On the phone with Fiona

Published Oct. 3, 1997|Updated Oct. 2, 2005

Fiona Apple, how you do go on . . .

The 19-year-old enfant terrible, whose cranky acceptance speech for Best New Artist threw a wet blanket on the MTV Music Awards in September, isn't afraid to speak her mind. Her debut, Tidal, speaks volumes about life experience, even though Apple wrote many of the songs when she was 15. While adult naysayers may scoff at Apple's preternatural talent, true fans closer to her own age say they understand. In an interview with Sammy Mack, 14, a member of the Times' X-Press X-Team, our group of kid writers, Apple showed herself to be something more than the Sullen Girl she sings about on Tidal. In fact, despite a bit of a cold, she was quite pleasant and chatty.

_ HELEN A.S. POPKIN, Times staff writer

Interview by SAMMY MACK

Sammy: I guess I should just start out with a question.

Fiona: Actually, I should warn you, I'm a little bit sick, so if I sound low, it's just because I'm in a daze.

Sammy: Completely understandable. First of all, do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

Fiona: I just got really lucky. I didn't do anything that is like a helpful hint on how to get into the business, but for aspiring artists that either do or don't want to be in the public eye, my advice is to just completely block out the rest of the world when you're doing your art and just listen to yourself.

Sammy: On your album credits, you thank the poet Maya Angelou and you quoted her at the MTV Music Awards. Why does she mean so much to you?

Fiona: She's been more influential to my writing than any music has been. She's an incredible writer, very honest and direct, and very open about her moments of humiliation or vulnerability. I used to have this book of hers that I called my pillow book because I'd sleep with it under my pillow every night. I related so much to the emotion she was expressing. I used to close the book and look at the back picture. She was pride all over, it comes out of her pores. It was so inspiring.

Sammy: I'm in middle school right now and I was wondering if you had any advice about getting through those tough teen years.

Fiona: Um, basically along the same lines as the advice I would give about being an artist. I gave this speech at the MTV Music Awards that I got in a lot of trouble for with a lot of people. They didn't understand it. What I was trying to say was. . . like my whole experience with being in middle school and being in high school. . . is that you always feel like there's a higher class that you're supposed to be a part of, there's a cooler click that you're either, you know.

Sammy: One of them or not. . .

Fiona: Right, exactly. In my speech I said something like this is bulls--- and I think a lot of people felt I meant the whole entire world or that I was insulting Hollywood. What I was saying was, in my theory, Hollywood is full of a bunch of people that were the misfits in high school, just trying to go back to that situation and relive it and change it and become part of the cool clique of the world and the ultimate senior class. The ultimate way you can become the Homecoming King or Queen is to become a celebrity and live in Hollywood.

Sammy: Yeah. . .

Fiona: And I just think that too many people look up to these people too much, you know, for guidance on how to be cool and how to act and how to talk and how to dress. I just want everyone to have a lot more pride in themselves. I really believe in going with yourself and making your own reality and not letting anyone tell you that what you feel or believe is wrong.

Sammy: Do your parents support your decision to become a musician?

Fiona: Oh yeah, they love it. I think they're a little worried. They never get to see me anymore and I'm always traveling and always working. I'm sure they're more worried than they're telling me. . .

Sammy: It's a parent thing . . .

Fiona: Yeah, exactly. But it's a good thing. I'm happy that they're not nagging me.

Sammy: Do you enjoy your touring and stuff?

Fiona: It was a huge, huge, huge adjustment to make. In the beginning, I hated it. I was so miserable on the road at first because it's a huge adjustment to start living on a bus with 10 men and be in a different city every day. I've gotten into hotel rooms at 4 o'clock in the morning and like, called up my mom and not been able to say what state I was in.

Sammy: What's your favorite part of performing?

Fiona: You know what I like doing? I like just kind of venting on stage, even when I'm not on the mike. When the musicians are playing but I'm not singing, I'll just start jumping up and down and just screaming. . .

Sammy: Just get it all out. . .

Fiona: Yeah, and it's wonderful to be able to throw a tantrum up there under the spotlight.

Sammy: We heard your speech, but what was it like winning the MTV Music Award for Best New Artist?

Fiona: It was really weird because you don't expect to be the one that they pick. You never expect that, especially if you're me. If you're one of the last people to be picked in gym class, you never really expect to be the one they pick for Best New Artist.

Sammy: What was your childhood like? Were you a happy kid?

Fiona: I was. . . I mean yeah. It's hard for me to say,"Oh, I'm a happy person," or, "I'm a sad person." Life goes up and down, that's why my album is called Tidal. Life isn't black or white. . .

Sammy: It's everything.

Fiona: Yeah, childhood is, you know, tough for everybody. But I like what I learned from my childhood so I have fond memories, I guess.

Sammy: Gee, I'm running out of questions here.

Fiona: Actually, I have another interview that I'm runing a little bit late on. . . I can't really stay on.

Sammy: Okay. In that case, it was nice meeting you. I'll be at your concert Oct. 3.

Fiona: Cool.

Sammy: See ya.

Fiona: Bye.

Sammy Mack, 14, is an eighth-grader at Seminole Middle School.