Of all the words spent discussing Liz Phair since her debut nearly two decades ago, none have ever concerned her ability to surf. “I just learned!” chirps the 43-year-old from her home in Southern California. “But ironically, it’s been the coldest, grayest summer here in, like, 100 years.” Phair should be used to such ups and downs. While she was hailed as a groundbreaker for her 1993 indie debut, Exile in Guyville, a move to Capitol Records was greeted with brickbats. But in July, Phair — who also has composed music for TV, including the revamp of 90210 — returned to her indie roots, streaming a comedy rap called “Bollywood” and selling a download of her latest album, Funstyle, on her website (the CD release, on Rocket Science, comes with a bonus disc of her rare Girly Sound tapes). Here’s what the self-described MILF had to say about her recent time in exile.
It has been five years since your last album. Does this have anything to do with 90210?
[Laughs] Not really. It’s just that I like to take a couple of years off between stuff I do. Plus, I’m raising my son, let’s not forget.
Okay. It’s just that you’ve been fairly prolific in the past.
Yeah, I like to be the maker of the art. And I like and want the money. But I don’t really dig being famous. That’s not why I got into this business. I got into it because I love to dream, and I love to make those dreams a reality. When you’re the person everyone’s dreaming about, you can’t really do that. They’re thinking about you, they’re talking about you, they’re taking pictures of you — you become a cultural symbol, almost like a politician. And no part of me wants to be that.
Well, at least you’re back. Is it safe to assume you wrote “Bollywood” as a laugh?
Thank you for getting it! It’s so funny how many people have gone, “I don’t think she’s a very good rapper.” And I’m like, “Really? You really think I’m trying to be Lil Wayne?”
You had a falling out with your management over Funstyle. What happened?
I thought these songs were the best things since sliced bread. I thought they were hilarious. And I played them for my management, and they freaked out. They were mortified, appalled. It was kind of like Jerry Maguire.
There was just this pall cast [where they wondered how] I would even think these songs were viable. I remember them being like, “I’m not going to fucking walk into a radio station and play them this album.” It was this weird moment where I was like, “How can anything so funny be so upsetting?” I remember crying, too, because I was so surprised. So we had to part ways. After a year, I just felt like, “These songs are awesome. I’m tired of waiting.” Is it okay to say I think they’re awesome?
Sure. Especially since you’ve been selling the album on your website.
I did this in a very anti-establishment way. I always felt incredibly uncomfortable in the major-label system, where they would pour all their money into first-week sales. It just felt false. Like, how do you say to people, “This is major!” before it even is?
Was your stint on Capitol ultimately a depressing experience?
I had a lot of fun, ironically. I had a horrible time with [CEO] Andy Slater and the way that went. But I had fun on tour. I had fun doing photo shoots. It was fun to be challenged to learn about that world.
Moving to Capitol from Matador led to a bit of backlash. Can we discuss your haters for a second?
I’m practically split down the middle, wouldn’t you say? I’ve decided to embrace it. There have been times I’ve tried to avoid being hated, and still been hated. Even Guyville, which is now part of the canon, was a horrible experience to go through when it came out.
Because, even in the indie-rock crowd, there were plenty of people saying how lame I was, how undeserving I was, how bad the record was. It’s always been something that’s trailed after me, this polarizing quality. I just have to embrace it at this point.
Now that you’re older, do you ever look back at some of your more provocative lyrics and blush?
Not really. It doesn’t shock me. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have said those things the way I did. My parents didn’t love it.
What about your 13-year-old son?
I remember when I put out “Hot White Cum” [in 2003] and everybody was like, “How could you do that? You have a child!” Let me just state, categorically, my son doesn’t care about my music. He likes to listen to video-game scores by Japanese bands. So, he’s not even on the same continent as my career.
The press materials for Funstyle refer to you as a MILF. Is that a badge of honor?
I would say, yeah. I certainly try to be one.
How exactly are you trying?
I prance around and dance by myself to hip-hop songs in the mirror. I wear clothes that most people in the Midwest would probably deem inappropriate at my age. And I rock a bikini all summer long. I know that it’s not normal, but I just don’t care. I live once.