Alanis Morissette, known for her no-holds-barred autobiographical songwriting, has led the way for a generation of songwriters since the release of her iconoclastic “Jagged Little Pill” in 1995. Her nine studio albums and three live albums have sold an astounding 60 million copies.
Born in Ottawa, Canada in 1974, Alanis Nadine Morissette’s first recording was the 1987 indie electro-pop single Fate Stay With Me. Leslie Howe of the Ottawa group One to One introduced her to John Alexander (of the Ottawa band Octavian), who signed her to MCA Records, and with Howe as co-writer and producer, Morissette in 1991 released her debut album, “Alanis.” The effort went platinum in Canada, auspiciously earning the 18-year-old Morissette her first Juno, for most promising female vocalist, for the single “Too Hot.”
After her second album – the gold “Now Is The Time” – Morissette moved to Los Angeles, where she signed to Madonna’s Maverick Records. Her first international release was the explosive alt-rock “Jagged Little Pill,” a candid exploration of a young woman’s personal odyssey, written with the Grammy-winning American producer Glen Ballard. The album topped the Billboard 200 album chart, yielding the Billboard Modern Rock No. 1 singles You Oughta Know, Hand in My Pocket, and Ironic, and made Morissette the first artist to sell more than 2 million copies in Canada.
The metamorphosis from teen dance-pop artist to mature alternative-rock songwriter was highlighted by her new raw, edgy style. “Jagged Little Pill” took the Grammy awards by storm, winning for album of the year and best rock album; the single You Oughta Know won for best female rock vocal performance and best rock song. The sweep was repeated at home in Canada with several Juno awards, including best songwriter.
Fuelled by this success, 1998’s “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie” debuted at the top of Billboard’s album chart and took the best album Juno. The Grammy-nominated single Thank U (whose video daringly portrayed Morissette naked and exposed in public) went No. 1 in Canada, joining her earlier No. 1 hits Ironic and You Learn.
With her new persona firmly in place, Morissette explored themes of empowerment and self-discovery via explicitly autobiographical writing in such songs as Hands Clean, which broaches the impact of underage sex, and Diagnosis, which describes her post-partum depression. She told Forbes magazine “I have this big existential imperative to write these stories that are very true and personal…. songwriting for me is very cathartic.”
In 1998 Morissette took home two more Grammys for the single Uninvited. With “Under Rug Swept” – another No. 1 debut – she began producing and won Juno’s producer of the year award. More awards followed: the 2009 Juno for pop album of the year for “Flavours of Entanglement,” and in 2021 her 15th Juno for “Such Pretty Forks in the Road.”
In 2019, “Jagged Little Pill” opened as a hit Broadway musical, winning another Grammy (for best musical theatre album) and a Tony award for best book.
Morissette cites the personal songwriting of Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, Sinead O’Connor and George Michael as influences: “Basically someone who is soulfully singing their personal truth…. I think of Etta James… I think of Leonard Cohen.” In her turn, Morissette has been cited as influential for artists like Avril Lavigne, Pink, Katy Perry, Serena Ryder, and Beyoncé.
Morissette advocates that songwriters keep a journal. She told SongwriterUniverse: “In the year or two between albums, I will have filled up two or three journals. When I’ve written something in my journal that might be an idea for a song, I put a star next to it.” The five-time BMI award-winner prefers to write in the recording studio: “There’s something about capturing that initial creativity and emotion in a studio.”
Morissette has a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame and a place in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
The connection with an audience is for Morissette a lifelong passion. She laughs, “Ever since I was a young child, the one thing I always saw was me travelling around the planet and singing. I’ll be doing that until people won’t have me any more, and probably still after that.”
Outside of entertainment, Alanis is an avid supporter of mental health, female empowerment, as well as spiritual and physical wellness. In 2016, she launched “Conversation with Alanis Morissette,” a podcast that features conversations with a variety of revered authors, doctors, educators, and therapists, covering a wide range of psychosocial topics extending from spirituality to recovery to developmentalism to art. A dedicated charitable activist, she has supported numerous causes that focus on empowerment, art, psychological and spiritual healing, relationships and environmental causes, earning her a Global Tolerance Award from the United Nations. Alanis was also honored with the Rock the Vote’s Patrick Lippert Award for her dedication to causes making the world safer for young people, including the benefit concert Groundwork, for The Act to Reduce Hunger, as well as several fund-raisers for gun control and 9/11 relief. Along with Harville Hendrix, John Gottman, Sue Johnson, and Dr. Dan Siegel, Alanis founded the Relationships First Organization, which empowers people to communicate without criticism, listen without judgment and connect through their differences.