Canada’s epitome of the angry rock chick was born in Ottawa in 1974, but her earliest forays into show business were a far cry from what propelled her in later years to fame and fortune.
Her first time in the spotlight was on the kids’ TV show “You Can’t Do That On Television” when she was only 12. But always dreaming of being a real music star, her father drove her to Toronto to work with producer Rich Dodson (Stampeders fame). They recorded a pair of songs she’d written herself, “Find The Right Man” and “Fate Stay With Me.” The single came and disappeared just as quickly, but her fortunes turned upside down a year later while appearing at the springtime Tulip Festival in her hometown.
Festival organizer Stephan Klovan became her manager, and within a month or so had her singing the national anthem and performing at any venue he could book her in, including the 1988 World Figure Skating Championships with Leslie Howe, one half of the pop duo One 2 One.
Klovan and Howe both contributed greatly to her early career. While recording in Distortion Studios (Howe’s home studio), Klovan arranged a slot auditioning for “Star Search” when she was 17. But after performing The Osmonds’ “One Bad Apple,” she failed to make the cut. They continued working with her, moulding a series of demos recorded between September and December of 1990 into a package of short, palatable pop dance tunes, while she helped make ends meet working in a cover band called New York Fries. A trip to France followed, where they shot the self-financed video for her first single, “Walk Away.”
She formed a cover band The New York Fries while still a teen attending Glebe Collegiate, playing shows and honing her live chops. MCA Records’ John Alexander received a copy of her demo and signed her to a deal, releasing her self-titled debut, ALANIS in the spring of 1991. Produced by Howe and co-written by him and Serge Cote with her, it was a far cry from the angst-ridden power pop she’d later gain notoriety for. The record was typical teen girl pop of the day, and she was quickly compared to the likes of Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. Critics however couldn’t stop the success of her first single, “Too Hot,” which found its way out of the pop charts and onto contemporary radio, cracking the Top 10 nationwide. Her follow-up, “Feel Your Love” also made a splash, and her debut album was certified gold in only a few months, selling 50,000 copies, and eventually reached the 200,000 plateau.
Despite the mixed reviews, she won the Juno Award in ’92 for Most Promising Female Vocalist, and was also nominated for Single of the Year and Best Dance Record. But all wasn’t necessarily well personally. According to Morissette, MCA reps placed what she later called “hardcore pressure” on her to lose weight in time for the album’s release, leading her to develop anorexia nervosa and bulimia. During this period, she lived on a diet of carrots, black coffee and Melba toast, and her weight fluctuated 15 to 20 pounds.
Still attending college, she returned to the studios and released NOW IS THE TIME that October. Like its predecessor, the record was available only in Canada. The lead single was “An Emotion Away,” with a video shot in Rome. The song and the video both made their way up the charts, but sales stalled soon after. Howe returned as producer, but despite the moderate success of the artist, he still hadn’t made his initial investment back.
On the advice of MCA’s John Alexander, Scott Welch was hired as her new agent/manager, who’d helped launch the career of Paula Abdul when she’d decided to trade in her LA Lakers’ cheerleader outfit for a microphone. With Welch’s guidance, the dance/pop singer Alanis was ditched for a more mature artist. After moving to Toronto, she spent the next two years working with dozens of writers there, as well as in Nashville and Los Angeles. Little concrete results materialized, until she hooked up with Glen Ballard, a studio musician and producer with Quincy Jones. His resume included Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and Natalie Cole, among others.
Now based in LA and dropped by MCA, she continued working with Ballard in his home studio while she searched for a new label. Life experiences were many and included her being held up at gunpoint. Convinced they were on the right track to something special, Ballard convinced Welch to not pursue the mild interest he’d received from a couple of executives, giving him time to finish up the recording sessions they were working on. Madonna’s own label, Maverick Records, signed her to a deal after an acoustic audition for reps in the fall of 1994.
Trying to shed the pop/dance queen image, she signed with Warner Music in Canada. What was supposed to be simply demos turned out to be her breakout album, almost as-is. But not wanting to make the same financial mistakes as previously, she took no advance royalties. Instead, she negotiated a deal based on future album sales, which she figured modestly would be in the 200,000 copies range. JAGGED LITTLE PILL was released the following spring, and instantly made a mark when the first single, “You Oughta Know” was issued on a compilation CD issued with a music magazine. LA radio stations were the first to pick up on the track, with the rest of the US soon following. Along with sparse interviews and live television appearances, she hit the road for the better part of the rest of the year. She appearedon the MTV Awards and Saturday Night Live that year. Conquering her native Canada, however, would prove to be a little more challenging.
Despite critics’ claims she was simply riding the alternative music gravy train, JAGGED LITTLE PILL peaked in the Top 3 in almost every market around the world and would later go on to sell 33 million copies. From it came five Top 10 singles after “You Oughta Know” – “Hand In My Pocket,” “All I Really Want,” “Head Over Feet,” “Ironic,” and “You Learn.” As a marketing gimmick, there were actually several versions of the album released. Depending on the format, hidden bonus tracks were included in some.
The Japan-only EP called SPACE CAKES was released before the end of the year. It was comprised of acoustic versions of five tracks from JLP that were recorded that June in The Netherlands for a radio program. She was one of the biggest draws around the globe, touring to record audiences and ticket sales. She cleaned up at The Junos and Grammys the next year with four of each, and a full-length live video of the same name also fuelled the machine in ’97.
