Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Finding her bliss

Formerly angst-ridden, Alanis Morissette has channelled the joys of being a wife and mother into her new album

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TORONTO -- When chatting with celebrities, prying personal questions are often off-limits, or at least frowned upon. In the case of Alanis Morissette, however, the personal and professional have perhaps never intertwined so closely.

Sure, the sharpest edges of her breakthrough breakup screed Jagged Little Pill inspired enduring chatter about the identity of her battered target (the prevailing theory is also the most disappointing: Full House star Dave Coulier). And later releases So-Called Chaos and its moody followup Flavors of Entanglement seemed to provide some dizzying details of the Ottawa star's fall into and out of a serious relationship with Hollywood heartthrob Ryan Reynolds.

But Havoc and Bright Lights is different. Basking in the afterglow of her 2010 marriage to rapper Mario (MC Souleye) Treadway and the birth of their son, Ever, later that year, Morissette recorded the new album at home so her child would always be close at hand.

Of course, he was top of mind too, as Morissette's happy home life and new motherhood fuelled a collection of tunes with a dramatically different outlook than her previous work.

"It has allowed me to have more fuel and more energy, rather than being drained by the profound dysfunction of my relationship and having me be distracted," said the 38-year-old in a recent interview in Toronto.

"It's allowed me to really focus on my priorities."

Professionally, that meant spending a "painstaking" amount of time crafting her first album in four years. It also meant finding the will to be blissfully ignorant to any unsolicited outside input.

And "blissful" certainly seems to be the word these days, as Morissette glides into each engagement in a day of interviews as if she's a few inches off the ground.

Stylishly outfitted in slim-fitting khaki pants, a white blouse and teal blazer with some tasteful gold jewelry dangling around her wrists to match her bright yellow heels, Morissette's arrival is preceded by whispers from press and publicists alike about just how, well, nice she is.

The record, too, reflects her newfound jubilation. Beneath the adrenalized guitars of album opener Guardian, Morissette sings both about her need to protect her son but also the way he's made her value herself more.

And the album's starkest sentimentalism concerns her relationship with her husband. The gently uplifting adult-pop confection Empathy finds Morissette thanking Treadway for really "seeing" her, while Til You -- a fluttering wisp of a ballad -- is the first "bona fide love song" she's ever written.

Aside from inspiring those tunes, Treadway has had a more pragmatic impact on Morissette's professional life. When she embarked on a brief but taxing trek through Europe recently -- her first tour in four years -- Treadway came along with her, bringing Ever to shows outfitted with a cautionary set of noise-cancelling headphones.

Needless to say, it was a major change from what Morissette had grown used to.

"I used to think that travelling was its own entity -- I would come home and try to pick up the pieces of my so-called personal life. Now, my personal life is on the road, so it will sustain touring for a long time," she said.

"There was a period of time where the alpha woman -- which happens to be the archetype that I am -- was burnt at the stake and we had our heads chopped off. Now we're actually gloriously being championed," she added, speaking more generally about her relationship.

"And then there's this component of this beta-empowered man who doesn't have to be apologetic or shamed for the fact that he was born to support the mission of his woman. So I think it made it all possible for me to have the beautiful marriage that I have and to be able to live my life without dating someone who slowly clips the wings and clips my cape and clips my world away."

Yet, for a woman who initially blasted her way into the world's eardrums with the vitriol of a victim, such domestic euphoria could have posed a real creative challenge.

Not so, she says.

"I think passion writes things," she says. "There was a lot of passion going on on behalf of womanhood, on behalf of commitment, on behalf of finally experiencing the monogamous, committed relationship that I'd dreamed of for so long, and was shamed for.

"Basically, who I authentically was was pooh-poohed in a lot of ways in my own personal interactions, so now to have it not only validated but championed is very exciting."

But Havoc isn't a uniformly upbeat affair.

Morissette seethes against misogyny over a gurgling electro beat on Woman Down, laments the ruinous toll of addiction on the standout piano dirge Havoc, and addresses the cost of suppressing one's nature on the ominous Numb.

Much of the album's personal angst seems to be rooted in past mistakes. While journalists are discouraged from asking Morissette about past romances, she makes numerous references to at least one destructive relationship that she came close to gilding into permanence.

Of Til You, for instance, she says: "It was me thanking my husband and, frankly, myself, for persevering and not committing for life with someone that I knew on some level would ensure my downfall."

She offers new perspective on her career, too.

Morissette was only 21 when Jagged Little Pill launched her into rarefied air, reaching diamond certification twice in Canada and selling 16-times platinum in the U.S. en route to a four-trophy haul at the Grammys. She never again reached the commercial standard set by that album -- few, of course, ever have -- and was uneasy in the spotlight it created.

So it's not surprising to hear Morissette rage against the emptiness of the pursuit of fame on the clattering Celebrity.

"That was a commentary on the whole bill of goods I was sold on fame affording high self-esteem and great friends and joy and constant bliss," she said.

"After Jagged Little Pill, I could see that in and of itself, fame was hollow. And it amplified whatever was already there. So if there was self-doubt or self-sabotage or self-hatred, it just put it on steroids....

Now? She's more comfortable.

"I could see, in the late '90s especially, that I could use fame as a tool. It became a means to an end. It was a way for me to serve my agenda of upliftment and serving compassion and empathy... So I use fame now."


-- The Canadian Press

Album Preview

Havoc and Bright Lights

-- Alanis Morissette

-- In stores Tuesday

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 G5

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