Ask A Gay Icon: Maddie Ross Gets Career Advice from Alanis Morissette

Maddie Ross and Alanis Morissette
Ross: Aubrey Devin. Morissette: Shelby Duncan

Maddie Ross and Alanis Morissette

This Pride Month, Billboard connected queer artists with some of their musical heroes and biggest influences

How can you help LGBTQ people succeed in the music industry? One easy step: Share your networks and make introductions. So for Pride Month, Billboard is connecting queer artists with some of their musical heroes — who also happen to be major allies to the community — to get career advice.

Here, pop-punk upstart Maddie Ross — whose debut album, Never Have I Ever, was one of the best rock albums of 2019 — gets relationship wisdom from Alanis Morissette, who will release her ninth album, Such Pretty Forks in the Road, on July 31. (A deluxe 25th anniversary edition of Jagged Little Pill is also out June 26.)

One thing that’s unique for many queer folks is that our first serious relationships often come later in life after the coming-out process. I experienced earth-shattering heartbreak for the first time a few months ago at 27, and while I’ve always written about love and loss during my life, this has been the first time I’ve ever sat down to specifically write about a traumatic breakup. What have you learned from writing about heartbreak, and do you wish you had done anything differently?

Such a great question. Writing about heartbreak has been super cathartic for me. I noticed that I was leaning on songwriting to purge and move the energy, and it certainly did. But it didn’t afford any real healing. And that was because if I was wounded in a relationship, I could see that I would have to heal in a relationship, not just run to a studio every time to write about it, hoping I could “write it away” somehow. It is clarifying to write about it in a song. It only became healing when I could share about it with a safe other. I’m sorry about your heartbreak. Truly one of the worst feelings in the world.

Do you enjoy trying out new collaborators and having lots of brains involved on a project, or do you prefer to keep the writing process more insular? What have been the most fulfilling creative partnerships for you?

I love collaborating. Since I am a highly sensitive person and an empath, when I am writing, I prefer to either write alone, or to write with one other person who has a similar approach to the process as I have. I have tried collaborating with many people throughout my life, and the ones I have had the most fun with were those people whom I consider to be friends. There is such a cool combo of telepathy and communication that is required for a beautiful collab.

A few years ago I played a Halloween where every band had to go as a different artist. I went as you and covered eight songs from Jagged Little Pill. Taking on the “Alanis character” pushed me as an artist, largely because you’re so fearless with your voice and the way you express your emotions. It can be so vulnerable to let yourself go when singing because it comes from such a deep, emotional place in the body. How do you come up with new and creative ways to use your voice as an instrument?

I don’t think about my voice in a primary way. I think of the narrative, the story. And then my voice tells the story from a very visceral, somatic body place, if that makes sense. If I were to attempt to dismantle it — fun! — it would be that I live the experience for years, then take about 15 minutes to write the music and lyrics. They happen at the same time — it can be so fast, it is sometimes overwhelming. When onstage, I allow every feeling that every lyric requires me to feel in order to sing it. Needless to say I am a wrung out sponge at the end of shows. Often just sitting there sweating with a little smile on my face.

How do you stay in touch with friends and loved ones on tour?

I am a texter, through and through. Sometimes I write long catch-up texts a la War and Peace, other times it is pure comedic back-and-forths. Any quick messages that keep the connection alive. I FaceTime as well. But nothing is better than sitting right across from my loved ones. So when I tour, there is a lot of time spent figuring out when and how they can come visit.