“Uninvited,” a new track, appeared on the soundtrack to the Nicholas Cage film “City of Angels” in ’98 while taking some much-needed time off. She collaborated with Ballard again for SUPPOSED FORMER INFATUATION JUNKIE, released that November. It debuted at number one on Billboard’s chart and sold nearly half a million copies in its first week. The anxiously-awaited follow-up to one of rock’s biggest albums ever was dark and wandering, and critics at first weren’t sure what to make of it. Not exactly written in a conventional method, many tracks didn’t have hooks or choruses. The first single was “Thank U,” and like “Baba,” it was written after her trip to India, where she discovered Buddhism. Though a far cry from its predecessor, SFIJ still went multi-platinum worldwide and gained her a pair of Grammy nominations and a Juno Award for Album of the Year.
Escaping the rigors of a constant live presence around the globe this time, she stuck mostly to more intimate settings, more sporadic and lower key. Growing spiritually and politically as well as an artist, she also lent her name and talents to several awareness campaigns, appearing at the 1998 Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington, DC, and a live version of “Baba” was on NO BOUNDARIES (ALBUM FOR KOSOVO).
After the new track “Still” appeared on the Kevin Smith film “Dogma” soundtrack, she released a taping at MTV’s New York Studio in time for the ’99 Christmas rush. Under the UNPLUGGED banner, the acoustic show featured hits from her post-new age disco era. It also included “No Pressure Over Cappuccino” and “Princess Familiar,” two songs scrapped previously from albums, but which frequently appeared in her live sets, and a cover of The Police’s “King of Pain.”
Morissette announced a summer tour in 2000 called “The One Tour,” which saw her go to parts of the world rarely (if ever) toured. In each city, she selected an ambassador through a web contest to teach her other traditions and cultures. Later that year she was featured on the television program, “Music In High Places,” where she performed acoustically in the Navajo Nation in Arizona, and also learned the cultures, practices, traditions and songs of the area’s Natives. That same year, she performed in the Broadway production of The Vagina Monologues.
Frustrated with decisions over the last couple of years from Maverick execs, there was a period where it was assumed she was going to switch labels, but Madonna herself intervened, giving her complete control over her projects. With a couple of more years of spiritual enlightenment and a few zeros at the end of her bank account later, she returned with UNDER RUG SWEPT in February of ’02. It was the first album she produced and wrote herself, and the reaction was mixed. In Ireland upon the album’s release, JAGGED LITTLE PILL mysteriously resurfaced, where it peaked at #19 and remained on the charts again until early May. The new record meanwhile debuted at #1 in twelve countries, producing the singles “Hands Clean” and “Precious Illusions,” along with five others, including “Utopia,” which she debuted on her website following the 9-11 attack. Her name popped up at the ’03 Junos three times, but she only won for Producer of the Year, despite the album eventually selling in excess of four million copies.
FEAST ON SCRAPS, a CD/DVD collection of b-sides and rarities was in the stores in time for Christmas. The live portion was recorded during the previous tour while in Rotterdam, Netherlands, while the remainder of it was recording session out-takes and throw-aways that didn’t make the previous album.
A happier and almost bubbly Alanis Morissette was unveiled to the world in the spring of ’04 with the release of SO CALLED CHAOS. Her cheery disposition and new positive outlook in the overall theme of the record was attributed partially to her new engagement to fiancee Ryan Reynolds. She co-produced it with John Shanks and Tim Thorney and featured nearly two dozen studio musicians. The songs were brighter and happier than the more volatile works she’d cleaned up at the cash register with, and critics and fans alike weren’t sure what to make of the new and improved artist. Still, the record debuted at number two on the Canadian albums chart, and at number five in the U.S., only staying in the top 10 for a week. Four singles were released over the next year to mediocre results – the lead-off “Eight Easy Steps,” “Out Is Through,” “Everything,” and in Brazil only -“Excuses,” where her popularity was fuelled by her appearance on a soap opera entitled “Celebrities.” She also raised more than a few eyebrows that year, hosting the Juno Awards in Edmonton, wearing a faux-pas ‘naked’ skin suit.
Celebrating the tenth anniversary of the original record’s release, JAGGED LITTLE PILL ACOUSTIC was released in June, 2005. As it was only available at North American Starbucks outlets for the first month and a half, a dispute erupted between Maverick Records and HMV Canada, who retaliated by removing all her other records from the shelves during that time. The new version of “Hand In My Pocket” was the only single, and album sales were sporadic, at best, and its best showing was in Switzerland, one of few countries where it cracked the top 10. The same year, she was inducted into the Canadian Walk of Fame in a ceremony in Toronto.
The obligatory best-of album followed a few months later, appropriately entitled ALANIS MORISSETTE – THE COLLECTION. Oddly, many of her singles weren’t included, such as “All I Really Want”, “Joining You”, “Unsent”, or “So Pure”, among others. Additionally, none of her eight dance pop single releases prior to JAGGED LITTLE PILL were present, but a new cover of Seal’s “Crazy” was. The label also made available an additional DVD in the package in time for the holiday spending frenzy.
She hooked up with new producer Guy Sigsworth for 2008’s FLAVORS OF ENTANGLEMENT. Despite still encapsulating her political and social conscience, it still treaded the happy trails of SO CALLED CHAOS. The record was almost perky by her standards, as evidenced by tracks like the lead-off “Citizen of the Planet,” “Underneath,” and “Giggling Again For No Reason.” The album debuted in the US at #8 but quickly fell out of the Top 40, which is pretty consistent with the results around the world. The lack of success didn’t stop her from walking up to the podium the next year at the Juno Awards, where she picked up the award for Pop Album Of The Year. After all promotional obligations were completed, Morissette left Maverick Records and has been rather reclusive since then.