Whatever Happened To Fiona Apple? Online Campaign Tries To Find Out

Singer's third LP has been languishing since May of 2003.

It’s been almost six years since the world has heard new music from Fiona Apple.

A multitude of devoted fans has been waiting for something new from the singer since the 1999 release of her garrulously titled sophomore disc, When the Pawn …

Apple, now 27, emerged on the scene in 1996 as a precocious 19-year-old with an array of confessional piano-driven songs, some of which she penned when she was all of 16 years old.

However, Apple’s third record, Extraordinary Machine, completed in May 2003, has been gathering dust on Sony’s shelves, according to Jon Brion, the album’s producer. Label executives allegedly don’t consider it commercial enough for release, and thus a long and mostly uneventful silence has followed.

One person hoping to change all that — 21-year-old Apple aficionado Dave Muscato — has built a Web site and online campaign to help free the LP from record-label limbo.

“I’ve loved her music ever since [her debut, Tidal] came out in 1996,” Muscato said. “I’m curious myself to hear it, but more importantly, I hate to see creativity and art oppressed by money issues.”

The enterprising Muscato has devoted his own time and money to running the Free Fiona Web site (www.freefiona.com), and launched a campaign on Monday, as part of its “Free Fiona” week, that will culminate on Friday in a protest outside of Sony’s New York offices. Muscato and his volunteers have also ordered 1,500 apples and sent them to Andrew Lack, Chairman and CEO of Sony/ BMG Music. Muscato also said the demonstration will also have a “surprise” he won’t divulge.

“I understand that this is a business decision, not a personal one, but I think [Sony] is wrong,” Muscato said, noting that both of Apple’s albums have been multiplatinum successes. “The album will sell if it’s released. She has a strong enough fanbase that they’ll make their money back … if that’s their main concern.”

But even before Apple’s record was allegedly shelved by Sony, it began to take on a myth of its own.

“That’s just because of one stupid [New York Times article, about the album's prolonged recording], which was very far from factual,” said Brion.

“When I worked with [Apple], it was merely over the course of one year, six months of which we weren’t working.” Apple and Brion recorded five songs in three weeks, then took six months off and then reconvened to finish the album. “Over a five-month period, we were working at a house, and pretty much it was waiting around for her to write each new song.

“As the deadline loomed, she had nothing and eventually she had [an ultimatum],” Brion recalled of the singer’s struggles with writer’s block. “She would cram like a college student on a test and we’d work for a few days frantically on that song. And then [that] became the process.”

After hearing the finished product, and not hearing any potential radio hits, an unsatisfied Sony asked for another single. Brion and Apple presented them with what the producer described as “another great Fiona Apple song,” but the label still did not see radio possibility.

“The record company wants ‘Criminal’ junior and Fiona doesn’t offer that up,” Brion said. “She wrote that stuff when she was 16 and she’s now in her mid-20s. She’s extremely intelligent and writes this beautiful, really emotionally involved stuff that’s very musical — lots of chord changes, very involved melodies, intensely detailed lyrics. It’s just not the obvious easy sell to them.”

Last year, two tracks from Extraordinary Machine leaked online, the orchestral title track and the bouncy “A Better Version of Me.” Both bear Brion’s mark and sound like what might happen if Apple sung her lyrics over an eccentric and theatrical pop song from one of Brion’s many inventive film scores (which include “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Punch Drunk Love”).

Brion said approximately a dozen songs were recorded for the album, and he’s confident that people will hear it some day.

“Eventually [Machine] will come out,” he said. “People who do understand her and get what she’s about are going to be thrilled. Is all this going make radio play it? Probably not. Does she care? No.”

Rumors circulated that a retooled and remixed version of Machine (without Brion) was finally going to see release in February, but there’s no sign of the record on Sony’s release schedule. Representatives for Sony did not comment at press time, or respond to requests for an interview with Apple.