I’m just moving my fingers until I like the sound. We’re gonna be together. Liz Phair song that Girly-Sound era you would be most proud to hear

With Girly-Sound, I was really into mash-ups. (Though longtime fans will appreciate some callbacks from the ’90s, like Henry from “Polyester Bride” reappearing in “Dosage.”) They also wanted the album to acknowledge that some youthful feelings and life worries don’t dissipate. I don’t feel like I spawned people. It’s also a warning. I definitely will take credit where I’ve felt it’s due. “Fairy tales” and “horror stories” are big, broad words and they were intentionally used because of that, almost poking fun at our obsession with the horror genre, and how it’s gory and bloody. We go, “Trust me on this.” The other person is like, “I don’t see it. But I just bristle that it’s my language. I think I would’ve appreciated the unusual structure, too. I think of him as someone that is more powerful than you would think. But my analogy in the song is that I’m just more of a napkin trying to look pretty on the table. I saved part of that for Fairy Tales, my next book. I was part of a whole movement of indie music, and some things hit better than others. If I’m down toward the tuning keys, then I’m like, “I’ve been there for a while. You need searchable names on certain songs. Because that’s how it feels! I made that up. And there’s a compliment in there, which I can accept and be excited about. We never disagree. Vincent, According to Annie Clark

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Tags: There’s also a sense of ownership that isn’t how I ever felt, or feel, that was sort of pasted onto me by writers and reviewers. But I’m part of a continuum. It’s happening now. Soberish’s most visual lyrics

I can literally see us on the scooter with our hair blowing, driving down Sheridan Road. This self-aware, and kind, candor is what makes Liz Phair such an engaging personality and artist whose albums are remarkably accessible in their transparency; her 1991 lo-fi tapes as Girly-Sound and her Matador debut, 1993’s Exile in Guyville, remain some of indie rock’s most beloved works of bluntness, each sounding as vivid and knowing as they did nearly 30 years ago. But he and I, we both feel the hit when it hits, the same way, at the same time. Praise for Exile in Guyville you don’t agree with

I’ve always bristled when they say I’m responsible for people’s sounds. “We’re asking my brain to do something it doesn’t naturally do.” She delivers the news with a smile palpable through the phone; this is someone who doesn’t need to apologize but who still feels apologetic for not being what she describes as a “favorite-ing” person. As my editor says, any story could be a horror story or a fairy tale. I tried to make the music more complex to echo that, to kind of bring in the brain of me now with the sounds and building blocks of me [from] then.”

Favorite Soberish song

One of the things I wanted to do [on Soberish] was to never have an ordinary structure, and yet make it feel so hook-y and familiar that you didn’t even notice that no song on Soberish is structured traditionally. Meanwhile, in hindsight, her much-panned 2003 self-titled LP now sounds equally influential on today’s younger musicians as her classics. By the end of the song, it’s over. There are certain things about Horror Stories that need their companion pieces in Fairy Tales to feel complete to me. I just figure out where on the neck I feel like being, and if I can reach those notes with my fingers. “It would make my job a lot easier,” she deadpans. That’s a song that friends of mine have adored and been really annoyed that they can’t just get it somewhere. That can be unexpected. I don’t like that. My friend just drove to pick up a new puppy after her dog had died. A lot of times, I’m using a bridge for a second verse. It’s amazing!” And we just know each other well enough to be like, “Okay. There are some tough stories in Horror Stories that involve physical harm, but mostly, there are ordinary horrors that we all are carrying around with us, and there are ordinary fairy tales that we’re all experiencing, like a triumph in your day that feels incredible. Ba ba ba ba ba ba! That didn’t happen. It’s not that I’m not taking credit; I just feel I’m part of a continuum. Fairy Tales will be very reminiscent of Horror Stories, but it will also be focusing on positive, exciting, and glamorous experiences, and then sort of punch holes in that to show the darker center, or the troubling part about those exciting and glamorous events that I’ve experienced. It’s so much more complex than that to me now. “I don’t really do favorites,” she explains. But everything about that song, every image in that song — a lot of which did happen — is totally visual to me. I have no idea what chords I’m playing other than the basics — no sense of whether I’m adding a seventh, or an eighth, or whatever. I like pop-cultural elements in my songs. I don’t know where you’re going with this.” And then it’s like, [screams with joy] “It’s fucking awesome!”

