According to Alanis Morissette, there are three types of men in the world. “Men that hate women and always will. Men that grew up being taught to hate women and are working on loving them and then . . . there are the other kind,” she says, getting comfortable on a couch in a downtown Toronto hotel room. “Those that never hated women and never will. I luckily married the latter.”
Of the first group, Morissette was motivated to pen the lyrics to Woman Down, one of the most personal songs on her upcoming disc, Havoc and Bright Lights. The track could easily fit on Morissette’s breakout album of 1995, Jagged Little Pill—a disc that earned her five Grammys and a Rolling Stone cover (with the cover line “Angry white female”). It could also sit well with the songs on her last album, 2008’s Flavors of Entanglement, often referred to as a heartbreak disc as it dealt with her feelings surrounding the end of her two-year engagement with actor Ryan Reynolds. Yet Morissette insists that Woman Down is one of those songs that needed time to come to her as it’s about more than just one bad lad.
“About 35 men in my life inspired me to write it,” she says, noting that the song’s devils and muses came from a pool of relatives, strangers, relationships, as well as people crossing paths with her during her 26-year career in music, TV and film. “The song sheds light on the chauvinistic, patriarchal context that many of us are thankfully moving away from—and not a moment too soon,” she says, addressing song lyrics such as, Calling all lady haters / Why must you vilify us? / Are you willing to clean the slate? “So much of the misogyny that these men emit has to do with their mothers—most of the time it has to do with how they saw their dads treat their moms.”
Havoc and Bright Lights focuses on what Morissette calls her “new-found maternal point of view” following the birth of her son, Ever Imre Morissette-Treadway, now 19 months, with husband and rapper Mario Treadway. Like many chart-topping postpartum discs, such as Annie Lennox’s Diva (created after the birth of her first daughter Lola and before the birth of her second, Tali), Madonna’s Ray of Light (made after the arrival of her daughter, Lourdes) and Sarah McLachlan’s Afterglow (crafted before and after the birth of daughter India), Morissette’s latest batch of recordings explores her life as a woman who is now caring for two.
“I feel like I’m doing that for four,” Morissette corrects. “There’s my son, my husband, my vocation—which is serviceable through my art—and then there’s little ol’ me. Usually I’m last on the list,” she laughs, explaining that most of Havoc’s songs, such as Empathy and ’Til You, were written in 20 to 30 minutes. “It’s a time of new definition of self. Prioritization is tantamount because there is less bandwidth. That which is important has to be the most important—everything else completely falls away. You become a better editor, have better boundaries.”
Her album’s first single, Guardian—currently doing the rounds on both music and parenting blogs—offers some insight into Morissette’s mothering style, with lyrics that describe her as “watchwoman,” “warden” and “warrior” of the family. The video to the track is an ode to Wim Wenders’s film, Wings of Desire. In the Guardian video, Morissette dons a pair of angel wings and looks onto a group of unhappy families on the streets of Berlin.
But the Ottawa native’s experiences as a parent will not be confined to music videos. Morissette is planning to roll out 12 mommy vlogs she will share online via her Facebook page and her website. The 38-year-old mom promises she will openly discuss her on-tour, diaper-changing days as they unfold. Having already written a piece for the Huffington Post praising the concept of attachment parenting as well as a first-person account of the hormonal mayhem connected to postpartum for iVillage, Morissette feels she is ready to regularly communicate with her fans on her “maternal process.” The world of mommy blogging is one she knows well.
“I contribute to them,” she says of the parenting blogs she visits and comments on. “Not anonymously and not in a pulping kind of way, but I want to be part of the conversation on those sites, and sometimes I want to level the playing field,” she says. “When parents who are in the public eye send some message of perfectionism, I think it’s really irresponsible and dangerous. I feel I can share authentic experiences of what is going on—both the challenging and the gorgeous,” she says about joining North America’s 3.9-million-plus mom blog brigade. “It’s fun to demystify the whole parenting experience. I’ll be tackling subjects like how to have time with your husband to postpartum depression to my love of coffee and, of course, figuring out the role of a mother.”
Shawna Cohen, editor-in-chief of Mommyish, one of North America’s most popular parenting sites, feels Morissette’s presence in the blogosphere may cause as much of a collective sigh as Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website, Goop.
“You’ll get a lot of hipster moms rolling their eyes at Alanis. The fact is, we are suddenly inundated with celebrity mom blogs—everyone from Kourtney Kardashian to Tori Spelling has hopped on board,” she says. Cohen says Morissette has something on her side that could save her from the same scrutiny other celeb moms have been subjected to. “Alanis does have a chance of standing out based on the fact that she’s always been a bit of a free-spirited hippie. You get the sense she’s not perfect, which makes her all the more relatable, but I can’t imagine any cool thirtysomething moms seeing her web series and thinking she has perfectly encapsulated motherhood. She may be genuine with her emotions, but she’s not exactly covering new ground here.”
Aside from expressing the virtues of nesting and breastfeeding, Morissette will have a lot to answer for in the upcoming weeks as Havoc and Bright Lights wrestles with the always-hard-to-write-about topic of fame.
On a track called Celebrity, Morissette extols the evils of wooing the powers that be at TMZ, roaring out lyrics that damn a “lust for VIP” and those who are “starting to be famous.” The song reflects the pressure Morissette felt when she realized she was becoming a public figure.
“The standard and value system in the West is threefold: be rich, be famous and be 21 forever—i.e., look 14 years old, weigh 98 lb. and always have flawless skin,” she says, thinking back to her rough experiences as a newcomer singing dance pop. “ I have PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] memories of my early days. I had eating disorders. I had people giving me feedback about how I looked all the time. Some were encouraging me to change my name and come up with this whole fictionalized persona and lie about my age.” Today, she presents herself in what she feels is a healthy, authentic way. “I’m aware that my messages are easier to swallow if I’m easier to look at but I also know now that I don’t have to annihilate myself in order to adhere to a standard that I wasn’t part of creating.”
Morissette’s next focus is what she calls spiritual activism. During the making of Havoc and Bright Lights, she read works by Adyashanti and Gangaji—two American-born spiritual teachers who have undergone a series of transformative awakenings, and Morissette has made a point of seeing the Dalai Lama speak any chance she gets. She is also writing a book with the support of one of her favourite self-help authors, Debbie Ford, who will help her focus on it as soon as her upcoming tour is finished.
“The book will be about women’s issues, self-care practices and spiritual practices. There is going to be music accompanying it and there will be some photos,” Morissette reveals, noting that she was inspired by a recent meeting she had in Ottawa with clinical psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson, the author of 2008’s Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love and an expert in couples therapy. “I’m actively involved in the therapeutic and neurobiology community because they are now finding that everything is inextricably linked. Those of us in the new-age conversation have known this for a while. A lot of my book will use my own life as a case study to illustrate a revelation I might have along the way.”