Music News

Liz Phair talks about her haters

After releasing a short run of independently released cassettes titled Girly Sound in the early '90s, Liz Phair quickly garnered critical acclaim for her offbeat sense of humor and knack for quirky, inventive pop songs. On the strength of those releases, Phair signed to Matador Records, which released her debut full-length, Exile in Guyville, in 1993.

A humorously serious answer to the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St., Guyville both established Phair as one of the premier songwriters of the alternative era and garnered some withering criticism from the likes of Steve Albini. The latter acknowledged the importance of the album to so many women during his interview on the bonus DVD of the 2008 reissue of Guyville, so Phair can claim something like vindication for her work.

In the last few years, Phair has been scoring television shows, which has led, in part, her to experimenting with her own songwriting. The result is a group of exuberantly playful songs that are eclectic, humorous and smart. We caught up with Phair recently and discussed one of her best new songs.

Westword: "U Hate It" has to be one of the funniest and most deeply sarcastic songs written in recent years, partly because of the mix of sampled dialogue underneath the music. It's like something Frank Zappa would have done. Why that approach to writing that song, and have you actually heard people say stuff like that about your music?

Liz Phair: Yes! People have said that about that song, that it has a Zappa-esque quality, the absurdity. I have heard people say that stuff about my music. I mean, it was in direct response, really, to my management's reaction to "Bollywood," where they were tag-teaming me on the phone like, "I hate it. I hate it. No, I really hate it!" They were so serious about such a funny song, and it completely shocked me, how upset this song had made them. Nothing is usually that direct: Go home and write a song exactly about what just happened. But it really was in that case.

It seemed absurd to me, and it has always seemed absurd to me, the reaction that people who don't like my music have about my music — it's so strong. I don't know what upsets them so much about a song of anyone. Unless you're screaming white-supremacist stuff, I don't understand why a song can affect people so much, especially a funny song like "Bollywood."

It killed me. I was like, "Wow, you really hate it, huh?" If a problem that I'm dealing with is absurd, I want to approach it in an absurd way, so I'll do a song like that. That's sort of why "Bollywood" is that way, or "Beat Is Up." I'm really talking about absurdity, so I try to reflect that in the music itself.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.