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Alanis Morissette Turns Pain Into Creative Gain

Of the Oakland Press

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Alanis Morissette has a knack for gleaning creative gain from personal pain.

In 1995, the Canadian singer and songwriter emerged from teen idol status and blew away the world with "You Oughta Know," a wickedly explicit castigating of an ex-lover that helped drive the album "Jagged Little Pill" to worldwide sales of 30 million copies. And this year Morissette's breakup with actor Ryan Reynolds inspired much of "Flavors of Entanglement," her 10th album and first set of new material in four years.

Morissette tries to distance the songs from Reynolds -- who recently married actress Scarlett Johansson -- by saying they represent "just a personal unraveling of a couple of significant relationships in my life at the time." But she acknowledges hitting an emotional "rock bottom" and describes "Flavors..." as a chronicle of both that and of her rebound.

"I didn't let myself completely unravel," explains Morissette, 34, who's sold more than 55 million records worldwide and won seven Grammy Awards and 12 Canadian Juno Awards since "Jagged Little Pill's" release. "I was in pretty steep denial for awhile, but I got out of that and I feel like I started over last year, in a way.

"So 'Flavors of Entanglement' kind of speaks to the challenges and the exultation of being a human being and all the colors in between. It on one level kind of chronicles the unraveling and the rock bottom kind of finally being hit -- and the Phoenix-rising kind of dregs of hope that always imbue anything that I create."

Morissette says her healing came from "my having taken a break for the first time in a long time." Although she did some retrospective work -- including the 2005 release "Jagged Little Pill Acoustic" and a greatest hits album later in the year called "The Collection" -- the period since 2004's "So-Called Chaos" was marked mostly by time off, and what Morissette did with it, including a refraining from romantic relationships that she writes about in the "Flavors..." song "Moratorium."

"I basically was tending to my personal life, just wanting to kind of shake my tree, so to speak, and traveling a lot," says Morissette, who's currently "dating someone that I really, really am excited about." "I went to Fiji. I spent some time in Big Sur. I did a little bit of charity work here and there, gutted my house and refurbished the whole thing from the ground up.

"I was creating my own lifestyle and growing up a little. I just basically lived the life that I would later comment on in my songs."

That kind of break has been a long time coming for the Ottawa native, a show biz fixture since she was 10, with subsequent appearances on "Star Search" and Nickelodeon's "You Can't Do That on Television." "Jagged Little Pill," recorded after she moved to Los Angeles at age 19, was her rock 'n' roll "coming out" that led not only to more albums but to film work in Kevin Smith's "Dogma" and "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" and in the upcoming adaptation of the Phillip K. Dick novel "Radio Free Albemuth."

But taking time off did not deter Morissette from the autobiographical songwriting path she's always pursued.

"My intuitive take is that some people sing 20 percent about themselves and 80 percent is fictional," she explains. "The closer it gets to 100 percent, the more compelling it is to me or the more interested I am in hearing it.

"In the big picture, people like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen and Rufus Wainwright, those kinds of artists, I just feel like there's not a huge filter between their personal experience and what they're writing about. I think it's a rite of passage to write more and more autobiographically, if you're inclined to, as you get older."

Given her emotional travails leading up to "Flavors...," the album -- which debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 chart in June -- could well have been filled with songs slaying old boyfriends. But Morissette says she didn't want to be a one-trick pony.

"There's a song called "Straitjacket" where I kind of unleash," she notes with a laugh, "but I see the 'You Oughta Know, 'Straitjacket' kind of venting song as a rite of passage in the healing journey. It's not somewhere where I stay and I linger; it's more a passing experience in my journey to freedom. It's not where I want to stay -- in the venting, in the anger. I think it's toxic to stay there.

"But to move through it, I think, is mandatory."

If there was any doubt that Morissette's sense of humor was intact, it was dispelled during the making of the album, when she released a languid, melodic version of the Black Eyed Peas' dance hit "My Humps" that became an Internet sensation, with an accompanying video.

"I was in the studio with (producer) Guy Sigsworth and I was writing, I think, our twentieth song," Morissette recalls. "And he said to me often times, 'What horse from the Apocalypse is coming today, Alanis?' 'cause I'm such an emotional tirade coming in every day. And I said, 'I wish I could write a simple song, a song like 'My Humps.' I would love to be able to write a song like that.' And then we had this pregnant pause, and I said, 'Well, I didn't write it, but I can sing it...'

"I thought I'd put it up on YouTube and share it and maybe 500 people would get a kick out of it, and the rest kind of unfolded as it did. I was very surprised."

But humor, she admits, "can turn into a novelty," which means Morissette will likely stay on the earnest course that's been her stock-in-trade since "Jagged Little Pill." She's comfortable with that, and she's also confident that she's doing it even better now.

"I think there's the same menu of emotions available to me; I'm just less afraid of them now, whether it's anger or fear or pain or joy or exultation," says Morissette. "They bowl me over a lot less, and I'm a little less reactive with then in that I know how to channel them and...communicate a lot better.

"The fact that songwriting is such an outlet to me is something that I rely upon now, and...from a simple pounding pillows to sharing with every intimate friends, I just have more outlets for my emotions now. I guess that's a testament to growing up a little bit."

Alanis Morissette and Alexi Murdoch perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (Oct. 7) at the MIchigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $87.50, $67.50 and $49.50. Call (734) 668-8463 or visit www.livenation.com.

Web Site: www.livenation.com

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