Fiona Apple:  The NUVO Interview
NUVO   Apr '97
by Steve Hammer

For once, believe the hype.  Time, Rolling Stone, Details and a ton of other magazines have hyped Fiona Apple, a 19-year-old singer-songwriter from New York, as The Next Big Thing.  Her debut album, Tidal, has unleashed a storm of praise from critics for its moody, evocative songs about the mysterious interplay between people.  Influenced by the vocal stylings of Nina Simone, Tidal is an oasis of freshness in a music world in desperate need of it.

Fiona Apple, with special guest Morcheeba, will be making her Indianapolis debut April 7 at the Vogue Theatre.  Tickets are available through the Vogue box office or by calling Ticketmaster at 239-5151.

NUVO's arts and music editor, Steve Hammer, caught up with Apple for a phone conversation last week.  Speaking on a cellular phone from her tour bus, the connection was shaky at times, but, as in her music, her message never wavered.

SH:  The press seems to have a hard time dealing with you.  They drag out all these Alanis comparisons and seem to want to make you out to be this depressed, beautiful woman, almost like a Sylvia Plath.  Is that a frustrating thing for you to deal with?

FIONA:  Yeah, it's frustrating.  But what can you expect from a lot of these people?  They can't deal with three-dimensional people who can feel misery and then feel silly sometimes.  They just want to make some kind of image about me as this tragic little "Sullen Girl," which, you know, sometimes I am, like I think everybody is.  I've never shown anybody just a sad side of me, so I don't know where that comes from.

There's a lot of "Oh, she's so beautiful, and so depressed," as if you have to be ugly to sing about deep things, or if you're attractive you have to be an airhead.

FIONA:  [They're saying] The only thing that really matters, the thing that ensures happiness is beauty, and once you've got that, you're fine.   The pigeonholing doesn't frustrate me as much as the idea that this is what matters to people.  It frustrates me that people pay so much attention to that stuff.   It also makes me feel insecure, and it annoys people when I say this, but I don't feel like I'm beautiful a lot of the time.  I don't feel like I'm ugly, but I did spend a lot of my time having people tell me I'm ugly.  So for people to all of a sudden start liking me, because they think I'm pretty, or because some makeup artist did a good job, it makes me feel disappointed in the values of human beings. 

SH:  But your songs are deep and, well, depressing sometimes. How did the song "Shadowboxer" come about?

FIONA:  It was because of this guy I had gone out with and had been really, really close with.  I really loved him.  I felt that he was my best friend.  But he was a teenaged guy, and they don't think a lot of times.  He mistreated me and then he came back.  I couldn't even be friends with him for awhile.   I cared about him, but it was just a situation where he kept trying to be friends with me, but I knew that he just wanted to be friends with me so he could have the option of making a move on me whenever he wanted to.

And because I was so infatuated with him, and even in love with him, I was always available for that.  It made me feel weak every time I would fall for that.  And I would look forward to him making a move on me, but I knew that it was wrong.  I knew that he was playing with me.  And after awhile, I didn't even care anymore because I wanted him so much.


SH:  You often talk about the influence of Maya Angelou's work in your art.   When did you first encounter her work?

FIONA:  My mother first gave me a book of her poetry, and there was something about it that I really related to.  She's so -- her choice of words are so vivid, and she's so direct and simple about the way that she feels.  I first came across her writing when I was going through a really hard time.  Everybody was on my case, I was in a lot of therapy, and everyone was calling me crazy and I felt ashamed of the way that I was.  I felt ashamed of being sensitive, I felt ashamed of being thoughtful, because everybody thought there was something wrong with.  And I had this book of hers.  I used to call it my "pillow book" because I would sleep with it under my pillow every night.  I would have this ritual that I would do every night.  I would have trouble sleeping.  So I would sing her poetry and then I'd close the book when I got tired.  And I'd look at the back of the book where her picture was, and just in her eyes, her smile, her posture, she exuded.  And all I wanted to be was proud of myself... She gave me hope that I could be that proud of myself.

