Fiona Apple
HotStar of the Week

PollStar    Nov '96

Almost as soon as Fiona Apple uncovered her hidden desire to pursue a music career, she happened upon a manager to guide her through the unknown waters and scored a record deal with Sony's WORK Group label.  Her business team must have seen a jewel in the rough when it came to the 19-year-old singer/songwriter; they embraced her talents before she even performed in front of an audience.  And to this day, they have never asked her to be anything but herself.

Apple has always been a loner.  Growing up in New York, she spent a lot of time alone in her bedroom. She's been playing piano and writings songs to express herself since age 8.   She cites poet Maya Angelou as her sole influence.

Perhaps it was fate that brought her talents to the attention of manager/producer Andy Slater.  In listening to the then-17-year-old's demo tape at a holiday party, he thought someone must have been playing a joke on him.  The deep insight of Apple's songs along with her sultry alto voice makes her sound like a much older, experienced woman.

The truth is, Apple was a frightened girl who had just gotten up the courage to admit her greatest desire -- a music career.  "I was afraid of admitting my dreams to anybody else because I felt that once I admitted them, they would be watching me and expecting me to do something about it and expecting me to succeed," Apple told PollStar.   "And I couldn't work under that kind of pressure. I also couldn't admit it to myself for the same reasons."  The thought of failure was too painful for her to deal with.  "I was just not confident enough as a person or as a musician to subject myself to that possibility.  It was too risky for me as a little girl."

Apple came to a crossroads when her school in New York unexpectedly closed down.  She previously spent a year going to school in California, where her dad lives, but hated it.  She didn't want to go back but said she felt a voice telling her to go to California.   "And I just had the instinct to follow that," she said.  "I felt like maybe I should trust the way that life goes naturally.  And I did and thank God."

It was there that Apple and her father took a meeting with Andy Slater of H.K. Management.  Neither knew anything about the music business so they were guarded, figuring they'd end up meeting with dozens of managers before finding the right one.  But they were wrong.   Apple said, "We left after two hours and I remember pulling out of the garage and looking at [my dad] and we just nodded to each other.  We were like, 'Yeah, that's the guy.'"  Slater, who doubles as Apple's producer, has become much more than her business advisor.  "I didn't have any friends [in L.A.] so I basically just hung out with Andy all the time and he's now like one of my best friends in the world," she said.  "I can't create anybody in my mind that would be more perfect to work with."

Slater wasted no time in finding a record deal for Apple.  During their first meeting, he asked his prospective client if she had any more songs.  "I said, 'Um yeah,' and I lied.   I didn't have anymore songs.  And we made demos of those songs, one of which was "Shadowboxer" (Apple's first single) and he brought the demo to Sony and they signed me [to the WORK Group].  It was just kind of simple," she said. "Really, it's like I came right out of my bedroom in New York to Sony."

It's been said that the normal rules for making a music career, such as building a fan base, don't apply to Apple's career.  But she said she's definitely paid her dues, just not in the same way everyone else has.  "I haven't paid my dues in that I've played in clubs for years and years but I paid my dues by living the life that gave birth to the songs.   And I'm paying my musical dues now," she said. "I takes a while to get used to being on stage and to decide what you like to do on stage to get comfortable with moving during the songs.  And you can't rush that kind of stuff... And it goes for everything about this business, not just being on stage but with interviews and photo shoots and traveling around and just being this person.  And I didn't have any practice for it so I've had to really just kind of grow up in front of everybody."

Apple's first performance was last May during the Sony road show in Paris.  It was in front of "an audience of 700 executives that were there to judge me," she said.  "So that's not so easy."  In fact, she had an emotional breakdown after that performance. "At the time, I was giving the reason to people around me that I thought I sucked, that I did badly.  But in retrospect, I think that it was really just an emotional outpour of something."  She said it was opening a door to a whole new era of her life.

Indeed, Apple has had a lot to adjust to in a short time. Just a year ago, she was a kid in New York.   "I was just sitting in my room writing songs and now all of the sudden, I live on a bus with eight men and I have to be a model at some times and I have to be an actress at other times and I always kind of have to be on when they ask me to be on," she said. "It certainly drags out a lot in you that you didn't know was there."

At the same time, being that Apple knows exactly nothing about the music business, she said she's been lucky to end up with such an understanding business team.  "I thought for sure these people are gonna try to change what I'm writing, they're gonna try to change what I'm wearing, they're gonna try to change everything about me and create something out of me.   But really, I've never been told anything like that.  I always had the last word on everything with the music and with what I do with myself," she said. "That's just like the hugest stroke of luck that anybody could ask for 'cause I'm well aware that's not always the case."

Luck or not, Apple never thought she'd make it this far.  She said whether the masses glom on her music at this point is out of her hands.  In her mind, she's already made her success.   "I've been writing this stuff and no one had been hearing it and it was just my person l psychological need to be heard.  So my success came when I made the album because that was the part that I worked on."  She said everything else is out of her hands.  "If I'm successful based on the fact that people like me and people are reached by my music, then that's a further success for me.  But a lot of the success that I might experience is due to the marketing and people who write about me and the people who are working for me to get me interviewed and to get my pictures in places.   That's not really my doing so this kind of commercial success I can't really take credit for inside."

Apple recently finished a stint opening for Chris Isaak in the States and a short tour of France. She'll finish the year doing radio station-sponsored Christmas concerts. Dan Weiner at Monterey Peninsula Artists is responsible for bookings in the U.S.   fin