Fiona Apple -  feeling gravity's pull
MTV  · 
Nov  '99

  by Chris Connelly

Chris Connelly: A "welcome back" seems in order, doesn't it?

Fiona Apple: Yeah, I guess so. It felt like coming back when I got to the airport, and I heard somebody be, like, "There she is!" and then there's a camera with a light and stuff, and I just kinda felt really weird. I was all, like, airport gross.

Connelly: Was it hard to want to re-enter this thing? Did you want to take more time off, or were you ready to go back in and start working when the time came?

Apple: When I got off the road, I took, like, six or eight months where I didn't do anything, and I didn't, like, really play piano or anything like that, and I just didn't think about it at all, 'cause I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I wasn't sure I wanted to come back. I wasn't sure, I wasn't sure, and I took some time, and I didn't really think about anything like re-entering it, and then, after a few months, you just kind of forget what it was like. So I just kind of naturally started writing songs again, and then once I wrote songs the decision is made, 'cause if you write songs and you're proud of them, then you kind of have to do something with them.

Connelly: What sort of image do you think you had when you left the road that time? What did people think of you?

Apple: It depends on where they were looking. If they were going to a lot of shows and not really reading a lot, then they probably had a lot truer view of me.

Connelly: What was the wrongheaded view of you, in your mind?

Apple: That I'm just, like, a sad brat with no sense of humor, you know?

Connelly: You could sort of sense that out there from the stuff you would read and from the response you would get to people?

Apple: Well, yeah. Didn't you? [Laughs]

Connelly: I know what you're referring to.

Apple: It's a really weird feeling to be, like, reading a piece on yourself, and then see the letters that come after it, and kind of agree with the letters, because the way you came off in a piece was kind of like a moron, or kind of ridiculously. But man, that was not my fault, you know? I can talk two hours in an article, there'll be like two quotes to corroborate whatever the writer was going to write anyway. And that just happened with me a lot, and I don't really know what the reason was.

Connelly: Did you feel very exposed on the basis of your personal history? Did you feel you had given a lot of yourself away?

Apple: Yeah, but that was mine, that was my... I mean, I did that. So the things that I've done that, like, kind of slap me in the face, I can deal with that. That doesn't give me any anger. But I've had cases where, like, I've just been set up, because it's like, "We're going to do this issue of our magazine, and she's a great one to make into the little terror child, and I'm sure we can get her to say something we can blow up into a pull quote. I'm sure we can rile her up." And it could.

Connelly: Did you, any part of you, sort of enjoy being a little provocative, though, in the things you would say publicly towards the end of your run last time?

Apple: No, but cause I was honestly not doing it to be provocative, I was, like, being selfish for everything. I have selfish reasons for doing anything that I do, and my selfish reasons are just to teach myself lessons. Speak when I have something to say, just so that whether I'm in this business or someplace else, 20 years from now, that I've trained myself to be outspoken.

I didn't really read the press that came after what I would say for a long time. I just kind of was like, "Oh, if I get into that head, I'm just gonna become fake." And so I wouldn't read it, so I didn't learn what would happen, and then when I started reading it, that's when I kind of see that it doesn't matter if you have good intentions. If someone else doesn't, then you are in their hands.

Connelly: When you look back on what's happened over the last few years, do you have any regrets about stuff you've said or talked about or did?

Apple: No.

Connelly: Why is that?

Apple: Because I learned my lessons from 'em, and because, man, I don't see why I have to be perfect all the time and, like, not embarrass myself sometimes. I'm talking about, like, somebody who's trying to do something and just kind of gets it wrong a little bit, and then, and then you see them get it right, I just... you don't see anything develop in anybody, you don't see anybody really, really being human. I just kind of feel like everything's so rehearsed. And also I learned a lot personally for myself, whether or not I'm in this business. I did what I wanted to do, and that's something to be proud of. Who cares what happened? Who cares if those other people were idiots and somebody wants to pick on me?

Connelly: So you were happy to leave that behind for a good six to nine months for a while?

Apple: Yeah.

Connelly: And then how did the songs start to come?

