Born Fiona McAfee Maggart on September 13, 1977, in New York, NY; daughter of Brandon Maggart (an actor) and Diane McAfee (a singer and dancer). Addresses: Record company--Epic Records, 2100 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404, phone: (310) 449-2848, fax: (310) 449-2746. Website--Fiona Apple Official Website: http://www.fiona-apple.com.
Confident of her own creative abilities and sure of her originality as a female solo pop artist, singer-pianist Fiona Apple began her career at a young age. Her bluesy-pop sound of naked emotion was unique in a developing field of mid-1990s female artists. Continually compared to Tori Amos and Alanis Morrisette, Apple's wise-for-her-years maturity helped her maintain her composure as an artist. She smoothly launched into the vanguard of contemporary pop at age 19 with the release of her first album, Tidal, and her sultry, soulful voice pushed the release to outstanding commercial success. She won a Grammy for the single "Criminal" off the album. Following this success, Apple released When the Pawn ... in 1999. She took a self-imposed hiatus from music for the next few years, eventually emerging with the well-received (and much-delayed) Extraordinary Machine in late 2005.
Apple grew up in New York City, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, as the daughter of artistic parents. Her father, Brandon Maggart, was an actor and her mother, Diane McAfee, was a multi-talented singer, dancer, nutritionist, fitness trainer, and cook. Apple began playing piano at eight years old. As for singing, she explained in her recording label (Epic Records) biography that it seemed as if she had always sung. "I'd come home from school and hang up my keys on a key chain that was right beside my mirror. I would look in the mirror and realize I was singing. I sang all the time." The sounds of jazz standards influenced Apple's style, and some listeners recognized reflections of legends such as Nina Simone, Carole King, and Billie Holiday.
Early Emotional Turmoil
The concepts for her songs were forged amidst domestic conflict in Apple's early home life. She began her expressive exercises by exiting from household fights and writing letters about her feelings. In addition, Apple has admitted that she was a victim of sexual abuse as a pre-teen, but found some relief by talking about it. In an interview with Jane Stevenson of the Toronto Sun she said, "I remember hesitating and thinking this is probably going to ruin me. ... I just didn't want to keep it a secret." Apple fell into turmoil without any escape except her creative imagination. Like many artists, she survived frustration and pain by writing and composing music. Piano scores and emotional letters were the outlets which later became her lifeline.
Apple moved from New York to Los Angeles when she was 16. She wanted to spend time with her father, finish her high school education, and make a demo. She planned to record lots of copies and distribute them widely. However, her entrance into the pop music scene was sudden. She traveled to New York to visit friends over the Christmas holidays, and gave a three-song demo tape to a friend who was baby-sitting for a music industry executive. The executive heard the demo and played it for producer and manager Andrew Slater. Slater contacted Apple soon after, and they ended up working together for more than four years.
Tidal, her debut album, was released in July of 1996 on Clean Slate/Epic. Apple ignored reviews because she refused to gauge herself by anything she was hearing or reading. Even though the album's title described how life's experiences ebb and flow like the ocean tides, Tidal hit like a tsunami on the pop scene. "Shadowboxer'" received heavy videoplay on MTV and VH1, and landed Tidal on the top 40 albums chart. "Sleep to Dream," and "Criminal" formed the other primary components of the wave that hit the United States. The album went gold within six months and triple platinum within three years.
In the Spotlight
The instant success surprised the young singer. Despite playing the piano from her early years and writing songs about many of her personal experiences, Apple had yet to perform. She met that challenge by doing her first gig in Paris, appearing on Saturday Night Live guest spots, touring with Chris Isaak, performing as a headlining act on the 1997 Lilith Fair tour, and singing to sold-out audiences at concert hall performances. Apple spoke to Alan Light of Spin magazine about her confidence on stage and her performance style. "I feel totally in control when I'm singing the songs. As soon as I'm not, I don't know how to act. But I would rather not be contrived, even if it makes me look better."
Apple won the 1997 MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist In A Video, for "Sleep to Dream," and went on to win other awards, including the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, and the 1998 MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography for her "Criminal" video.
