Liz was born in Connecticut, but was raised in Winnetka, Illinois. Phair is
adopted, as is her older brother Philip.
Liz Phair graduated from New Trier High
School in 1985. She attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and majored in
Liz's entry into the music industry began when she met guitarist Chris Brokaw, a member of the band Come. Brokaw was visiting her San Francisco loft-mate Nora Maccoby, and when he heard Liz's songs, he encouraged her to record them.
After moving back to Chicago, Liz began writing songs and recording homemade tapes under the name Girly Sound, and supported herself by selling her drawings on the streets of Chicago. Liz Phair 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. (A later attempt at re-recording the Girly Sound tapes failed due to arguments between Henderson and Phair.)
After asking Wood who the "coolest" indie label was, Liz called up Gerard Cosloy, co-president of Matador Records, in 1992 and 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 Liz to send him a tape. Liz 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.
Liz's debut album, Exile in Guyville, was produced by Brad Wood and released in 1993. The album received uniformly excellent reviews. Liz's claim that her album was a response to the Rolling Stones' classic Exile on Main Street drew considerable attention and criticism-many have dismissed Phair's claim as a mere publicity tactic. The album received signficiant critical acclaim for its blunt, honest lyrics and for the music itself, a hybrid of indie rock and pop. The album established Liz's penchant for exploring s--ually explicit lyrics such as in the song "Flower": "I want to be your blow job queen/...I'll f--- you and your minions too." By contrast, her trademark low, vibrato-less voice gave many of her songs a slightly detached, almost deadpan character. The combination of these factors won Phair many dedicated fans. She also had several detractors, especially in her hometown of Chicago; in particular, veteran producer Steve Albini was involved in a war of words reflected in Chicago's free newsweekly, the Chicago Reader. Albini wrote an angry response to a feature article on Liz that identified her and several other artists as "pandering sluts".
Hoping to capitalize on the acclaim for her debut album, the release of Liz'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 Ten modern rock hit, and the video was frequently featured on MTV. The album received mixed reviews, and although it was certified Gold (sales of at least 500,000 units), it ultimately did not sell as well as her debut. Following Whip-Smart, Liz released Juvenilia, a collection of some early Girly sound tracks and several B-sides, including her cover of the 80s classic by The Vapors, "Turning Japanese".
Liz's third album, titled whitechocolatespaceegg, was finally released in 1998 after some delays, which included a disagreement about content; at one point, the label rejected the album as submitted, and asked Phair to write a few additional radio-friendly songs for the set. The album displayed a more mature Phair, and reflected some of the ways marriage and motherhood affected her. The single "Polyester Bride" received some airplay, but the album was not a chart success.
In 2003, Liz Phair's self-titled fourth album was released on her new label, Capitol Records. Liz 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, Liz 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. Having already exhausted her recording budget, label president Andy Slater offered Phair more money to record only if Liz agreed to work with the production team known as The Matrix to come up with some singles for the album. Phair's collaboration with the Matrix resulted in only 4 songs but when the album was released much of the media attention focused solely on the Matrix-produced tracks, which were a departure from her earlier work. The album received many negative reviews, especially from the independent music press who considered Phair to have sold out by making the record very pop-oriented.
Liz garnered some commercial attention and seemed to propel Phair out of the "alternative-chick" category and closer to the pop charts. The debut single "Why Can't I?", co-written by The Matrix, did reach the Top 40 charts in North America, and its follow-up, "Extraordinary," was also somewhat successful: it appeared on the soundtrack to the 2004 movie Raising Helen and was the promotional theme for the 2004 Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament. Liz continued to flirt with s--ually explicit themes, however, as was most evident in a track called "H.W.C.", standing for "Hot White Cum".
Somebody's Miracle, Liz's fifth album (and second album for Capitol), was released on October 4, 2005. The album returned to a more traditional rock sound, mixing the mood of Phair's earlier work with a more mellow sound. The album received mixed reviews, and was not a chart success.
In 2004, Liz offered backing vocals on Jimmy Eat World's "Work" track on their Futures album. In 2005, Liz Phair recorded the track "Chemistry" with Canadian artist Kyle Riabko.
In addition to making appearances on television shows and in films portraying herself, Phair has been billed as an actress in several roles, including the film "Cherish". Liz Phair also played 1960s pop singer Jackie DeShannon in an episode of the NBC period drama American Dreams.
In 1995, Liz married Jim Staskauskas, a film editor who had worked on her videos; they had one child, James Nicholas Staskauskas, on December 21, 1996. The couple have since divorced.
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