Return to 'Guyville'

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Phair: The first shots are kind of normal, and then I kind of let loose. There's that side of me. I guess you could say one of the things that "Guyville" benefits from is the tension that exists in me between a good girl and then this sort of unleashed animal side.

Later publicity shoots

Phair: The photo shoots were just always about sex, as if (the explicit) "Flower" were the only song on the record. … Everyone would be like, "Wear just suspenders over your nipples and stand on Michigan Avenue while we take your picture."

It was so violating. Sometimes in their studios, they'd throw a party while I was taking the pictures. "We're doing a Liz Phair shoot. Do you want to stop by and have a cocktail?"

So there'd be this group of people milling around, and I'd be wearing next to no clothes being photographed.

I mean, I get what I deserve, don't I? (laughs) But (the album cover) was under my control.

Release

Wood: I'll be honest: I expected the critical appeal. Did I think it was going to be as widespread as it was? I didn't expect that. But I wasn't surprised.

Phair: It was thrilling what was happening, but it was also traumatizing because of what came with that.

Wood: The onslaught of attention was hard to get used to at first for Liz.

Phair: You have to understand I had never performed live. Like nev-er. Not ever. I would have rather died. So all of a sudden, I have this record taking off, and everyone wants me to perform, and I've literally never been on a stage and played my songs.

Wood: In the audience, people would scream the words back at us so loud that I couldn't hear anything I was playing, she couldn't hear herself, and she would turn around and look at me like, "Oh, my God. What the (expletive)?"

Reception

Phair: They thought it was just confessional. They thought that there was no sort of self-editing process. My favorite thing is to be really brilliant while like just off the cuff. That's my aesthetic, high-low. The fact that they didn't think that I could be intelligent enough or artistically formal enough to intend things to be the way they were deflated me a little bit.

Also, the neighborhood that I was in really split down the middle. Half of them really resented that I'd gotten all this success when they had really been more in the scene preparing, playing, wanting it, and it felt to them like, "Oh, 'cause she's cute and she came from the suburbs, she's more marketable, so that's why this is getting all the attention," you know? It's never fun to have people talking about you like that.

Fans

Phair: (Fans' sense of ownership) means that there's always a comeback available to me. They're always like, "All right, are you going to do something good?" (laughs) I'm lucky beyond words that that's how they felt about it. ... There's something much more lifelong about it, which suits me. Most of my friendships are very old or are on their way to becoming very old, and we're not always friends all the time. (But) when they're (ticked), it's not fun.

Past and present

Phair exorcised many of her "Guyville" demons when Dave Matthews' ATO Records rereleased the album in 2008 along with her own DVD documentary about its making. Now she is collaborating on a new album with singer-songwriter Ryan Adams producing.

"He helped a lot in giving me confidence again," she says. "He opened me up again because he's an artist, so he understood."

Meanwhile, "Exile in Guyville" landed at No. 37 on Spin's "125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years" list last year and No. 327 on the 2012 edition of Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list.

To Ann Powers, now a critic for NPR Music, "Exile in Guyville" has left a huge sonic legacy. "That feeling of an artist letting you in on her process and creating a sound that's very intimate and individual, all of that comes out of 'Exile in Guyville' in some way or other," Powers says.

What Powers wishes she would hear more from current artists is "the way she dealt with sexuality and relationships in a very frank but not pandering way."

At the time of "Exile," Phair says, much of her ire was directed at snobs who'd blather on like professors and make others feel "nonmusical."

"I was so sick to death of them," she says. "I just had this fire in me, like music is innate. Music belongs to the human species. I'm like, no, I'm going to do this record, I'm going to show everybody that a girl who isn't an expert in music can still be very musical, excellently so. And that's what I did. I believe that still."

mcaro@tribune.com

Twitter @MarkCaro

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