I had a bit of Canadian naivete, [thinking] that as soon as I was in the public eye, I would be embraced by other artists and we would all be sitting around the fire singing “Kumbaya.” That wound up not being the case. There was a lot more isolation and misperception and competition and jealousy. I was still the woman doing the show at festivals around the planet with 16 male artists. It was awkward to figure out how I fit in the middle of that. My bandmates were lifesavers, especially in the 2000s. They really got behind me, and it wasn’t about anyone wanting the seat I was in, it was just, “Wow, we love this woman, and we honor what her mission is.” And I had a team of amazing therapists. (Laughs.)
When Jagged Little Pill came out, you were portrayed as this queen of angsty female rage -- but you didn’t necessarily seem like an angry person. So many of the songs on the album are actually quite empathetic.
Thank you for saying that. I feel like I’m everything -- sometimes I’m ashamed, sometimes I’m jubilant, sometimes I’m ragey and irritable, sometimes I’m devastated. Hello, I’m a human being! There’s this kind of violent tendency to one-dimensionalize artists, maybe so we can wrap our heads around them and move on. That’s why I’m so enjoying this musical -- it allows these people in this story to be complex.
Speaking of the musical -- what convinced you it was a good idea?
I definitely didn’t want a jukebox musical -- I knew it would have to be something born from the stories in the songs. It wasn’t until [book writer] Diablo Cody signed on and went, “Alanis, all the characters are in your lyrics,” that it hit me: “Oh yeah, there are a lot of characters in these songs,” enough for her to expand them and create a whole narrative. It just feels so integrated.
In the past, you have spoken out about everything from the environment to postpartum depression to promoting healthy relationships. Do you think social activism is an obligation for all artists right now?
People can feel responsible for what they choose. For me, if I’m going to experience this thing called fame, it has to be coupled with some form of service or else it feels hollow to me. As a kid, my mom took me to food banks, we did charity work almost every Sunday -- it was just part of our upbringing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of self-expression and even self-indulgence. It’s mandatory as an artist. But it feels incomplete if I’m just doing it for myself.