“She’s very raw right now,” Fiona Apple’s publicist warns me repeatedly over the phone last Friday. Some rawness is warranted—the previous evening, an audience member at the opening night of the singer's new tour had interrupted her with an unsolicited suggestion, calling attention to Apple’s weight and appearance. “Fiona, get healthy! We want to see you in 10 years,” the fan yelled. “I saw you 20 years ago and you were beautiful.” By the next morning, reports that Apple kicked the woman out of the venue and struggled to finish the show were circulating online.
“I’m great and I’m terrible and I'm great and I'm terrible,” Apple says when she gets on the line, before apologizing for her hoarse post-show voice and “sounding like a monotonous curmudgeon.” But she seems clear-headed and reasonable, and the words she’s so often pegged to—“meltdown” and “fiasco,” to name a couple—quickly fall away. For someone who once said it’s an ordeal just to get out of her house and go to the grocery store, she sounds pretty at-ease on a cross-country tour bus. Especially since this is the point in the album cycle—a little more than a year after The Idler Wheel's release—where Apple would typically recede from the limelight altogether and retreat to her home in Venice, California, free from turbulent performances and strangers telling her she’s too skinny.
This time is different. Since the death of her dog Janet, Apple has been working to keep herself occupied. “I’m just eager to be around people so I don’t miss my dog,” she says. This primarily entails heading out on the road with songwriter/guitarist Blake Mills and a band for a tour called Anything We Want, which features songs from both Apple and Mills’ catalogues along with new music they wrote together; the tour picks up in the intimate, improvisational acoustic place The Idler Wheel left off, and one new song possibly titled “I Want You to Love Me” showcases Apple’s newfound fondness for unorthodox percussion. She explains that she's using “parts of trees” she collected in Venice and “beans that rattle” on stage. The performance is still a work-in-progress, but Apple is learning to embrace the disorder.
Pitchfork: You’ve talked in the past about how you like doing absolutely nothing in between records. How has your frame of mind changed this time?
Fiona Apple: I’ve been trying to not be the same. I didn't want to go into hiding. I wanted to make some progress and have more fun and embrace the business part of this thing. It’s always been: I'll just be in the dark of my room and write these things and then I'll endure the rest of it. But I wanted to start to enjoy it. Not like, “You have to go on the road to support this thing,” but more like, “Let's take this show on the road!”
Pitchfork: What does enjoying it entail for you?
Fiona Apple: I'm finding that out. I'm just going to try to keep my eyes focused on the people in the band and concentrate on the relationship that we have because I truly love them all. Life is all about the friendship and the love and the music. It sounds silly, but it is. I want to have that experience as much as I can as an adult, not as a kid doing something that people are telling her she has to do. If anyone gets in my way, I'm going to get them out of my way.
Pitchfork: The audience member in Portland who yelled out, “Get healthy, we want to see you in 10 years!”—is that someone who got in your way?
Fiona Apple: Yeah, it was. She hurt my feelings. I don’t think what I look like is relevant. And by the way, this whole “unhealthy” thing has me baffled. It’s really confusing to me why anyone would have an opinion about that. And [the heckling] just takes you out of [the live performance]. People around me try to tell me that’s not going to happen, but it always happens. It’s really disappointing. I can’t laugh—I’m an emotional person. And I’m just very sensitive about that. Many people are, not just women. The heckler said, “I saw you 20 years ago, and you were pretty.” That’s just rude, and I don’t want her there anymore because it’s my stage, you know? I got very angry. But I’m going to try and be more prepared for that. I'm assuming that people are going to start to say those kinds of things just to egg me on now. Those people are going to have to leave if they interrupt me. I need to be able to do my job.
Pitchfork: Your weight and appearance have been discussed throughout your career. Has it gotten easier to deal with?
Fiona Apple: No. It’s a sensitive subject because it’s not something that should be talked about, because there is nothing wrong with me. I’m healthy and I shouldn’t even have to say any of that. What makes me unhealthy and puts me in danger is that kind of scrutiny itself. It’s the same as being bullied at school, and just because you’re getting older, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t hurt by it. You could make anybody cry if you told them that they’re ugly.
I don’t even know what I’m being accused of. Do they think I’m on drugs? That I have a life-threatening illness? Do they think that I’m anorexic? At this point, emotionally, it doesn’t get easier to hear those criticisms—but it gets easier to be resolute about my reaction to it. Which is just: “Go ahead and call me ugly, call me skinny, call me crazy and speculate as much as you want, but not at a show.” I don’t think that there’s anything meltdown-y about that. I don’t have any problem getting angry at someone who insults me in the middle of a show.
Pitchfork: When something like that happens—or with something like the recent fashion party in Tokyo—do you worry about the fact that it’ll probably be news on the internet almost immediately?
Fiona Apple: I’m not the Queen. I’m not a huge superstar, I don’t get paparazzi around me. So it doesn’t occur to me that they’re going to be talking about it the next day. But I do know that whatever it is won’t make me happy, so I don’t have my computer with me and I don’t look at that stuff. I anticipate the word “meltdown” and the predictable catch phrases that have been used my whole career, but it just makes me roll my eyes. But it’s another opportunity for me to grow and learn how to deal with stuff, which is probably what this whole career has been about for me—dealing with bullies at school. And I’m still not quite reflecting their power; I’m still affected by it.
As a person who performs on stage, it’s good to be emotionally open. If you mess with someone when they are in that state, it’s like you’re messing with an animal when it’s eating. What do they expect me to do? What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to stop in the middle of my show and have a conversation with you about what I look like? What is the next line in this conversation that you have written in your head, lady? I feel bad for calling her a bitch, and I always apologize for anything that I feel bad about, which is usually just reactionary cursing. But otherwise, I have nothing that I feel at all apologetic about from last night. Everything that happens with me gets made out to be a fiasco, but I have every right to do everything I’ve ever done. I stand by everything I’ve ever said, apologies included.
Pitchfork: You told me before that playing with a band at the L.A. venue Largo is a comfortable thing for you. Is this tour an attempt to recreate that safe space?
Fiona Apple: Yeah, that’s kind of the idea. My career has been: first you have to prove yourself, then there’s the sophomore record, then there’s this thing and that thing, and you always want to be understood. Now it's just about fun and trying to step out of my own boundaries—trying to have fun and be part of a band, because that's really where joy is.
I didn’t want to be precious about things. Of course, the idea is to make great music, but if you have great musicians up there, it gives me some leeway to play around a little bit. I don't mind making a fool of myself. I felt like people would be accepting of that because, to me, that seems like an interesting way to do a show. I've always thought that it's interesting to watch people work things out on stage.
Pitchfork: You recently covered "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka for a Chipotle commercial, which seems out of character. How did that happen?
Fiona Apple: Chipotle was in a big rush and they initially wanted Frank Ocean, but he screwed up his voice. And they wanted to use “Pure Imagination”, a song I wanted to do in a show when I was 18 but was too afraid to. I didn’t want Gene Wilder to be upset about that song being sung by some idiot. I thought that I had the best chance of doing it well. This is the absolute truth: The only person that I care what they think of the Chipotle commercial is Gene Wilder.
Flawless queen! Planning on lurking by her tour bus after the DC concert, and luring her with some mary jane!