Alanis Morissette talks ‘Jagged Little Pill’ album

Alanis Morissette
(Shelby Duncan / Courtesy The Lede Company)

You Oughta Know: Canadian-born rock star’s 2021 tour wraps with shows in San Diego and at the Hollywood Bowl


Alanis Morissette had at least 15 very sound reasons for taking today off to fly to New York from the West Coast leg of her ongoing 25th anniversary “Jagged Little Pill” concert tour, which celebrates her 33-million-selling 1995 breakthrough album.

“Jagged Little Pill,” the hit Broadway musical based on her album, has a field-leading 15 nominations at Sunday’s 74th annual Tony Awards. The awards ceremony, like Morissette’s current 35-city U.S. tour, were both pushed back from last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ll be attending the Tonys,” she told the Union-Tribune in a recent phone interview. “My whole family is with me on tour. I’m going to do the unthinkable and fly into New York, alone, then fly back to the tour, alone.”

But plans can change, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

In an email Tuesday, Morrissette explained why she had changed her mind, writing: “I would love to be there. It breaks my heart not to be. With COVID protocols and three kids on the road while being on a huge tour, it was just not possible for me to jump out (to attend the Tonys). I will be there in spirit. And I love everyone in this musical so much.”

Easily the biggest musical hit based on a rock album since Green Day’s “American Idiot” in 2009, “Jagged Little Pill” opened to rave reviews on Dec. 5, 2019. It abruptly closed on March 12, 2020 — along with the rest of Broadway and much of the nation — because of the pandemic. It is scheduled to reopen Oct. 21.

A hit with audiences and critics alike, the “Jagged Little Pill” musical was eight years in the making. It is fueled by signature songs from Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill” album, including “You Oughta Know,” “Hand in My Pocket,” “Forgiven,” “Perfect,” “Ironic,” “All I Really Want” and “You Learn.” She’ll be showcasing those songs when she performs here Thursday at North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre with Garbage and Cat Power.

“Jagged Little Pill’s” 15 Tony Award nominations include Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical (Diane Paulus), Best Book of a Musical (Diablo Cody), Best Choreography of a Musical (Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui) and Best Orchestrations (Tom Kitt). Kitt, perhaps not coincidentally, is the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning arranger and composer who helped Green Day transform its “American Idiot” album into a rousing Broadway musical.

The “Jagged Little Pill” cast earned an additional six Tony nominations, with another four nods for costume design, set design, lighting design and sound design.

Alanis Morissette sits in a ball pit in her San Francisco backyard
Alanis Morissette is shown in her San Francisco backyard on July 16, 2020.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Neck and neck with ‘Hamilton’

In the history of the Tony Awards, only one musical — “Hamilton” in 2016 — had more nominations, with 16. “Jagged Little Pill’s” 15 nods ties it for second place with “The Producers” and “Billy Elliot, The Musical.”

Morissette laughed with delight when asked if she pinched herself last October when the Tony nominations for “Jagged Little Pill” were announced.

“I still pinch myself!” she said, speaking by phone from a summer tour stop in Florida. “I think: ‘Wow. What is happening?’

“I’m excited for me, certainly, but mostly for everyone in this musical. Because if I thought touring as a concert artist was hard, doing nine shows a week on Broadway — and all the energy that goes into creating the show and rehearsals — is so much more.

“This is like being in the sun, and I am comfortable in that sun. I am so happy that people in this production, who have been craving to be in that sun, have been let in. I have let them know: ‘If you need me to help you process any of this, I am here’.”

Being in the sometimes-searing spotlight of fame — and learning how to negotiate its heady ups and soul-sapping downs — has been a nearly lifelong process for Morissette.

A native of Canada, she was born in 1974 to a teacher mother and school-principal father. At 10, a few years after she took up piano and began writing her own songs, she became a cast member on the Nickelodeon series “You Can’t Do That on Television.”

At 14, Morissette signed a music-publishing deal as a budding songwriter. “Alanis,” her 1991 debut album, was a frothy dance-pop affair. It was released in Canada when she was 16 and won her a Juno Award as the Most Promising Female Vocalist of the Year. Her second album, 1992’s “Now is the Time,” was similar in style, if a bit less lightweight in tone.