The good thing about working with Brad is that we both agree when it’s awesome. When it hits, we both have the exact same reaction: “That’s it!” You can work with people who have really great production taste, and it might not be yours. That’s like a fairy tale for her, all that happened on the course of that journey. It’s kind of a brilliant, stream-of-consciousness, spoken-word, half-rhyme-y short story about an Upper West Side New York intellectual that I had a crush on, and how he didn’t notice me, and how I wanted to be smarter so that he would like me. I don’t feel like I invented anything. Everyone thinks they know what I’m playing, and they’re always wrong. Journalists kind of gave me that. I have a lot of influence on that continuum. It was already playing like a movie in my mind: this trip down a road that’s so familiar in your hometown, that one road that over the years changes but you have so many memories there. I don’t think of Brad as an unexpected person. You can’t always do that. Now you’ve done it. That’s the excitement of, Oh my God, there they are. I like that it can have that effect on me — that sort of bait and switch at the beginning where I’m talking about this encounter that we’re having and how exciting the first blush of love is, and how fun it is to be with someone that excites you that much, and you see all the possibilities. That sounds like a sophisticated, slow, not overreaching, almost dance track to me. I don’t stop until I have a weird tuning that I like, or a weird place in my hands. She sounds exactly like you. I don’t feel like I did something that everyone copied. It depends on where you start and stop it, or how you feel about it as it’s happening. It just happened to be that mine did. I feel like I was a person who had a big role in a larger wave of people. I think I would have liked darker, edgier stuff. I better go up towards the actual body,” I don’t think of it as, “Let’s move through this tonic progression.” I’m literally seeing a physical object and moving my hand all over it as if I’m a lover, in a weird way — “That sounds good. As simple as it is, it’s a look to wear that is unusual for me; I almost don’t feel that I have permission to step into that space, but secretly have always wanted to. So, okay, let’s go somewhere else, and let’s find a good rhythm to hook into.” There is no chord progression. I had Brad do that. He takes my stuff that is very regular, and he makes it sound extraordinary. That’s repetitive. It’s a love song to Chicago and a love song to my life and loves in that town. He plays down his tenacity, and then when you encounter it, he’s strong as steel about his convictions. “The older I get, the harder it is to know what part anybody played and where the blame should be. And what are fairy tales, if not inspirational stories that show you how not to fall into the pitfalls to reach your goal? Most unexpected Brad Wood moment on Soberish

There’s a guitar in “Bad Kitty” that’s weird-ass. It’s really emblematic of a relationship. And I love that it has a weird name. But that was one of the ones where I got to call it whatever I wanted. It is such a main artery and traveling it with a person who’s been with you on a lot of those different journeys, and describing a very ordinary day that somehow, because it’s between the two of you over this long period of time of having that same ordinary day, is really special. I love that I got away with it. Walt Vincent produced it, and he added some cool-ass guitar sounds. More From This Series

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The Most Virtuosic of St. “I was so sure about who was right and who was wrong when I was young,” Phair explains. I recognize that I was singled out, and I’m super-excited about all the young women that I can hear kind of speaking my language. You can hear him defending something in the studio, that you’ll be like, “Why do you care?” and he’s like, “Because!” Then you’re sitting down for the TED Talk. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. You need a napkin. Story you wish wasn’t cut from your 2019 memoir Horror Stories

I think the one where I’m losing my voice. The most Liz Phair thing about my guitar-playing is that if you try to understand what I’m playing from the sound alone, you will get it wrong. I feel like I was part of a whole movement of indie music, and some things hit better than others. I’m not being artificially humble, either. Phair reunited with producer Brad Wood, who originally produced Exile and its follow-ups, the just-as-excellent Whip-Smart (1994) and Whitechocolatespaceegg (1998), but they were mindful not to just make a 2021 Liz Phair album that sounded like something from her 20s. That nasty, scary guitar. I’m not feeling this. When it came back like that, I was like, “Oh my God!” I was running around the house screaming with excitement because he just gets the most brilliant sounds. It’s very visual to me, the fretboard and the neck. That’s me, but that’s Brad taking my guitar part and running it through six filters. It was in an extra batch of songs that came out for online purchasers or something when I did the eponymous record at Capital. It’s a weird tune that I wrote the lyrics for before I put them to music. “I don’t feel like I invented anything. I would take real songs and mash them with my own songs, like “Wild-Thing.” I also did a weird song about Elvis Presley and the ghost of Elvis Presley and how he’s still alive and haunting us as a culture. Best-written Liz Phair song

Probably “Jeremy Engle,” which never even came out on an album. In the first part, the “Ba Ba Ba”s are actually speeding up. Soberish seems to wrestle with the idea that maybe you don’t outgrow Guyville; it simply grows up with you. This sounds really weird, but I bet that “In There” [off Soberish] would have impressed me. I think I would’ve really liked that and thought I wasn’t capable of it. That’s how we work. I don’t know.” And then we’re going, “Oh my God! I feel like I was part of something at the time, even. Sometimes that’s exactly what you need. The definitive Liz Phair chord or the Liz Phair progression

If anything, I’m chordless. I’m going to use “Ba Ba Ba,” because that song still makes me cry when I hear it. There are made-up chords, every song, in every way. But I don’t like when people are like, “Did you hear so-and-so? This month’s comeback, Soberish, her seventh album and first since 2010’s Funstyle, is often as off-kilter and compelling as Exile, but without making any attempts to re-create 1993. You can totally tell that this artist wouldn’t be here if you didn’t exist” kind of thing. Keep doing that!” Or, you know, “I’m getting a little bit bored. That feels incomplete to me because the other side of that is what I’m writing right now. That’s my most favorite well-written song. It just happened to be that mine did.”
Photo-Illustration: Vulture; Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

“Can I give a caveat before we start?” Liz Phair is letting me know that she’s going to do her best to talk about Liz Phair.