Courtesy of the artist
Fiona Apple's Fetch the Bolt Cutters is her first new album in eight years. Her previous release was 2012's The Idler Wheel...
Courtesy of the artist
On Friday, April 17, Fiona Apple released her stunning new album, Fetch The Bolt Cutters. Fans had been waiting eight years to hear new music from her, and it was well worth the wait. To celebrate the release, NPR Music had a live online listening party. We played the full record on NPR Music's YouTube channel, while tens of thousands of people joined and listened along with us. When it was over, NPR Music's Ann Powers, Bob Boilen and Marissa Lorusso talked about Fiona Apple's new songs, what they mean and where they fit in her remarkable career.
You can hear that full conversation with the "listen" button at the top of the page and read edited highlights below.
Ann Powers: This [album was] originally slated for October release. But in March, Fiona offered a little Instagram post in which she said, in sign language, "My record is done." And, of course, things started to just bubble up and go crazy right at that moment because her fans, they crave her music so much. A month later, she announced she was moving the release date of the record up from October to April. And we need it. You know, I mean, here we are: We're all alone together these days in our crazy-world situation. And what do we need more than a statement from one of the great artists about the power of creativity and making art in your home? She made this record in her home and about self-determination. I was on Twitter last night when the album dropped and people were losing their minds. I've rarely seen anything like it. Immediately, this is the best reviewed record of the year. People are so excited. [It received] a rare perfect score on Pitchfork, and especially women, I think, were exclaiming that this is just what we need right now.
Bob Boilen: Marissa, what should we [listen] for [on the record]?
Marissa Lorusso: I feel like there are three things in particular that would be good to listen for. The first is the percussive nature of these songs. In a profile in The New Yorker a little while ago, Fiona talked about how she built these songs from the ground up, the ground being rhythm. There's a real rhythmic drive to a lot of the songs on this record. The next thing that I noticed about it was just how funny it is. I think for as much as we often praise Fiona Apple for being this really intense, really introspective, emotive songwriter, she's also really witty. And I think that that really shows up on this record. And the third thing is the dogs. Fiona's dog, Mercy, is a featured performer on the record, as well as several other dogs in her general orbit. So I would keep an ear out for the dogs, too.
Powers: I learned so much from the folks in the [live listening party] chat room — so many interesting connections, you know, whether it was hearing Beyoncé or Erykah Badu in the music, or hearing samba rhythms or so many different things people were bringing up. I feel like I know the album so much better now just after that listen with all y'all.
Boilen: Yeah. You talk about the rhythms. I mean, that's sort of central. Melody is not central. I mean, she is the melody where there is melody. Let's talk about some of that. There are credits [that say] "Fiona on chair" where it's her hitting a chair.
Lorusso: One thing I was thinking about as I was listening was the fact that she really drew from the things that were in her home in order to build these songs. And it just struck me as a person who's been in my home not going anywhere for so long, Fiona is absolutely the kind of artist who would see that kind of experience and turn it into a way to make music as opposed to a limitation, which is really beautiful.
Powers: Fiona has been associated with this scene in Los Angeles around the club Largo for many years and some connections with that scene. Tom Waits, I think, is a big influence on this record. And also, Tchad Blake, who mixed a lot of the record, worked with Los Lobos members on a really amazing record years ago called Latin Playboys. And I encourage everyone to go listen to that record, because it does very similar things with rhythm. I think Fiona has such open ears and you hear so many African diaspora influences on this, so much hip-hop influence on this record. Also, Davíd Garza — I must shout out one of my favorites for many, many years, whose own music is also adventurous in this way.
Boilen: A great, Austin-based musician. We had a question from somebody who asked about our thoughts on Fiona Apple's use of black musical traditions on this album.
Courtesy of the artist
Fiona Apple. Her long-awaited and monumental new album, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, was released on April 17.
Courtesy of the artist
Powers: I definitely always hear that in Fiona's music and I think grounding this project in rhythm brings it to the fore. A few people in the chat mentioned Lemonade and, honestly, who could not have been influenced by Lemonade or at least aware that we are living in a universe where Beyoncé's Lemonade is such a primary text. So, for Fiona, this is going right back to her very beginnings and her childhood in New York City, where coming up as a young poet and an aspiring musician, she would set Maya Angelou poems to music. That's how she learned. And thanks to whoever reminded me of that in the chat. That's how she learned to make music. So I think this is right back to her absolute roots.