But the career-minded Morissette aspired to be more than her country’s answer to Debbie Gibson, which is how she was being marketed by her record company, MCA. The classic albums her family played at home when she was growing up inspired her to reach beyond innocuous teen-pop.

Much as Ani DiFranco did before her — and Taylor Swift and Demi Lovato would do after her — Morissette wanted to emphatically express the hopes, challenges and complicated emotional realities of being a young woman with big dreams.

“As a kid,” Morissette recalled, “I listened to what my parents listened to: Carole King, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Etta James. And if I could sing like Mariah (Carey) and Celine (Dion) and hit their notes, I was somehow a ‘gifted singer.’

“Kurt Cobain and John Lennon, who I call the ‘ur artists’ and who were creating a truly passionate response to their culture, really resonated with me. I sought solace and they were resources for me when I felt alone — unlike when I gave birth to my (three) children and thought of the millions of women who had done that. ...

“For me to write ‘You Oughta Know’ and express my anger in a way that was artistic, not destructive, was really functional for me. When I see someone expressing anger in a non-destructive way, I get really excited for them. I know how powerful anger and love can be.

“Anger gets such a bad rap. We look to people shooting or punching each other, but that’s anger at its most extreme. There’s also a functional level of anger that, without it, I’d be dead and multidimensionality and egalitarianism would never be possible. Anger, assertiveness, vulnerability, and all the things I may have been made fun of for are my superpowers.”

Alanis Morissette at the T In The Park Festival in Scotland in 1996
Alanis Morissette is shown performing at the “T In The Park” festival in Scotland in 1996. Her unexpected ascent to stardom saw her swiftly pivot from club dates to arena and stadium shows.
(Mick Hutson/Redferns)

Signed to Madonna’s record label

In 1994, the then-19-year-old Morissette hosted “Music Works,” a Canadian television version of “MTV Unplugged.” The same year, as alternative rock steadily rose to global prominence, she moved to Los Angeles and was signed by Madonna’s record label, Maverick. Morissette was teamed with veteran producer and songwriter Glen Ballard, whose previous credits included working on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” The Pointer Sisters’ “Break Out” and Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl.”

“I had been dropped by MCA Records, which was a great emancipation for me,” Morissette said.

“I removed myself from environments where I was underestimated as a songwriter, and I promised myself I wouldn’t stop until my essential self was being expressed. The result was a great snapshot of what I was going through — and that ‘essential self’ credo remains to this day.

“When I met Glen Ballard, he said: ‘Hey! Who are you?’ I said: ‘Allow me to tell you through my songs’.”

She did exactly that on “Jagged Little Pill,” whose 12 songs were all co-written by Morissette and Ballard. The album features members of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, along with San Diego-bred keyboardist Michael Thompson, a longtime touring member of the Eagles.

The public’s response was swift and enormous, catapulting Morissette to international stardom almost overnight in 1995.

As the album was igniting, her management decided to bolster her indie-rock credibility by having Morissette film an MTV interview and sold-out show at the Casbah.

“I remember that!” she said of her gig at the now 32-year-old nightclub. “The Casbah vibe is indelibly imprinted in my memory.”

Casbah co-founder Tim Mays recalled that show during a 2019 Union-Tribune interview.

“It was perplexing why they decided to do it here,” said Mays, who was tending bar at the Casbah that night. “We weren’t going to say no, obviously, but it was very strange ... because she’s pretty much a mainstream artist.”

Indeed, some music critics opined that “Jagged Little Pill” sounded too sleek and calculated. But the overall response was quite favorable and “Jagged Little Pill” is now the 14th biggest-selling album in music history. The only solo album by any woman artist to sell more is Shania Twain’s “Come Over,” which came out in 1997.

Rolling Stone favorably compared “Jagged Little Pill” to Carole King’s landmark 1971 album, “Tapestry,” which Morissette had grown up listening to at home. The Rolling Stone review managed to convey the force of her songs while diminishing the force of her singing, writing: “The jagged little Canadian with the jagged little voice manages to make sensuality and rage act like kissing cousins.”

Born of her ambition and frustrations, Morissette’s artistic template was two-pronged.

“The archetype within me that saved my life was that of a philosopher and also of pain,” she said. “Because everything that happened to me was filtered through my psyche, and through my thinking: ‘What does this mean on a social level and on a cultural level?’

