Exile in Guyville

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Exile in Guyville
Studio album by Liz Phair
Released June 22, 1993
Genre Indie rock, lo-fi
Length 55:51
Label Matador
Producer Liz Phair, Brad Wood
Liz Phair chronology
Girly Sound
(1991)
Exile in Guyville
(1993)
Whip-Smart
(1994)
Singles from Exile in Guyville
  1. "Never Said"
    Released: 1993
  2. "Stratford-On-Guy"
    Released: 1993

Exile in Guyville is American indie rock singer-songwriter Liz Phair's debut album. It was released in June 1993 to widespread critical and commercial success, still appearing today in many critics' best-of lists. It is also considered a landmark in alternative rock music. As of July 2010, the album had sold 491,000 copies.[1]

Background[edit]

In the summer of 1991, Phair wrote and recorded songs on audio cassette tapes, which she circulated using the moniker Girly Sound, in Chicago. Initially, she sent out only two tapes, one to Tae Won Yu from the band Kicking Giant, and the other to Chris Brokaw.[2] The recipients of the Girly Sound tapes circulated copies with other early fans.[3]

John Henderson, owner of the Chicago indie label Feel Good All Over, heard the tapes and contacted Phair. Soon she moved into his apartment and started playing her songs to him. Henderson brought in producer Brad Wood to help develop the 4-track demos into full songs. Originally, Phair's recordings were supposed to come out on Henderson's label. However, the whole process was made difficult by the fact that he and Phair had opposite ideas regarding what direction to take in terms of sound. Henderson preferred a stripped-down but precise sound, possibly with outside musicians, while Phair wanted a fuller sound. Phair has stated, "We both wanted something for me. He was projecting onto me what he wanted my music to come out like, which was wrong. So I blew him off." Eventually, Henderson stopped showing up at the studio, which made Phair move out of his apartment and start working exclusively with Brad Wood on what would become Exile in Guyville.

Eventually, a Girly Sound tape had made it to the head of Matador Records. Despite the outcome of their recording sessions, Henderson tipped off Brad Wood that Matador Records was interested in Phair. When Matador was contacted by Phair in 1992, they signed her. Gerard Cosloy, co-president of Matador, stated that "We usually don't sign people we haven't met, or heard other records by, or seen as performers. But I had a hunch, and I called her back and said okay."[4]

Recording[edit]

After the early sessions with John Henderson, Liz Phair started working with producer Brad Wood at Idful Studios, in 1992. Wood stated, "We did two or three evenings of recording just for fun where we tried to discover something. We recorded "Fuck and Run," and that's when I realized we were on to something. This really spare beat: just guitar, drums and vocals. It was right: simple, driving, direct and blunt. It had so much exuberance." These sessions were thereby very different from the recording sessions with John Henderson. Eventually, engineer Casey Rice joined Idful and started working with Phair and Wood as she had no band of her own.

Initially, there were many time constraints because Phair had moved into her parents' house which was far from the studio, and Wood had to manage his time between his work at the studio and his work as a janitor. However, when Phair signed to Matador, she sublet an apartment close to the studio, which simplified the process.

Regarding the recording process, Casey Rice stated, "We basically all sat around and thought about how to make the guitar and vocals versions of the songs into what we thought would be better ones. Listen to her four track versions of the tunes, and try to come up with ways of doing them as a 'band'. I do recall there being no lack of candor and if someone wanted to do something, we tried it. If it sucked, no one would hesitate to say so if they believed it."


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Brad Wood provided a different recording approach, structuring the drum patterns and bass lines around Phair's vocal phrases and guitar riffs, instead of recording the rhythm section first and then layering the guitars and vocals on top. Phair has commented, "It was fun. Actually we just played our parts separately. I laid down the guitar, and then I would just tell them what kind of song it would be and what kinds of instruments we needed to do. And then they would go in there and figure out a part and then do it. It was more like collage work than really playing with a band."

"Johnny Sunshine" was one of the first songs recorded in 1992 that eventually made the record. The songs "Fuck and Run", "Never Said" (as "Clean"), "Girls! Girls! Girls!", "Flower", "Johnny Sunshine", "Divorce Song", "Soap Star Joe", "Shatter", and "Stratford-On-Guy", all featured on Phair's Girly Sound home recordings, were re-recorded for the album.

Packaging[edit]

Liz Phair was also responsible for a great part of the artwork design. Originally, the album cover was largely collage based and involved "a fat lady in a pool".[citation needed] In 2008, Phair stated it was originally "an orgy of Barbies floating in a pool",[5] a concept that Matador rejected, stating that such artwork wouldn't sell. The final cover design is a photo of Liz topless in a photo booth,[5] taken and cropped by Nash Kato of Urge Overkill. The interior artwork is based on that of Lopez Tejera's 1952 album "The Joys and Sorrows of Andalusia". The booklet also features a collage of several Polaroid photos of Phair, Wood, Rice (and various other people), with a paraphrase from lines from the movie Dirty Harry.[4]

Meaning[edit]

The term Guyville comes from a song of the same name by Urge Overkill. Liz Phair has explained the concept of the album, saying "For me, Guyville is a concept that combines the smalltown mentality of a 500-person Knawbone, KY-type town with the Wicker Park indie music scene in Chicago, plus the isolation of every place I've lived in, from Cincinnati to Winnetka. All the guys have short, cropped hair, John Lennon glasses, flannel shirts, unpretentiously worn, not as a grunge statement. Work boots. It was a state of mind and/or neighborhood that I was living in. Guyville, because it was definitely their sensibilities that held the aesthetic. (...) This kind of guy mentality, you know, where men are men and women are learning. (Guyville guys) always dominated the stereo like it was their music. They'd talk about it, and I would just sit on the sidelines."

