Fiona Apple
Tribeca  75 
'96
Paris-New York Net Magazine
by Rachele Bevilacqua

Musical productions abound each month and you're rarely surprised by an album.  When I received Fiona's at the beginning of summer, I was struck by enthusiasm at the first hearing. Tidal was different from all I had heard for months, and touched me deeply.  I understood very quickly that such an impact stemmed from the artist's staggering maturity and sincerity.  A reality; often relegated to oblivion, was now displayed:  music is now an industry whose profitability is proven, and the esthetics often do without the ethics.  Fiona Apple was thus becoming an exception that needed to be defended.  This young woman, hardly out of her teenage years -- she is only nineteen -- has everything to puzzle. 

Her deep and low-pitched voice recalls the soul singers who make you dive directly to the heart of your being.  If voice is a gift, which doesn't need any explanation, Fiona Apple's training sheds light on this preponderant aspect of her album: "after my classical piano lessons, I learnt to play with the jazz standards book through which I discovered Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald."  Yet she confesses never having been conscious of her gift: "I've never particularly taken care of my voice.  I don't think I'm a great singer."  Fiona Apple then legitimately presents herself as a writer-composer:   here, it's not about proving anything, but about expressing oneself about subjects which, for most people, often remain unconscious.  Her point of view is thus particularly sensitive.  We're far from those American "Clueless" teenagers.

The craze for this young artist was thus gaining more and more ground.

Simple details, like the thank you list for example, equally puzzled me.  Instead of reading the usual and never-ending fucking what's-his-name with crazy names, appear only a few lines among which one dedicated to Maya Angelou.  Fiona Apple will explain later that "this black American writer had a major influence on me, as much by her writings as by her acts and what she has been.  She was able to pass me the art of transforming weakness and vulnerability into strength."  Fiona Apple is becoming the French media's idol.  At the age of 19, she's pretty and has talent.   Invited at the French eight o'clock news, she hits Le Monde's [the most serious and important French daily newspapers] headlines, and the Inrocks [most popular indie-rock mag] will dedicate her four pages.  One speaks of her fragility, the deep blue of her eyes, she's compared to a nymph.  Some will venture into a bit out-of-place physical description.  Fiona Apple's image changes slowly into a cliche of the nineties.  Popped out of nowhere but blessed by the grace of God, her story seems like a fairy tale.  In 1994, she decides to spend her Christmas vacations in Manhattan after having lived one year in California with her father.   Arrived in her hometown (Fiona Apple -- a New Yorker), she gives a demo to a friend who baby-sits at a lady who works in a record company. During the New Year, this lady passes the tape and Andy Slater (Lenny Kravitz's producer) completely flips.  He contacts her and, one year later, Tidal under cellophane is signed Fiona Apple.  What a nice tale!  In these times smacked by unemployment, the growth of racism and AIDS, the story is too good to be true, and doubt interferes.  Are we ever assured enough against the strategies of the record companies, sometimes masters in the art of illusion?

One concert at the Theatre Grevin end of September. The next day, meeting in London where she's promoting the album.

Her scenic performance takes away my most persistent doubts.  Fiona Apple is marvelous on stage.  Rarely does an artist radiates with such emotion, and gives the impression that the presence of her musicians is unessential to her performance.

The interview takes place in a Soho hotel.  Fiona Apple arrives.  She's effectively very attractive but it's the way she radiates that seduces even more.   Fiona Apple starts by explaining the title of her album before starting on its different themes. "Tidal is the name of the album because it's about extremes.  People try to reach summits while avoiding torments.  They don't realize that's it's by touching the deep end that you reach the top.  It's a way of reminding myself that I'm alive and free."  Will this furious desire to live the present moment be settled by this conclusion of Anais Nin "it took me a whole life to learn that happiness resides in peacefulness and not in the paroxysm of ecstasy."

What make your feelings so mature?

For a long time when I was younger, I felt I needed to hide who I was, because I felt it was not accepted to be a sensitive person.  People misinterpreted who I was, basically, because of my appearance.  If you are not engaged in conversations and you are just thinking by yourself, you just happened to not be smiling, in my surroundings I was perceived to be depressed, sullen and sad.  I hated the fact that people thought that of me.  They would believe that I wasn't that way.  I was put in their be at a very young age when I felt there was nothing wrong with me.

How do you react to the star system which can treat you sometimes like a child ?

Sometimes I feel like a child in the sense that there are other people controlling where I'm going.  But I'm not being just dragged around because of someone else's agenda.   It's all because of what I'm doing, so I'm kind of the one that everything is revolving around.  I don't really feel like a child because there are a lot of responsibilities that wouldn't have been given to a child because he isn't capable of having these responsibilities.  But all the things going on with the "star system" scare me because I'm a public figure and people have the right to and the opportunity to judge me and saying whatever they want about me and even if it is good things sometimes it makes me uncomfortable.  Sometimes I just feel I don't know who I am other than what I read in articles because now what I do is interviews, photoshoots, performances.  I don't have really another part of my life to base my identity on.

Appearances and their tricks are the main topic of your record. How do you react to the press which tends to judge you on your appearance ?

It troubles me a little bit because maybe there is too much focused on what my appearance is.  Maybe I will cut my hair and gain a lot of weight and see if what I have written is still something that people appreciate.  On the other hand people pointed out to me the maturity.  I'm just writing from what my experiences have been and what I feel.

Lies and faking belong also to the record's topics.  Obviously, the inspiration of Tidal takes stock of your life.  Aren't you afraid to have a lack of inspiration for your second record ?

I hate having to hide something, to feel ashamed of things.  I don't want to lie, have to lie about anything.  There is no point in being a liar if you are going to lie.  You are not really being yourself and you are not fully in the moment and fully present in any situation.  What is the point of living if you're just going to live partly.  For Tidal I took everything that was inside of me and let it out just to be free.  For the second record, I have to promise myself that if I don't feel like writing, if it is not something that is necessary for me to do, I won't write.  I won't put out another record just because it is expected.  I can't do that because I wouldn't be able to accept myself then.

Why do you use often the words blue and oblivion?

It has to do with an usual feeling.  When there is too much going on around me, too many people trying to get into my head and too much stress and not enough peace.  It came from all my years trying to make people understand me and know what I really was.   It wasn't working.  Finally sometimes you just get tired and want to be alone.   It's kind of sinking in the ocean to the bottom where there may be waves, wind and everything going on top but if you look under water everything is slow moving and I just saw that as a way to escape and forgetting.

How were your three performances at the Fez in New York?

I did three concerts and it went pretty well.  I was probably the most nervous because it was New York and all my friends came.  I like that feeling because it makes me feel I'm getting out of something.  New York, it's home, reality, my family, it's where I feel most comfortable, it's where my roots are.  New York is just a big hallway of doors and you can choose which one to go.  New York is a place of freedom and independence.  It's a hard place to live but it's an exciting place to be and it teaches lot to be there. You tend to be a little more independent physically and in your thoughts because you need to be. You can just go walking and keep on movin'.

So you can picture yourself in other fields?

Definitely.  I hope to write books : fiction, essays.  I'm reading now a very interesting book called Woody Allen on Woody Allen and also Beauty Secrets by Wendy Chapkys. It's about women and politics, appearance.  It's a bunch of women talking about aspects of their appearance that caused them to not be accepted by the world.   Women who have acne, who are overweight, black women.  I'm interested in some political views.  I'm most of all interested in writing.  I won't do anything just to be, like an actress, a singer -- it has to be connected to me in some ways and I would do it.  I don't really have any specific ambition for anything except for what is right for me.  fin

 

 

[kudos to Nicolas Fah for the translation!]