“So, a lot of what happened to me wasn’t as personal as it was impersonal. l liked the giant idea of fame and the larger perception of what it was like being in the zeitgeist.”

But there was also a darker side, as “Jagged,” the new HBO documentary about her rise to fame attests in filmed interviews with Morissette.

It includes footage of her discussing her personal experiences with sexual assault and statutory rape while she was a teenage pop star in Canada. Sexual assault is touched upon in the “Jagged Little Pill,” although it is not the focal point.

“I would always say I was consenting,” Morrissette says in the documentary, which was directed by Alison Klayman. “And then I’d be reminded like: ‘Hey, you were 15, you’re not consenting at 15.” Now, I’m like: ‘Oh yeah, they’re all pedophiles. It’s all statutory rape’.”

Morissette does not identify her alleged assaulters in the film. But in a Sept. 17 statement released through her publicist, she took issue with the “Jagged” documentary.

“I agreed to participate in a piece about the celebration of ‘Jagged Little Pill’s’ 25th anniversary and was interviewed during a very vulnerable time (while in the midst of my third postpartum depression during lockdown),” Morissette said in her statement.

“I was lulled into a false sense of security and their salacious agenda became apparent immediately upon my seeing the first cut of the film. This is when I knew our visions were in fact painfully diverged. This was not the story I agreed to tell. I sit here now experiencing the full impact of having trusted someone who did not warrant being trusted.

“I have chosen not to attend any event around this movie for two reasons: one is that I am on tour right now. The other is that, not unlike many ‘stories’ and unauthorized biographies out there over the years, this one includes implications and facts that are simply not true. While there is beauty and some elements of accuracy in this/my story to be sure — I ultimately won’t be supporting someone else’s reductive take on a story much too nuanced for them to ever grasp or tell.”

Morissette’s Union-Tribune interview took place before the film’s debut at the Toronto Film Festival and before she released her statement.

But the veteran singer-songwriter has for years candidly addressed her anxiety attacks, depression, trauma, eating disorders and more.

Alanis Morissette performs at the 2017 KAABOO Del Mar festival
Alanis Morissette is shown performing at the 2017 KAABOO Del Mar festival. She returns to San Diego Thursday to do a concert at North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre.
(Misael Virgen / San Diego Union-Tribune)

‘Mean girls’

Her eating disorders began when she was 15, which is also when she began seeing a therapist. A great proponent of therapy, she credits it for helping her deal with being a young rock star in an industry that has long profited by exploiting the sexuality of women.

“What does it mean to be 21 and to be in a predominantly patriarchal business? And what happens when you have Rickie Lee Jones, Tori Amos and Sinéad O’Connor all being ‘mean girls’ to me?” Morrissette said, reflecting on how dramatically her “Jagged Little Pill” album changed her life.

“I picture myself (at 21) in hotel rooms, processing how to deal with it all. Some nights, it was tears on my pillow. And some nights, it was fortitude and agency. There was a huge resilience I developed pretty quickly; the shift from playing in clubs to stadiums was almost overnight.

“I hadn’t been in a position before like that (as) the boss of 100 people (on a tour), and I was thrown into that every night. Now, I’ve come to adore that role and thrive in it! I have my ‘me, me, me’ moments.”

Moments which, Morissette acknowledged, she aspired to experience from a very young age.

“I would always project images in my mind’s eye about my future,” she said. “And the one thing that was constant was seeing myself on stage around the whole planet. So, that part felt strangely familiar when it happened.

“But I had no idea what ‘Jagged Little Pill’ would do. Some people at my record company said they thought it would sell 125,000 copies. I said: ‘Whoa. Take the pressure off me; that’s a really big number!’

“The only thing I did know is that I would continuously perform, even if it’s just on a street corner.”

Elizabeth Stanley appears during a performance of "Jagged Little Pill" in New York
Elizabeth Stanley appears during a Broadway performance of “Jagged Little Pill” in New York. Stanley earned her first Tony Award nomination playing the mother of a Connecticut family spiraling out of control in the musical set to the music of Alanis Morissette’s 1995 album of the same name.
(Matthew Murphy / Vivacity Media Group via AP)

Alanis Morissette, with Garbage and Cat Power

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: North Island Credit Union Amphitheatre, 2050 Entertainment Circle, Chula Vista

Tickets: $29.50-$275.50, plus service fees