Fiona Takes Control
LA Times   
Nov 9  '99

 by Robert Hilburn

After the success and backlash from 'Tidal,' Apple returns--older, wiser and with a self-assured second album. 

Fiona Apple, who was widely perceived as the enfant terrible of mid-'90s pop, steps into the Sunset Strip office of her manager and promptly declares that she's "pissed off."  Isn't this where we left off two years ago?  Apple is a richly talented young singer-songwriter, but one reason she got so much media attention after the 1996 release of her Grammy-winning, triple-platinum debut album, "Tidal," was her volatility.
Not only were her compelling, sexually charged, nakedly personal songs unusual coming from a 19-year-old, but she also startled the pop world with comments on the MTV Video Music Awards show about how screwed up the show-business world is.


However, the word is that Apple has matured in her time away from the spotlight. The songs on her new, 90-word-titled album (in stores today) certainly suggest a new self-esteem and command.


So why is she so upset this afternoon?
It turns out that she's not. Apple, 22, is just having fun with her old image. There was a mix-up down in the lobby and she got shut out of the elevator. She laughs as she relays the story.
In an interview, Apple speaks with a newfound confidence about the tensions of those earlier days as well as the changes in her music, including--surprise--her first love song. Her beau: "Boogie Nights" director Paul Thomas Anderson.

Question: From a distance, it seemed like you were caught up in an emotional tidal wave after your first album. How did you feel personally at the end of the cycle?
Answer: I felt a lot of different things. I felt invigorated in a way, because I was very proud of what I had accomplished with my music. But I was also exhausted. Everything happened so fast, and I was so young. I made this demo, then got signed and then was on the road touring for 19 months. . . . At the end, I was so drained that I didn't know if I wanted to ever go through it all again. . . . One thing that bothered me was that I don't think a lot of the attention I got was for the music.

Q: What do you mean?
A: It's weird. There was just so much attention about me rather than the music--and a lot of it was pretty ugly.

Q: But you got lots of good reviews, didn't you?
A: I was just looking at a [favorable] review of the new album in Rolling Stone and it says, "If you were hoping she would crash and burn with this next album--and admit it you were. . . . " It is like they're basically [saying] to everyone that if you didn't remember her at all, we're just going to confirm that you all hate her.

Q: Do you think lots of people hated you?
A: Yes, and it's hard to take. It's hard to go on and do your work.

Q: But doesn't the fact that you sold 3 million albums bring you some comfort? Doesn't that suggest people recognize the quality of your work?
A: Not really, because I don't have so much respect for a lot of stuff that is out there right now, stuff that is selling well, so it doesn't make much sense to gauge myself by that.

I told myself I didn't ever have to make another album, and I wouldn't have made this one except that I eventually discovered that I did have things I wanted to say. 

I watched my video come on "Total Request Live" on MTV and it was the weirdest feeling 'cause I felt really good when my video came on, then I saw some of the other stuff they were playing. . . . 

Q: But you must get lots of letters of support or meet fans who tell you that your music is important to them. Doesn't that help?
A: Yes, and the fans are great, really supportive. I think all the backlash just makes the people who are supportive all the more supportive.

Q: Did you really seriously consider not making another album?
A: I didn't even play the piano for like six months after the tour. I didn't want to force myself to write songs by setting any [artificial] deadline. That's what's wrong with a lot of people's second albums. There's the old story that you have all these years to write your first album, and just six months to write the second one. Well, you don't just have six months. You have as long as you want.

When you force yourself to make an album in six months, it's usually weak because you are putting yourself under such pressure that it can interfere with the creative process. I told myself I didn't ever have to make another album, and I wouldn't have made this one except that I eventually discovered that I did have things I wanted to say. But it wasn't until I had about seven songs that I started to think, "OK, I do want to make another record."

Q: The person in many of the songs on "Tidal" was insecure and defensive, and she seemed to be striking out at the world. This time the person in most of the songs seems more comfortable with herself. Is that reflective of your own changes?
A: The primary difference [between the two albums] is the person in these songs wasn't as afraid. That's why everything is a bit more straightforward.

Q: What about the long album title? Is it supposed to be sarcastic, or is it supposed to be a statement?
A: It's both. Part of it is sarcastic because I couldn't come up with a title for the record. But it's actually a poem I wrote after I read these nasty letters about me in Spin. I had been on the road for months and months and I was so tired--and I just needed to write something down to clarify the way I felt. It's what I do when I'm pissed off. I'll write a song. But I didn't have a piano on the bus, so I just wrote the poem and I thought it made sense as a title. Besides, I thought, I'll have all these words on the cover so it won't just have a picture of me.

Q: You seem to still have reservations about the demands of the pop life.
A: I'm still [wrestling] with that. I'm proud of the album, which is why I have to go and play the [promotion] game for a while. But if I'm not having fun and if I can't learn to brush off getting railed by people I don't know and who don't know me, then forget it. There are so many people who make albums who don't try to get them on MTV. If I wasn't doing so much promotion, I figure, I wouldn't be getting so much backlash, so I can still make my music and even tour without being so much [in the spotlight]. I could just play clubs.

Q: On a more upbeat note, how does it feel to be in love?
A: It makes me extremely happy . . . to have found someone who can be my friend and someone I can talk to. It makes it easier to handle everything that goes on.

Q: Did you play the songs for him after you wrote them to get some feedback?
A: No. I never play anything for anybody before it's done.

Q: How can you resist trying them out on him?
A: I just never do it. I don't like anybody's input. The only input I want is in the form of inspiration.

Q: It sounds like there clearly was inspiration for "I Know." How does it feel, after the turmoil outlined in the first album, to finally be able to write a love song?
A: It was a nice feeling. I don't want to say it's just a love song because there are other things going into the song, but the general feeling was, yes, about feeling in love and being part of something, and that's wonderful.