Why Liz Phair's Next Album Remains Unfinished, Part 1

Liz live in San Francisco last year. Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

Everybody's heard of the sophomore slump, that nasty

creature that greets musicians like a slap in the face, tearing their egos back

to earth after initial success. But the Junior Slump? Or, in Liz Phair's case,

(if you count the stop-gap "Juvenalia" EP), the Senior Slump? Okay, so her

third full-length CD remains a work in progress, but after speaking with her

over the phone last week (Feb. 13) you'll have to excuse us if we wring our

hands a bit while patiently waiting. ATN Chicago correspondent Gil Kaufman

caught up with Ms. Liz for an interview (parts of which ran in his weekly

column, "Raw Material," in Chicago's NewCity, wherein Guyville's

ex-citizen talked about the new CD, working with Scott Litt, not working with

Brad Wood, the "bedroom rumor," the deep meaning behind her work and "The

Faraway Look." Here is Part 1 of Kaufman's report:

The current status of

Phair's CD is this: after a month straight of 16 hour days, six days a week,

during which Phair and Litt pounded out at least 12 tracks that might

eventually see the light of day, Phair bolted for Chicago with the tapes and

plans to start over again, sort of. "Right now I've got this Mackie board,

which is basically an 8-track studio that can be bounced back onto 2" tape and

a Tascam DA-88 DAT recording device, all in boxes upstairs, unopened," says

Phair, after less than a week back. "Scott set me up with all this stuff before

I left L.A. and now I'm just waiting to get an engineer over here to put it all

together." Phair said that both herself and Litt want to create something

"new," it's just that thus far they haven't come up with something that both

are happy with. "Everyone is trying to make their vision happen and I'm trying

to get to the point where I can do that," said Phair. "I desperately want to do

something new that sounds different for me, and so does Scott, we just couldn't

agree on what that was."

Phair says she felt the sessions were getting

bogged down, for a number of reasons. "For a while we had a guy come in to do

my guitar parts, which didn't work out at all because it just doesn't make

sense, and I didn't like it anyway." Next on the list of glitches was the

dreaded "bedroom rumor." "I have this attitude," Phair says, "It's partially an

inability to sing in front of other people...

"You know the whole bedroom

rumor about me?" she continues. "That I do better... My demos were made in my

bedroom... That I'm more rock and roll when no one else is around? I have a

much lighter attitude and I prefer the way my vocal takes are when I'm alone."

It rings a bell, I say. So, Phair has done it again, retreated to her bedroom,

that is, to essentially re-demo the Litt-produced tracks and add in what she's

calling an "experimental" element.

"Scott took the 12 songs that we tracked

and I'm going to put them on my board, and then on top of this, which feels too

organized for me now, too clean, I will overdub experimental stuff," Phair

says, still not quite explaining what she means by experimental. What is comes

down to, she says, is that Litt, understandably, didn't want to sit in the

studio and watch Phair noodle around for an indeterminate amount of time, so,

he sent her to her room. Before this circuitous route of demo, clean, demo,

clean starts to sound like a serious case of perfectionist-itis, Phair explains

that this is actually the way she's always wanted to create music. "It went

form rough and sloppy to too clean and now I'm going to try and rough it up

again and then clean it up after that," she says. "I'm not re-recording the

whole thing, just building new layers on top, because, in a way, I always

thought that what would be really good for my music would be a very structured

bed, which Scott is good at creating, overlaid with my more sloppy tendencies."

Phair admits that her favorite work is often too sloppy for most people's taste

and part of the stalling process is aimed at finding a way to accommodate both

tendencies.

"Just how sloppy are we talking about?" I ask her.

"It's

spontaneous. I like to just make up a line. Sometimes I'll mumble the line and

it just sounds phonetic." Then, dipping into the naughty girl language and

attitude that blossomed on Exile In Guyville, Phair adds, "I like fuck

ups. I like to leave fuck ups in and I get shit for it all the time. I'll take

a vocal take that sounds like the attitude I want, the person I want to

portray, over whether it was performed correctly, so to speak." To that end,

Phair says she wants the new record to explode the mid-range, to swing from

really heavily-produced songs to totally off-the-cuff tunes, with some that

marry the two, but never settling for the mid-, safe-range "crap."

Frustrated, Phair moans, "I'm looking for this sound that I can't describe

because it's supposed to sound new. I know everyone says that, but all I can

think about is this new sound."

(To be continued...)