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"All along, I really wanted each song to be its own little world," says Fiona Apple. "Every song that I write, I feel like I'm in a different world."
Apple Fiona astonished listeners with her 1996 debut, "Tidal". It was almost impossible to believe that a voice and a style so fully-formed was coming from a performer who was so young. Spurred by the controversial video for "Criminal" and such hits as the evocative, flawless "Shadowboxer," "Tidal" sold more than three million copies, landed her on the cover of numerous national magazines, and established Apple as a major new figure in pop music.
The 1999 follow-up, "When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King..." took Apple even further. Produced by Jon Brion (who has worked with artists from Aimee Mann to Kanye West), it was even more mature and realized than the debut, adding moods and tones to her unique, finely-wrought style. The platinum-selling "When the Pawn..." topped numerous critics' lists as the best album of the year.
When Fiona Apple finished touring, though, she wasn't immediately compelled to start writing again. "I had little bits and pieces of songs that will lie around forever unless somebody gives me a kick in the ass," she says. "I don't really worry about it when I don't feel creative, because it always happens in seasons. Since I started playing piano, there would always be a year or two when I wouldn't play at all. Or there would be an art season, where it's not about making music but about making art. But when I'm not in it, I'm not in it, and I believe it's just as important to have those spells in your life. Everything contributes to what you produce."
She was, however, having weekly lunches with producer Brion. "Every now and then he'd ask, 'Are you writing anything?'," she says. "And I'd say no and change the subject. And then one time he was like, 'I think enough is enough - for you and for me, I want to work on something again.'"
And so, in 2002, with the songs and song fragments that she had, they began sessions at Ocean Way studios. Eventually operations moved to the Paramour in L.A.'s Silver Lake region, and they continued working into 2003. But Fiona Apple was having trouble finding the album she wanted to make. "Because I was kind of cajoled into doing it," she says, "I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I started feeling panicky, like do I want to do this at all, be a part of this again? So I kind of mentally checked out of those sessions."
As Fiona Apple wrestled with her material, the next chapter in this saga unfolded when someone leaked the unfinished tracks to radio - after which they wound up on the Internet. "First it felt like somebody took my diary," Apple says. "And then I started thinking, now I'm never going to be able to do this the right way."
All the while, rumors were running rampant about the insidious reasons that this album wasn't being released. Fiona Apple has maintained all along, though, that such responsibility lies squarely with her. "The actual reason it didn't come out is that I wasn't satisfied with the way it was," she says. "I felt really bad because I wasn't really there to captain the ship. I didn't feel capable of doing it. So I left Jon to make all the decisions, and as a result it became more of a Jon Brion record. I still love that version of the album, I'm still proud of it, but I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I didn't at least try to get to a place where I could make my own decisions about it."
Following the Internet leak, everyone retreated to their corners and tried to determine how best to proceed. Fiona Apple spent her days watching Columbo reruns and pondering her future. She got as far as applying for an internship with an organization in upstate New York that does occupational therapy with children, incorporating the use of farm animals. "I was really almost to the point where I was going to have a completely different kind of life," she says. "I was starting to get excited about starting over and figuring out what else I can do." Eventually, though, she was able to return to the studio and finish what she had started.
And so, at last, the epic journey of "Extraordinary Machine" reached its conclusion. Even Fiona Apple, obviously not one who's easily satisfied, was delighted with the results.
"I've always had this pet peeve," she continues, "it makes me physically ill when I see somebody looking at me with the worried eye. And I've gotten a lot of it my whole life - partly because, at any given time, I've always been the youngest person in the room. I always want to say to people, even when I'm not alright, I'm alright. My life has taken some pretty great turns, I've been through a lot, I've had some really low lows and some really high highs, but I get better all the time. Whatever people do to me or don't do to me, I want some credit here for being a pretty extraordinary machine. All these things you're trying to protect me from, I make something out of it. So I'm fine and please stop looking at me that way!"
Fiona Apple has gained perspective on just where her music fits into her life. She's seen the passion and loyalty of her fans. From all the twists and turns this phase of her life has taken, she's learned, in the end, something like maturity - at least, her own, free-spirited version. "It all just proves that you can grow up and be a happier person and make good things," she says. "You don't have to suffer for it all the time. It's not like my inner basket case is absent, it's just that I've lived with it long enough that I can manage it now.
"I've had a surprisingly Zen feeling about this whole thing," she says. "I kind of always knew that it would work out somehow."
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