Born Alanis Nadine Morissette on June 1, 1974, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Alan (a high school principal) and Georgia (a teacher) Morissette. Addresses: Record company--Maverick Recording Company, 9348 Civic Center Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210; 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.maverickrc.com. Publicist--MSO, 14724 Ventura Blvd., Suite 410, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403. Website--Alanis Morissette Official Website: http://www.alanis.com.
Alanis Morissette's 1995 release Jagged Little Pill sold more than 25 million copies around the world 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 singer-songwriter 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's subsequent albums, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie and Under Rug Swept, while successful albums themselves, have not lived up to the precedent set by the astonishing sales figures of Jagged Little Pill.
Morissette was born on June 1, 1974, in Ottawa, Ontario, one of a set of twins born to Alan and Georgia Morissette. Alanis and her 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 a 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.
"Debbie Gibson" of Canada
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 13-year-old, "Fate Stay with Me" was no monster hit but did attract the attention of MCA Canada, who signed Morissette. Her first full-length 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 1980s pop stars 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/overachiever/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 gunpoint. 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 Bros. Morissette was just 20 years old.
Jagged Little Pill, released in the spring of 1995, displayed a drastic change from Morissette's former recording efforts. "The sound is more muscular; her voice is rawer, the guitar work more aggressive," wrote Christopher John Farley in Time, "and while the words are rarely as smart as they seem to think they are, this is straight-ahead rock, sweetened somewhat with pop melodiousness." Its initial single, "You Oughta Know," was a catchy diatribe against a former lover. Later, rumors surfaced that Morissette may have been writing about someone specific she had dated, such as television comic Dave Coulier, but the singer has said that it was merely a composite of several doomed relationships.
Success made Morissette an easy target for criticism, however, once her new American fans--who had never heard of her--discovered her previous incarnation via snipey rock critics. There were rumors that Maverick was surreptitiously buying up all unsold copies of the early-1990s releases, and worse, that Ballard had done much of the work for Jagged Little Pill. Yet Morissette refused to evade her former teenybopper persona, and debunked the tales of Maverick's attempts to hide it. Instead, she told Jon Beam of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune that her early brush with fame helped her keep a level head when the real fame came knocking. Her experiences, she asserted, "made me not become a heroin addict and become completely overwhelmed with how crazy this life is that I'm leading right now."
Morissette's newly out-of-control life included extensive touring in support of Jagged Little Pill throughout 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 more than 25 million copies worldwide. Nor surprisingly, given the fervor of her fan base, Morissette has described singing onstage 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 the Chicago 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."
Took Personal Time Off
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 stayed close to home, and eschewed all interviews and appearances. She took a break from her newfound fame and traveled the world, including visits to the countries India and Cuba, where she did some major soul-searching. She told Billboard's Timothy White, "I made up for a lot of lost time ... time lost because I had always been so focused on my music." She also participated in several triathlons held near Los Angeles. She used this time to focus on pursuing other, non-music related goals. "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."
After her travels, Morissette questioned whether or not she wanted to return to the music industry, nearly deciding to give it up. It was a conversation with a friend that made her realize she could give it up any time she wanted, and this realization made her continue writing songs. In order to remove the pressure she felt, Alanis told White in Billboard, "I [had] to be willing to let go completely of ever doing this again." After that breakthrough, she immediately began writing songs for her next album. She had success with a single released prior to her next album, "Uninvited," featured on the City of Angels soundtrack. She won two Grammys for the song, which Entertainment Weekly called "the musical equivalent of a castle door creaking open," praising the album for its use of "simple, chilly piano notes and Morissette's recognizably wracked soprano."
Morissette's travels and spiritual searching heavily influenced the content of her next album, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, released in 1998. The Houston Chronicle hailed the album as "an introspective, spiritual masterpiece ... virtually ignored by a young audience not ready to look inward." The album, although universally praised by critics, did not sell nearly as well as Jagged Little Pill, although it did reach the triple platinum mark. The songs on Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie were a departure from the rage and anger that Morissette became known for on Jagged Little Pill. She questioned her Catholic upbringing in "Baba," thanked India for her newfound perspective and recognized her own divinity in "Thank U," and even revisited her path to teenage teenybopper fame in "UR."
