Liz Phair

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Liz Phair
Liz Phair performing live
Liz Phair performing live
Background information
Birth nameElizabeth Clark Phair
Born (1967-04-17) April 17, 1967 (age 54)
New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.
OriginChicago, Illinois, U.S.
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • piano
Years active1990–present

Elizabeth Clark Phair (born April 17, 1967) is an American singer-songwriter.[1]

Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Phair was raised primarily in the Chicago area. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1990, she attempted to start a musical career in San Francisco, California, but returned to her home in Chicago, where she began self-releasing audio cassettes under the name Girly Sound. The tapes led to a recording contract with the independent record label Matador Records.

Her 1993 debut studio album, Exile in Guyville, was released to critical acclaim; it has been ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Phair followed this with her second album, Whip-Smart (1994), which earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, and Whitechocolatespaceegg (1998). Ten years after the release of her debut, Phair's fourth album, Liz Phair (2003), released on Capitol Records, moved towards pop rock, earning her a mainstream audience; the single "Why Can't I?" peaked at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100.[2]

After the release of her fifth album, Somebody's Miracle (2005), Phair left Capitol and released her sixth album Funstyle independently in 2010. In 2018, it was announced that Matador Records would be releasing a retrospective set for Phair's debut album Exile in Guyville which includes remastered recordings from her original Girly Sound demo tapes. Phair released her seventh studio album Soberish on June 4, 2021. As of 2011, Phair had sold over three million records worldwide.[3]

Early life[edit]

Phair was born in New Haven, Connecticut,[4] on April 17, 1967.[5] She was adopted at birth by Nancy, a historian and museologist,[6] and John Phair, later an AIDS researcher and head of infectious diseases at Northwestern Memorial Hospital;[7] her mother later worked as a professor at the Art Institute of Chicago.[8][9] She has one older brother, also adopted.[10] On being adopted, Phair has said: "My parents were very responsible ... They were perfect about it ... I've never tried to find [my biological] parents. My friend who was adopted from the same home requested information and got back a four-page letter about her mother's life. She said it was jaw-dropping."[10]

Phair spent her early life in Cincinnati until age nine, when her family relocated to the Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Illinois.[11] She graduated from New Trier High School in 1985. During high school, Phair was involved in student government, yearbook, and the cross country team, and took AP Studio Art her senior year, among many other advanced-level classes.[12] She attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, where she graduated in 1990 with a B.A. in art history.[13][6]


1990–1992: Girly Sound tapes[edit]

Phair's entry into the music industry began when she met guitarist Chris Brokaw, a member of the band Come. Brokaw was dating one of Phair's friends, and stayed at their loft in SoMa one weekend. After living in San Francisco for a year, Phair went broke and returned to Chicago, moving back in to her family's home.[14] There, she began writing lyrics and playing guitar, recording songs on a four-track tape recorder in her bedroom.[14] She used the name Girly Sound on these recordings.[15] She became part of the alternative music scene in Chicago and became friends with Material Issue and Urge Overkill, two of Chicago's upstart bands to go national in the early 1990s, as well as Brad Wood and John Henderson, head of Feel Good All Over, an independent label in Chicago.[4]

1992–2003: Exile in Guyville; critical recognition[edit]

After asking Wood who the "coolest" indie label was, Phair called up Gerard Cosloy, co-president of Matador Records, in 1992 and she asked him if he would put out her record. Coincidentally, Cosloy had just read a review of Girly Sound in Chemical Imbalance that very day and told Phair to send him a tape. Phair sent him a tape of six Girly Sound songs. Cosloy recalls: "The songs were amazing. It was a fairly primitive recording, especially compared to the resulting album. The songs were really smart, really funny, and really harrowing, sometimes all at the same time. ... I liked it a lot and played it for everybody else. 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 O.K."

Cosloy offered a $3,000 advance, and Phair began working on a single, which turned into the 18 songs of Exile in Guyville.

Exile in Guyville was produced by Phair and Brad Wood, and released in 1993.[15] The album received uniformly excellent reviews. The album received significant critical acclaim for its blunt, honest lyrics and for the music itself, a hybrid of indie rock and pop, and established Phair's penchant for exploring sexually explicit lyrics. By contrast, her trademark low, vibrato-less monotone voice[16] gave many of her songs a slightly detached, almost deadpan character.

