Rock Through the Ages: Alanis Morissette

"I have a difficult time socially, emotionally and musically because I like to communicate on an overwhelmingly intense level. To get it all out, I write as an overt, aggressive woman."  -Alanis Morissette

Alanis Morissette photo, isnt it ironic?Alanis Nadine Morissette is a Canadian singer-songwriter, record producer and occasional actress. She has won eleven Juno Awards and seven Grammy Awards, and has sold over 60 million albums worldwide. Along with counterparts Jewel and Fiona Apple, Alanis Morissette was one of the most successful singer/songwriters to ride in on the second wave of girl rock in the mid-'90s. A former child actress turned dance-pop diva, Alanis Morissette later transformed herself into a confessional alternative singer/songwriter in the vein of Liz Phair and Tori Amos. However, she bolstered that formula with enough pop sensibility, slight hip-hop flourishes, and marketing savvy to become a superstar with her third album, Jagged Little Pill. Alanis Nadine Morissette was born in Ottawa, Canada, on June 1st 1974. Alanis' Greek name is a feminine version of her father's name, Alan. Her mother Georgia is a Hungarian-born teacher, and her father is a French- Canadian high school principal. Alanis Morissette has two brothers, her twin Wade and an older brother Chad. She learned to play the piano at age 6 and loved dancing and acting when she was young. She started learning ballet and jazz dancing at the age of 7. Alanis Morissette has also done a lot of stage and theatre work, including a part on the highly popular kids television show "You Can't Do That on Television" when she was 11. Alanis recorded her first single, "Fate Stay With Me."  that same year. Alanis spent most of her pre-pubescent years performing throughout Canada, singing "O Canada" at sporting events and even making an appearance on Star Search. The hard work paid off and at 14 Morissette was offered a recording contract with MCA/Canada. Her debut, Alanis, a collection of dance-pop songs, was released in 1991 and went platinum in Canada. That year, Morissette won the Juno award (Canada's Grammy) for Most Promising Female Vocalist.

In 1992,Alanis Morissette released Now Is the Time, an album that closely resembled her debut. Like its predecessor, it was a success in Canada, even if its sales did not match those of Alanis. At age 18, she moved to Toronto and worked with several musicians and songwriters, but the collaborations didn't work. Morissette began making trips to Los Angeles and working with as many musicians as possible.

Alanis Morissette in my pocketDuring this time, Alanis Morissette met producer and songwriter Glen Ballard, and within ten minutes of meeting each other, they had begun experimenting creatively. Ballard had already worked with many artists, including Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson and Barbra Streisand. According to Morissette, Ballard was the first collaborator who encouraged her to express her emotions. The two wrote and recorded Morissette's third album, Jagged Little Pill, and by the spring of 1995, she had signed a deal with Maverick Records. On the strength of the angst-ridden single "You Oughta Know," Jagged Little Pill gained attention upon its release in the summer of 1995. Backed by Flea and Dave Navarro, Morissette's wail of a woman scorned blends obsession, rage, blunt sexuality, and raw pain into a mob hit of a pop song and may be the best kiss-off song since "Positively 4th Street." The song soon received heavy airplay from alternative radio outlets and MTV, sending the album into the Top Ten and helping it achieve multi-platinum status. The singles "All I Really Want" and "Hand In My Pocket" followed on the charts, but the fourth U.S. single, "Ironic", became Morissette's biggest hit. "Most of the songs are, in a roundabout way, actually addressed to myself," says Morissette of her work with Ballard at this time. "There's a certain aspect of the songs that's very confessional, very unadulterated...It was a very unfettered, spiritual experience." 

Morissette was showered with industry awards for Jagged Little Pill, including Grammys for Album of the Year, Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Album. Alanis Morissette had found an autobiographical, extremely personal way to write songs. Jagged Little Pill  has sold about 30 million copies around the world, turning it into the highest selling female album and the 3rd highest selling album of all times.

Later in 1996, Morissette embarked on an eighteen-month world tour in support of Jagged Little Pill, beginning in small clubs and ending in large venues. The video Jagged Little Pill, Live, which was co-directed by Morissette and chronicled the bulk of her tour, won a 1998 Grammy Award for Best Music Video, Long Form. During the tour, Morissette became disillusioned with the music industry and declared being tired of constant travelling, quick and superficial relationships and parties full of drugs, subjects that made her consider ditching her career. Needing to recharge Alanis Morissette headed to India for six weeks, accompanied by her mother, two aunts and two female friends. Alanis Morissette and Ballard teamed up again to create Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. Although just as lyrically dense as its predecessor, it suffers from relative indirectness. The single "Thank U" and hard rocker "Baba" allow rare moments of Morissette's emotional punch to shine though her lyrical spew. While the album received favorable reviews, it inevitably did not live up to her previous success, a fact that might have adversely affected most other young artists. Alanis, however, seemed unconcerned with commercial success and more interested in voicing her opinion and maintaining her integrity.

In 1999 Alanis Morissette played the role of God in the movie Dogma and collaborated with the song Still for the soundtrack. In 1999 she also recorded the album MTV Unplugged. In 2000 Alanis performed in  the Broadway show The Vagina Monologues. Alanis retreated from the spotlight for a few years and continued her transformation from an angry young woman to a spiritual soul searcher. On 2002’s Under Rug Swept, Alanis Morissette ditched her old producer Glen Ballard and took complete creative control of the record. The result was a musically mature, introspective yet aggressive collection that was thoroughly provocative, proving Alanis could be impossibly articulate and still rock the house. In 2008 Alanis Morissette returned with her seventh studio effort "Flavors of Entanglement". She is also writing a memoir that will focus on women's issues. It will have chapters on sexuality, beauty, relationships and work and was partially inspired by young women who regularly come up to her and tell her their stories of personal pain.
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Alanis Morissette
Rock and Roll Singer: "Ironic"