"Some songs are prayers": Alanis Morissette on Creativity, Spirituality, and Bravery
Alanis Morissette is most well-known for her autobiographical songwriting and passionate performances, as well as her evocative and engaging articles, interviews, and public speaking events. Her music has won seven Grammys. She is also a charitable activist who has supported causes that focus on empowerment, art, recovery, psychological and spiritual healing, feminism, relationships, and environmental causes—earning her a Global Tolerance Award from the United Nations.
1440: For years, your lyrics and your message were described as angry. You have made a clear point to reframe that label as a compliment. Can you tell us more about that? How has anger served as a tool in your life? How has it encumbered you?
Alanis Morissette: Oh, it is definitely a compliment.
Anger is such a vital, powerful, light-filled life force. It can be labeled as feistiness or—in my experience—as passion, and it’s a kick-starter. Anger can kick-start so many multiple forms of activism. It can kick-start art. It can kick-start a scary conversation. It can kick-start someone setting boundaries.
Every artist I know is angry on some level. The two life forces that move worlds in my mind are love and anger. To me, anger is such a gorgeous indication of something needing to change.
And then it becomes about following up with, well, what does need to change? What boundary needs to be set? What clarification needs to be expressed? What activism ultimately is being born within me or within a culture?
Anger has helped me write a lot of songs. To write songs is such a generative, fiery act for me.
I think the only anger that would encumber me would be the acting out of anger that is destructive by behaving disrespectfully toward someone—ignoring their boundaries, sexually, physically, emotionally, or intellectually. I think when anger is acted out, it’s offensive and destructive and nobody wins.
1440: These days you are spending much more of your time publicly contributing to the conversation around consciousness and spirituality. How and why did you make that shift? What led you to want to speak and teach?
Alanis Morissette: I think student and teacher are opposite sides of the exact same coin. So, my teaching is hollow if I’m not an avid student, and my studentship is a constant. I love being a student so much, and a lot of my mentors and teachers did the proverbial “Enough is enough, Alanis. Go forth, my child.” So, there was an element of my mentors turning into colleagues, and I was terrified of that because I thought I’d be rejected if I stepped up or stepped forward.
But, the opposite has been the case. All of my mentors have been nothing but supportive.
There’s not a day that goes by when I’m not reading something or researching something or writing something or philosophically thinking about something.
1440: Can you say more about your fear of rejection?
Alanis Morissette: The message that I could only be a rock-and-roll star was hammered into me. And there was a disparaging projection placed upon my capacity for the more therapeutic, psychotherapeutic, spiritual work. The media attempted to shame me for it, which is funny.
That affected my more public persona. I didn’t want to overwhelm people, that’s the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to confuse people. So, I kept it simple. I would just write the songs and let them speak for themselves.
Over time, I realized that I was passionate to move forward and realized that my mentors were supporting me to start formally teaching. I was excited to do it, and the more I do it, the more it just feels physically and emotionally right on every level.
1440: Is your music an outgrowth of your spiritual exploration?
My music is snapshots of periods of time. It could be a song written from my ego. It could be a song written from my breakthrough. It could be a song written from my suffering. It just depends on the moment.
So, some songs are prayers, and other songs, like “You Oughta Know,” are written purely from egoic fractured devastation.
I am 22 songs in on a new piano record, and certain ones were written from a deep, deep, deep postpartum depression place. A lot of my songs are written from the mind-boggling events of motherhood, wifehood, really diving into female friendships and what that means, or diving (I think of “Hand in My Pocket”) into dualism and the multiple aspects of self.