Alanis Morissette has sold over sixty million albums, her career has spanned two decades, and she has won numerous musical awards. On August 30th, she graced the stage of the 92nd Y’s Kaufmann Concert Hall for a conversation with moderator Anthony DeCurtis about her work and her life as well as a question and answer session with the audience. The singer-songwriter, dressed in a bright green shirt, black pants, and heeled boots, walked out to a warm greeting from a nearly full audience. Described by DeCurtis as a “fearless voice in the music industry” and “someone who speaks her mind and speaks her heart,” Morissette gave the audience a glimpse into her life and her mind as she spoke about music, religion, creativity, marriage and motherhood, and everything in between.
Promoting her new album, havoc and bright lights, which had just been released two days before, Morissette explains that its title refers to her belief that human beings are all lights and spiritual creatures. This belief in the concept of spirituality extends to her religious life. While not Jewish herself (despite the rumors), Morissette describes herself as a believer in the spiritual and a supporter of the religious experience in general, whichever religion one follows. In Morissette’s view, there is a thread of continuity that belongs to all religions which connects humankind. She praised the ritual, the prayer, the song, and the community that is a crucial aspect of religion in general, listing empathy, curiosity, and humility as the qualities that connect us to God.
Her appearance at the 92nd Y, a center of Jewish culture, prompts these questions of what kind of connection her musical and personal identities have to Judaism. Her thoughts on spirituality and our identities as spiritual beings, while not limited to a Jewish audience, have a message that reaches across religions and can be appreciated by a varied audience. According to Morissette, “the brave thing is to not try to be just good or better, but to peel away layers to get to who we are” – a relevant message at the time of her appearance, in the days leading up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, when Jews are focusing on repentance and greater self-awareness.
In addition to the spiritual aspect of her message, Morissette offered advice on harnessing creativity and talent to the best advantage. She dismissed the belief that creativity flows only when one is in pain, insisting that any emotion can be the catalyst for creativity. Songwriting, according to her, is equal parts discipline and inspiration – a formula that can be applied to most forms of creativity.
It is this organized songwriting process with afternoons set out for the task that leads to the creation of her widely popular albums, with beautiful songs such as ‘empathy’ and ‘guardian’ (all song titles on havoc and bright lights are uncapitalized) on her latest CD. Her unique sound is easily recognizable on this new album; the distinctive voice that rocketed her to fame is still authentically present in her latest music. Her conversational style, whose flowing quality she admittedly prefers despite it being “effortful in that it exhausts you,” is as much a part of her music now as it was in her Jagged Little Pill days, the height of her popularity. The frankness with which Morissette writes lyrics is the result of what she calls the “supreme indulgence for a writer” – writing without thinking about anyone else and only afterward choosing whether to share the finished product.
For Morissette, her identity as a singer-songwriter is more than just a career path. Utilizing her talents is a survival strategy, helping her feel whole and connected to her spiritual self. The fame that her talent has earned her is not an end in itself, according to Morissette. It is the “means to an end; a way to uplift, comfort, assuage, and live purpose,” both a channel for self-expression and a way of contributing to humankind.
Alanis Morissette’s new album, havoc and bright lights, was released on August 28, 2012 by Collective Sounds.