Boilen: I was thinking about the idea that how so much of her past is part of this record and the words. But it really brings you to the present on who she is. You want to talk a little about how she sees herself, now, through those eyes of the past and experiences of the past?
Lorusso: Yeah, I think the very first song on this album ["I Want You To Love Me"] opens with her thinking about how time is fleeting and everything is meaningless. But that doesn't mean that the desire that she feels for love or for connection is any less important. And it doesn't mean that she feels it any less. And I feel like that kind of wisdom — like Fiona has always been a wise songwriter who's trying to look for bigger truths than just what we experience in the everyday. That wisdom is so present throughout this record. And I know in interviews around this record she's talked about thinking about her younger self when she first started making music and was pushed into the spotlight and treated pretty terribly by a lot of the press for being a young woman who was emotional and intense and made really vibrant music. She was thinking back on that version of herself and how she wanted to be kinder to that self and also stand up for herself more in a way that her 18-year-old self wasn't able to do. You can really hear that in this record.
Powers: The songs that are about relationships with women are very crucial; and going all the way back to the song "Shameika," about a middle school experience, and who knows if there was a real Shameika or if that character is a composite? But the experience of being bullied by other girls in middle school is such a universal one. And I really appreciate that she's reaching back with the level of maturity she's at, having compassion, in a way, for her bully. Also seeing how much she invested in a simple statement. You know, as someone in the chat said, I bet the phrase "Shameika said I had potential" has been in Fiona Apple's head for decades. And we all have that. Who doesn't have that?
Lorusso: There's wisdom and compassion here, but she still has moments where she's wrestling with jealousy and confusion and frustration with other women and trying to battle with both of those impulses — the impulses to forgive and be open and warm with other women and the way that we're conditioned to compete and feel jealousy with other women. I like that she brings us through all of that instead of just giving us this like, "now I'm enlightened and here's my wisdom and you all can learn from my experience." She really wants us to go through those experiences with her in these songs. I love that.
Powers: I think the model for music-making that this record offers is also so important — that she made this record in her home with a band that she selected, who she knew would be the perfect collaborator(s), open to any experiment. And that's already been happening for us for a while. But if anything, this [COVID-19] crisis is going to bring artists back into the ground of their process. And I feel this is that is another reason — along with the politics of women's liberation and self-expression that this record represents — it is that act of music-making that's so liberating about this record and offers us something for the future.
Boilen: That means, Marissa, you need to pick up your guitar, start hitting chairs and making a record in your home.
Lorusso: I feel inspired. That these collaborators were people that she felt comfortable with, taking risks and trying things and, you know, hitting a chair for percussion. I think you can hear on the record that it's in-process and it's an experiment and it's not super polished. And if the dogs are barking in the background [of the recording], she kept that in because that added to the song rather than trying to go into a studio and make everything perfect and shiny and exact.
Boilen: And that's the beauty. You speak about making music at home. I do that all the time. And the beauty of that is time to do it on your own time. In the olden days when I first started making records with Tiny Desk Unit, you'd go into a studio. It's a couple of hundred dollars an hour and you are [thinking], "how do you get the emotion?" I don't know how people did it. How do you pull the emotions out of you without fakery, without like pushing it in a way that doesn't feel genuine? When I'm at home and it's eleven o'clock at night, no one's around, I feel so free to make the sounds without judgment and people on the other side of a piece of glass and all that stuff. And I think that's what I sense from that music-making [on Fetch the Bolt Cutters]. It's why the dogs are running around the house. She just was doing stuff and making stuff and the door was open and the dogs came in. It wasn't like there was intent for the dogs to be on the record. It's just, you feel the room, you feel her life. And I love that about this record.
Powers: In Jenn Pelly's review on Pitchfork, I think the last line of it is that this music is free. You know, it represents freedom in so many different ways. Exactly what you're saying, Bob. The process of music-making, the permission she's giving herself to say inspiring things, but also sometimes ugly things or challenging things, confronting her deepest traumas and struggles. But also as, Marissa you pointed out, the humor, the jokes, the playfulness — this is what a free mind and soul is really about, having room for all of that. And you don't always hear that on a recording. Things can become so polished, so streamlined, so directed toward affecting us in a certain way. And it's a gift that Fiona is giving us. And it's evocative of many artists who've gone before her, of course. People have mentioned Diamanda Galás, for example, or PJ Harvey. There's so many people you can mention. But Fiona is uniquely free.