Apple: Just the way that they always came, just because I would get pissed off and I'd just be like --

Connelly: [Laughs]

Apple: 'Cause I just feel like [there are] certain times in life where you just feel that you have an argument and you just want to make a point, but there's really no point in making that point to someone. You just kind of need to make it for yourself, to figure out exactly how you feel about something. I'd just be alone in my house and be like, "Ahh, piano," and it just started to be the way that I would deal with things. It was the way I deal with things three or four years ago, when I was writing songs for the other album, and then it kind of stopped being the way that I would deal with things. I would kind of deal with things then by just saying things to people a lot, 'cause I wasn't around the piano a lot, except for doing the shows. But after some time away from the piano, it started to become attractive to me again.

Connelly: Your last record, though, seemed to encapsulate a lot of your personal history.... Is this record more of a snapshot of what your last three or four years have been like?

Apple: I wouldn't say it was a snapshot. It's not a snapshot for other people to see my life. It's a snapshot of mine that I've taken of my life, but I'm the only one who could really understand it. The "you"s in my songs are really just similarities that I've noticed between many people in my life, and [I] just made those similarities a character to speak to. It's all autobiographical, but I'm not revealing anything truly. It's all disguised.

Connelly: What sort of things were you working out, though, as you wrote those songs? What kind of emotions were you dealing with in your life? The big things?

Apple: The big things, yeah, I guess. What do you mean?

Connelly: Well, were you in love, were you not in love, were you angry at people? What kind of things were playing against your head?

Apple: All of those things. All of those things.

Connelly: Has it been a happy time, or kind of unsettling [or] troubling the last few years?

Apple: It's been a happy time. I've made a home for myself. I have friends. I took all that time working last time to kind of figure out [how] to make my own place in the world, and then now, once I had my own place and I kind of knew what did with my life, I knew what I did for a living, and I had that knowledge about myself. It was great to kind of settle down for a while and make friends, now that I was an actual person.

Connelly: People are often very intimidated by making that second record after a big success the first time. Sounds like you didn't actually have that problem once you started writing.

Apple: No. 'Cause I started without thinking, "I'm going to start trying to write now for a record." I just started because it was at that moment, "I want to write something down." I think people run into that problem because they pay way too much attention to it early on. I think they start going, "Okay, well, this is going really good. How am I going to top this? What is my public image? How am I going to top that?" I didn't need to worry about topping my public image, and I'm really proud of the songs that I write [and] that I've written for this [album], and I was proud of them when I was writing them, and I knew they were good when I was writing them, so there was no worry about that. If I hadn't been sure that they were great, I just wouldn't have made the album. 
Connelly: How much did you hear the different sonic textures of these songs as you were writing them?

Apple: When I write on the piano, I write a lot with the rhythms in mind. I guess it's all there. I guess it's all represented in me playing the piano to it, because it's all come out the way I had it in my head, give or take a little bit. I don't see it that way when I'm writing it. I'm just kind of on the piano, and I have those things on my mind.

Connelly: How did you decide who to produce the record? That must have been a big decision.

Apple: It's a big decision, but I knew right away. I mean, if you've ever like seen Jon Brion play, I mean, he was a really good friend of mine, and he's the best. He's so talented, he plays, like, every instrument. If you look on the inside of the thing, it's like "Fiona: vocals, piano. Matt Chamberlain: drums. Jon Brion: everything else." If you know anything about Jon Brion, that's the answer to the question. He's brilliant.

Connelly: You finish the record with what I think you described as the first happy-ending love song you've ever written. How did that one come about?

Apple: Um... just felt it. Just felt like that. Just felt it. I don't know.

Connelly: Well, it's just striking, because that ends the record. The cover of the record has you smiling on it.... Is that something kind of intentional? Do you want people to feel like you're not misery girl anymore, if they once thought that way about you?

Apple: No, no, I don't. I don't want it to seem that I meant it like that, no. I just liked the still for the front, and I liked the idea. If I had had a happy-ending song on the first one, I would have ended it with that. I don't even remember what ended the other one, but, like, I would have had a happy ending song on that one.

Connelly: Is it important to say the album's title in a particular way?

Apple: No, it's not important to say it.

Connelly: How'd you come up with it?

Apple: [Laughs] There's that piece in "Spin" [where] they did this cover story on me, and they decided they were going to do something -- you know, the editor back then apparently does not like me -- and [they] decided to take one area of me, like, ranting after I'd just come down after a photo shoot, where they were like trying to put a negligée on me, and I was really sick of that stuff and started ranting at the writer, John Weir, who was really nice, and I had a good time with him. He wasn't there for me getting upset at this photo session.