SH:  How are you doing now with it? Are you proud of yourself now?

FIONA:   Yeah.  I'm really tough on myself, but I'm getting to a place where I'm accepting more about myself.  It'll probably take the rest of my life.

SH:  I read a post on the Internet from a young girl who had been victimized by someone and her position was like, "I can talk about this now because Fiona Apple can talk about what happened to her." Do you look at yourself as a role model for women and girls who've had this experience?

FIONA:  That's the only reason I ever brought the whole rape thing up.  It's a terrible thing, but it happens to so many people.  I mean, 80 percent of the people I've told have said right back to me, "That happened to me too."  It's so common, and so ridiculous that it's a hard thing to talk about.   It angers me so much because something like that happens to you and you carry it around for the rest of your life.  No matter how much therapy you go through, no matter how much healing you go through, it's part of you.  I just feel that it's such a tragedy that so many people have to bear the extra burden of having to keep it secret from everyone else.  As if it's too icky a subject to burden other people with and everyone's going to think you're a victim forever.  Then you've labeled yourself a victim, and you've been taken advantage of, and you're ruined, and you're soiled, and you're not pure, you know. 

If I'm in a position where people are looking up to me in any way, then it's absolutely my responsibility to be open and honest about this, because if I'm not, what does that say to people?  It doesn't change a person -- well, it does change a person but it doesn't take anything away from you.  It can only strengthen you.  It has made me so angry in the past.  Like I wanted to say it to somebody.  I really wanted somebody to connect with, somebody to understand me, somebody to comfort me.  But I felt like I couldn't say anything about because it was taboo to talk about.

SH:  What do you tell people who've gone through this?

FIONA:  What I believe that there is no evil, there is only weakness.  And whoever has done this, to me or any one, is a person who could not handle his own pain.  They went through something themselves, or has a sickness themselves, and they can't handle it so they push it on someone else.

The man who raped me, I don't know his story.  But obviously he has problems.  He's a sick man.  It's like when parents abuse their children because they can't handle things themselves.  They have to make themselves feel powerful in such a cheap, disgusting way. 

The only thing I can say to people is to realize that it's nothing to do with you.  It's no indication of your worth as a human being.  It's just an indication of someone else's weakness.  They take advantage of you because you're strong and pure and -- it's just so hard to understand and it's so hard to go through. But the thing to understand is that it's someone else's problem, not yours.


SH:  Is it hard to go on stage and sing these songs to people?

FIONA:  You go through painful experiences, and you keep them inside forever, and they kind of rot away.  I keep them on the surface so it can't hurt me on the inside.  I didn't want to have to feel like I had to hide anything.   And so just singing these things keeps it out there where I'm more comfortable.   Some nights are better than others, some nights it hurts to go up and sing these things.  And especially when you're an opening act, you feel like nobody cares.   It's just terribly difficult to bare your soul when you feel that nobody cares.   Sometimes it's wonderful.  Sometimes the audience is like the best friend that you've ever had, giving you exactly the kind of response that you needed, the kind of comfort and love and energy you needed when you relate things to them.  And to know that I'm helping some of the people in my audience, helping to heal them, is part of my healing as well.

SH:  Why do so many relationships go bad?

FIONA:  I think that people get into relationships for the wrong reasons.  I think that people look to their partners to make themselves complete.  They lean on people too much.  They drain their partners of their energy.  The only kind of relationships that work, and work forever, are the kind between two complete independent people.  I think that too many relationships are about weird psychoses.  [laughs] You know? 

I went to guys who were going to hurt me and take advantage of me because I was dissatisfied with having been made a victim by being raped.  So I went and found a bunch of guys who were going to victimize me.   And I was just trying to return to that situation and make it right and come out victorious.  And it doesn't happen.  You keep setting yourself up for the same thing. 

Obviously, those relationships weren't going to work.... I mean I cared about these guys but it wasn't real love between two complete people.  It was about me trying to get something from them and them trying to get something from me.  I don't think that works.  fin