Q & A with Fiona Apple
    Jul  '97

by Brantley Bardin

Q.  First off, I was amazed that you -- Miss Sensitive Singer-Songwriter USA -- appeared on "The Howard Stern Show."  Were you terrified?

A.  Not at all.  I think what he does with humor and crassness I do with sensitivity, sullen-ness and music.  Everything that I feel I shouldn't say, I have to say -- and he does the same thing.

Q.  Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that you like Howard, since I understand you're pals with Marilyn Manson too.

A.  He's great.  The funniest sound I've heard in the past year is when Mom yelled, "Sweetie, Marilyn Manson's on the phone!"

Q.  "Coming Mom!" Listen, fourteen months ago you were an unknown who had never been on a stage.  Then you made a demo, got a deal three months later, recorded Tidal, and now you're an MTV goddess who tours the world.   And you're only nineteen.  How did it happen?

A.  I heard a voice telling me to go to California and make a demo.  I told my sister this but she was not paying attention to me, 'cause sometimes she doesn't listen to me.

Q.  Now , because of the depth of songs like "Sullen Girl," you’re forever being pegged as "wise beyond your years."

A.  I always say that I'm not wise beyond my years -- I'm wise maybe beyond other people's nineteen years.

Q.  But you grew up in New York City, were in therapy at ten, and raped at twelve.   That’s not the most idyllic childhood.

A.  When Welcome To The Dollhouse came out, my shrink said, "You gotta see it -- it's you!"  But everybody's childhood is a big, long snake pit.  I mean, I liked spending time by myself, and people saw that as weird.  If you're a middle-aged man sitting around and you're quiet, you look contemplative.  But if you're a ten-year-old sitting quietly and drawing witches in your sketchbook, you look like a problem.  And I got made fun of a lot.  I remember the first time I took the bus by myself in the city to go to a horse-back riding lesson.  All the eighth-grade boys were there, saying I was ugly, and one guy wouldn't stop, so I took my riding crop and whacked him across the face.

Q.  You had a nickname back then, right?

A.  I was compared to my sister Amber a lot, and she was officially named the Queen at school, and I was officially the Dog.

Q.  Officially?

A.  Officially by the eighth-grade boys, which is official enough.  I figured I was so ugly that I needed plastic surgery.  But if you're ten years old, no one's gonna give it to you, so I created something called the natural face-lift:  Every night before I went to bed, I'd look in the mirror and use my hands to move my face around to make it really nice.  Then I'd lie down with my hands still holding my face in position.  I thought that if skulls are still soft when you're young, you can change your face.  I even thought of marketing the idea.

Q.  No wonder you ended up in therapy.

A.  What happened there was that one day everybody was making fun of me and I said, "I'm gonna kill myself and bring my sister with me!" I so remember seeing my fifth-grade teacher looking down in horror, like "Oh my God, she's going to kill herself and her beautiful sister -- we can't have that!" They brought me in and said, "You're showing signs of depression." I admit it wasn’t completely unfounded.

Q.  Now that you're considered an artiste and a hot babe, do you feel revenged?

A.  No -- I feel at peace with all that stuff.  Well, maybe I do feel revenge and just don't recognize it -- maybe the reason why I feel at peace is that I've got my revenge.

Q.  Like with "Sleep To Dream"? What's that about?

A.  I started writing it when I was fourteen.   It's about an asshole -- an old boyfriend. "Pale September"?  That's about a guy who went out with my sister's best friend and he lost his virginity in my bed with her.  Then I went out with him.

Q.  Hmmm.  Tell me, is Fiona a family name?

A.  It's from Brigadoon.  My mother loves that movie.  When I was little, my mom nicknamed me Filet of Fiona, because I'm double-jointed and have no bones.  I used to take my feet and bend them around my head and chew on them all day.

Q.  You're a Patti Smith song come to life.

A.  I don't know her.

Q.  What? I love this.

A. I'm telling you, I don't know shit about music.  My musical roots mainly come from The Real Book.  It's a book of jazz standards I found at home on my mom's shelf, and on each page it'd say, This is so-and-so's song as sung by Billie Holliday or Ella Fitzgerald.  I'd teach myself the songs without hearing them, then I'd buy the albums and see if I'd gotten it right.

Q.  I wonder if Alanis and Tori -- who you're forever being compared to -- were as clever.  What do you think of that comparison, anyway?

A.  I can explain that right here, right now.  Alanis -- we're both white, have long hair parted down the middle, and we're young people who get angry sometimes.  It ends there.  Tori Amos -- two words: piano, rape.   They're unintelligent comparisons.

Q.  Okay, let's talk about…the rape.

A.  This guy followed me into our apartment building.   After, I remember thinking not "Why did this have to happen to me?" but "Why did something else have to happen?" All I could think was "Now I have to go back to therapy."  It was like, first they'd sent me because they thought I was suicidal, then they'd sent me because they thought I was on drugs -- which I wasn't -- and now I was gonna have to go back because I got raped.

Q.  Did you feel cursed?

A.  Yeah, and that's part of the reason why I say that I justify my own existence by doing music.  I think the fact that I thought I was gonna die during the rape and then didn't, and the fact that the day after the rape was Thanksgiving -- which was very symbolic to me -- made me feel like I had to do something with my experiences to make them worth something.

Q.  Your songs are so raw -- isn't it painful to sing them night after night?

A.  Everyone thinks, because my music is so personal, that it hurts me to get out there and expose myself.  But it hurts more to keep it inside, because that's when I feel ashamed of who I am.  You know, I spent all those years with people sending me into therapy saying I was crazy and I felt ashamed of what was inside.  And this is my way of saying "Fuck you.  I'm not ashamed; I'm emotional, I'm a freak. That's who I am -- what's wrong with it?"  fin