The release of Phair's second album received substantial media attention and an advertising blitz. Whip-Smart debuted at #27 in 1994 and "Supernova," the first single, became a Top 10 modern rock hit, and the video was frequently featured on MTV. Phair also landed the cover of Rolling Stone with the headline "A Rock Star Is Born." However, the album received mixed reviews,[citation needed] and although it was certified Gold (shipments of at least 500,000 units), it ultimately did not sell as well as expected, as it was hoped the album would introduce Phair to a wider, more mainstream audience.[citation needed] Following Whip-Smart, Phair released Juvenilia, a collection of some early Girly Sound tracks and several B-sides, including her cover of the 1980 song by The Vapors, "Turning Japanese."

In 1994, Phair made several live television and radio appearances in an effort to promote Exile in Guyville and Whip-Smart; she appeared on Late Night With David Letterman performing "Never Said" and "Supernova", and on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno performing an acoustic version of "Whip-Smart". She also performed "Alice Springs" live on Good Morning America.

She also appeared on the MTV alternative rock show 120 Minutes performing "Never Said", "6'1", "Cinco de Mayo" and "Supernova" live at various times during 1994 and early 1995.

In 1995, Phair married film editor Jim Staskauskas, who had worked on her videos. They had a son, James Nicholas Staskauskas, on December 21, 1996.[4] Phair and Staskauskas divorced in 2001.

Phair's third album, Whitechocolatespaceegg, was released in 1998 after some delays, which included a disagreement about content; at one point, Matador rejected the album as submitted, and asked Phair to write a few additional radio-friendly songs for the set.[17] The album displayed a more mature Phair, and reflected some of the ways marriage and motherhood affected her. While the single "Polyester Bride" received some airplay, and the album received many positive reviews, it was no more successful commercially than her previous records. To promote the record, Phair joined Lilith Fair. Phair performed on the main stage along with acts like Sarah McLachlan, Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow and Missy Elliott. She also opened for Alanis Morissette on the latter’s 1999 Junkie Tour. In addition, she performed the Dragon Tales theme song in 1999.

Phair portrayed the role of Brynn Allen, opposite Robin Tunney, in the film Cherish.[15][18]

2003–2007: Liz Phair and Somebody's Miracle[edit]

Phair in concert, October 26, 2005

In 2003, Phair's self-titled fourth album was released on her new label, Capitol Records. Phair had not released an album in several years; she had been working on her record, as well as making guest appearances on other tracks (she lent backing vocals to the Sheryl Crow hit "Soak Up the Sun").

Initially, Phair worked on several album tracks with songwriter Michael Penn as the producer. When she submitted the finished Penn-produced album to Capitol, the label gave it a lukewarm reception and was unwilling to release it as submitted. Having already exhausted her recording budget, label president Andy Slater offered Phair more money to record only if Phair agreed to work with the production team known as The Matrix (best known as songwriters for Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne) to come up with some singles for the album. Phair's collaboration with the Matrix resulted in only four songs, but much of the media attention focused solely on the Matrix-produced tracks, which were a notable departure from her earlier work.[19] The album received multiple unfavorable reviews, especially from several independent music presses, accused Phair of "selling out" by making the record very pop-oriented.[20][21][22] The New York Times' Meghan O'Rourke's review, titled "Liz Phair's Exile in Avril-ville", said that Phair "gushes like a teenager" and had "committed an embarrassing form of career suicide."[23]

Two years later, Somebody's Miracle, Phair's fifth album (and final album with Capitol Records), was released. The album returned to a more traditional rock sound as opposed to the pop rock-oriented style of the previous album.[24] The album received mixed reviews, with Amy Phillips of Pitchfork writing: "Now this is a terrible Liz Phair record. Somebody's Miracle is mostly generic pap that any number of next-big-has-beens could have cranked out, a useless piece of plastic poking a pointy heel in the eye of the carcass of the artist Liz once was."[25] Phillips also suggested it was worse than her largely critically derided previous album.[25] A review published by MSNBC noted that the album is "less blatantly commercial [than her previous], but still smooth, reflecting her increasing shift toward a clearer sound."[26]

2008–2009: Television composing[edit]

Phair signed with Dave Matthews' label ATO Records in early 2008 and re-released Exile in Guyville on June 24, 2008,[27] on CD, vinyl, and in digital format, featuring three songs from the original recording sessions, "Ant in Alaska," "Say You," and an untitled instrumental, and also a documentary DVD, "Guyville Redux." "[28]

