Saturday, June 22, 2013

exile in guyville

Liz Phair emerged fully formed and changed the game with the provocative phenomenon of this liberated lo-fi manifesto.  Phair had made an attempt at being an artist in San Francisco after graduating from Oberlin College, returning to her hometown of Chicago where she began writing songs and making demo tapes which she dubbed 'Girly Sound'.  She became involved in the local indie scene and started working with producer John Henderson, founder of Feel Good All Over, a local independent label.  Their sessions were fraught with disagreements over the direction the sound should take and they soon parted ways.  She then began working with producer Brad Wood at Idful Studios experimenting with different ideas.  In the meantime, her demotape made it to Gerard Cosloy at Matador Records, who was so impressed he offered her a record deal without even meeting her.  

The sessions for 'Exile in Guyville' included Liz Phair on guitar, piano, and vocals; Casey Rice on guitar, cymbals, background vocals, and handclapping; Brad Wood on organ, synthesizer, bass, guitar, percussion, bongos, drums, background vocals, drones, and feedback; Tony Marlotti on bass; and John Casey on harp.  Phair remembers:   "It was fun. Actually we just played our parts separately. I layed down the guitar, and then I would just tell them what kind of song it would be and what kinds of instruments we needed to do. And then they would go in there and figure out a part and then do it. It was more like collage work than really playing with a band."

The lyrics addressed the boy's club that she experienced in the indie scene and in rock more generally.  Phair reveals:   "For me, Guyville is a concept that combines the smalltown mentality of a 500-person Knawbone, KY-type town with the Wicker Park indie music scene in Chicago, plus the isolation of every place I've lived in, from Cincinnati to Winnetka. All the guys have short, cropped hair, John Lennon glasses, flannel shirts, unpretentiously worn, not as a grunge statement. Work boots. It was a state of mind and/or neighborhood that I was living in. Guyville, because it was definitely their sensibilities that held the aesthetic. (...) This kind of guy mentality, you know, where men are men and women are learning. (Guyville guys) always dominated the stereo like it was their music. They'd talk about it, and I would just sit on the sidelines...That stuff didn't happen to me, and that's what made writing it interesting. I wasn't connecting with my friends. I wasn't connecting with relationships. I was in love with people who couldn't care less about me. I was yearning to be part of a scene. I was in a posing kind of mode, yearning to have things happen for me that weren't happening. So I wanted to make it seem real and convincing. I wrote the whole album for a couple people to see and know me ... They felt to me like a mafia of music lovers, who were supposedly representing 'alternative,' but at the same time I found them to be sort of oppressive.  You couldn't like certain bands if they were too pop. And if you didn't know which band had split up to re-form the band that you were discussing, then you didn't have an opinion. You couldn't even throw out an opinion, because you just didn't have the background...It was a perfect portrait of this guy's life.  It was my answer to this guy, vis-a-vis the Stones...As a female, I don't think you're supposed to say the kind of things I wanted to say," she remembers. "Or at least I had gotten myself in a position where I didn't feel comfortable saying to people's faces a lot of the stuff I said on that record...I feel like I had been listening to records for ten years where guys talked explicitly about sex.  Women were sort of shunted to the area of emotion. But I've always been really pissed off, frankly, [about] that whole myth that women aren't interested in sex. If you had 30,000 years of really bad consequences for being interested in sex, you might hide it, too...I'll just get really honest with you right now.  I was pretty good in bed at that point from the point of view of what the guys wanted, but pretty bad in terms of my own enjoyment. And yes, that made me angry. But it was my own fault in some sense...I kind of hear how unhappy I was. It makes my heart go out to the person I was.  It's so clear to me now how unsure I was and how vulnerable I really was."

'Exile in Guyville' only charted at number one hundred and ninety six on the Billboard album chart; but it was the biggest success that Matador Records had seen up until that point.  It became a huge critical success and paved the way for more forthright female artists to follow.  Phair considers:    "After my first record came out, I read everything. I was so amazed that I was in the press. Now everyone's like, 'Oh, Guyville, it's so wonderful, it's so pure.' Well, I lived through it and at the time it was a shitstorm, of people being like 'She can't sing, she can't play, who the fuck does she think she is, she's a fraud, she dyes her hair blond, she's playing up her sexuality which is why she sells.' And then there's other people saying 'She's the second coming of Jesus.'  And then it came time for me to write the next record, and I really couldn't. Because I was so crippled. You know, you become an artist, you become an observer, of life, and you digest life by making art about it. What happened when I read all that stuff was: I felt their eyes—even as I was creating—I felt those voices saying, "Oh, let's do that" or "Let's do this." And it. Just. Fucked. Me. Up...When I made Guyville—and I still love Guyville—it was a really fucked-up time in my life. I had no money, I was goofing around more, I didn't know what the fuck I wanted to do, I had all this anger about my brother, I was pent up, lost—and you can't stay there! If you stay there, that's sort of a tragedy in and of itself. Like, 'I will keep my fans… and I will remain miserable.' I always figured there'd be plenty of other young women stepping up to take my place ...  I don't really get what happened with Guyville. It was so normal, from my side of things. It was nothing remarkable, other than the fact that I'd completed a big project, but I'd done that before... Being emotionally forthright was the most radical thing I did. And that was taken to mean something bigger in terms of women's roles in society and women's roles in music... I just wanted people who thought I was not worth talking to, to listen to me...It's odd... Guyville was such a part of indie. But at the same time... I was kind of at war with indie when I made that record."

The album was assembled as a track-by-track response to the Rolling Stones' classic 'Exile on Main Street'.  While the songs may not completely line up conceptually; it's an eyebrow raising interpretation.

"6'1""   3:05 

"Never Said"   3:16 

"Mesmerizing"   3:55 

"Fuck and Run"   3:07 

"Divorce Song"   3:20 

'Exile in Guyville'
full album:

All songs written and composed by Liz Phair. 

1. "6′1″"   3:05
2. "Help Me Mary"   2:16
3. "Glory"   1:29
4. "Dance of the Seven Veils"   2:29
5. "Never Said"   3:16
6. "Soap Star Joe"   2:44
7. "Explain It to Me"   3:11
8. "Canary"   3:19
9. "Mesmerizing"   3:55
10. "Fuck and Run"   3:07
11. "Girls! Girls! Girls!"   2:20
12. "Divorce Song"   3:20
13. "Shatter"   5:28
14. "Flower"   2:03
15. "Johnny Sunshine"   3:27
16. "Gunshy"   3:15
17. "Stratford-On-Guy"   2:59
18. "Strange Loop"   3:57

'Girly Sound'
full album:


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