When Fiona Apple was younger - she's still only 22 - she had rules for herself. One was
''to always question my motives.'' Another was
''to always make myself proud of myself.'' She has struggled along the way - for years she didn't even tell her friends she was writing songs - but that changed when she sold 3 million copies of her debut album,
''Tidal,'' which came out in 1996. She was only 19 at the time.
Apple took some lumps from critics who called her a ''waif'' and said she popularized the trendy ''heroin chic'' look. But Apple threw a few jabs of her own when she got up at the MTV Video Awards in 1998 and said,
''You shouldn't model your life on what you think we think is cool, and what we're wearing and what we're saying. ... Go with yourself, go with yourself!''
The outburst got her branded a loose cannon, but she has no regrets about it.
''I am proud of myself for everything I did last time,''
she says from her new home in Los Angeles.
The famously self-reliant Apple is back with her second album, which comes out Tuesday. Its title is the longest in pop history. It's from a poem she wrote and helps sum up her world view. Although the title has already been satirized in a few publications, Apple says it's preferable to those
''three-word album titles that sound like movie names.''
Here it is: ''When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Ring There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won't Matter, Cuz You'll Know That You're Right.''
''I wrote the poem when I was on the road and getting a lot of backlash,''
she notes. ''It was a way of saying that no matter what happens, even if you do make a mistake, even if you do fall down, you do know where you stand, and it doesn't change who you are. And even if everyone says you're wrong, if you know you are right, you're still right.''
Apple is much happier this time around. She just bought a house in Los Angeles with her boyfriend, filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, who wrote and directed ''Boogie Nights'' and has a new movie, ''Magnolia,'' due in Boston early next year.
''Since I got off the road, I finally settled down and have friends and have a life now,''
says Apple. ''It's quite different from how it was before. I felt like I was in the middle of nowhere before. It's a lot more stable this way.''
Apple, who toured for two years to back her debut disc (which featured the megahit ''Sleep to Dream''), grew up on Manhattan's Upper West Side before signing a recording contract when she was 18. That came after she gave a demo to music publicist Kathy
Schenker, who works with Sting and Peter Gabriel. Schenker passed it on to Wallflowers manager Andy Slater, who loved it and opted to manage Apple's career.
An overnight success story, Apple wove magical piano-pop songs exuding street credibility. Her deep, cutting voice also belied her years. It was hard to believe that she grew up listening to mostly jazz acts and the Beatles, while never being a fan of pop radio.
''I don't listen to music at all now,'' she says. ''That makes it feel strange sometimes, because music is really not a part of my life unless I'm doing it.''
Nor did she attend many concerts as a youth - she only recalls seeing Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross, and she sat far away in both cases.
''I just did not understand why anybody would want to go and be there when they could listen [at home] and actually hear the music. ... And that still enters my mind when I am on stage. It's like, `I don't understand why they are here, because some of them are obviously having trouble hearing and seeing me.'''
Apple had no frame of reference when she started playing her own shows after her debut CD took off.
''I had to improvise a lot because I had never performed before,'' she says.
''It just seemed impossible to think, `Oh my God, I'm going to have to go on stage and carry a show.' ... I would ask my bandmates about what other people do. Do they talk between songs? When I first went out, I felt really weird and fake for a while.''
Apple, who won't tour until February (though she'll likely do some radio-sponsored Christmas shows), is feeling much more confident these days. However, the new album, like its predecessor, still has a lot of moody love songs, though the quality is again high. And there's only one
''happy-ending song,'' she says. It's ''I Know,'' a string-laden ballad that could fit into Carly Simon's songbook. Otherwise, the tunes don't rock as hard as those on the first album but are better crafted, with help from ingenious producer/multiinstrumentalist Jon Brion, the former Bostonian who has worked with Aimee Mann.
The album, with expanded sound textures and strings, should smash any notion of a sophomore jinx. Still, it's surprising that, despite her success, there's only one happy-ending tune. That's because, like many other writers, Apple works best when she's upset rather than in bliss. That's reflected in the new single, ''Fast As You Can,'' with its admission, ''I may be soft in your palms, but I'll soon grow hungry for a fight.''
''It's like getting angry and kicking a hole in your wall,'' she says of composing songs.
''When I write, it's usually because something has'' angered her.
''I'll sit down at the piano and feel better about it.''
Writing as therapy, then?
''Yes,'' she says. ''And the fact that it's become a career is just a very profitable side effect. But you know what? I'd be doing it anyway.''