In May 2009, Phair released a new song, "Faith and Tenderness," sold exclusively at Banana Republic on a compilation disc featuring other artists.[29] Also in 2009, Phair began working as a television composer, following an invitation by her childhood friend Mike Kelley to score the show he was creating for CBS, Swingtown, given it was based on the life in their hometown. For the task, Phair decided to bring in Doc Dauer, producer of a children's album about bodily functions, The Body Rocks, where Phair performed after being brought in by Pete Yorn, and Dauer's creative partner Evan Frankfort.[30] She followed it by creating the theme song for NBC's The Weber Show, and working for the CW's The 100, the USA Network show In Plain Sight and the CW reboot of 90210, for which she won the 2009 ASCAP award for Top Television Composer.[31]

2010–2015: Funstyle[edit]

On July 3, 2010, Phair's official website announced a surprise link to download her new album Funstyle, which she released independently after parting ways with Capitol Records and ATO.[32] The song "Bollywood" was available to stream from the site for a limited time, before Phair took it down.

A note from Phair to her fans posted on her official website explained why the songs were problematic:

How To Like It.

You were never supposed to hear these songs. These songs lost me my management, my record deal and a lot of nights of sleep.

Yes, I rapped one of them. Im as surprised as you are. But here is the thing you need to know about these songs and the ones coming next: These are all me. Love them, or hate them, but dont mistake them for anything other than an entirely personal, un-tethered-from-the-machine, free for all view of the world, refracted through my own crazy lens.

This is my journey. Ill keep sending you postcards.

— Liz

Phair revealed in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the falling out with her record label, ATO, occurred after a change in management. She explained, "The people who were still there didn't like, or didn't know what to do with, the music I was making, so we just stalled out and I asked to leave."[33]

Phair went on tour to promote the album, playing many songs from Guyville and Whip-Smart, along with songs from the rest of her repertoire. The Funstyle Tour ran from October 2010 to March 2011. The tour's last show took place at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas.

In 2012, she co-wrote and performed the song "Dotted Line" with A. R. Rahman for the film People Like Us. "The song 'Dotted Line' I wrote with A. R. Rahman for Alex Kurtzman's film 'Welcome To People'," she said in an interview. "Both amazing. 'Welcome To People' is a truly powerful film. Very proud of being part of it."[34]

The dystopian holiday song "Ho Ho Ho" was released by Phair in late 2014.[35] In 2014, Capitol released a greatest hits compilation of Phair's work entitled Icon.

2016–2020: Exile retrospective and tours[edit]

In spring of 2016, Phair supported The Smashing Pumpkins on their In Plainsong tour, performing as the opening act.[36]

In late 2015 and mid-2016, Phair stated on her Twitter that she intended to release two albums by the end of 2016.[37][38] It was confirmed via Twitter that Phair was working on a double album, produced by fellow singer-songwriter Ryan Adams in his PAX-AM recording studio.[39] Phair's project with Adams did not proceed. When multiple women publicly disclosed accusations of abuse against Adams in 2019, a Twitter user asked Phair for a comment about Adams, to which she replied, "My experience was nowhere near as personally involving, but yes the record ended and the similarities are upsetting."[40]

In 2018, it was announced that Phair's former label, Matador, would be releasing a 25th-anniversary retrospective set for her debut album, Exile in Guyville; the set, titled Girly Sound to Guyville, includes remasters of Phair's 1991 demo tapes recorded under the moniker Girly Sound from the original sources, and was released May 4.[41] In support of this retrospective, Phair embarked on two North American tours — the Girly Sound to Guyville Tour and the Amps on the Lawn Tour. Phair has continued tour over the summer of 2019.

In April 2019, Phair announced via her Instagram that she had been working on new studio material with Brad Wood, who produced Exile in Guyville, Whip-Smart, and parts of whitechocolatespaceegg.[42] On October 8, 2019, Phair shared "Good Side," a song from these sessions. Her seventh album, titled Soberish, will be released in 2021.[43]

In April 2020, it was announced that Liz Phair would appear on a cover version of "Hanging on the Telephone" (Blondie and The Nerves) with former friend and collaborator Jim Ellison of Material Issue. The song will be released along with the bio-documentary on Material Issue entitled, Out of Time: The Material Issue Story. It marks the first song to be released with Phair and Ellison since their earlier covers of Turning Japanese and The Tra La La Song (One Banana, Two Banana).[44]

2021–onwards: Soberish and Chrysalis Records[edit]

In February 2021, Phair announced she had signed a contract with newly reformed Chrysalis Records to issue her album Soberish later in the year.[45]

Phair is also due to tour with Alanis Morissette for Morissette's rescheduled 2020 tour later in 2021.

