Born in New Haven, Connecticut and raised in Chicago, Liz Phair made a huge impact with her brand of alt-rock music in the 1990s.
Phair signed a recording contract in the early ‘90s with Matador Records after the record company got wind of the homemade cassettes she was recording and distributing herself under “Girly Sound.”
Her 1993 debut album, “Exile in Guyville,” is considered by Rolling Stone as one of the top 500 albums of all time. This album has influenced a multitude of artists who rose to fame after Phair.
The Blues City Journal had a chance to chat with Phair.
Q: When and how did you initially get into playing music and when in that process did you start writing original material?
A: “Originally I took piano lessons when I was 7 or 8. In fourth grade, I really hated practicing, so my teacher noticed I was doing it by ear and she let me get away with that for a while. In eighth grade, I switched to guitar and again I didn’t want to learn anybody else’s songs, so my teacher cut a deal with me. She said that if I brought in two original songs a week she wouldn’t tell my parents that we weren’t learning James Taylor, so that’s how I started writing.”
Q: When you were cutting your teeth in the industry, who were your biggest influences?
A: “I was pretty heavily into indie rock when I started doing the Girly Sound cassettes. Freshman year of college I was listening to Pavement, Husker Du and stuff like that.”
Q: How does it feel now knowing your debut album is one of the 500 greatest albums of all time according to Rolling Stone and one of the 100 greatest albums of the ‘90s according to Pitchfork?
A: “There is a sense of accomplishment, but to be perfectly honest I don’t carry that with me. I watched that stuff happen, and it feels surreal and it feels really cool and I’m incredibly grateful that people listen to the music. Without the fans there honestly would be no career for me, whatsoever. In that sense I think, ‘Wow, I did something that meant something to people,’ but I think only a crazy person would sit around thinking of themselves as an award winner. It’s a crazy business. Without a level head, you can tilt right off the ship”
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Q: What has it taken to make it as far as you have in this game?
A: “You have to keep doing it. You keep doing it and you hope you get more breaks than losses and you just keep going. That’s pretty much what it takes. You put in the effort, the industry will meet it, and if fans care about what you are saying, you speak to people and get heard. That’s how you make it.”
Q: How have you seen the nature of the music business evolve since you started in the ‘90s?
A: “I can’t tell if I’m in a different location in the business or if it has changed itself. There is way too much complexity to figure that out. Now everybody is personalizing their music experience versus the public airwaves of radio would be the biggest difference. A lot more women have gotten into making their own music without needing help from anyone else. I guess self-sufficiency in terms of creating your own music has changed dramatically.”
Q: Can you tell us about your experience traveling with the Smashing Pumpkins in the spring of 2016?
A: “They were so much fun to be with and everyone was in a good humor almost all the time, which was a miracle because we missed a couple shows due to weather and struggles with flights. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me because I got to stand up in all these opera houses across the nation; these beautiful, beautiful auditoriums. I never would have gotten into those places on my own, so opening for the Smashing Pumpkins afforded me that experience. Their shows were incredible. They broke it into three movements and the theatrics involved were incredible. I watched that show multiple times on tour, and when you are the opener, you usually don’t stick around very long…you go back to the hotel. Those shows were spectacular to watch.”
Q: What can we expect from your performance at Saturday in the Park?
A: “We love to rock, so it might be kind of energetic. It’s kind of like a rock-pop hybrid live with a couple acoustic moments thrown in. I’m just excited to come and play with everybody. I hope they sing along.”
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article had an incorrect name for Liz Phair's debut album.