Returned to Acting
Alanis returned to acting in 1999, playing the role of God in Kevin Smith's film Dogma. Smith, when asked by Entertainment Weekly why he chose Morissette for the role, had a quick answer: "Typecasting. Alanis, she's the closest thing to the divine here on earth." Morissette, who, like director Kevin Smith, was raised Catholic, said her upbringing made her appreciate the satire even more. "I doubt I would have thought the movie was as funny as I did. I think that had a lot to do with the fact that I've been questioning my own Catholicism since as far back as I can remember." She reprised her role with a cameo in Smith's 2001 film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
Morissette released her third album, Under Rug Swept, for Maverick in the spring of 2002. Although still extremely popular, she had her share of detractors by this time, perhaps due to her early teenage pop career. Canadian Musician writer Jim Kelley recognized that "Morissette drew many doubters who questioned her credibility, alleging that her co-writer and producer Glen Ballard was the real, creative force behind her success." Morissette proved that she was indeed the force behind the success by writing, producing, and arranging her next album by herself. Morissette described her experience of producing her album as "baptism by fire" in Newsweek. Still, it was a challenge she enjoyed. "I'm always in over my head. As soon as I'm not, I go somewhere else."
Under Rug Swept went platinum within a week, but was not as critically praised as Morissette's previous albums. A Time magazine writer voiced the complaint that many critics had: "How many different ways can Morissette find to voice the same trite complaint?" The material on Under Rug Swept struck a balance between her first two albums, incorporating elements of spirituality, self-confession, and anger in its lyrics. MTV.com's Jennifer Vineyard wrote, "Under Rug Swept dusts off the same topics [as Jagged Little Pill]--love, sex, cruelty--with the added vantage of years spent growing up." Morissette's growing maturity is evident on each album, and she has added the title of producer to her array of other titles--writer, singer, and actress, among others. She has no plans to stop soon, telling Vineyard, "I feel like I want to write a whole other album right now."
by Carol Brennan
Alanis Morissette's Career
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, 1991; signed with Maverick Records, 1994; released Jagged Little Pill, 1995; released Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, 1998; acted in film Dogma, 1999; released Under Rug Swept, 2002.
Alanis Morissette's Awards
Juno Awards, Most Promising Female Artist for Alanis, 1992, and Best Album for Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, 2000; Grammy Awards, Album of the Year, Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance for "You Oughta Know," all from Jagged Little Pill, all 1996; Best Long Form Music Video for Jagged Little Pill, 1997; Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Best Rock Song for "Uninvited," 1998.
- Selected discography
- "Fate Stay with Me," Lamor, 1987.
- Alanis , MCA Canada, 1991.
- Now Is the Time , MCA Canada, 1992.
- Jagged Little Pill , Maverick, 1995.
- Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie , Maverick, 1998.
- Alanis Unplugged (live), Maverick, 1999.
- Under Rug Swept , Maverick, 2002.
April 4, 2004: Morissette hosted the 2004 Juno Awards. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/digest.htm, April 6, 2004.
May 18, 2004: Morissette's record, So-Called Chaos, was released. Source: Globe and Mail, May 20, 2004.
February 2005: Morissette became an American citizen. She will retain her original Canadian citizenship as well. Source: E! Online, www.eonline.com, February 17, 2005.
June 5, 2005: Morissette was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame in Toronto, Ontario. Source: Globe and Mail, June 6, 2005.
July 26, 2005: Morissette's album, Jagged Little Pill Acoustic, was released to the mass market. Source: Billboard.com, /www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/index.jsp, July 29, 2005.
August 26, 2005: It was announced that Morissette would guest star as a school principal on the CTV television drama Degrassi: The Next Generation. Source: Globe and Mail, July 13, 2005.
- Billboard, May 13, 1995; March 9, 1996; October 3, 1998; February 12, 2000.
- Canadian Musician, March 2002.
- Chicago Sun-Times, March 1, 1996; March 4, 1996.
- Detroit News, March 1, 2002.
- Entertainment Weekly, April 3, 1998; November 6, 1998.
- Hollywood Reporter, May 6, 2002.
- Houston Chronicle, March 27, 2002.
- Interview, November 1999.
- Maclean's, November 23, 1998.
- Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, March 11, 1996.
- Newsweek, March 4, 2002.
- People, December 30, 1996.
- Rolling Stone, November 2, 1995.
- San Diego Union-Tribune, March 6, 1996.
- Time, February 26, 1996.
- "The Silence is Over," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/bands/m/morissette_alanis/news_feature_011802/?_requestid (September 20, 2002).
- "Under Rug Swept," Time.com, http://www.time.com/time/sampler/printout/0,8816,220205,00.html=18816 (September 20, 2002).