Personal life[edit]

In 1994, Phair began dating film editor Jim Staskauskas.[46][47] The couple married on March 11, 1995;[48] their son James Nicholas Staskauskas was born on December 21, 1996.[49]

In 2001, Phair and Staskauskas divorced,[41] after which Phair sold her home in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood and relocated to Los Angeles, California.[50] As of 2018, Phair resides in Manhattan Beach, California.[41]


An April 2018 profile by Billboard revealed that Phair had signed a two-book publishing deal with Random House.[41] Horror Stories, the first of two planned memoirs, saw release on October 8, 2019.[51][52]

Her second memoir will be called Fairy Tales.[53][54]



Year Award Category Work Result
1993 Spin's Readers' Poll Awards Album of the Year Exile in Guyville Won
1995 Grammy Awards Best Female Rock Vocal Performance "Supernova" Nominated
1996 "Don't Have Time" Nominated
1999 Online Music Awards Best Alternative Fansite[55] N/A Nominated
2005 BMI Pop Awards Most Performed Work "Why Can't I?" Won
ASCAP Pop Music Awards Won
2009 Top Television Composer "90210" Won
2014 "Super Fun Night" Won
2018 Rober Awards Music Poll Best Reissue Girly-Sound To Guyville Nominated
2019 A2IM Libera Awards Nominated


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  5. ^ Bogdanov, Erlewine & Woodstra 2002, p. 305.
  6. ^ a b LaBlanc 1995, p. 380.
  7. ^ Havranek 2009, p. 338.
  8. ^ Pareles, Jon (October 2, 1994). "BLUNT ROCK; Liz Phair". The New York Times Magazine.
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  16. ^ Knopper, Steve (January 21, 2011). "Liz Phair is back, still misunderstood". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois: Tribune Publishing. Retrieved July 7, 2011. Phair, 43, ... Her 1993 debut, "Exile In Guyville," her shambling, monotone-voiced, ...
  17. ^ France, Kim (September 1998). "Noise: Exile in Diaperville: What Happens When Liz Phair, Queen of One-Nighters, Finds Domestic Bliss?". Spin. Vol. 14 no. 9. Los Angeles, California: SpinMedia. p. 78.
  18. ^ Mitchell, Elvis (June 7, 2002). "Cherish (2002)". The New York Times. New York City. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
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  30. ^ "Cool and Composed". ASCAP. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  31. ^ Smith, Courtney (November 5, 2015). "How Composing for TV Is Paying Rents and Hurting Bands". Pitchfork. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
  32. ^ Maza, Erik (January 20, 2011). "Liz Phair picks a fight". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved April 23, 2018.
  33. ^ Saldana, Matt (July 13, 2010). "Liz Phair: Why I Left My Record Company". The Wall Street Journal.
  34. ^ "'People Like Us' Soundtrack Features A New Liz Phair Song Penned For The Film + Poster & New Photo". IndieWire. May 14, 2012. Archived from the original on May 18, 2012. Retrieved June 7, 2012.
  35. ^ "Liz Phair – "Ho Ho Ho" (Stereogum Premiere)". Stereogum. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  36. ^ Carley, Brennan (February 1, 2016). "Smashing Pumpkins to Tour With Liz Phair This Spring". Spin. Retrieved June 17, 2016.
  37. ^ Liz Phair [@PhizLair] (1 December 2015). "I promise not one, but TWO new records in 2016" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  38. ^ Liz Phair [@PhizLair] (25 July 2016). "Goodbye media noise, hello guitars. I owe u 2 albums, after all, by NYE ;" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  39. ^ Ryan Adams [@TheRyanAdams] (13 January 2017). "Today we begin the new @PhizLair double album!!! #LizPhair #ExileInPaxAmVille" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  40. ^ [1]
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  42. ^ Phair, Liz (April 18, 2019). "Working on things in the studio with @bradwood_producifer". Instagram. Retrieved July 5, 2019.
  43. ^ Grech, Aaron (September 9, 2020). "Liz Phair Signs with Chrysalis Records and Will Release a New Album in 2021". Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  44. ^ "Out of Time: The Material Issue Story @materialissuedoc". Instagram. April 6, 2020. Retrieved May 12, 2020.
  45. ^ "Liz Phair joins Chrysalis as reborn label's first US signing". Retrieved 6 June 2021.
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  49. ^ "Liz Phair Delivers Baby, Album". MTV. January 8, 1997. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
  50. ^ Goldsborough, Bob (April 22, 2001). "Rock Singer Phair Sells Chicago Digs". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
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  55. ^ "Google Groups". Retrieved May 21, 2020.

Works cited[edit]

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