Alanis Morissette: Less is more
By Donna Freydkin
(CNN) -- Alanis Morissette has just arrived in Phoenix, Arizona, the victim of that bane of weary business travelers the world over: the delayed flight. She is serene and cheerful, funny and reflective. At 25, she is also one of the most famous singers in the world, a woman whose 1995 release "Jagged Little Pill" became the top-selling debut album of all time.
A self-described overachiever, Morissette is a Canadian-born former child star who licked the teenybopper stigma of her early sugarcoated pop music to become something of a mouthpiece for scorned women the world over. Yes, of course we're talking about her scathing, irate single "You Oughta Know," which lashed out at a boyfriend who should have known better than to mess with her.
It was "You Oughta Know" that catapulted Morissette's album to the top of the charts. In the United States alone, it sold more than 16 million copies. So Morissette hit the road like a trooper and toured, toured, toured. She picked up four Grammy Awards. But the success and ensuing hoopla didn't make Morissette happy. It didn't satisfy her hunger for contentment and serenity.
So Morissette withdrew. She journeyed to India and Cuba, where she ate a lot of beans and rice. She reconnected with friends and family. And in late 1998, she released "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie," a thoughtful album that lets Morissette vent not about wayward boyfriends or things that are ironic, but about self-image, ambition, weight loss, overwork and feelings of worthlessness.
'No expectations' for 'Jagged Little Pill'
Today, the singer is about to make her big-screen debut in Kevin Smith's controversial film "Dogma," in which she plays God. So she took some time in Arizona to talk about the price of success, making movies and finally being able to afford macaroni and cheese.
Q: Talk about the time leading up to "Jagged Little Pill."
Morissette: When I was writing that record, I didn't have a record deal. I had just moved away from Canada, where I had released other records. By moving to Los Angeles, I felt I was really being given an opportunity to express who I was. I was pretty insulated and isolated, so when I was writing it, I was thinking of anything except of the pure bliss that was coming from my writing my truth in that kind of way, a way I never had before.
I had no expectations for it, although I did envision going on tour.
Q: And, of course, there's "You Oughta Know."
Morissette: It was exciting to not have to apologize for parts of myself. And definitely, there were moments when my motivation for writing the song was misinterpreted. Again, I wasn't overly invested in it being understood. I just needed to get it out.
Q: Did the enormous success of your debut scare you?
Morissette: No, I wasn't scared. Surprised, at first, and then OK and fine with it. Definitely an adjustment lifestyle-wise, though. I found that I wasn't able to look people in the eye the way I used to be able to, just walking down the street without there having to be the recognition factor.
And I definitely had to adjust to people having preconceived notions about myself that may or may not be in keeping with who I was. And adjusting financially -- it was a huge adjustment to go from not being able to buy macaroni and cheese to being able to buy a few boxes and not have to worry about it.
Q: What was your biggest luxury early on?
Morissette: Buying my house. It was pretty beautiful. I just felt that being a homeowner was such an adult thing to do. I guess I was 20 or 21, I felt really young doing it.
Q: What influenced you on "Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie"? It's definitely quieter, more contemplative.
Morissette: I was writing about the kinds of things I was questioning or musing about at the time, which was a little more than a year ago. To me, records are like snapshots -- they're different periods of time in my life. I see myself doing this forever. For my lifetime, anyway.
Q: Was the pressure for the second album pretty intense?
Morissette: I suppose it could have been. I felt more of a pressure time-wise. Everywhere I went, since 1995, everyone was asking me when my next album would be out. But other than that, I really don't have any expectations for anything I create. I'm particular about making sure that my expression really represents who I am at the moment but beyond that, I don't really have any.
Making film debut
Q: So that takes us right up to you playing God in "Dogma."
Morissette: I really love being behind the camera and I love directing. The acting is a pretty unbelievable way to express yourself, too.
Q: But when you're acting, you're speaking words someone else has written. I know in "Dogma" you don't have any lines, but would that bother you in future movies?
Morissette: Well, in my case, I haven't actually spoken any words yet! In my case, there would be two ways for me to do this with any kind of passion. One, if there was a script written that I truly loved and that excited me. Or, if I wrote something myself.
Q: You went to Cuba between albums. What was that like for you?
Morissette: Beautiful. I went to Cuba and loved that there was a pause button of sorts that was pressed in the '50s there. Just hearing their take on everything, politically and musically, their culinary experience -- it's really inspiring and beautiful.
Q: You're 25 and one of the top-selling performers in the world. What does success mean to you now?
Morissette: When I was younger, I definitely believed everything that was being communicated to me through society and otherwise about fame. That it would give me a sense of peace and power and fulfillment and all these things I felt I was lacking.
And I came to realize, in a way that was wonderfully disillusioning, that that wasn't the case. That if it gave me anything, it was truly fleeting and that if I wanted to have any of these things, like inner peace, I would have to achieve them within myself and not with fame. Once that was delved into, I felt that fame was actually this really sweet opportunity to continue to express -- and inspire or repulse people.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
Morissette: How old would I be? That would make me 45. I think I will have children. I will definitely live near the water, so I can water-ski. And, um, I'll be creating and writing books and expressing all the time and getting a huge kick out of having children, probably.
Demonstrators dog 'Dogma'
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