To celebrate the tenth anniversary of her monster Jagged Little Pill, which has sold 30 million copies worldwide, almost 15 million in the U.S., and generated four Grammys including album of the year, Alanis Morissette, now 30, is recording an acoustic version of the album with her original co-writer and producer Glen Ballard. It will be released exactly ten years after the original debuted, June 13.
I very clearly remember sitting up in the control room of radio station WENZ in Cleveland that summer, looking out the window as a small, very thin, pale and tired young woman walked across the lobby below on her way to an interview with me on the air. The scathing, seething, orgasmic “You Outta Know” had just broken and I was expecting some crazed firebrand, not this shy, polite, soft-spoken, intelligent young woman fatigued and somewhat disoriented by the road. We had a very nice chat, played songs from the album (including “You Outta Know” and then-future hits “Hand in My Pocket,” “You Learn,” “Head Over Feet” and “Ironic”), and she was on her way.
A far cry from the assured young woman who, while hosting the Canadian Juno Awards in ’04, disrobed on stage to reveal a skin-colored, naked body suit with nipples and pubic hair in a pointed comentary on Nipplegate.
Although she had performed on the Canadian TV show You Can’t Do That On Television as a kid, and had released two dance-pop albums in Canada, the Ottawa native told me her great breakthrough came when she realized that to make truly meaningful music she would have to get real and honest, even painfully honest, and use her private journal as her lyrical foundation (which, incidentally, is remarkably similar to what Trent Reznor had told me in an earlier interview). The technique worked.
But she didn’t create the alt-rock/pop sound that has energized 30 million cash registers by herself. Glen Ballard, a Quincy Jones protege and budding songwriter-arranger-producer in the late-’70s and ’80s, made his first big splash in 1988 when he collaborated with Paula Abdul on her debut album, Forever Your Girl, which reached seven-times platinum and held the No. 1 position on the Billboard album chart for 10 weeks.
Less than two years later Ballard struck multi-platinum again with the debut album by Wilson Phillips. For Jagged Little Pill, Ballard produced, co-wrote much of the material with the singer, arranged it, and performed on the album. He also helped start the recording revolution that has reshaped the industry, leading to a wave of major studio closures, including most recently NYC’s legendary Hit Factory.
Most of Jagged Little Pill was recorded on Alesis Adat modular digital multitrack (MDM) recorders, and Ballard became associated with the “MDM” revolution of the ’90s. Because of their affordability, portability, and modular design, MDMs allow artists and producers to make high-quality recordings at home or in small “project” studios, saving money on studio bookings and enjoying the freedom of working at a leisurely pace.
“I think it’s great, and there’s no stopping it,” Ballard told the Encyclopedia of Record Producers regarding MDM recording. “There’s a great depth and character to analog recording that won’t be replaced by anything, but I’m always the first person to get something new. Adats have made my work so much easier. The Alanis record was 98% Adat, and I’ve done 10 or 12 other records that were 98% Adat. I’m not a purist in that if it’s not analog it can’t be good. I’m into capturing emotions. I try not to be too precious about it, because at the end of the day if what you’re hearing in the studio is great and you put it on Adat, I don’t think it’s going to be any less great. As long as the technology isn’t driving the boat, you’re OK.”
In this case, clearly they were.
Regarding the new recording, Ballard told Billboard that the songs will definitely be recognizable, “they’ll just express their DNA slightly differently. We’re limiting our palate to more acoustic instruments, but there’s a great wealth of instruments to try. I have a hurdy gurdy in there. It’s fun to explore. My goal is, we make an album that’s interesting so that even if someone had never heard the original, they’d still dig it.”
Morissette will tour in support of the new album in June and July.