Apple sought to further clarify her thoughts on her sophomore album, which was released in late 1999. Responding to a November 1997 article in Spin magazine, she wrote a poem that she began reciting onstage during the Tidal tour. Following her own advice to the youth of the day, she chose the 90-word poem as the title of her 1999 release, which was the longest album title ever. When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What he Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He'll Win the Whole Thing `Fore He Enters the Ring There's No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights And if You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land And if You fall It Won't Matter, `Cuz You'll Know That You're Right was a collection of songs describing her anger at what she perceived as the selfish, greedy, self-serving, and voracious part of the world she had experienced. The sound of the second album was more upbeat than her debut, and the album hit gold status within two months. Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone described Apple's music as a spiritual sister to Korn and Limp Bizkit. Sheffield further predicted that the artist had a promising future: "[When the Pawn...] makes you hope that she'll find a way to use her talent as a connection to the world. ... She's an artist who deserves a shot at growing up."
When the Pawn... represented a new maturity for Apple's music, but she continued to struggle with her newfound success. In February of 2000, in the middle of a concert at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, she broke down and left the stage. She later issued an eight-page apology (she had apparently been unhappy with the sound system). In interviews she confessed details of her private life, including being raped by a stranger in her mother's apartment building at age 12. In 2002 she began recording her third album with producer Jon Brion, who had also produced her earlier albums. By 2003, however, it was unclear whether the album would be released. When rumors suggested that Epic had refused to issue the album, an anonymous source released the album on the Internet. Apple's fans immediately launched a "Free Fiona" effort, sending Styrofoam apples to Sony (Epic's parent company) in an attempt to force the album's official release. Apple, while touched by fans' efforts, was displeased with the premature release of the album. "It was the weirdest feeling," she told Elysa Gardner in USA Today, "like somebody had taken my diary and printed it."
A Long-Awaited Return
When Extraordinary Machine was finally officially released in 2005, Apple admitted that the delay had been primarily her fault. Dissatisfied with the majority of the original tracks recorded with producer Brion, and believing that Epic's oversight was too stringent, she walked away from the project. Returning in 2005, Apple re-recorded most of Extraordinary Machine's songs with producer Mike Elizondo, resulting in smaller arrangements and a more relaxed sound. Critically, the album received warm praise. "It's the kind of album that makes an artist's previous work sound better," noted Sasha Frere-Jones in the New Yorker, "a record that makes converts out of doubters." Extraordinary Machine also landed on a number of critics' "best of" lists for 2005. Ironically, while many reviewers found the official release superior to the Internet bootleg, Apple's fans continued to complain that the album--as originally conceived--had not been released.
In the wake of her newfound success, Apple exuded greater confidence. On the Blender website she declared, "I'm in a really good place right now. I feel a lot more prepared emotionally to deal with public life than I have before." At the same time, she also expressed ambivalence over her future as a performer. "I can't promise to anyone or myself that I'm going to be putting out albums for the rest of my life," Apple told Chi Tung in Paste. "I don't know if I'll always be inspired to write songs."
by Nathan Sweet and Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr
Fiona Apple's Career
Started playing piano at eight years of age; released debut album, Tidal, in 1996; released When The Pawn..., 1999; and Extraordinary Machine, 2005, all on Clean Slate/Epic.
Fiona Apple's Awards
MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist In A Video, for "Sleep to Dream," 1997; National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, 1998; MTV Video Music Award for Best Cinematography, for "Criminal" video, 1998.
- Selected discography
- Tidal Clean Slate/Epic, 1996.
- When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King... Clean Slate/Epic, 1999.
- Extraordinary Machine Epic/Clean Slate, 2005.
- MusicHound Rock, The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.
- New Yorker, October 10, 2005.
- Paste, December-January, 2005-6.
- Rolling Stone, November 25, 1999, pp. 97-98.
- Spin, December 1999, p. 82; January 2000, pp. 59-64.
- USA Today, September 28, 2005.
- "Fiona Apple Bio," Epic Center, http://www.epicrecords.com (November 17, 2005).
- "Fiona Apple," Rolling Stone.com, http://www.rollingstone.tunes.com (December 21, 2005).
- "My Happy Ending," Blender, http://www.blender.com (February 19, 2006).