35 minutes before she opens for Matchbox Twenty. Other less seasoned or less confident musicians might be distracted throughout the conversation, worried that there wouldn’t be time left to review the set list or get their makeup retouched. Most, understandably, would refuse to do press in the hour leading up to a concert. Morissette, however, doesn’t appear stressed at all. One would think she had all day to chat about her forthcoming album, Flavors of Entanglement, and ongoing “recovery journey.”
With the exception of two innocuous dance-pop albums the Ottawa native made as a teenager, Morissette’s songwriting style has always been introspective and cathartic. Her emotionally tortured confessionals on 1995’s Jagged Little Pill garnered four Grammys and sold a staggering 31 million albums. Her follow-up album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, in 1998 was more peaceful, inspired by a spiritual sojourn in India. In 2002, she once again explored her insecurities, quest for love and views on the state of the world on Under Rug Swept. But with the release of So-Called Chaos in 2004, it seemed that Morissette had finally found love and happiness.
So, what does her latest work reveal? Flavors of Entanglement was produced and co-written by Britain’s Guy Sigsworth, but the lyrics are what we’ve come to expect from Morissette: beautiful and heartbreaking, conflicted and playful. The central theme of the album is growing up and taking responsibility for your life. Morissette – who turns 34 this June – says it’s also about recovery. She is vague about what she’s actually recovering from this time around, but the lyrics provide some clues. You don’t have to be a celebrity sleuth to figure out that her ex, Ryan Reynolds, is the likely muse for “Torch” and “Not As We.” The pair announced their split in February 2007, and Reynolds is now involved with Scarlett Johansson. Lines like “I miss your smell and your style and your pure abiding way” and “I miss your neck and your gait and your sharing what you write” from the song “Torch” offer tender insights into her post-breakup state – at least, at the time she wrote them.
“‘Torch’ is the I-miss-you song,” says Morissette, who appears to be over it now. “It’s about grieving specific things. I wrote it over a year ago, so thankfully there’s some distance. I don’t ever talk about who it’s about, but I think you can draw your own conclusions,” she says, laughing.While other stars might believe that the media’s intrusive behaviour is largely to blame for failed relationships, Morissette doesn’t. But she doesn’t court the spotlight either, as many L.A.-based actors and musicians do. “I see a lot of people that make it work, but I don’t want to be in the public eye to that extent,” she says. “It’s not my favourite thing. But in the same breath, I don’t mind sharing aspects of my life with people, and that includes my relationships. I think it’s a social act to share what’s going on in your life.”
There are other hints of Morissette’s struggle to get over the breakup and return to single life on the mournful track “Not As We”: “Reborn and shivering / Spat out on new terrain” and the chorus “Day one day one start over again / …I’m faking it till I’m pseudo making it / From scratch being again but this time I as I / And not as we.”
The song is ultimately about rebirth, but it also captures “a fantastic rock-bottom moment,” says Morissette. “I’ve had so many of those moments in my life, but I didn’t necessarily bounce up as high right after them. This one was the biggest bounce.” If you think about celebrity flame-outs, the very public downward spirals of Britney, Paris and Lindsay come to mind, so how did Morissette keep hers so private? With the exception of the Reynolds relationship, since becoming one of the biggest selling female solo artists in the world at the age of 21, she has stayed out of the tabloids and only graced the media in a positive light: for her music, her acting (from Nip/Tuck to Sex and the City to this month’s release of Radio Free Albemuth), her humour (the indie video sensation “My Humps”) and her causes (environmental and human rights).So, what exactly is a “rock-bottom moment” for this talented, wealthy and wise woman? “It’s about completely losing your shit and realizing that your life is utterly unmanageable based on how it was being navigated until that moment,” she says. “I think ‘rock bottom’ is when there is no more sense of control. I used to think, ‘Oh, I can get myself out of this,’ but when you bottom out, it’s a beautiful surrender; it’s that proverbial, suicidal ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ moment. Many times, it has a lot to do with addictions.”
In her case, Morissette rattles off a list, including “workaholism, food addiction, sex addiction, love addiction and substance addiction.” She is in a good headspace now but says she’s definitely a work in progress. As for finding new love, she realizes that she isn’t an easy catch. “I’m too exhausting to be loved,” “a volatile chemical” and “best to quarantine and cut off,” she declares on the track “Tapes.” Today, she laughs at those lines. “I think I need a lot more experience at acting like an adult under my belt!” she says.
You get a sense of her personal transformation in the melancholic but hopeful lyrics of “Incomplete,” which is set to a lilting melody: “One day I’ll be at peace / I’ll be enlightened / And I’ll be married with children and maybe adopt.” “My vision is to grow up a little bit more,” explains Morissette. “I haven’t been emotionally ready for marriage – and I’m still not. I think I’d like to have kids in my late 30s, but who knows when that will actually happen? I’m still on a recovery journey, but I don’t think there’s any arrival point, which is partly what ‘Incomplete’ is about. I thought there would be a finish line: I’d arrive, high-five everybody and be done.”
At this point, there’s a knock on the door. Her publicist has come to end the interview. “Am I on in, like, 10 minutes?” she asks, laughing, as she casually heads out the door to her dressing room. And, sure enough, at 7:45 p.m. sharp, Morissette emerges onstage, now wearing a sparkly top – remarkably, she found time to change.