Why Liz Phair's Next Album Remains Unfinished, Part 2

Last album, Phair hit the old sophomore slump. This time, she's searchin' for a "new sound."

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." When we left

Phair yesterday, she was explaining why she had packed her bags and headed back

to Chicago, after a frustrating experience trying to record an album in L. A.

with Scott Litt. Phair told Kaufman she was searching for that elusive "new

sound." Here is Part 2 of Kaufman's report: "Okay," I say, finally, "If you

can't get any more specific [about the 'new sound'], can you at least dish some

dirt on Scott Litt?"

"He's been really great through all this," Phair

says, bursting my bubble. "We really got along." Phair says she specifically

wanted to work with Litt because of her need to work with someone who knows a

lot more than she does about structuring sound. "I want to take it to a level

that I don't have any expertise in and that's the creation of these soundscapes

that Scott is so good at," she says. Then what was the problem, I wonder?

"Do you think he came in with some pre-conceived notions of what you

should sound like?" I ask, in a last ditch effort to start the mud flying.

"Totally. Totally. In fact, that's what we ended up fighting about. It's

like we both have distinct visions of what I should sound like."

"So what

was his?" I ask.

Phair hiccups sarcastically, "I don't know, I really

couldn't say." Sensing a juicy tit-for-tat (pardon the expression) brewing, I

suggest maybe they just rubbed each other the wrong way. "No, it wasn't like

that. It was more like I just wanted to get my hands on the board," she says

flirtatiously.

Speaking of producer clashes (well, I was anyway), I wonder

why Brad Wood and his Idful studios compatriots weren't tapped for this

project. I ask Phair what her relationship is with the producer who helped

massage the sounds that made her a cover girl. "We never talk," she says dryly,

a touch of sadness in her voice.

"Why do you think that is?"

Phair

laughs as if the answer should be obvious and says, "Gee...I don't know, just

because...I don't know." I ask her if there's any interest in working with Wood

at all, if not now, in the near future. "No, not really. Because I want to do

something different. I worked with him as much as I wanted to and by the end we

were grumbling anyway," she says, trying hard to make the clean break she

didn't the first time. "To me it seemed totally natural to call it quits. Look,

I have an finite number of people I can be committed to for a long period of

time and when it comes to work, I want to make sure I'm expanding. I was a

working artist before them and I don't see them as the people," Phair stumbles

for the words, obviously a bit rankled, then says, "everyone else does because

no one knew of me before I worked with them, but I was making all the demos

that got me the Matador deal before I even worked with Brad." Sensing she has

maybe been a bit harsh, Phair retreats a fraction and credits Wood for having

worked with her when her initial success happened, even backwardly suggesting

he may have been a key to the success "at that time or whatever," but then

re-iterating that they just didn't have anywhere left to go, case

closed.

Okay, how about some song titles? Here's what she has so far: "Oh

My God," "Ride," "Russian Girl," "Stuck on an Island/Crash the Car," (she's not

sure which it will be yet) "White Bird of Texas," "I'm Like That," That's the

Way I Like It," (not, the KC and the Sunshine band song she assures me, but

more of a "Beck song, but a "bitchin' Moby remix" isn't out of the question),

and "Headache," her favorite so far. Phair assures me that "these are all great

songs." She says she wrote the majority of the songs, over 30 of them, last

summer when she went to Michigan to cat-sit for some family friends who were in

Russia. Just her and her 8-track and the trees. Wanting to loop a conceptual

theme through the songs, Phair hit upon the idea of a religious album,

"something where there's a god and then the fall, like some little Lucifer game

thing." Something really "deep and intellectual" she says, and then laughs at

her (perhaps too) lofty goals.

I wonder if having a concept is really that

important if the songs are top-notch. "I'm trying, I really am. I keep trying

to bend it to my will, but to a certain extent, if you do that, you might be

shooting yourself in the foot." Phair continues to pine for a meaning, she

wishes she could do a musical Hamlet, she says, her tongue seemingly out of

cheek.

(To be concluded

tomorrow.)