The importance of being Alanis

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

ALANIS MORISSETTE has felt heartbreak before, as anyone who’s listened to her ripped-from-life songs knows. But last year’s split with her fiancé, actor Ryan Reynolds, turned out to be the big one.

“I think it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” Morissette says. “It’s having had too many of them. And I was a full-blown love addict, so it was like, ‘I can’t keep doing this, my body can’t take it.’ Breakups are a horrible thing for almost everybody I know. For someone who is a love addict, it’s debilitating.

“I’ve been on a constant journey toward finally surrendering and hitting the rock bottom that I’ve been avoiding my whole life. . . . So this was a huge, critical juncture for me. Everything broke, and it was an amazing and horrifying time.”


Not surprisingly, you can hear all about it on Morissette’s new album, “Flavors of Entanglement,” due out today. While it touches on other themes, and isn’t framed as a literal blow-by-blow account, the 11 songs describe knotty conflicts and the pain of separation.

“I miss your warmth and the thought of us bringing up our kids / And the part of you that walks with your stick-tied handkerchief,” she sings in “Torch,” dealing out vivid details in her distinctively conversational style.

But more of the songs -- “Not as We,” “Moratorium,” “Giggling Again for No Reason” -- are drawn from the prolonged aftermath of the breakup, a process leading to what she calls “the Phoenix rising.”

“I entered into my own version of rehab. I went to therapy five days a week, I journaled, I had a lot of support from this incredible group of friends. . . . It was just really moment by moment, step by step, snail’s pace . . .”

She also gutted and remodeled her Los Angeles house (one of her favorite forms of expression, she says, equal to making two or three albums), rode motorcycles, worked on a book and designed jewelry.

And made music, this time with English producer Guy Sigsworth, who helped her return on some tracks to an electronic dance style reminiscent of her records as a teen star in her native Canada.


While Morissette has been known for raw candor since her landmark 1995 album “Jagged Little Pill,” parts of “Flavors” take it to a new level. This time she didn’t need to call on the journals she usually uses as a catalyst, because the events were unfolding as she was working on the music in London and Los Angeles.

“There is an immediacy in that it was all written in real time,” she says. “A lot of times I’ll write in retrospect. These songs were written in the exact present moment as it was happening, so that may be something that’s palpably felt on the record.”

A lot of that immediacy also stems from Morissette’s unusual method of lyric writing, which is pretty much stream-of-consciousness.

“Typically I go in the studio and whatever I’m contemplating that day will wind up being a song. I don’t come in with lyrics. . . . I just go in and let it happen. . . .

“I don’t change anything once we’re done. I put all my energy -- and this also shows up in other areas of my life -- my energy goes into being ready. . . . With songwriting I spend a lot of time living life, accruing all these experiences, journaling, and then by the time I get to the studio I’m teeming with the drive to write.”

Sigsworth, who has worked extensively with Björk and teamed with singer Imogen Heap in the group Frou Frou, says, “So many of my ideas about songwriting have been changed by working with her, because she works so fast as a writer and gets the raw statement of the song so precisely so quickly.”

“She seems to just center on that focal point, the crisis issue at the heart of the song, and she gets it immediately,” he says.

“There were songs where I would listen and be almost in tears and think, ‘Where did this come from? There was nothing here this morning.’ ”

Shunning the limelight

Sitting in a dressing room at a Burbank rehearsal studio where she and her band are preparing for a long stretch of touring, Morissette, 34, doesn’t seem like someone who’s been to rock bottom.

Surrounded by exotic wall hangings she’s brought in to decorate the bare space, the singer has the focused, upbeat manner of a life coach. She’s looking forward to what she calls “the sensual experience” of being on the road, she’s dating someone again, and she laughs easily.

This seems more like the prankster who created a sensation with her impromptu version and video of the Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps,” which originated in the studio where she and Sigsworth were writing music. “I remember turning to him at one point and I said, ‘God, I wish that I could write a really simple song, a song like ‘My Humps.’ So we just turned to each other, did it on piano really quickly, reinterpreted the harmony, and then within a week of shooting the video in my garage with my comedian friends, we put it up on You Tube.

“I thought maybe a couple hundred people would get a kick out of it. I didn’t even think it would be on anyone’s radar.

“The lyrics really have the light shone on them when they’re balladized,” she notes. “So there is something to be said about, ‘Make him work work, make him work work work work work.’

“For me I always frame things that fit in with my philosophy, so how I framed that one was, ‘Yeah, she’s really good at receptivity, which is a decidedly feminine quality.’ ”

She has also finished shooting a lead role in “Radio Free Albemuth,” a science-fiction movie based on a Philip K. Dick novel -- one more public venue for a woman who isn’t sure that’s where she wants to be.

“To me the biggest irony of this lifetime that I’m living is that for someone who thrives in the public eye in the creative ways that I do, I actually don’t enjoy being in the public eye,” she says. “I feel like I’m a recluse in a famous person’s body.

“But I love to entertain. . . . My vocation is to accrue all these experiences, to write about them, to get them out of my system, to not get sick, and then to share them publicly. So the sharing-them-publicly thing is that voice that constantly says, ‘You have to share this.’ I have this temperament of someone who just wants to yell ‘No,’ but it’s what I’m here to do, so I keep doing it.”