Chicks on Chicks at the Phair fair

Atlanta's own chicks with attitude go girl-on-girl with Liz Phair's handpicked tourmates

When the Maybelline-sponsored Chicks With Attitude Tour stops in Atlanta, four feisty, slightly left of center artists will showcase their individuality.

Liz Phair — the oft-touring indie queen, recently polished by the Matrix production team and Capitol Records into a concentrated, glossy version of her once raggedy self — headlines the five-week trek. Booked by music industry vet Marty Diamond, one of the creators of the Lilith Fair, the tour features four very different female musicians. The controversial and outspoken Phair handpicked the bill with Diamond, creating a sort of female-centric version of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Review of the '70s.

"I'm very excited to join the Chicks With Attitude Tour and Maybelline because we both embrace the fundamental underpinning of the tour — to encourage young women to feel good about themselves and express their style with pride and confidence," says Phair in a statement. "In 2004, I believe that it should go without saying that this means addressing young women's self-esteem as well."

The estrogen ensemble includes Katy Rose, a raw and rocking soulful 17-year-old with family here in Atlanta; Charlotte Martin, an ethereal chanteuse, poised to release her first full-length record, On Your Shore, Aug. 10; and the Cardigans, Swedish '90s hit-makers and Lilith Tour veterans.

Creative Loafing handpicked three of the local scene's brightest lights to chat with the three acts as they prepare to stand in the shadow of the iconic, confrontational Phair, and in front of thousands of potential new fans. Singer/songwriter Kitty Snyder Sias, currently on hiatus from performing her own music while concentrating on writing her first book; Mary O. Harrison, singer and guitarist of old-school new-wavers Charm School; and Andy Gish, bassist and leader of the Yum Yum Tree, set to return to live performing Aug. 21 at the Earl, caught up with the musicians as they packed for the trip. Here CL presents a few choice highlights from their wide-ranging conversations.-- Lee Valentine Smith

Rose is eloquent, down-to-earth and "always lost in her own head." Growing up with a family of musicians (her dad played keyboards with Crosby, Stills and Nash), the music business is no shock to her system.

But what Rose has developed and accomplished on her own is an ability to eschew cliches and pen expressive, hard-hitting, gritty lyrics, which, when combined with her infectious power pop, come off affecting and authentic rather than manufactured.

Sias: You've gotten great reviews for [2004's debut] Because I Can. But you say you didn't write this album for the journalists and critics. What have the reviews been from your peers?

Rose: It's amazing to me how many people have gotten it ... as a little girl thinking that nobody understands me, I'm scum of the earth, I'm the weirdest thing ever and I just write these crazy songs ... to put [this album] out there and to have this following of people that understand it and are getting something from it, there's no feeling like that.

What do you think of the term "chicks with attitude"?

I think it's funny. We were joking, it's almost the opposite of Lilith Fair, and I love the Lilith Fair, don't get me wrong, but I think all of us ... we are pretty blunt, and say it how it is, and are pretty independent women, and together, as a unit, it's going to be incredible.

What do you hope to take from this experience [touring with this variety of women]?

I already get a lot from Liz; we're very similar in who we are and I see how she has evolved as a person and where she comes from and can grasp some hope from her, how she maneuvers her career.

What's your ritual before a show? Do you need time alone or do you like to hang out with everyone?

Even if I'm in a huge crowd of people, I'm still having alone time. ... I can always escape into my head and that's a lucky thing.

Are you going to be keeping a journal of this tour?

There's no moment when I'm not immersed in my journal. I keep it with me at all times ... it's filled with songs and poetry and pictures and it's kind of a scrapbook of everything, it's a tangible part of my soul, basically.-- Interviewed by Kitty Snyder Sias

Charlotte Martin

Harrison: I saw somewhere that you're a Sylvia Plath fan.

Martin: Yeah, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes. I'm a poet fan.

She's a confessional poet, and your songwriting has been called "confessional." Would you characterize it that way?

Oh yeah, it's too confessional, almost. If you get the wrong person in the wrong mood, it'll really turn somebody off, which is what I've noticed, or it'll turn them way on.

Given your sound, I'm sure you're very used to comparisons to Tori Amos and Kate Bush.

I am, and I'm flattered. I just know where I'm different. You can explain this to musicians, but then you get somebody that just doesn't quite understand music, or they see a girl with tits that plays piano, that's all they know. The piano is sort of my catalyst, which I think separates me from my peers and the people I look up to. There are artists like Tori Amos where the piano is equal in what she does. It's always been the accompaniment for me.

