Liz Phair Hints at New Music and Discusses Her New Book of Horror Stories

Liz Phair
Liz Phair Photo by Elizabeth Weinberg, courtesy of YMU Group

You won’t be able to read a word of the Liz Phair memoir Horror Stories until it’s released in November, but if you’re wondering whether you’ll enjoy the book, its author suggests there’s a simple way to know. She said her plan for writing about her life and a storied music career – a Grammy-nominated career built on the foundation of one of rock’s greatest albums — mirrored her approach to writing songs.

“It’s stories from my life and career and sometimes they describe a horror or something traumatic that happened that really had nothing to do with me but I was sort of an incidental witness to; or, they’re things that are integral to my work life and things going wrong and people surprising me in unhappy ways,” said Phair, who visits Houston this weekend on a music tour and not (yet) a book tour. She plays Heights Theater this Saturday night.

Phair said by “sort of putting into song form” these pivotal life events, the task of writing the book was made much easier. She had a blueprint from which to work, one which allowed her to relate the story in a way that should feel familiar to readers who know her music. And, she takes an innovative approach to relating her story, which probably comes as no surprise to Phair’s fans. She starts each tale at its nucleus and lets the backstory and conclusion buzz around like frenzied electrons, “Kind of like I do with the song, ‘Divorce Song,’ where I drop you right into the middle of our fight,” she said.

“It’s like that. I drop you into the middle of one of the stories that I’m experiencing and because of that sort of 'drop-in' to the center of the story, you get a real sense of what it’s like to be a performer, what it’s like to be a music artist or a songwriter, or have an artistic vision, or be sensitive in a world that assaults you in different ways. I think we all can relate to that. So even though it’s really talking about my life and my career, it’s talking about everything that we all experience that we kind of shovel inside and forget about,” she explained.

“It’s like one long-form song. Exactly like the way I write my songs, I drop you into my life and then we have that time together.”

Speaking of songs, we asked if any new ones are imminent.

“I am recording right now. I can’t talk about it yet but yes, I am,” she shared.

We pressed for more, of course. If a surprise Liz Phair album dropped on Spotify tomorrow, what it might sound like, we asked? Would it be closer to the lo-fi masterpiece Exile in Guyville, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year and was reissued with the Girly-Sound demo tapes which began her career in 1991? Or, might it recall the polished pop hits “Extraordinary” and “Why Can’t I?” from 2003’s Liz Phair? Could it be a blend of the two styles, something closer sonically and thematically to her excellent but sometimes overlooked back-to-back albums, Whip-Smart and Whitechocolatespaceegg? Would she have guests on the album, either artists she’s admired as a musician or any of the crop of young performers who were influenced by and idolize her?

click to enlarge "There are other people out there like me in abundance, finally, and it feels really good." - PHOTO BY ELIZABETH WEINBERG, COURTESY OF YMU GROUP
"There are other people out there like me in abundance, finally, and it feels really good."
Photo by Elizabeth Weinberg, courtesy of YMU Group

“It would sound,…ahhh,…I don’t even know if I’m allowed to say this? It would sound,…it would sound good,” she settled on, with a laugh.

She took a moment to explore the idea of women artists she’d want to work with and said this current music moment is filled with opportunity in that regard.

“I’m about to go play shows with Melissa Etheridge, she was a groundbreaking artist herself. I have really enjoyed working the last couple of years because there are so many young women, female artists that I’ve been able to put on my radar or just connect with over social media and some of my idols and icons are out working and touring,” she said.

“It’s not like a Lilith Fair-type moment,” she noted, “but I really feel like women in the industry are present, visible, accounted for, and we see each other and we communicate and we’re supportive of each other, so it makes working so much more fun. There are other people out there like me in abundance, finally, and it feels really good.”

Of course, it could be argued that many of those women, particularly newer artists, are there because of Liz Phair and specifically Exile in Guyville. The album obliterated indie rock's glass ceiling and is considered a landmark feminist album. It’s perennially listed on critics' “best album” lists. Because it was her debut studio album, some very good work which followed had to sometimes unfairly meet a high bar. Phair’s come to terms with that and said she sees her legacy in music as one that's still growing bountifully for her and others.

“I mean I’m interested in developing my legacy just because I want my music to be listened to after I’m gone,” she admitted. “Artistically, you put these things out there and then we disperse. It’s almost like they’re picked up by the larger stream and this one’s over here and that one’s on that bank and that one’s floated down river. You kind of do want to bring them all together and show your body of work. In a way, I’ve always been doing that, kind of grabbing all my material and saying it’s part of a larger piece. This is my output as an artist and this is what I have to say, so in that sense, I’m all about that.

“At the same time, I do feel like I’m part of a larger movement, I think we all are, and it’s exciting to be part of that, too,” she said. “You can manage your own garden while remembering you’re still part of a village, you know what I mean?”

Liz Phair, Saturday, April 27, at The Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. Doors at 7 p.m., music at 8 p.m. Sara Van Buskirk opens the all-ages show. $39.
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.