Nearly 30 years since Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair’s coming-of-age, being a woman of the 1990s, the “Supernova” singer is releasing her seventh album Soberish, out June 4, a narrative on where she stands today, and her deeper musical roots, with the self-reflective track “Spanish Doors.”
Phair’s first release in 11 years, following Funstyle (2010), Soberish (Chrysalis Records), produced and engineered by longtime collaborator Brad Wood, who also helmed Exile In Guyville, and followups Whip-Smart (1994) and whitechocolatespaceegg (1998), finds Phair reverting back to her earlier musical blossoming and art school days at Oberlin.
“I found my inspiration for Soberish by delving into an early era of my music development, my art school years spent listening to art rock and new wave music non-stop on my Walkman—The English Beat, The Specials, Madness, R.E.M.s ‘Automatic for the People,’ Yazoo, The Psychedelic Furs, Talking Heads, Velvet Underground, Laurie Anderson, and the Cars,” says Phair. “The city came alive for me as a young person, the bands in my headphones lending me the courage to explore.”
On opening track “Spanish Doors,” which she describes as “the fracturing of a beautiful life, when everything you counted on is suddenly thrown up for grabs,” Phair sings Locked up in the bathroom staring at the sink / I don’t want to see anybody I know / I don’t want to be anywhere you and I used to go.
“I drew inspiration from a friend who was going through a divorce, but the actions in the lyrics are my own,” reveals Phair. “I relate to hiding out in the bathroom when everyone around you is having a good time but your life just fell apart. You look at yourself in the mirror and wonder who you are now, shadows of doubt creeping into your eyes. Just a few moments ago you were a whole, confident person and now you wonder how you’ll ever get the magic back.”
Following up Phair’s other Soberish single “Hey Lou,” a tribute to Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, and her revealing 2019 memoir Horror Stories, Soberish is about partying and all those self-delusions, whether chasing new loves or a returning to a constant state of escapism for a few moments of elation.
“It’s not self-destructive or out of control,” says Phair. “It’s as simple as the cycle of dreaming and waking up. That’s why I chose to symbolize ‘Soberish’ with a crossroads, with a street sign. It’s best described as a simple pivot of perspective.”
She adds, “When you meet your ‘ish’ self again after a period of sobriety, there’s a deep recognition and emotional relief that floods you, reminding you that there is more to life, more to reality and to your own soul than you are consciously aware of. But if you reach for too much of a good thing, or starve yourself with too little, you’ll lose that critical balance.”