There are moments on your new record that made me think of Kate Bush's Hounds of Love.

OK, and that's 'cause I tried to. "Limits of Our Love" is an intentional homage. Like the drums and ...

"Running Up That Hill"?

And "The Walk" by the Cure. It's a fusion of those two. I don't know if you went to school for music, but in my world, all the composers nodded to each other and wrote themes based on other people's work. It's my wink at Kate Bush.

I have to ask you about the T-shirt for sale on your website.

Oh God. [laughs]

[It says,] "I'm normal ... please date me"?

Yeah, it's a song I wrote three years ago about a dating experience I had, one date that should have turned out to be more, and I made it more, 'cause, obviously, I wrote the song. It's kind of about walking through people's bushes and checking to see if they're home.

You were a stalker?

I was at one point with this one particular guy, who was a musician. I think he still is a musician, if he still exists.

So maybe he can write a song about you.

Oh, he never would.

-- Interviewed by Mary O. Harrison

Nina Persson from the Cardigans

Gish: What is your most powerful force for propelling you to write lyrics? Is it angst, happiness, anger?

Persson: Deadlines. But that is not a force that makes it better. I do like to drink. It doesn't necessarily mean that I have to get really drunk, but it is kind of a ritual for writing. I can't say sadness because I love it when things are going very well. There is this thing called "goose bumps." That is, something that is "coming back" in everything I do and like. Something very happy or something really sad.

Is angst friend or foe?

I think angst is neither. I am happy that I have some angst in my life because without it I don't think I would be creative. Angst is something that gets me started and it makes me really, er, hyper and want to write.

What is it like to play in a band with all boys on a tour called Chicks With Attitude?

I have still never written or made music with girls. These are the guys I started making music with, my best friends. We were on the Lilith Fair Tour, and it was the same thing; if you went behind the stage, it was 95 percent guys.

The title of this tour is Chicks With Attitude, so what does "attitude" mean to you musically?

It can really be so many different things. It's been a little too emphasized that women in rock need to rock to be a part. But there is more to women in rock than PJ Harvey. She is a really strong woman. To me, attitude is a lot about what you sing about.

How do you deal with songs you wrote years ago that people still want to hear you perform?

It depends — every day you are not in the mood to step into any phase of yourself. It is almost like playing a cover song that you do by request.

If you had to describe with one adjective what writing means to you, what would it be?


And what about playing live?

Sometimes I really feel like it's communication. But if you felt that every night, you would be drained. On a good day, that's what it is. On a bad day, it's entertainment.-- Interviewed by By Andy Gish

Liz Phair
?An essay by Elizabeth Elkins

When Liz Phair¹s Exile in Guyville came out in 1993, she became an instant wunderkind, a critical darling with good timing. Her record hit just as alternative was going mainstream. Nirvana ruled, but girls needed a voice?in all the grunge as well. Phair filled that void with songs as frank and as sexual and as unapologetic as the band that inspired the record, the Rolling Stones.

The track "Fuck and Run" said it all — Phair could treat guys like so many guys treat women, and she was going to come out on top. In essence, Phair had established herself as a badass. She followed-up quickly with 1994's?Whip-Smart, which contained probably her biggest hit — the swirling, confident "Supernova." Though never known as a brilliant live act, her records set the stage for dozens of copycat female rock writers. But what to?do as a follow-up?

She had already proven she could write a great song about blowjobs, but with 1998's whitechocolatespaceegg it was evident that she could also be a bright songsmith, blending in the raucousness of the Stones with Buddy Holly?and '80s new wave. Her subjects expanded to family life and children, and suddenly sexual explicitness was only a part of her artistry. And that's where Phair became a bit strange to many fans.

Fans used to the fuck-off mentality of the earlier records saw a sweeter, more caring Phair. Was it treason? Or just growing up? And Phair¹s longtime fans were only more confused by this year¹s self-titled disc, one that found?Phair co-writing with Avril Lavigne's songwriting team, the Matrix. Suddenly, Phair was a MILF, or a "Godmother" to Avril or Hilary or Ashlee. For those of us in our late '20s, it all became a bit sickening.

Did Phair sell out? What the hell was she thinking? But maybe what Phair did was brilliant in a way. She made herself more accessible to today's pre-teens and teenagers — she knew how to hit them with an Avril-type hit?-- which could only encourage the interested to reach into her back catalog and stumble on songs such as "Gunshy," "Divorce Song," "Girls Girls Girls"?and "Dogs of L.A." — and realize that it might be time to trade in Avril's faux-punk for Phair¹s honesty.