Such Pretty Forks in the Road

Such Pretty Forks in the Road

“Everything that I was feeling is in the songs,” Alanis Morissette tells Apple Music of Such Pretty Forks in the Road, her ninth LP. It’s a simple idea, but in the eight years since 2012’s Havoc and Bright Lights, Morissette has felt and experienced a lot, from multiple miscarriages to the birth of her second and third children, the depths of postpartum depression to the realization that her business manager had been stealing millions from her over the course of nearly a decade. All of that has made for some of her most powerful work since 1995’s Jagged Little Pill—a set of deeply candid and largely piano-driven ballads she recorded in Malibu and her new home in the Bay Area whose title is based on a lyric from “Smiling,” a song first heard in the 2018 musical that Jagged Little Pill inspired. “Anytime something is that life-changing and hard, I want to chronicle it,” she says. “Some of the more challenging turning points in my life have yielded the greatest evolution in my own consciousness.” Here, she takes us inside every song on the album. Smiling “I wrote this for the record, and then it wound up being really appropriate for MJ, the lead character in the musical. She’s grappling with wanting to serve and present well, not fail her family and not fail her community. Writing ‘Smiling,’ I was just losing it. I was losing my relationship with Los Angeles, grieving a home that I'd had for 20-some-odd years. There were the fires in Malibu, my dog died—everything was happening all at once. Countless therapists have given me feedback that, ‘Alanis, you're saying something really, really challenging and hard to hear, and yet you're smiling. Tell me about that.’ It’s the idea of presenting one way, and then internally falling apart. And that's not an uncommon thing with certain types of people who want to help. I've seen my mom cry maybe three times in my life, and one of them was when I played her this song. There was something that really spoke to her, and after she left, I just scoured the lyrics, really wanted to get to know my mom, thinking, ‘Okay, so this one really got to her. What the heck did I write about?’ It's a good way to know your parents: See how they feel about your songs.” Ablaze “This one makes me cry if I listen to the lyrics, so I have to think about baseball, baseball, baseball. Heaven forbid, if I were to pass away, this is what I want to make sure that I shared with my children. I have all these journals and books that I'm like, ‘These are here for you.’ I'm an attachment mom, and I'm obsessed with addressing the developmental tasks of attachment and exploration—forming a sense of identity and a sense of competence. But I didn't want to write a whole song about those, so I just started talking about dualism, and how being here on Earth there's always two. There's hot, cold, tall, short. The song was a little longer, actually, and I had to cut one of the verses.” Reasons I Drink “My big three are work addiction, love addiction, and food addiction. And then, all my secondaries are all the other lovely ones. I think for a long time the general notion of addiction was so stigma-filled and shaming, like, ‘Shame on you for being an addict. Shame on you for needing to go to rehab. Shame on you for a lack of quote-unquote discipline.’ Which is such bullshit, because you're not going to meet more disciplined people oftentimes than addicts. It's actually seeing those of us who are addiction-riddled as us seeking relief. It’s trying to assuage a culture that is basically chronically stressed out. It’s cutting myself and cutting other people slack, and also giving a little insight. This isn't just someone gratuitously trying to cause chaos. This is someone who needs support and help, and to sit across from a nonjudgmental person in order to heal. Byron Katie once said, ‘Drugs and alcohol, they're just doing their job.’” Diagnosis “I think as a celebrity, someone in the public eye, I don't get a lot of loving, gentle feedback from people. I will either get positive or negative projections, or egregious misperception or misunderstanding of where I was coming from. I've been perceived as wildly sane. I've been perceived as unstable and unpredictable and wild. My dad told me when I was really young that people are going to love what I do, people are going to hate what I do, and some people won't give a shit about what I do. And that that won't change no matter what I'm doing, so just keep going. ‘Diagnosis’ is me going, ‘Look, I don't care. I don't even know how I'm perceived at this point. But this is what's happening. I have postpartum depression; I can't think straight.’ My whole life has been relying upon my cognitive function in order to show up. But when I wasn't able to rely on that as much, with the postpartum activity, it became, ‘What am I going to rely on? And how am I being perceived?’ In the middle of writing it, there were moments where I just wanted to walk into the ocean and not come back. But then I just thought about my kids, and I'm like, ‘That's not going to happen.’” Missing the Miracle “Marriage for me is both people wanting to participate actively in the healing of each other's wounds, in theory. But when so much is going on, I just feel like we're missing the point and the beauty of it all, and that's not uncommon to be just overwhelmed by the day-to-day and triggering each other's PTSD. It's just a playground of missing the beauty, until it isn't. Spending at least ten minutes alone, I can get back into how beautiful it is, and how it is a miracle that any relationship can be sustained with how different we are, and how we're such complicated, beautiful human beings. We all have different perspectives—how the frick does any relationship stay together? We're animals. But I think the more consciousness I bring to my marriage, the more I can really see, even when it's hard, that it's this incredible experience. It’s a reminder for me to just pull my head out of the sand sometimes and look around, and just be that gratitude thing.” Losing the Plot “Los Angeles was always such an incredible city to be in when I was working. But when I wasn't working, and being a mom, it just felt like I wasn't in the right city. The line 'I am lying down my cape' comes from this idea of thinking that I can be the superhero for everybody. Whether it's the house, or the dog, or the food, or the travel, or the logistics, or, in our case, education—we’ve been homeschooling for nine years. It’s superwoman-ing and just surrendering, going, ‘I can't keep doing the same thing and thinking it's going to yield different results.’ I'm supposed to be making all these wise decisions, but I didn't have access to my intuition to the degree that I typically do. Postpartum depression is a ghost that sneaks in and takes a lot of things away. But I've been through it twice now, so I know that there's another side, and my guess is it'll be shortly after I stop breastfeeding. I’ll report back.” Reckoning “I've been writing songs about having been sexually abused for a long time, and songs like [2002’s] 'Hands Clean' just came and went. A lot of times trauma is just stored in our bodies, and we've disassociated. Fight, flight, freeze. Later on, we can melt and come through, when it might feel like a safer choice to make. It's quite traumatic to not only relive it, but then to be in the public eye and have it questioned? When I listen to ‘Reckoning,’ there's some lyrics—that second verse, ‘Where is everybody? Where are all these protectors around me?’—I can’t not cry when I'm listening to them. When I'm asked what would I say to my 19-year-old self, my 46-year-old self would just be like, ‘We’ve got to check and check the people in your immediate vicinity.’ Because a lot of people were not the safest people to be around and didn't have my best interests at heart. I love this song because it empathizes with this small little girl in there, as opposed to the grown woman looking back.” Sandbox Love “It begs a big question, post-sexual-abuse: What does healthy sex even look like? And what prize should I keep my eye on? There’s this culture—porn culture, acting-out culture, having-a-sidepiece culture. There's so much repair that’s needed to be experienced in a relationship, for those of us who've had sexual abuse in our past. ‘Sandbox Love’ is my imagining of what healthy sex would be, what that terrain looks like.” Her “Her as me, her as the Divine Feminine, her as feminism. I’ve had so many mentors who were women, who have really represented the maternal. Especially postpartum, there's this whole thought of, like, ‘Who's going to mother the mother?’ My husband and I are always joking that he gets such a mama energy from me, and I'm like, ‘Where the fuck is my mama energy? I need a bosom too.’ For me, this song is really about the reaching out for mom, the reaching out for the maternal, for the empathic, the skin-on-skin tenderness. Also, in spirituality, I love attempting to spot the threads of continuity between all these religions—it's all pretty patriarchal. I think this is me going, ‘Sorry, but I'm not going to be praying to the old man in the throne in the sky, as lovely as that fantasy is, but to this femininity that I yearn for so much.’” Nemesis “So the theory is that 20% of animals and humans are highly sensitive temperamentally, to the point where they take in 500 pieces of information when they walk into a room and the other 80% of people take in maybe 50 pieces of information. I'm a sucker for the subtleties, and I think that's due to the kind of temperament I have. I think everyone is realizing how adaptable they are right now, but change is hard. I’ve never been good with it, I’m always horrified. Later on, I can see what a great idea it was to make that change, but while I'm in it, there's some profound suffering. It doesn't mean I'm not making changes every day, because in order to evolve our consciousness we have to be willing to say goodbye to the old. That certainly has to do with becoming a mom—it's just a complete head-spinner to go from not being a parent to being a parent. But it's everything: It's leaving Canada; it’s going on tour and saying goodbye to my friends; it's coming home and saying goodbye to everyone on the road. I think that's the nature of what life is: Life is change. It’s constant. But that doesn't mean I won't fight it, and resist like a professional resister.” Pedestal “I remember I was dating someone and we did some show in front of 40,000 people, and I came backstage all sweaty and glittery and spent, and I turned to the person I was dating and I said, ‘What do you think of the show?’ And he said, ‘What are you talking about? You just heard 40,000 people cheering for you. What’s your problem?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I don't know those people.’ It’s growing up in the public eye. It’s writing songs at 16, and then wanting to evolve that into writing songs as a 19-year-old, and people dissuading me from that and not really seeing me as this human being who's just evolving and expressing. It’s looking back on all of these relationships, whether it was people that I was dating, or my family when I was younger, or different producers, or so-called guardians who were meant to be taking care of me when I was younger who were being sexually inappropriate. There's been a lot of relationships that maybe started off on a note of my thinking that it potentially could be safe or super intimate. And then I found out that there was a lot of opportunism involved, or some blindside, or some betrayal—or some embezzlement, as happens. This song really just takes it down to the lowest common denominator: At the end of the day, I'm still a human being who has a lot of needs, and is vulnerable, and scared and shaking like a poodle in the corner, like anybody else.”

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