Phair has also stated that most songs on the album were not about her. She commented, "That stuff didn't happen to me, and that's what made writing it interesting. I wasn't connecting with my friends. I wasn't connecting with relationships. I was in love with people who couldn't care less about me. I was yearning to be part of a scene. I was in a posing kind of mode, yearning to have things happen for me that weren't happening. So I wanted to make it seem real and convincing. I wrote the whole album for a couple people to see and know me."[4]

Phair commented[citation needed] in interviews that the album was a song-by-song reply to the Rolling Stones' 1972 album Exile on Main Street. Some critics contend that the album is not a clear or obvious song-by-song response, although Phair sequenced her compositions in an attempt to match the songlist and pacing of the Rolling Stones album.

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 5/5 stars[6]
Robert Christgau A[7]
Entertainment Weekly A[8]
Los Angeles Times 3.5/4 stars[9]
The New York Times (favorable)[10]
Pitchfork Media (9.6/10)[11]
PopMatters (10/10)[12]
Rolling Stone 5/5 stars[13]
Slant Magazine 5/5 stars[14]
Spin (10/10)[15]

The resulting album was released in 1993, receiving widespread critical acclaim. It was the number one album in the year-end critics poll in Spin and the Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll.

Exile in Guyville was also a mild commercial success. The videos for "Never Said" and "Stratford-On-Guy" received airplay on MTV. By the spring of 1994, it had sold over 200,000 units, peaking at #196 on the Billboard 200 and was Matador's most successful release so far. In 1998, it was certified gold by the RIAA.

Phair reacted to the reception of Guyville, saying "I don't really get what happened with Guyville. It was so normal, from my side of things. It was nothing remarkable, other than the fact that I'd completed a big project, but I'd done that before... Being emotionally forthright was the most radical thing I did. And that was taken to mean something bigger in terms of women's roles in society and women's roles in music... I just wanted people who thought I was not worth talking to, to listen to me." The sudden success of the album also generated a somewhat negative response from the local Chicago indie music scene. Liz commented, "It's odd... Guyville was such a part of indie. But at the same time... I was kind of at war with indie when I made that record." Another problem that arose from her success was also dealing with her stage fright.[4]

Despite this, the album inspired a number of imitators, and the lo-fi sound and emotional honesty of Phair's lyrics were frequently cited by critics as outstanding qualities. It frequently appears on many critics' best-of lists. It was ranked 15 in Spin's "100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005". VH1 named Exile in Guyville the 96th Greatest Album Of All-Time.[16] In 2003, the album was ranked number 328 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album moved one spot up in their 2012 revised list.[17] In 1999, Pitchfork Media rated Exile in Guyville as the fifth best album of the 1990s.[18] However, in their 2003 revision of the list, it moved to number 30.[19]

Reissue[edit]

On March 31, 2008, Pitchfork Media announced that Phair had signed a new deal with ATO Records and that her first release for the label would be a special 15th Anniversary reissue of Exile in Guyville, featuring three bonus tracks from the original Guyville recording sessions and an accompanying DVD about the album's creation.

The album, which was out of print, was again available on CD, vinyl and, for the first time, in digital format. The reissue package includes three previously unreleased songs from the original recording sessions: "Ant in Alaska", "Say You", and an untitled instrumental with Phair on guitar (commonly known as "Standing"). A recording of Phair's version of "Wild Thing" (based on the melody of The Troggs song) was planned for inclusion, but dropped at the last moment.

Guyville Redux features Phair and the all the people involved with the album, recounting its making and describing the male-dominated, Chicago indie music scene of the early 1990s. Phair interviews, among others, Gerard Cosloy and Chris Lombardi of Matador Records, indie producer Steve Albini, Ira Glass of NPR's This American Life, John Henderson, Brad Wood, John Cusack (who founded the Chicago avant-garde theater group New Crime Productions) and Urge Overkill.

The reissue was released on June 24, 2008 in the United States and on August 25, 2008 in the United Kingdom.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Liz Phair, except where noted. 

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. "6′1″"     3:05
2. "Help Me Mary"     2:16
3. "Glory"     1:29
4. "Dance of the Seven Veils"     2:29
5. "Never Said"     3:16
6. "Soap Star Joe"     2:44
7. "Explain It to Me"     3:11
8. "Canary"     3:19
9. "Mesmerizing"     3:55
10. "Fuck and Run"     3:07
11. "Girls! Girls! Girls!"     2:20
12. "Divorce Song"     3:20
13. "Shatter"     5:28
14. "Flower"     2:03
15. "Johnny Sunshine"     3:27
16. "Gunshy"     3:15
17. "Stratford-On-Guy"     2:59
18. "Strange Loop"     3:57
Total length:
55:51

Personnel[edit]

Charts[edit]

Album[edit]

Year Chart Position
1993 Billboard Heatseekers 12
1994 The Billboard 200 196

Certifications[edit]

Organization Level Date
RIAA – U.S. Gold May 6, 1998

References[edit]

External links[edit]