I was so mad when I came downstairs, and I was just ranting, "Okay fine, this is how it's going to be, I'm going to make another album, I'm going to die." And they blow it up and cut out everything else that I ever said and just use everything from this rant that I did make. I did say those things, but come on, I'm not going to die, you know? So anyway, I had forgotten about that.

I had like a week off from being on the road, and then I got back on the bus, and as soon as I am talking, as soon as I sat down on the bus, I saw this "Spin" magazine... Bjork is on the cover. "Oh, I hate Fiona, Fiona is the most ridiculous thing in the world." And I started crying and I was so upset, and then I started going, "Okay, this is just wrong, because I am... I have no bad intentions, I never did anything for a wrong reason." I am always honest and I never hurt anybody, and you guys are going to do this to make your issue more spicy, and it's going to affect me like this? I'm sitting there crying and feeling like an ass, just crying. It's just so frustrating, it's just so frustrating. Why would you want to do that to do somebody? Why would you want to take a girl and tear her to shreds on purpose and mix her words around so her friends think she's a fool? Why do you want to do that, and why am I going to let that affect me? Why does it affect me? Why am I sitting here crying? Why does it still affect me?

When I'm going through something and I'm pissed off at home and I go to the piano, I write a song to clarify my own point for myself, to make myself feel a little bit more sure footed. But I didn't have a piano then, I wrote a poem... and it just helped me. I would just read it to myself. Remember the sentiment, and it would help me. And so in re-entering all of this stuff, I kind of figured that was a good way to start it off and to remind me of all this stuff: it will be the cover of my album. Originally I thought, "Screw doing that picture on the front. Screw it and the photo shoot for it. I don't want to do the photo shoot. We'll have words on the front." And it's just really funny that it's the thing I get made fun of [for] already.

Connelly: How has it been, doing videos now with [boyfriend/"Boogie Nights" director] Paul Thomas Anderson?

Apple: Really great.

Connelly: Has that helped you sort of keep control over some of these issues that you're talking about now?

Apple: I have no problems. I don't have to say no to anybody. I can do whatever I want, I can wear whatever I want, I can not wear makeup if I don't want to, and I can have input to what the videos are, and all the guys that work on the videos are the guys that have worked on his movies, who I've been hanging out with the past two years, so everyone's my friend. It's a really fun experience now, rather than, like, this rushed thing.

Connelly: How did you guys work together to come up with that last one?

Apple: That last one was really rushed, actually. We didn't really have an idea.

Connelly: [Laughs]

Apple: He just knew he wanted to use [a] camera from 1909 and just figured that, like, if we do some gags [tricks] with that, it will kind of be like a modern thing with the gags, but kind of keep[ing] it acoustic. Like, the song does all these kind of gags in it, but it keeps it kind of acoustic, with no, like, techno stuff, but [it] is beat-driven and stuff. Using the 1909 camera, it was kind of like doing gags with the tape and the lenses... along the same line as what the song is, because it's done with this old camera rather than computer gags or something.

Connelly: Where do you place yourself emotionally when you sing some of these songs live now? Do you drop yourself back into the state of mind you were in when you were writing those things in your diaries, or are you somewhere else when you perform them?

Apple: It changes. Just because I write a song about something doesn't mean that I've, like, exorcised it out of my system. I'm still vulnerable to the same things that I was vulnerable to when I wrote the songs, so, I can still feel those things. But they just kind of change, because I've used a combination of different people. I can still use a combination of different people. I can sing the song to a different person every night in my mind depending on what's going on in my life right then. That's just something that happens naturally, but it also keeps it interesting.

Connelly: Are you looking forward to playing these songs live, these new ones?

Apple: Yeah. Yeah, of course.

Connelly: Are they more challenging?

Apple: I think I'm singing a lot more and harder on this album, so I don't know how it's gonna affect my throat every night. That's the only thing that I'm worried about, but I think it'll be okay.

Connelly: How did that come about? Did Jon just sort of say, "You can really go at this," or did they just sort of feel that way coming out of you?

Apple: No, I'm just more confident as a singer. When I made the album the first time, I hadn't ever sung before, and then I went on the road, and that was when I kind of actually started learning how to sing, and so then making this album, I wasn't as shy with it. When I did the [first] album I'd never been on a stage, so I was kinda like in [the studio] with the [headphones] feeling really insecure. And then this time, you know, I didn't care.