Alanis Morissette's 1995 release Jagged Little Pill sold over ten million copies and won her four Grammy Awards. Its slew of hit singles, kicked off with the vituperative "You Oughta Know," made Morissette an alternative music star overnight. Yet the singersongwriter also endured some flak for her success, especially after word leaked out that she had suffered a rather unsuccessful earlier incarnation as a big-haired, drum-machine-backed teen singer in Canada. Nevertheless, the candid songs of Jagged Little Pill, penned by Morissette as she matured out of her teens, spoke to a broad cross-section of adolescents and adults alike.
Morissette was born June 1, 1974, in Ottawa, Ontario, one of a set of twins born to Alan and Georgia Morissette. Alanis and he twin Wade joined older brother Chad, and for a time the family lived in Europe when the elder Morissettes—both teachers—took jobs at a military base school. As a young teen in Ottawa again, Morissette attended Catholic schools and was straight-A student. A self described overachiever, she began piano at age of six and wrote her first song at age nine, and her talents eventually landed her on television. Her biggest success came with a recurring role on You Can't Do That on Television, a kids' show on the Nickelodeon cable channel in the mid-1980s.
With the earnings from the television show, Morissette produced her first single on her own label, Lamor Records. The 1987 release, "Fate Stay with Me," was recorded with the musical expertise from former members of the Stampeders, Canadian rockers who had a 1971 hit with "Sweet City Woman. "As a single written by a thirteen-year-old, "Fate Stay with Me" was no monster hit but did attract the attention of MCA Canada, who signed Morissette. Her first fulllength record, Alanis,debuted in 1991, followed by Now Is the Time a year later.
But it was not yet Morissette's time at all. Her career enjoyed some minor successes, but she remained pigeonholed; MCA even had her touring with the always-maligned Vanilla Ice. She did get a chance to hone her songwriting skills over two albums, however, and later, after her major success with Jagged Little Pill, refused to be embarrassed by a persona whom unkind journalists compared with Debbie Gibson or Tiffany. "I wasn't writing to communicate anything, and I was definitely not ready on the self-esteem level to indulge myself and all my personal turmoil," she told J. D. Considine of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Jagged Little Pill would bare some of the personal dramas that engulfed Morissette in typical coming-of-age passages, but she has spoken about certain moments in her late teens as definite turning points. In one incident, she had a breakdown in front of her parents—partly as a result of the pressures she felt as a combination teen star/over achiever/perfect daughter. Discovering the 1991 Tori Amos LP Little Earthquakes helped inspire Morissette to begin writing from the heart. Coincidentally, Amos had also suffered an off-target launch as an alterna-pop performer under the moniker Y Kant Tori Read, and later succeeded by writing straightforward, deeply personal songs.
Morissette came to see the necessity of leaving Canada for the more inspiring climes of Los Angeles. Like Axl Rose stepping off the bus in the video for "Welcome to the Jungle," she underwent the usual big-city trials during her first weeks. She was held up at gun point. She was broke. She tried to find someone to work with, but no one seemed to click. Finally she approached Glen Ballard, an unlikely hero. Ballard was a producer with a home studio who had crafted tunes for Wilson Phillips and Paula Abdul. But he didn't try to mold her into something salable: " I felt that he wasn't judging me, and I felt that he had enough security within himself to give the ball to a 20-year-old and let her go with it," she told J. D. Considine of the Chicago Sun-Times. Within a period of two weeks, they recorded most of what would become Jagged Little Pill, and shopped their demo tape around. Executives at Maverick Records heard it and signed Morissette in 1994. Their ultimate boss, however, is none other than Madonna, who became CEO of the subsidiary as part of her lavish contract with Warner Brothers. Morissette was just twenty.
For The Record
Born Alanis Nadine Morissette, June 1, 1974, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Alan (a high school principal) and Georgia (a teacher) Morissette.
Worked as a child actor, mid-1980s; released first single, "Fate Stay with Me," on Lamor Records, 1987; signed with MCA Canada; released first full-length LP, Alanis, in 1991; signed with Maverick Records, 1994; released Jagged Little Pill, 1995.
Awards: Juno Award, Most Promising Female Artist, 1992, for Alanis; Jagged Little Pill earned Grammy Awards in 1996 for Album of the Year, Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song (for "You Oughta Know"), and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance (for "You Oughta Know").
Addresses:Publicist—MSO, 14724 Ventura Blvd., Suite 410, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403.
Morissette's newly out-of-control life included extensive touring in support of Jagged Little Pillthroughout much of 1995 and 1996. In early 1996 the record won four Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, and Jagged Little Pill would eventually sell a staggering ten million copies. Nor surprisingly—given the fervor of her fan base—Morissette has described singing on stage as similar to a religious experience: "When I'm onstage, it's very spiritual. I feel very close to God when I'm up there," she told Rolling Stone's David Wild. Another journalist likened Morissette's stage show to "kind of like waiting for someone to have a breakdown, " wrote Jae-Ha Kim in theChicago Sun-Times. "Flailing her arms and moving about in a pigeon-toed stance, she appears most comfortable when her face is covered by her mane of hair."
Still, fame did have its pressures. She began avoiding interviews with members of the Canadian media, granting access only to American journalists. Fans eagerly awaited a follow-up to Jagged Little Pill, but, after finishing a heavy year of touring in 1996, Morissette was reportedly staying close to home, and eschewing all Interviews and appearances. It seems unlikely, however, that the outspoken Morissette would retire permanently from public life, and a return to acting was one possibility. "I love doing things that scare me," she told Beam In the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune interview. "It makes me feel alive and challenged. It makes me feel like I'm growing. That comfort-zone area, I hate it."
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